TWO TRIBES, TWINNED
Updated: Apr 14, 2020
"Instead of what our imagination makes us suppose and which we worthless try to discover, life gives us something that we could hardly imagine." Marcel Proust
Problem: How to reunite the 52%-48% divide of the Brexit vote?
Solution: A 57 year-old potter, with a transvestite alter ego called Claire, a customised Harley-Davidson Knucklehead, and a teddy bear called Alan Measles.
How far did you read before you heard your mind slam shut? 'Brexit'?
Turner Prize-winning Grayson Perry RA has followed the thread of identity for most of his career. The outcome of the EU membership vote - "the most divisive issue in my lifetime" - inspired a new work and the sharing of his creative process.
If you want to understand two tribes, go to their most extreme collective:
Boston - a market town in Lincolnshire, with industries in food production, road haulage, steel import and grain export, where the population delivered a 75% to Leave;
Hackney - a London borough, one of the host boroughs of the 2012 Olympics, within easy reach of financial centres and the tech start-up 'roundabout'. 78% voted to Remain.
Boston, feeling forgotten and fearing the loss of 'local things for local people'. Hackney, seeking to keep its propery values and ca phe sua da coffee.
Apparently, at extreme ends of the Brexit continuum; both seeking to protect their way of life.
Perry had a sense of sadness after the result: "Because the privileged, the politicos, the media, and the society watchers - like me - hadn't noticed this. It must have been boiling to 40 years and the referendum gave a chance to express it."
Which begged the question, how deep was the divide?
For the first time in his creative process, Perry used social media to source original materials, starting with selfies and portraits of Leavers and Remainers. Then he asked for tattoos, symbols, logos, brands and finally photos of things they love about Britain.
After six months' work, the final output is two large vases called 'Matching Pair'.
The characters portrayed in each one are different (although both have an image of someone in a wheelchair).
The similarities are far more noticeable: the base colour of each, the symbols, the brands, the icons (both have David Bowie), the images of Britain. Perry's conclusion:
"Beneath the noise of Brexit, the differences are a very small part of our collective identity. We have much more in common. We're the same."
Wherever you stand on the spectrum, or your point of view from a country outside, one this is certain; the insight and commentary from a transvestite potter wouldn't appear on the political radar.
Because Perry tapped into the emotional and made it tangible.
He ended his creative process by bringing together the two groups of subjects for the unveiling of the work at the Serpentine Gallery.
One said: "I am extremely proud the be featured on our pot. I haven't looked at the other one yet."
A view of self.
Then another: "If I didn't appear on one of them, I'd never know which was which."
A view of others.
Perhaps the overall experiment was a microcosm of the country as a whole. The magnified difference needs to be addressed rather than let it bubble beneath the surface, heated occassionally to keep someone in post.
Indeed, when conflict arises between any two tribes, it must be addressed. Especially if there's been a winner.
All you need to decide is which medium to use.
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