press release

"The condition of England... is justly regarded as one of the most ominous, and one of the strangest ever seen in this world. England is full of wealth, of multifarious produce, supply for human want in every kind; yet England is dying of inanition. What an iniquity of ways and means!

And we here, in modern England, exuberant with supply of all kinds, [are] besieged by nothing if it be not by invisible enchantments... This successful industry of England, with its plethoric wealth, has as yet made nobody rich; it is an enchanted wealth and belongs yet to nobody. We might ask: which of us has it enriched? We can spend thousands where we once spent hundreds; but can purchase nothing good with them. We have sumptuous garnitures for our life, but have forgotten to live in the middle of them. It is an enchanted wealth; no man of us can yet touch it. The class of men who feel that they are truly better off by means of it, let them give us their name! " Thomas Carlyle, from Past and Present, Book 1, 1843

The phrase 'the condition of England', was coined by the Victorian moral philosopher Thomas Carlyle to map the changing moral, political and economic state of the nation. Carlyle's panoramic vision encompassed concerns from wealth distribution and conspicuous consumption to our idea of 'the good life'; and from migration to our sense of self.

In our own time, the author JG Ballard similarly argues that "there are unseen shifts in the tectonic plates that make up our national consciousness." Seven artists, working primarily with photography or photographic reproduction, examine the changing state of the nation, at a moment when Carlyle's concerns seem more prescient than ever. Each of the artists investigate how we construct our imaginary relationship with the wider body politic. Often, they find, like Jeremy Paxman, that "the idea of 'England' which the English carry in their minds is entirely different to the reality they see around them."

Alice Anderson's video 'See England First' examines the longevity of picture-postcard mythologies of nationhood. Anderson unpicks the traditional vision of England described by John Major as "the country of long shadows on county [cricket] grounds, warm beer, invincible green suburbs, dog lovers and pools fillers, and old maids bicycling to Holy Communion through the morning mist."

Shezad Dawood's newly commissioned project 'Arcadia' is a series of 24 canvases which rework masterpieces and oil sketches by John Constable. Dawood explores the idea of 'translations' between England and the Indian subcontinent, reframing canonical and clich├ęd visions of the poetry of the English landscape for our own time. To create 'Arcadia', he travelled to Pakistan in order to employ artisanal billboard painters to recreate their own versions of 'Constable country'.

Alice Hawkins' new project 'My England' is a body of documentary photographs celebrating what she calls "the everyday burlesque" in English culture. Hawkins' portraits, taken primarily in Essex, examine how traditional ideas of Englishness both survive and are challenged by economic change. The artist's work echoes JG Ballard's argument that "The real England is the M25; business parks; industrial estates and executive housing; sports clubs and marinas; cineplexes; CCTV; car-rental forecourts."

Mustafa Hulusi's photographic practice combines a sharply focussed critique of the dominant order with unexpectedly lyrical and idyllic imagery. His series of screenprints on stainless steel encompass images of military might and catwalk shows, and former colonial territories with edenic landscapes.

Eva Stenram's new series of manipulated photographs reveal CCTV cameras transplanted onto natural, outdoor landscapes. Sprouting from tree trunks, pushing through ferns or perching on fences, the cameras appear redundant and pathetic. Each work endlessly frustrates our desire to know who exactly might be watching whom, or why.

Oliver Walker's video installation, 'Here is Home: Here is England' presents true-story testimonies of Iranian asylum seekers, who having fled their homelands, face a catch-22 situation of being outsiders in both their own and their adopted cultures. Walker 's multi-faceted work echoes Daniel Defoe's conclusion that "A true-born Englishman's a Contradiction / In speech an Irony, in Fact, a Fiction."

The Caravan Gallery (Jan Williams and Chris Teasdale) photograph English life in its glorious idiosyncrasy and eccentricity. Their images call to mind historian Tristram Hunt's remark that "suburbia has always been more of a state of mind than a geographical location."

The condition of England

mit Alice Anderson, Shezad Dawood, Alice Hawkins, Mustafa Hulusi, Eva Stenram, Oliver Walkern The Caravan Gallery (Jan Williams and Chris Teasdale)