Britannia Model Village Project
Three White Walls: January 8th- 20th 2009
Reading like the script of a Steven Spielberg thriller, Britain is struck down by a catastrophe of world proportions and has been reborn under a new, oppressive regime as ‘Britannia’, a place where suspicion is a part of everyday life and everyone’s a potential terrorist. The year is 2013 and the master mind behind this dystopia is artist Ben Bucki.
Expanding upon a project Bucki began whilst at University in Carlisle, Britannia Model Village at Three White Walls presents model villages constructed and photographed to depict an uncertain view of the future of Britain. The basis of the work originates from a photograph of an old model village in the south of Britain with a miniature rotund village bobby in the corner, a jolly smile on his face. Bucki was fascinated by this depiction of a “policeman with no crime to fight in his perfect little utopia” and concluded it would be more interesting if “the bobby was wearing a stab vest and carrying an automatic rifle, watching passing citizens like a hawk whilst his riot van is parked menacingly nearby.” With this contrast forming the basis of the project, Britannia Model Village was born. Gone is the depiction of Britain as a happy land of thatched cottages and a cosy, sheltered existence and in its place is ‘Britannia’, where censorship and oppression are the norm and children are encouraged to report their parents to legal authorities in return for a teddy bear. It is evident that while political and perhaps intentionally controversial, Bucki’s work is clearly satirical which, according to the artist, makes his message “easier to digest, I don’t think people would pay it half as much attention if it was shown with a straight face.”
Each of the photographs depicts a scene constructed from the model village Bucki has created. These images are accompanied by text that explains aspects of the new ‘Britannia’ regime. One such image is Suicide Scheme where we are informed that ‘despite the best efforts of the Government’ if citizens felt the need to ‘end it all’ could they please do so at ‘specially designated sites’. The photograph shows a ‘man’ leaping off a platform into the ocean, all under the watchful eye of health officials. However, arguably the most uncomfortable work is the aptly named Terrorism where we see an explosion blowing out the side of a building. Perhaps what makes this work so unnerving is its relevance within present society, a society where the word ‘terrorism’ is never far from a news headline and people are all too quick to form judgements. With the accompanying text berating those ‘minorities in our population who do not recognise the benefits of their caring, protective Britannia Government’ and criticising their ‘misguided beliefs’, one cannot help but feel uneasy and perhaps slightly apprehensive that this degree of ignorance may be where society is headed.
The propaganda posters that line the walls of the gallery, forming part of Britannia Model Village, are reminiscent of Adolf Hitler’s Third Reich and the efforts of Goseph Gobbels, Minister of Propaganda. This is also reflected in the work Art of the State which explains how all photography, painting and sculpture must convey content that is ‘censored and approved by the Government’. This work effectively reminds the viewer that we learn from the past to ensure that better choices are made for the future and to prevent mistakes from being repeated. Britannia Model Village acts as a warning and demonstrates just how close society is to repeating itself and the ignorant choices of our predecessors.
Naming Jake and Dino Chapman as a major influence in his work, Bucki hopes that audiences will find his Orwellian portrayal of Britain thought provoking and encourage them to consider the issue of “how our society is changing, how our liberties are slowly being eroded and how we seem to be sowing the seeds for a future with a more totalitarian Government.” Britannia Model Village prompts the viewer to question their society, authority and perhaps most significantly Bucki’s work forces people to question themselves, what they believe and how they view the world. However, the works obvious satirical element makes this process of self- evaluation much easier to accomplish. As Bucki comments, “If it does make people think a bit more about the world around them then it can only be a good thing.”
Britannia Model Village leaves an uneasiness with its audience- like the uncomfortable laugh that accompanies a joke you just don’t get- except this time not only do we understand the joke, it is unfortunately all too familiar.