Picturing the social order 1516 – 2009
Exhibition dates: 15 May – 11 July
This exhibition features the work of artists from 1516 to 2009. That represents 493 years. In everything that you see in the gallery, there is a common thread. The common thread is the way that we picture the different ways that our society and our culture are divided into different classes and ranks. Artists have illustrated this, have made comments and statements about it, have created three dimensional work about it, have used art from the past in a modern context and have reminded us of the way that we see ourselves and others in relation to ourselves. It is still a part of contemporary art. Contemporary art often deals with issues and the issue of class and distinction is as important as ever. The so called “ credit crunch “ has made us very aware that a few people have the power to affect the lives of a very large number of other people and that there is a very big gap between rich and poor in the world, in this country, in our towns and cities and in our day to day lives. Parts of the exhibition also feature data and diagrams which illustrate research about this so this is an interesting mix of visual information which will really make you think about where you at in your life and in the wider world around you.
What is social order ?
The concept refers to all those facts of society which remain relatively constant over time. This means that they don’t change a lot. Humans are descended from primates and the animal world also has social order, in fact, according to Charles Darwin, it is the most flexible and adaptable of the species who survive. One of the works in this exhibition is called “ The Beehive “ and for many hundreds of years the similarity between our society and bee society has been noted, in terms of a society where a king or a queen ruled and the way that workers were organised to create a community based on working and making ,so that everyone in the society can live and survive. Bees appear prominently in mythology and have often been used by political observers as a model for human society. This has been from ancient times to modern times
Social order has changed in this country in the 493 years that the exhibition covers, a hundred years ago many more people would be involved in manufacturing and making than nowadays but the changes in machinery and technology have changed that. We also import products from abroad now so that the way that people work in the UK is different to in the past and is changing all the time. Other changes are that we are ruled now by a Government rather than a King or a Queen. Within our society we have leaders and we have followers, we have rich and we have poor, we have people with power and we have people with no power. People in power create rules and people who break rules are seen as living outside of society and can be punished for that. The class system in the UK used to be though of as upper class, middle class and working class. A cliche that developed from a comedy act was that people should “ know their place “ and accept what they were in the social order. The way that people dressed was also a clue to what class they came from, a rich man might wear a top hat and a working class man might wear a cloth cap. If you look at “ Which One Ought You Wear “ by Adam Latham, the artist has created an updated version of a poster which was printed almost one hundred years ago ( during the first world war ) and adds the hats of today to the image. Here we see the baseball cap, the workman’s hard hat and the shop worker’s hat. The message here is that we show people things about us by the wearing of certain clothes and “ uniforms “.
It is a fact that a minority of people in the world, own the majority of the wealth and that does not change as time goes by. This would be like one person in your street owning all the houses, the possessions, the money, the land and even your time because they might only give you permission to live there if you do work that they want you to do to make their life even better.
You will see factual evidence in this exhibition that underlines the differences in society and the divide between the wealthy and the less wealthy. They may shock you or you may be aware of them but have never really thought about how unfair it is. It is a fact of your life. Social mobility is a real possibility for some people, they may be born without status and then work hard to gain that status, whether this be through wealth or knowledge. We probably have more social mobility today than ever before. But we also have poverty, we also have groups in societies who are persecuted by other stronger groups.
Activities in the gallery:
Pair activity ( work with another person ,so that you can discuss the painting )
William Powell Frith “ Derby Day “
This painting is called a “ social panorama “ and was painted in 1875. It was such an unusual painting at the time that the Royal Academy had to hire a policeman to control the crowds and a railing was put in front of it. It was the first time that an artists had shown life as it really was. At this point in time London was the world’s largest city and many different social types lived there. The Derby was a horse race meeting which was open to all the people and so the painting shows us that wide range of people. You need to look really closely at it and start to create a story/narrative in your mind which tells the story of that moment in time. Robert Howlett, an early photographer, created some photographs to help Frith with his painting so you can be sure that it is a representation based on fact as well as the artist’s imagination. Frith is not just showing the event , he is making a comment on the society of that time and the differences between them. In the background you can see the race ground and in the picture itself you see the racegoers. He provides the viewer with clues to each character's social standing and personality: the aristocrats wear long jackets, 'paletots' and top hats, the 'city gent' is defined by his attempt to copy the dress of the elite, the country yokel wears a smock, and so on.
