Opposing Sides

Coincidentally concurrent with the general election, Grayson Perry’s summer exhibition The Most Popular Exhibition Ever! opened at the Serpentine Gallery in London yesterday. Centered around the ongoing political debate in Britain in the wake of Brexit, Perry puts forward his honest, earnest and artistic expression not just of his own thoughts and reactions, but also that of the British public.

What with Perry’s infamous character and the ironic timing of the opening, it is no wonder that there was a queue to enter the small and usually quiet gallery. The collection includes a variety of work including ceramics, tapestries, woodcut prints and other installations such as a colourful motorbike. At a glance, some of the pieces might appear merely decorative, but on closer inspection, each piece is riddled with complex imagery, illustrations and innuendos. Many of the beautiful ceramic vases display a kind of political mockery, with slogans such as “rich people deserve equal rights too” and “remind me what we’re protesting about” scrawled across them. This continues onto the tapestries, with one banner reading “we work for our future and grieve our past”.

In the documentary Divided Britain shown on Channel 4 earlier this week, Perry invites the audience to follow him on his journey of research that provided the inspiration and content for the centre piece of his exhibition. The idea was to create a Matching Pair of ceramic vases that represent the hopes, dreams and fears of the Leave and Remain opposing sides. In order to compile a library of source images for the vases, Perry requested leavers and remainers to send in photos of themselves, their tattoos and things they love about Britain. He also travelled across the country, speaking to people in different societies that swayed strongly in one direction or the other.

After all of his research was complete, the truth that he came away with was the one he had been hoping for: that the “underlying similarities” of the two sides are stronger than the “noisy differences”. Layers upon layers of the photographs Perry had been sent feature on the ceramics, and it becomes clear that the lines are blurred as the vases are incredibly similar (both hilariously display imagery of Marmite, cats and the Queen). The vases are unlabelled so as to enhance the “abstraction and fuzziness” of the thoughts and emotions of each side, cause deliberation over which vase represents which side and make the audience question their own values on the matter.

The exhibition is open at the Serpentine Gallery until 10th September. For information, click here.

The documentary Divided Britain is available on 4od until 29th June. Click here to watch it.

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