Nationalist politics has always relied on nostalgia – the sense that things were better before ‘they’ came along, that if only we could go back to the way things were, it would all be alright again.
Many would argue that it was at least a contributory factor to the appeal of Brexit. In the hands of the leave campaign, this argument runs, nostalgia became ‘weaponised’.
In his latest exhibition (at Studio Voltaire in London), Scott King runs with this theme, creating a satirical ‘trade show’ stand for Saxnot, a new town that promises to take its residents back to ‘how things used to be’. Saxnot’s values are those of Butlin’s in the 1970s – regimented, monocultural, with the emphasis on mucking in and joining in the fun.
King says he imagined himself as the art director for the Britlin’s brand – developer of a string of new towns to be built across post-Brexit Britain. The installation mixes large-scale conceptual pieces with Britlin’s merchandise such as tea towels and keyrings. At certain times, the stand will even be staffed by Britlin’s own version of a red coat to talk visitors through what’s on offer.
But Saxnot isn’t for everyone. Visitors can fill in a variety of forms and tests at the gallery to see if they conform to what is expected of a Saxnot resident: ‘conform’ being the operative word. In this way, a sinister undertone belies the glossy promises of what is for sale.
Though satirical, King stresses that the show (which developed out of a publication created with longtime collaborator Matthew Worley for Reading International) is not an attack on those who voted for Brexit. Instead, it seeks to examine the appeal of nostalgia, using fond collective memories of Butlin’s as a means to encapsulate what people loved about a certain time in Britain’s past. King himself remembers going to Butlin’s at Filey in Yorkshire as a seven-year-old and finding it a magical experience, as did many others.
The cynical manipulation of those memories – of a past when aspects of life were better than they are now – is what concerns him in the show. The past is repackaged and sold as a solution to the problems of today. But only available to those whose face fits.
Welcome to Saxnot is at Studio Voltaire, London SW4 until February 11.
Exhibition design by Scott King and Fraser Muggeridge studio. Installation photography by Andy Keate. Images courtesy the artist/Herald St. London. Special thanks to Matthew Worley and Reading International