There are three main incidents. Have a look for these.
On the far left a group of men in top hats focus on the ‘thimble-rigger‘ with his table. This is a “ con artist “ who persuades people to bet on a game of chance and cheats money from them. The same game is played nowadays, in the streets of Barcelona or Rome. The man usually has 3 cups and one object and swops them around rapidly over the object, they take best on which cup the object is under. Next to him we see a number of people watching, rich and poor because gambling is something that attracts all sorts of people...
Describe the men watching the “thimble rigger “ :
What social class do you think they are from ? ____________________________________________
What makes you think that ? ________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________
In the centre there is some entertainment, there is an acrobat performing with his small son. What has happened to the boy ?
What is he watching so closely ?
Why do you think he is so interested in this ?
There is a carriage on the right of the picture, what do you think is going on here ?
The Victorians were very interested in how clothes showed status and Frith has created a painting with great detail in it to show the different people. Where can you see an example of someone who is obviously very rich ?
Can you find a boy stealing something ?
Can you find a man stealing something ?
Can you find the beggars ?
Can you find a rich man eyeing up a young girl ?
This picture shows you the inequalities of the Derby Day crowd, it shows crime, it shows people looking jealously at what others have.
Is this the same today ?
Can you think of a situation in 2009 where something similar to the above might happen ?
If you had to create an image from today where you showed inequality and crime, what would your picture be about ?
Sketch an outline in this box ( very simple outline, almost like a diagram )
Back at school:
Why not set up a group photo which illustrates part of Derby day ? You can use the original image or you can use the ideas from your modern idea. It would be a good idea to appoint a director, a costume and make up artists, and a photographer. Get photos taken throughout the process, as you get ready, get organised etc. For this you would need to work as a group, wear “ costume “, plan the positions and the actions of the group, take the photo successfully with everyone as still as possible. Once this has been done and the photo has been edited, use PowerPoint or PhotoStory to create your story of the day. The last slide/image will be the final group shot.
Activities in the gallerey:
Jenny Holzer “ Truisms “
Jenny Holzer is famous for her short statements, called ‘truisms’. Some are common myths ( “made up” expressions ) while others are just phrases on random subjects in the form of slogans.
The sayings include:
a strong sense of duty imprisons you
absolute submission can be a form of freedom
an elite is inevitable
disgust is the appropriate response to most situations
She uses writing as her art from, sometimes projected onto buildings, sometimes printed onto tee shirts and sometimes through LED. Jenny Holzer can even be found on Twitter. What is interesting about the Trusims is that they can be attached to any place or time. They can be believed or disbelieved. They create a voice in our head. In this exhibition, some of the phrases could easily be used to describe another piece of art work.
Watch the screen and then select four truisms ( write them down here) :
As you walk around the exhibition today, write down the name of the four artworks that you think match your selected truisms.
Would you like to invent some truisms as well ? Write them here:
Back at School:
Create screen savers for a computer using Jenny’s truisms and your own truisms. Or create a PowerPoint slideshow in the same way. Visit this website: http://mfx.dasburo.com/art/truisms.html The font they use is IMPACT. It works well on here because of the bold colours, consider this when designing your Truism slideshow.
Actvities in the gallery:
individual work, followed by pair work ( discussion ).
Look at the work of Markus Vater. Markus has created some magazines which have covers designed and drawn by him. This is what he said about the idea and the art work : “ I thought society is visible in the interests of its people. Taking all the magazines on a news-stand and analyze them would give a good idea of what a specific society is about.... So I developed magazine-covers of magazines that contain and play with what we find in magazines and mix that with ideas which we don't find, but which I think are important and present in our society, almost like an undercurrent.
I wanted them to be undermining and surprising, that makes them funny and absurd .”
Have a good look at the covers and make some sketches of them.
