Soft Apocalypse

Rehearsing how we change the world

Photo credit: Kim Thornton. Documentary image of live performance at Space Clarence Mews 2023.

Rehearsing Soft Apocalypse, my opposition to the permanent arms economy and permanent war. Responding to the large increases in global military expenditure, a new arms race, rapid and radical developments in weapon systems, technologies and ways of executing a conflict. All the nuclear-armed states are modernizing or expanding their arsenals.

Developing from the research for my 2020 dissertation (WTF) Crisis, Structural Forensics, Agency Art, thinking about new ways of telling and imaging history, re-inventing history painting in the multimedia era, as civic space, and a yearlong residency for performance makers with choreographer Caroline Salem.

In 2016, I began manufacturing and dealing arms that can’t hurt anyone. Soft munitions made of canvas. I started with M4 tanks and AK47. Recently I added a landmine shaped handbag, 20m of barbed wire, a B21 stealth bomber, capitalist ruins: Doric columns and capitols, the torso of a classical sculpture that doubles as a dead body, a dress symbolic of monarchy, Britannia and the State, a reusable body bag, a 1940s style bikini, banners, and revolutionary flag…

All the objects and costumes are hand sewn. The trappings of power given the duality of being a toy.

The canvas is important, impotent, disarmed, for its origins in sail cloth and clipper ships sailing the seas to bring booty home. Unlike the artist’s canvas, this canvas is blank, accepting the projection of the worst imaginings, and the audience’s own experience.

Getting to the dress. Based on Albrecht Dürer’s Melencolia I 1514, and Cinderella’s dress in the Disney cartoon 1950, and memories that linger at the fringes of our childhood dreams, and experiences we know deep down we are missing out on. In this performance, also, symbolic of queen and state, and the monarchy’s role in supporting the arms trade. The monarchy, the oldest corporation of them all. Colonial exploitation, slavery, and other crimes committed in the name of the crown. A feudal institution based on birth right, obedience and bloodlines. The family as a device for accumulating and transferring privilege between generations. An outmoded patrilinear way of organising society for profit, that excludes most people and serves so many people badly, that is no model for equality and diversity.

Against this background, we are primed to play a role in supporting the establishment and programmed to believe that if we work hard, we will acquire social capital. And so we aspire to better lives, and work to grow our cultural capital, and struggle, in the erroneous belief that gaining status will award us increased participation in the culture of the ruling class and enable us to better operate within its society. Society that is broken. The irony being that social capital is essential for facilitating change.

The objects create an uncanny domestic environment, in contrast to our increasingly technologically mediated and violent relationships. Here freed from the confines of the domestic setting often associated with lowly craft, and elevated to the highest genre history painting, an immersive textile installation in the field of fine art and protest.

Working to contemporise the outmoded and problematic genre of history painting, the work is immersive, participatory and interactive, with some singing and dancing. If we are going to change the world, or at the very least our ideas, we have to do what we are afraid of!

redacted human right act

Human Under Interpretation, Version 2, 2020.