Socialist Worker

We Need To See Evidence Of This: relational art that relates to working class people

by Richard Peacock
Issue No. 2111

Queuing in an art gallery - or a benefits office?  (Pic: Jenny Woods)

Queuing in an art gallery - or a benefits office? (Pic: Jenny Woods)

We Need To See Evidence Of This is a remarkable piece of art made by young socialist artists, Roxanne Chappell and Donna Snell, that was recently shown in the Portsmouth University Space gallery

The work is a recreation of a benefits office embedded in the gallery. Visitors are made to feel as if they are benefits claimants. On arrival you are given a ticket and told to wait your turn. Instructions are barked out by the artists – 'You have missed your appointment, come back later!', 'Ticket number 9 to interview room 1'.

Overlooking you as you stand in line are a series of threatening posters typically found in benefits offices, with slogans such as 'We Do Evict' and 'Our Technology Is Tracking You'.

When you get into the first 'interview room' you face a TV screen featuring writer Tim Evans reading his poem 'Do You Want Some?', which is based on the disability benefit form.

The second 'interview room' recreates a room in a hostel for young single mothers. On the TV by the bed a film plays showing an agent from the Child Support Agency trying to get a teenage mother to reveal the name of her baby's father.

As a person with a disability who has spent a lot of time in such offices, I found the whole installation to be chillingly accurate. It convincingly evokes and indicts the humiliating and intimidatory treatment meted out to claimants.

From their reactions it was clear that most of the 100-strong audience – which included a considerable number of local working class people – felt the same way.

It was particularly striking to see an important area of working class experience rendered in cutting-edge artistic form. The art world calls this 'relational art', but it was done in a way that could connect with working class people.

We Need To See Evidence Of This deserves to reach a wider audience. Hopefully it can be reconstructed in other galleries and art spaces in London and elsewhere.

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Article information

Tue 22 Jul 2008, 19:22 BST
Issue No. 2111
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