Mark Wallinger talks about his dramatic re-creation of peace campaigner Brian Haw’s Parliament Square protest, State Britain, displayed at Tate Britain in 2007 , and outlines his own political stance on the Iraq war.
State Britain consists of a meticulous reconstruction of over 600 weather-beaten banners, photographs, peace flags and messages from well-wishers that have been amassed by Haw over the past five years. Haw began his protest against the economic sanction in Iraq in June 2001, and has remained opposite the Palace of Westminster ever since.
On 23 May 2006, following the passing by Parliament of the Serious Organised Crime and Police Act prohibiting unauthorised demonstrations within a one kilometre radius of Parliament Square, the majority of Haw’s protest was removed. Taken literally, the edge of this exclusion zone bisects Tate Britain. Wallinger has marked a line on the floor of the galleries positioning State Britain half inside and half outside the border.
Brian started his protest on the 2nd of June 2001 and at that time it was against the continuing sanctions on Iraq. He’s been there around the clock ever since.
I’ve been documenting Brian’s display since about a year ago, not with any intent at the time, just because it’s a remarkable document. So it was only really when I was approached by The Tate for the commission for the Duveen Galleries that there was the opportunity and the platform for trying to make this work.
When the Police came in the early hours of the 23rd of May and took almost the entirety of it away then that seemed to be almost now public service to try and make visible what had been rendered invisible. I suppose that was another clinching factor in this Duveen commission it was the discovery that the very edge of the circumference of the exclusion zone runs through the centre of Tate Britain right through the Octagon here and so therefore there’s a taped line through the work so that if I’m over here anything I say can be taken down in evidence and used against me and if I’m here I’m perfectly free to have my opinions. That line continues through the rest of the galleries here.
This sign I’m very fond of and Brian told me he made this on Christmas day two years ago.
Until very recently Brian slept under this tarpaulin every night. Someone donated a couple of tents just recently.
This sign is as was, so to speak, on the 22nd just before the Police arrived and Brian has racked over 2000 days now in the square. To have it in a gallery for the kind of scrutiny that one expects to give objects and pictures, and the fact that it’s entirely a remade replica and there’s a kind of very similar tune with this lost object, lends it an odd kind of power, it’s kind of like at the same time that you’re being affronted or moved by these images it’s kind of...yeah there are questions to do with authenticity and in a way that mirrors what this law does...I mean it makes it all any descent just in general against the Government so it kind of infantilises everyone as, you know, behaving badly in the eyes of this Government and so… it kind of points out the authoritarian instincts of this Government that wants to institute ID cards and really, you know, wants to start from the stand point that when you’re born you are guilty until proven innocent basically.
I couldn’t make this if I wasn’t in agreement with Brian’s position, you know, we do seem to have become very complacent and this law restricting our freedom of speech has gone through without any fuss really and in a way Brian seems to be the last protestor in Britain, I mean that’s the strange thing, there’s this one man and they were trying to get rid of him because he was a eyesore you know, I don’t know what Baghdad is if this is an eyesore.
In a way I want people to be as moved and shocked as I was when I first looked at what Brian had done.