‘In this Perfect British Landscape…’ is a tight and timely show from Kristina Cranfeld, comprising two projected films, ‘Manufactured Britishness’ and ‘Dukes Rise’, and a presentation of objects related to the fictional world of these films.
Both films can be read as absurdist takes on the current immigration crisis and the nostalgic fantasy of resurrecting the Great British identity. ‘Manufactured Britishness’ takes us into the future, where the Life in the UK test – an assessment that anyone who wants to become a British citizen must pass – has become a labour-intensive experience set in disused industrial locations that have ceased to bring value to the economy and are now used as training camps for immigrants to become citizens. This strange dystopia speaks volumes about capitalism and the idea of ‘Making Britain Great Again,’ but isn’t enhanced by the fun Cranfeld pokes at what she perceives to be the core British values of politeness, keeping calm and carrying on, and – oddly – an appreciation for Newton. ‘Dukes Rise’, a silent counterpart to ‘Manufactured Britishness’, takes place in the same hypothetical Britain: pastoral landscapes are interwoven with scenes of a religious ritual being performed by a priest, the result of which is both beautiful and deeply unnerving.
Interestingly, neither the wall text nor press release provide the dates these films were made. It is impossible to watch them without wondering whether they were made before or after both the vote for Brexit and the largest refugee crisis Europe has faced since World War II. I later discover that they were shot in 2013 and 2014, before the succession of seismic geopolitical events that unfolded last year. Cranfeld’s intention was to question our notions of citizenship, belonging and identity, yet tragically the current political climate now renders these speculative narratives less absurd. They seem to be the future we are hurtling toward. It seems remiss, however, to leave race out of the discussion while examining these issues.
Also on display are props from the films: uniform-like red, white and blue costumes and a stack of fictional newspapers, dated 29th May 2020, with headlines such as ‘HOW BRITISH ARE YOU?’ and ‘PUT YOUR CAT DOWN TO BECOME MORE BRITISH’. The inclusion of these objects allows visitors to experience the films in an environment that, unsettlingly, mirrors the universe of the films. On the wall hangs a row of alternative Union Jacks. At first glance, these could also be ephemera from the films but in actuality they are the products of native British citizens’ attempts at drawing the Union Jack. What an absurd world we live in where immigrants are tested on minutia and citizens cannot even recognize their own flag.
I wonder whether ‘In this Perfect British Landscape…’ would have the same impact if it were not on display as Britain triggers Article 50 and after our colossal failure to deal with the refugee crisis, but under the circumstances this show is as haunting as it is relevant.