Artist Jonathan Ellery is no stranger to provocation. His love of breaking the rules and sidestepping constraints has been a cornerstone of his art practice for more than a decade. ‘Interpret the world as you want to see it,’ he says. ‘Construct the reality that you want to inhabit. I believe that is possible and that’s complete freedom. There are no rules.’
His latest work does exactly this. A site-specific billboard installation accompanied by the release of a 850-page telephone directory-esque tome titled Populism is Ellery’s response to the ‘manipulation and unravelling state of contemporary world politics’. Populism is his thirteenth solo publication to date.
‘There is so much happening politically in the world at the moment and the bombardment of mass media that comes with it is tangible,’ says Ellery, who earlier this year, released a book titled A Bewildered Herd – an examination of the notion of democracy. ‘I’m fascinated with how easy it appears to be, to control and manipulate a democratic electorate.’
In this follow-up book, which Ellery describes as ‘almost absurd in its execution’, 416 black large scale numbers are printed sequentially across its 850 white pages - their presence purely aesthetic. ‘A typeface has been chosen. It’s slick and modern and comes with the promise that everything will be ok,’ he says. ‘The false assumption of intelligence, but in reality it is a con.’
Along with the book, a corresponding billboard was unveiled before the General Election
Breaking up the monotony in a rather unexpected and shocking fashion, are a repeating series of three halftone printed photographs of ‘fully exposed arseholes’, each one taking up a double page spread. Preferring to remain oblique as to the arseholes’ exact metaphorical meaning, Ellery allows us to draw our own conclusions, ‘They break up the banality of a set rhetoric,’ he says. ‘A slap in the face as it were. There are two male arseholes and one female arsehole.’
While the sculptural, special edition book is already available to buy via Ellery’s website, the billboard was unveiled yesterday, three days before the UK election. Located on the corner of London’s Old Street and Shoreditch High Street, the traditional 48-sheet billboard will be a text-based intervention intended to subtly subvert the language of marketing and advertising commonly associated with hoardings.
‘There were two main reasons why a billboard was chosen,’ explains Ellery of the piece, which will be on show for two weeks. ‘Firstly the medium suited the political nature of the work, and secondly there is a general election taking place.’ With tens of thousands of people expected to pass the site, Ellery says he ‘no idea what the public will make of it.’ He speculates, ‘Some may sense a cynicism, engage and explore beyond. Others may assume it the re-birth of American Apparel.’
He continues: ‘Beyond the obvious cynicism of this work, there is a positive. An 850-page ridiculous book such as this should never really be, and yet it is. And that is the point.’