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Victoria Rance
The Economist, London ,
Situated in the stark confines of The Economist Plaza, Victoria Rance's steel sculpture Spire is a monument to England's fading sense of self. Facing Scottish and Welsh devolution, the European Union and forces of globalisation, England currently seems to be suffering from what can best be described as an identity crisis. National pride in England has become, over the last century, fragile and tainted, something to be ashamed of. Now it only emerges on the stands at international sporting events and in the rhetoric of the far right. England, it seems, has been lost to the people and national unity no longer seems to exist.
Spire's conical structure most immediately evokes the church steeple but also refers to the maypole. Both of these architectural forms embody a particular Englishness but, more essentially, they are representative of a spiritual and ritualistic English unity. Rance re-ties the concepts of tradition and national identity together and proposes that the neglect of one has led to the disintegration of the other.
Rance's steel sculpture plays on tensions between old and new. Its simple geometric form is essentially modernist, yet strongly evokes a much earlier age with a sense of spirituality and order that is at odds with its modern environment. Entering the sculpture's interior through a gap in the steel rods affords a rare moment of refuge, a reference to the church's role as sanctuary. Any sense of security is short-lived however, the converging struts draw our eyes upwards to accentuate the feeling of being penned in on all sides by the towering office buildings.
That Spire is a site specific work in The Economist building suggests that Rance lays at least part of the blame for England's 'spiritual' decline at the door of its economic activity. A society based on communal wealth fragments into one based on individual wealth, spiritualism is replaced by consumerism.
Britain's involvement in a European economic community feels to some like the last step, new laws from Brussels seem to attack Englishness itself. It is telling that the greatest threat to the English identity is seen as the loss of its pounds and ounces and pounds and pence.
Susan Stockwell's installation Accumulations are encountered on entering the Economist building itself. Scattered throughout the foyer space are maps of countries and continents, created from selected waste materials. India is stained in tea onto dress pattern paper, South America is made from coffee filters and Africa from sections of tyre inner tubes. By punctuating these with representations of Britain made using the same materials and processes, Stockwell charts a history of international trade, from the days of the Empire to the present. As a counterpoint, other works flag up Britain's disappearing industrial heritage. A sheep's fleece shaped to represent the British landmass hints at the decline and current crisis in British farming.
As with Rance's sculpture, the Economist building provides a key for interpreting Accumulations. Stockwell's installation reads as a direct attack on Britain's economic establishment, emphasising its continued exploitation of third world resources and labour, the resulting ecological implications, and the fact that domestic industries have been allowed to fall into decline.
Like Rance, however, Stockwell is also interested in the adverse effects of economic activity on our national character. That the ecological and moral issues she raises seem so tired and old to us, that as a nation we are generally apathetic to them, is challenged. By using everyday 'luxury' items to deliver her messages, Stockwell actively brings these issues into the home involving, implicating and accusing us all as individuals and highlighting moral implications of our consumer society.
Gavin Street