Mark Wallinger

State Britain

2007

Not on display
Artist
Mark Wallinger born 1959
Medium
Wood, hardboard, cardboard, fabric, paint, printed paper, photographs and other materials
Dimensions
Overall dimensions variable
Collection
Tate
Acquisition
Presented by the artist in memory of Brian Haw 2017
Reference
T14844

Summary

State Britain 2007 is a multi-part installation that accurately recreates the protest camp set up by peace campaigner Brian Haw in Parliament Square in London from 2001 onwards. First presented as the Duveens Commission at Tate Britain in January 2007, Wallinger’s installation consists of a meticulous reconstruction of over 600 weather-beaten banners, photographs, peace flags and messages from well-wishers that had been amassed by Haw over five years from 2001 to 2006. Faithful in every detail, each section of Haw’s peace camp – from the makeshift tarpaulin shelter and tea-making area to the profusion of hand-painted placards and teddy bears wearing peace-slogan t-shirts – has been painstakingly replicated. When first displayed, State Britain was configured as one long line (approximately forty-three metres in length), which accurately copied the way Haw’s protest camp was displayed along the pavement opposite the Houses of Parliament.

Brian Haw began his protest against the economic sanctions imposed by the United Nations Security Council on Iraq in June 2001, setting up camp opposite the Palace of Westminster, where he remained until 2006. On 23 May that year, following the passing by Parliament of the Serious Organised Crime and Police Act (SOCPA) prohibiting unauthorised demonstrations within a one kilometre radius of Parliament Square, the majority of Haw’s camp was forcibly removed by the police. With Haw’s support, Wallinger decided to remake the protest camp as an artwork for his Duveens commission. In bringing back into the public domain a reconstruction of Haw’s set-up before it was curtailed by the authorities, Wallinger’s work raises questions about freedom of expression and what some perceive as the erosion of civil liberties in present day Britain. The title is an ironic play on the Tate Britain name and the notion of Britain as a police state.

During the fabrication of the installation it became apparent that, if taken literally, part of the Tate Britain site actually fell within the circumference of the one-kilometre exclusion zone inside which, under SOCPA’s new stipulations, protests against Parliament could not take place without police permission. To emphasise this fact, Wallinger marked a line on the floor of the galleries at the point where the exclusion zone ended, and positioned State Britain half inside and half outside the area. In so doing he deliberately drew attention to ‘the limit and nature of art in its institutional context’ (Wallis 2007, unpaginated); by straddling this boundary the work also raised the question of whether its display constituted a law-breaking act. The art historian Yve-Alain Bois described State Britain as ‘one of the most remarkable political works of art ever’ (Bois 2007).

Since its initial showing at Tate Britain – the location of which, just down the river from the original site of Haw’s camp, gave the work a site-specific element – the artist has displayed State Britain in various configurations, but with all its elements, in exhibitions at MAC/VAL Vitry-Sur-Seine, France in 2008, Aargauer Kunsthaus, Aaurau, Switzerland in 2008, and De Pont Museum of Contemporary Art, Tilburg, Netherlands in 2011.

Further reading
Clarrie Wallis, State Britain, exhibition leaflet, Tate Britain 2007, unpaginated.
Yve-Alain Bois, ‘Piece Movement: Mark Wallinger’s State Britain’, Artforum, vol.45, no.8, April 2007, pp.248–51.
Martin Herbert, Mark Wallinger, London 2011.

Clarrie Wallis
January 2015

You might like