There’s a lot of guff about British values in the media at the moment, in an attempt by the government to push their regressive colonial nationalism. As always with these ambiguous proclamations, when words like value, quality and standard are referred too, it is difficult to pinpoint what exactly we’re expect to focusing on. In reality they are part of a subjective paradigm, in which we scarcely question our own actions or motives; because on one hand, to do so would result in destroying how we imagine ourselves, but it’s also how governments really buy votes.
I think we can question and develop ourselves in a healthy way, through making, however this has to be done against a backdrop of constructed identities, which portrays the English as criminals in American movies, urban cities as scenes of sinful poverty as bequeathed by the Victorians, painters as effeminate, and so on.
If you are form the north of England, Wales or Scotland, those values might be the ability to empathise with other working class cultures around the world, which I’d cite the Northern Souls scene of the 1960s as wonderful illustration. But I don’t believe these are the values the prime minister is referring too. One more plausible and ultimately English value is owning ones homes, for what creates a sense of self grandiose like a damp castle. But what is that worth, when artificially inflated prices ruin the chances of others doing the same thing? What are our human rights worth when foreign policies are at odds with it?
Several years ago I visited an exhibition at the Whitechapel Gallery in London, and noticed in a table display of Goshka Macuga’s exhibition The Nature of the Beast is like the eye of a storm, a cut out from workers monthly dated Nov 1938. It was an article about leftwing groups overcoming funding problems in producing awareness for their causes through education and workshops. By teaching different skills from screen-printing to screenwriting they found a solution that allowed participates to produces propaganda as a by-product. Alongside this article were examples of possible workshops in the form of pamphlets, broken down into several series. This was all part of a larger display of historical object and documents, including a backdrop of the Guernica tapestry, which famously hangs as a war deterrent in the United Nations headquarters, for all the good it did behind a curtain. All poignant reminder of arts relationship to politics, and how these values have become shallow political gestures.