They are funny as well as being quite close to the way that we do sell magazines these days. Front covers advertise the content and often give us information that we don’t even need to know, for example, just how important is it for us to know that Victoria Beckham has a new hair style ? It doesn’t affect our life but people want to know trivia and small details. Markus has chosen bizarre subjects for the magazines but they reflect what people do in their lives, he is making us question what the current crop of magazines say about us as a society.
Write down some words below which you think of when you see the magazine designs:
Back at school : Work with a partner and spidergram, or mindmap ,some ideas for your own magazine covers Try to work in the style of Markus, quick line drawings Use humour as well !
Activities in the gallery:
Group activity ( whole class )
Find the work by Nina Beier and Marie Lund which is called “ The most outstanding “
What did the artists ask the groups of people to do ?
What do the images tell you about how people’s reaction to the task ?
Now, with the permission of your teacher and without causing any problems in the gallery, find a space where your class can do this same task. You may find it easier to do this in the spaces by the reception desk. Choose TWO observers who will watch and will feedback to the group afterwards. Ask your teacher to record the session by taking photographs.
Observers: make notes here....
How did they start off ?
What happened next ?
What did you see that may have surprised you ?
What did you see that you expected to see ?
What did you learn about your group/class ?
Back at school: Create a wall display about this activity. Use images and words.
Activities in the Gallery:
Find the print by Gustave Dore which is called “ London: A pilgrimage “.
This is a print showing life in London for the working classes in 1872. It is set in a train station. People are crowded on the platform. Look closely at the image and answer these questions.
What do you think the men are doing ?
What do you think they are carrying in their bags ?
Why do you think there are no women in the picture ?
What does “ WAIT HERE FOR THIRD CLASS “ mean ?
What sort of a life do you think it was for these people ?
Sketch part of the print in this box:
Now, find the piece of art work by Dexter Dalwood which is called “ After Gustave Dore; Over London by Rail “ and which was created in 2007. Dexter has re-created Dore’s vision of the houses near Waterloo Station where the poorer people lived, this is all on the left hand side and middle of the image. Look closely and see how they lived, overcrowded and busy, women washing, men asleep or smoking pipes, children playing in tiny spaces, smoke and dirt everywhere. No sign of blue skies, green grass or fresh air ! But, in 2009, these houses are lived in by people who will pay over half a million pounds for a house in this part of London. Dexter has changed Dore’s image and ( on the right hand side ) he has placed the estate agent signs which show how popular the area is now.
Can you think of areas in your town or city , which were once seen as areas where poorer people lived , and which are now expensive to buy ?
When our towns and cities had industries , such as coal mining and ship building, where did the people who worked at these places live ?
Back at school:
Research the history of the area around your school to see if you can find out how this has changed in the last one hundred and fifty years. You can use the local library for this or you can use the internet.
You can present your findings visually in a photo album or in a digital photo album. You can use Powerpoint or PhotoStory for this. It would be really interesting to take your own photos and compare them to the photos from the past.
Activities in the gallery:
Ant Macari is a contemporary artist who uses drawing as his main tool for creating Art. In this exhibition Ant is using some of the symbols that we have always associated with “ coats of arms “, symbols which relate to a family or a place name. Coats of arms were usually seen as something that only the rich would have but , in this century , the idea of a scroll or a symbol has become part of modern life - through tattoo designs, designs on tee shirts, household ornamental shields etc. So that these are not just for the rich, everyone can have their scroll, their coat of arms.
Our towns and cities have coats of arms, football teams do, some of our schools use them for school badges. Does your school ? Do you understand the symbols ?
These four coat of arm designs show Sunderland Football Club, Newcastle Football Club, the city of Sunderland and the United Kingdom coat of arms.
Below you will see school badges from local schools, all created as a coat of arms design.
Here are some modern tattoo designs:
Sketch some of Ant’s designs into the boxes below:
Back at school:
Create a design for your own coat of arms, include symbols and words and put this into a more modern context. You can use a style like Ant Macari’s, using lines or you could add colour and use colours such as gold and silver to give it an authentic look.