Attempting to make a body of work around a well-known issue is always challenging. Focusing on an issue that is both well documented and over-saturated in the media makes the task a little harder. Add to that, an issue that has polarized large sections of the UK population, and beyond. What is this difficult but well-known subject matter? You guessed it… Brexit!
I feel I can confidently say that the issue of the UK leaving the European Union has caused anger, frustration and disappointment to much of the population of the United Kingdom. I don’t feel I need to go in to detail (watch any news channel or read any newspaper for that) but people on all sides of the debate are still going through various waves of emotional turmoil. And as of this moment in time, it doesn’t appear to be ending any time soon.
Copyright: Getty Images
I, like many people, have my own opinions on leaving or remaining within the EU. On such a big topic it is hard not to. I could make work where I rant and rave about my personal views and it would likely be quite an easy body of work to produce. It might not be very good as I would be blinkered by my own opinions, meaning critical decision-making is difficult as I struggle to see through the fog of bias and emotions. So I decided to challenge myself to create a piece of work that is made from a neutral standpoint but can reflect all sides of the argument. Easy, eh?! If only…
My starting point to this work was the EU Draft Withdrawal Agreement. That’s the thing that Theresa May presented to Parliament three times without success. It was released with much expectation by all political parties, commentators and experts. It was the document that would pull the UK out of the EU whilst keeping everyone happy. It didn’t succeed on the latter point. But what is contained within this document? A lot of the voting public have an opinion on this document but do they actually know what it contains?
Copyright: HM Government
I read all 585 pages as a starting point. Spoiler alert: it’s not that exciting. It is dry, full of legal points and reference to various existing laws and agreements. I can’t be sure, but I don’t think many of ‘Joe Public’ would read it to the end. The ending is a bit of a let-down to be honest. I think they’ve left it open for a sequel.
Once the document was released, a new word entered in to the nation’s psyche – backstop. It was uttered ad nauseum on news programmes, online and in the printed press. Backstop this. Backstop that. It got me thinking. How many times does this word appear in the document? All this talk must mean it appears a lot. However, I couldn’t remember seeing it on every other page. Did I misread it? I went through the withdrawal agreement and counted. How often did it occur? Once. Yep. Just once.
Copyright: TLDR News
Brexit was stuck on that one word. What about other words? What surprising words are contained in the document? How often do they appear? And also, how can one word be so powerful. Here are a few examples of my findings (so you don’t have to work this out yourself!) :
Competent – 87
Gloveboxes – 1
Provisions – 258
Laboratory – 27
Sardines - 2
Interpretation - 41
Zoonotic – 2
Of – 7493
Semen - 6
So I had a range of interesting text to draw upon for this work, but what about images? Historical examples were frequently used to convince us to leave or stay within the EU both during and after the EU Referendum campaign. How could I draw on this aspect in imagery? I’ve been creating an archive of images for a while now. I pick them up from a range of sources. They show snapshots of people’s lives of different ages and from different eras. I started to look through my collection and I kept finding interesting photographs I could use. I began experimenting with different images, different text styles including found poems and haiku. It started to emerge that this was a productive line of inquiry.
A selection of my archival images
The biggest challenge overall was maintaining my neutrality. My ambition was always to encourage the reader, irrespective of their viewpoint, to disengage from their thoughts and judge the work on its merits. I want the reader to open their minds to see aspects from all sides of the debate. I caught myself on a few occasions selecting certain images as they pushed a particular point of view. At times I selected certain words from the document as they felt incendiary and likely to inflame certain sections. However, by taking regular pauses for breath, and seeking opinions from my peers and friends, I managed to keep myself on the path I had set out to follow. Despite straying from time to time, I settled in to a home on Neutrality Street. Nice garden but the kitchen is a little small.
The final issue was how to present the work. It didn’t feel like a gallery project with enlarged prints and neatly printed text. Whilst I could see certain merits in looking at a multimedia piece in terms of presentation, I wanted people to be able to spend time to process their thoughts and reactions to my work. I felt using multimedia would need me to slow things down to a crawl which may mean viewers lose interest before the end. A publication seemed to be the best way to approach this. It allows people as much time as they want and they can always return to it later.
Front cover of the final publication, The Lion and the EUnicorn
After initial experimentation, I decided on giving the publication a passport-style feel to it. Blue passports were something that seemed important to some folk during the referendum. It became quite symbolic. This was the missing piece of the jigsaw. Everything had now come together. It was the passport crest that inspired the project title, The Lion and the EUnicorn. I always like a play on words, and the unicorn became an unlikely frame of reference by some when discussing the possible outcomes from the withdrawal from the European Union.
There are some twists and turns within the publication. There are some fascinating images and some interesting use of text (in my opinion). Even the design may surprise you. But you’ll only get the enjoyment from it if you purchase a copy and make your own judgment. You can get a copy here:
Buy yourself a copy and let me know what you think!