18
Nov
10

Exhibition: ‘We English’ by Simon Roberts at Robert Morat Galerie, Berlin

Exhibition dates: 2nd October – 4th December 2010

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Being an ex-pat English these photographs have a very special resonance for me. They are beautifully visualised and resolved photographs that do not rely too heavily on the artist’s conceptualisation of landscape (the ever present hand of the artist) in the construction of narrative within the picture plane. In other words the artist allows the image to speak for itself, “a sensitive, resolved response to scenes of ordinary people and how they inhabit and utilise the spaces around them,” with the layering of meaning, the back stories (boundaries, sites of contestation, notions of identity and colonisation of spaces amongst others) kept in balance with the sublime elements of the constructed landscape. The photographs work all the better for this restraint and offer the viewer sensual images that are open and receptive, spaces that are invigorating and enlightening, Roberts has created a magical series of photographs that poignantly capture the essence of what it is to be English.

Many thankx to Simon Roberts for allowing me to publish the photographs in the posting. The permission is much appreciated. Please click on the photographs to view a larger version of the image.

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Simon Roberts
‘Skegness Beach, Lincolnshire, 12th August 2007’ from the series ‘We English’
2007

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Simon Roberts
‘South Downs Way, West Sussex, 8th October 2007’ from the series ‘We English’
2007

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Simon Roberts
‘Heberdens Farm, Finchdean, Hampshire, 20th December 2007’ from the series ‘We English’
2007

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Simon Roberts
‘Rushey Hill Caravan Park, Peacehaven, East Sussex, 21st December 2007’ from the series ‘We English’
2007

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Simon Roberts
‘Fantasy Island, Ingoldmells, Lincolnshire, 28th December 2007’ from the series ‘We English’
2007

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Simon Roberts
‘Mad Maldon Mud Race, River Blackwater, Maldon, Essex, 30th December 2007’ from the series ‘We English’
2007

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Simon Roberts
‘The Haxey Hood, Haxey, North Lincolnshire, 5th January 2008’ from the series ‘We English’
2008

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“We English is the result of a year’s travel around England by Roberts, in a motorhome, documenting its landscape on a large format 5 x 4 camera. Informed by the photography of his predecessors Tony Ray Jones, John Davies and Martin Parr, and by the romantic tradition of English landscape painting, Roberts depicts the English at leisure within pastoral landscapes in a manner that is entirely his own. The work is beautiful, accessible and often heart-warming. This is the most significant contribution to the photography of England since John Davies’s ‘The British Landscape’.”

Chris Boot, Publisher, 2009

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Artist Statement

Initially, I was simply thinking about Englishness and how my upbringing had been quintessentially English. How much of this was an intrinsic part of my identity? In what ways was my idea of what constitutes an ‘English life’ or English pastimes (if there are such things) different to those of others’? My own memories of holidays, for example, were infused with very particular landscapes; the lush green-ness around Derwent Water or the flinty grey skies – and pebbles – of Angmering’s beaches. It seemed to me that these landscapes formed an important part of my consciousness of who I am and how I ‘remember’ England.

Seeking out ordinary people engaged in diverse pastimes, I aim to show a populace with a profound attachment to its’ local environments and homeland. We English explores the notion that nationhood – that what it means to be English – is to be found on the surface of contemporary life, encapsulated by banal everyday rituals and activities.

My first major body of work, Motherland, was a study about Russian identity. The images are not clichéd representations of a Russia ground down by poverty and despair, rather, photographs of a land of dignified people empowered by a growing optimism and a deep rooted sense of national esteem.

The same themes of identity, memory, history and attachment to place – of belonging – resonate throughout We English. To access these abstractions, I’ve produced a series of colour landscape photographs, which record places where groups of people congregate for a common purpose and shared experience. Since landscape has long been used as a commodity to be consumed, I focus on leisure activities as a way of looking at England’s shifting cultural and aesthetic identity. The photographs are rooted in a consciousness of my own attachment to my homeland and are an intentionally lyrical rendering of everyday English landscapes. They draw on issues of cultural geography and contemporary landscape theory, together with vestiges of English romanticism.

We English is not just a mode of social and anthropological commentary, although there are important elements of this in the work; more, it aims to constitute a sensitive, resolved response to scenes of ordinary people and how they inhabit and utilise the spaces around them. The photographs also explore the way in which landscapes can become a site of conflict or unease, where perceived notions of nationhood and quintessential Englishness are challenged, as diverse social groups seek to colonise shared public spaces. Notions of limits and boundaries re-appear throughout the work, reflected in the rivers, trees and hedges that create physical divisions, delineating and defining the limits of human interaction. Indeed, leisure activities often occur at boundary points: the edge of towns and cities, next to lakes and reservoirs, alongside footpaths and mountain ridges.

The project derives its title from the suggestion that photographer and subjects – we ‘English’ – are complicit in the act of representation. (During the five months that I travelled around England in a motorhome, people were invited to post their ideas about events I could photograph on a dedicated website and to share their experiences of living in their particular locality).

The project has been supported by Arts Council England, the National Media Museum and the John Kobal Foundation. A monograph of the photographs will be published in September 2009 by Chris Boot Ltd.

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Simon Roberts
‘Grantchester Meadows, Cambridgeshire, 23rd January 2008’ from the series ‘We English’
2008

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Simon Roberts
‘Cotswold Water Park, Shornecote, Gloucestershire, 11th May 2008’ from the series ‘We English’
2008

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Simon Roberts
‘Paul Herrington’€™s 50th Birthday, Grantchester, Cambridgeshire, 15th June 2008’ from the series ‘We English’
2008

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Simon Roberts
‘Ratcliffe-on-Soar Power Station, Nottinghamshire, 16th June 2008’ from the series ‘We English’
2008

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Simon Roberts
‘Blackpool Promenade, Lancashire, 24th July 2008’ from the series ‘We English’
2008

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Simon Roberts
‘Chatsworth House, Bakewell, Derbyshire, 7th August 2008’ from the series ‘We English’
2008

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Simon Roberts
‘Bradford Bandits BMX Club, Peel Park, Bradford, West Yorkshire, 17th October 2009’ from the series ‘We English’
2008

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Robert Morat Galerie
Projektraum Berlin
Kleine Hamburger Str. 2
10115 Berlin – Germany
Telefon +49 172 4348781

Robert Morat Galerie Berlin website

Simon Roberts website

We English website

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Dr Marcus Bunyan

Dr Marcus Bunyan is an Australian artist and writer. His work explores the boundaries of identity and place. He writes the Art Blart blog which reviews exhibitions in Melbourne, Australia and posts exhibitions from around the world. He has a Dr of Philosophy from RMIT University, Melbourne and is currently studying a Master of Art Curatorship at The University of Melbourne.

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