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Cockaigne3

Cockaigne3

A photographic walk through Brexit land

Ian Land has produced a formidable body of landscapes, shaped and formed by us, the British. He decided to take his camera for a walk – the coastal route from Hastings to London – and the results are now on display in an exhibition at Hastings Arts Forum. It is a desolate, gloomy marginal area – the end of England. And so it appears to be turning out, for those born and bred here who feel European and want to remain so. HOT’s Lauris Morgan-Griffiths was impressed by the exhibition’s unflinching honesty; sometimes to the point where you want to look away as he captures the spirit of England – and it isn’t a very edifying sight.

As we sever connections with the rest of Europe, Ian Land talks and photographs, capturing the spirit of that part of England edging the sea. There is a desolation and sadness to it.

cockaigne4

cockaigne4

There are pristine hedges, bordering, protecting, which gives a slightly eerie, protectionist territorial feel. One has scribbled New Hope, the name of a house – which could be laughable but somehow isn’t. A solitary head of a man, torso concealed, walks a lonely path over a bridge.

There is a very sad notice stuck to a bus shelter found in Lydd near housing by the military base. It is particularly gutting as the sign looks as if it is being taken over by ghostly ectoplasm. It is a sad plea by a father  who wants access to his children: “I love you to the moon and back”.

Land’s luckiest moment was on the Isle of Sheppey. Not expecting to find a solitary frame he happened across a house called Utopia with a discarded  mattress outside.

For his next project, to shake off the debilitating effect of Brexit, Land is bringing colour into his life as he walks the length of the River Thames.

Sometimes it is best to hear about a project from the artist’s point of view and reflections. This is Ian Land in his own words.

“On June 23rd 2016 a narrow majority voted for the UK to leave the EU. In the wake of this vote mainstream British politics has polarised in a way most of us have never seen before.

cockaigne2

cockaigne2

“For some years I had intended to walk from my home in Hastings along the coastal route all the way to London. The original idea was to take photographs of everything except the sea itself, to show the effects of the sea on the landscape and the built environment, but to avoid the customary dramatic seascapes so traditionally beloved of photographers and painters.

“I began the project in September 2016. As I started planning the route it became clear most of my walking would be through Sussex and Kent coastal regions which had voted solidly for Brexit in the referendum, and as I began the walk itself, I realised the referendum result had changed my attitude to the coastal landscape I love so much. As I walked, Union flags seemed much more prominent than I recalled previously, the multitude of Keep Out and Private signs which had always been there took on a sinister air, and the irony of walking for many miles on land closer to France than it is to London became overwhelming. For the first time in years, Englishness and the English landscape began to feel alien and forbidding to me, and during the two and a half years the walk took me, the country lurched deeper into crisis, chaos and an ascendant far-right authoritarian populism.

cockaigne1

cockaigne1

“Three years after beginning the walk, a new Prime Minister, Boris Johnson, is trying to resolve the issues raised by the referendum. I, like so many others, am exhausted and fearful, as all my certainties about the triumph of decent liberal values – tolerance, respect, internationalism – come crashing down around me. Most of this walk was made in anger at what the referendum has revealed about much of English politics; its small-mindedness, its failure to accept its diminished role in the world, its arrogant contempt for other nations. I don’t think that anger will ever abate, but this project is a small attempt to come to terms with it.

“From Wikipedia: “Cockaigne is a land of plenty in medieval myth, an imaginary place of extreme luxury and ease where physical comforts and pleasures are always immediately at hand and where the harshness of medieval peasant life does not exist.”

 

Land of Cockaigne – Travels through Brexit (2016-2019) is part of the 2019 PhotoHastings Festival, on until 10 November at Hastings Arts Forum, 36 Marina, St Leonards-on-Sea TN38 0BU. Open Tuesday-Sunday, 11am-5pm. A book of the project is available from Silverhill Press.

 

Posted 22:22 Thursday, Oct 31, 2019 In: Photography

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