United Kingdom, 2012–2016 | The Unstitute (Marianna and Daniel O’Reilly)
NEO-LONDON speculates on the state of the former capital of the British Empire after a fictional financial crisis in 2012 that has rendered it into a “fallen city.” The project invites users to meander through the streets and alleyways of an archive, where they will encounter characters, news reports, interviews, and fictional situations. It asks us to imagine a possible future when western liberalism has collapsed upon its imperial foundations by focusing on a city that without irony once declared itself to be the center of the world.
“The project has developed since the onset of the London Riots in 2012 and the [United Kingdom] Government’s suggestion that there was ‘no cause’ for the disturbance,” explain Marianna and Daniel O’Reilly. The project thus unsettles the state’s arrogant condescension and naïve faith in the status quo — a nihilism, as they describe it. The Unstitute responded by doing the exact opposite: it looked for the causes of disturbance.
Like the economic and political models generated by social scientists, The Unstitute’s speculations could not anticipate the actual history that has transpired over the past five years. Spring and summer of 2017 were dominated by headlines of fires in public housing, terrorist attacks, and the ruling Conservative Party’s questionable alliance with the far-right Democratic Unionist Party after their failed attempt to garner a mandate in the snap election, which itself followed last summer’s rise of white nationalism in the Brexit decision to leave the European Union. As critics have pointed out, Great Britain is on the verge of becoming Little England.
The archive is organized in four sections or territories: Symptom, Siege, World’s End, and Body Politic. Each invites users to become immersed in a fictional world of “research and narrative fabrication.” Its graphic design and choice of fonts evokes the satirical antics of Monty Python, marking a contrast with the project's photographic images of violence. Guiding the way is Chief Curator, Maverick Topographer and Nomad CADE, named after Jack Cade, who led a rebellion against government corruption in 1450 by declaring himself mayor of London, which itself became mired in looting by its own rebels.
Although London remains a relatively safe enclave within the United Kingdom, the crisis imaged in NEO-LONDON might help us find ways to navigate the ever-shifting geographies of London today. The project emphasizes pyschogeography — ways that the city can be written with psychological coordinates, rather than physical ones. Inhabitants navigate political corruption and environmental degradation with informal dwellings. Comments point to shortcomings in the very structure of the city that are causes for its collapse. In other words, NEO-LONDON makes visible what we have been acculturated not to notice.