21st Century Britain: Like a Ray Harryhausen fantasy, the Coalition Gods are playing chess. Through the thick fug of entitlement, they watch corresponding mortals marching against each other; bristling police with batons raised, scruffy protesters lobbing street furniture. It’s an unwinnable war, fought by the wrong people for the right reasons. Both sides and middle are being squeezed into awkward violence by the relentless forces from above; the Gods are sweeping their bloody collateral into boxes marked ‘Deserving’ and ‘Undeserving’.
I’m in Bermondsey, a borough largely unmapped by the capital’s Cultural Sat Navs. I walk past the West Lane South gallery twice before realising it’s a converted shop in a row of hairdressers and cafes. It’s spilling over with the sort of smouldering English eccentrics you only get in London, all here for Blue Plague, first solo show of my mouthy, infuriating and ridiculously talented ex-flatmate Lisa Cradduck.
Blue Plague’s centrepiece is a 6-foot slab of lino decorated with an excruciatingly detailed, hand-drawn panorama of Parliament Square. Composed from multiple photos the artist took on December 9th 2010, on the third day of protest against increased student fees, it’s a stunning piece of draughtsmanship. On closer inspection, it’s populated by grinning skeletons. This is political art, both meticulous and macabre. Witness Cradduck’s breath-stealing quote:
“Tory influence is a bubonic miasma polluting the atmosphere and poisoning the social body. To disadvantaged people, it can be fatal.”
Wow. In Blue Plague, the police and the protesters are all dead, kettled and kettling for eternity. Both sides are infected with Tory plague, robbing them of vitality and reducing them to shrivelled immortal enemies while the policy-makers watch on unscathed.
The large-scale work represents Tory cuts as a grotesque ritual of abuse and mortification, drawn in the Day of the Dead vernacular of Mexican satirist Jose Guadalupe Posada but also echoing the moribund humanity of Hogarth, Dix and Durer. Cradduck will spend the duration of the show painstakingly preparing the lino, printed as the show closes.
So much contemporary art is desperately demonstrative, smugly complacent or mildly diverting. Cradduck’s Blue Plague breaks the mould by combining old-skool draughtsmanship, biting satire and hands-on teaching; linocutting is a practical skill you can practice at home. This is education through sedition. At the Blue Plague Printing School, a fully functional lino printing workshop running for the duration of the show, you too can hack your Tory grievances into unique art, just as the Coalition has hacked away at the familiar fabric of our welfare state.
Created as an inspirational classroom poster for the Blue Plague Printing School, Blue Plague is in keeping with WestLane South’s commitment to radical, pedagogical art. Launched in October 2011, the gallery opened with Mark Dennis & Chris Gomersall’s ‘Philistine Romanticism,’ a show that critiqued the influence of aesthetic education and the illusory concept of freedom it taught. This is a gallery that deserves more footfall, a reservoir for the underground tributaries of radicalism that pour endlessly into London culture, keeping it vital but rarely acknowledged.
Blue Plague, Jan 9th – Feb 16th 2013 @ West Lane South, Bermondsey, London.
Review by Vienna Famous