a kind of invigorating hike through the British countryside
You could probably do with a green and pleasant blitz right now. It’s been a long winter and few things are more uplifting, but visit Radical Landscapes at the Tate Liverpool expecting this comfort, and I’m afraid you’ll leave disappointed.
Yes, this rich and often superbly odd exhibition digs deep into our connection to rural Britain. But it also reveals how, since around 1900, landscape art has been knocked off its traditional picturesque and pastoral perch, and used instead to spark conversations about diversity, nuclear war and land rights.
It could have easily become a box-ticking exercise, but it’s made fascinating by the fact that it meshed these political watchwords with archaeology, Wicker Man-type mysticism, the French Revolution, rave culture of the 1990s, Victorian botany and interwar youth movements such as the Kibbo. Kift.
The direction of the exhibition is clearly indicated from the start – with a real signpost. Jeremy Deller’s 2019 pastiche of the instantly recognizable green, yellow and white British road sign. “A303”, it says “Built by immigrants”. Deller, who is British, carried out the irreverent work in response to a study published in 2019 which found that some ancient parts of the road – and nearby Stonehenge – were built by descendants of Neolithic migrants from Anatolia.
You will also see your first constable (Flatford Mill, 1816-1817) on the back wall, although the text on the wall explains how these quintessentially English landscapes ignore the reality of the Enclosure Acts which then disenfranchised rural workers. Also, the painting is eclipsed by Tina Keane’s In Our Hands, Greenham (1982-4): 12 televisions showing footage of historic Berkshire peace protests.
The women’s songs and laughter trail touchingly into the next room, where Henry Moore’s bronze atom piece from 1965, a seemingly festive metallic dome that quickly transforms into the shape of a skull-shaped helmet , is accompanied by a 1950 film offering advice to farmers during the event. nuclear fallout. A second constable comes in the form of Peter Kennard’s Haywain with Cruise Missiles (1980), which sticks gleaming modern weaponry into Suffolk’s famous green landscape.