press release

“What do you do,” the manageress said, “with all this information?” “I type it out on my little Corona and send it to the organizers. We call it Mass Observation.” “Do they print it?” “They file it for reference. Perhaps one day in a big book - without my name. We work,” he said regretfully, “for science.” Graham Greene, ‘The Confidential Agent’ (1939)

The coronation of George VI, which took place on May 12, 1937, provided an opportunity for a recently formed movement to test its founding intellectual premise. ‘Mass Observation’ had been set up earlier that year by the poet Charles Madge, the painter and filmmaker Humphrey Jennings and the anthropologist Tom Harrisson. They met when a poem by Harrisson appeared on the same page in the New Statesman as a letter from Madge about the formation a group of intellectuals devoted to an “anthropology of ourselves.” On January 30, 1937, another letter appeared, this time announcing the foundation of Mass Observation, stating it would study all subjects encountered on a daily basis from “Beards, armpits, eyebrows” to “Female taboos about eating” through the research reports of affiliated non—academic observers. These observers were memorably described as “meteorological stations from whose reports a weather map of popular feeling can be compiled.”

The first full-scale book by Mass Observation was ‘May the Twelfth: Mass Observation Day Surveys.’ The book was the result of forty—three day surveys (one—day diaries that were designed to collect a mass of data with no particular selective principle), seventy—seven responses to questionnaires, and reports from twelve anonymous observers. Each observer provided views on various, seemingly random events taking place during the day of the coronation. As the academic Caleb Crain has noted: “The reader feels as if he were eavesdropping on an enormous, citywide party, all the more appealing because the typical partygoer is both in and out of the game.” Crain also notes the less successful aspect of the book – the book sold poorly because of its prohibitive price. Nonetheless, for a time before World War 2 the figure of the Mass—Observer became relatively well—known, with one even featuring as a character in Graham Greene’s 1939 thriller, ‘The Confidential Agent.’

For the exhibition May the Twelfth, STORE has asked five artists to use the ideas and the intellectual sprit of the Mass Observation movement as their conceptual starting point. The five artists are: Simon Evans, Aurélien Froment, Mario Garcia Torres, Rosalind Nashashibi and Gabriel Vormstein.

May the Twelfth
Simon Evans, Aurelien Froment, Mario Garcia Torres, Rosalind Nashashibi, Gabriel Vormstein