Wednesday 6 October 2010

The Britannia Model Village

The Britannia Model Village was a large-scale art and photography project which I started working on in 2006 whilst at University. Our final project was an open brief, and I chose to do a body of work that allowed me to combine my interest both in dystopian fiction and also contemporary politics.

The model village angle came about during my research- I was interested in the fact that most of these tourist attractions are set in the past, in an idealised vision of Britain, a world of thatched cottages and village greens. I felt that subverting that image, and creating a miniature world with crime, graffiti, scruffy buildings and CCTV cameras would make for an eyecatching project.

The miniature world created for the project represents Britannia, an alternate version of Great Britain where the country is under the rule of an Orwellian dictatorship, a police state whose miniature citizens are under surveillance, where propaganda posters cover every wall, but where acts of violence and subversion continue to occur. The visual imagery is heavily inspired by the likes of "V for Vendetta", "Children of Men", "1984" and similar works, but filtered through a high degree of sarcasm and deliberately dark humour.

From a very early point in the project I realised that to have full control over the visual imagery of the project, I would have to construct everything myself. Thus the buildings are all based on prototypes from Carlisle (where I was living at the time, and where the Model Village is nominally set), and are constructed from home-made brick papers on foam board shells. The vehicles and figures throughout the village all began life as 1/32nd scale toys and model kits, usually bought second hand, and all extensively modified and repainted for this project. A full visual identity with logos, fonts etc was created for the fictional Britannia Government, and propaganda posters were created from scratch with myself or friends modelling for the photographic elements.
The buildings were made as portable sets, so that they could be redressed and placed into different configurations in order to create a large number of photographs. I wanted to give the impression that the final exhibition of images, and an accompanying book, were documenting a real model village.

The initial exhibition of the work in 2007 in Carlisle was very positively received, and images were chosen to be shown in Newcastle at The Biscuit Factory contemporary art gallery soon after. In 2008 the opportunity of a solo show based around the Britannia Model Village at a city centre gallery in Birmingham led to an expansion of the project, with new images shot focusing on new models, and which expanded the story of Britannia as glimpsed in the photographs. The exhibition in 2009 effectively marked the ending of the model village in this format.

The created world of Britannia however has continued to be a productive environment for work in other media, in particular a series of comics, short stories, and a graphic novel that are in production at the moment. Most of the models survive, and have featured in other projects I've undertaken since the exhibition, and the model village has led to further commissions.

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