The Art of Border Un-Control: Flags @ Off Quay

By November 21, 2016

Art & Photography. London.


The world is eating itself. Baton up the hatches, wall yourself in, and create your own little kingdoms where difference is a dirty word. Or not. We’re better than that.

The past couple of weeks have seen high court rulings regarding the infamous Article 50, the CPS investigating claims of Brexit-related misinformation, and, on the 27th anniversary of the fall of the Berlin Wall, the still-not-quite-believable election of no.1 fan of walls, Donald J Trump. Whatever mountain of madness we were climbing, this ladies and gents, may well be the peak.

And how does art react to the current cacophony of border talk, of them and us, of in or out? It reacts in surprising and beautiful ways.

Dolly Kershaw’s new work on show at Off Quay in East London is a participatory installation that encourages thought, debate, and play in equal measure. Kershaw’s work is often painstakingly labour intensive to set up and Flags is no exception. In this installation she uses around 200kg of coloured aquarium gravel to meticulously re-create all 50 flags of Europe, then boldly invites the audience to walk across the carpet of symbols, causing the gravel to shift and mix, reflecting the free movement of people across, what turn out to be, frail and arbitrary borders.


Although Kershaw is cautious about being too didactic in a piece that has overtly political overtones, she is pro-free movement of people, and wanted this movement to be documented on the floor in this work. The exhibition has been open for a week so far and will be at Off Quay for the rest of the month. It has been organised by a group called Ugly Duck, who do-up disused spaces for creative projects and events, and already there have been some interesting and thought-provoking reactions to Kershaw’s piece, as the artist describes: “The morning after the launch party I walked in to find that someone had drawn a huge heart over the entire thing! Five minutes later I overheard somebody describe it as ‘horrendous liberalism’!”

Next for the artist will be a similar work on a vaster scale: “I would really like to make a similar piece but of the world map, with all the materials being country-specific. My friend Thomas and I have been plotting how it could look as well as the logistics of how you could pre-prepare something so large as it would take a week or more to install!” Watch this space.

Flags is on at Off Quay in East India until the end of November.