An installation which employs a spotlight and smoke machine to visualise and explore the correlation between cuts in public spending and instances of mass rioting on the UK’s streets.

Created in the wake of the summer 2011 riots across the UK, this installation aims to visualise and explore the correlation between cuts in public spending and instances of social unrest (specifically rioting) in the post-war period. It was inspired by a discussion paper of the same name published by the Centre for Economic Policy Research.

Installed in a darkened room Austerity & Anarchy is a homage to Anthony McCall’s Line Describing a Cone from 1973. In the corner of the space a simple onscreen display scrolls methodically through the dates 1950 – 2011. As it does so, the cone of light created by the ‘spotlight’ installed above grows and shrinks in proportion to the UK government’s annual expenditure for each year (as a percentage of GDP), and changes colour to reflect the party in power at the time. Then, on the exact dates when major riots have occurred on the UK’s streets, a smoke machine in the corner of the room is activated.

The untamed and undirected energy released in the form of machine’s smoke serves to illuminate the cone of light, making its present scale and colour all the more apparent.

First shown in London as part of the Converse/Dazed 2011 Emerging Artists Award exhibition near the Whitechapel Gallery (from 7 – 23 October 2011), this version of Austerity & Anarchy focussed specifically on the history of apolitical rioting within London.

The smoke machine was programmed to be activated at the following dates, producing a burst of smoke proportional to the duration of each riot:

  • 30 August 1958: 7 days (3 secs smoke) Notting Hill race riots
  • 30 August 1976: 1 day (1 sec smoke) Notting Hill Carnival riot
  • 10 April 1981: 3 days (2 secs smoke) Brixton riot of 1981
  • 28 September 1985: 2 days (2 secs smoke) Brixton riot of 1985
  • 6 October 1985: 1 day (1 sec smoke) Broadwater Farm riot
  • 13 December 1995: 1 day (1 sec smoke) Brixton riot of 1995
  • 6 August 2011: 5 days (2 secs smoke) London riots

15 October 2011: The Application and the Shortlist
REcreative TV (01:34-02:45)

Photo: Warren Fournier