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Is Britain In A State Of Hidden Civil War? Time To Face Facts

22/09/2016 10:21

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Commentators talk of 'seismic 'shifts in the political landscape, varying states of post-Brexit 'crisis' and hard-to-dispute daily assertions, with supporting evidence, that we live in uncertain and tumultuous times. Yes, agreed, but when are we going to get to the heart of the matter? Does this state of near constant turmoil, brought into sharp relief by the EU Referendum, not turn our suspicions to the theory of a persistent and obvious menace - Britain is in a state of hidden civil war.

If a civil war isn't fought with the fire of ammunition, can it be cultivated by an untamed media, self-interested legislators and cowardly, unaccountable corporations? What happens if it's a near-undetectable, low hum sounding throughout all of our lives? If we don't notice it, we're agents of it and unable to resist. How do we choose sides? How can we win? Let's start by facing up to it.

Britain's hidden civil war is a state that was exposed, first via the financial crisis of 2008, when the tide went out and revealed the vested interests of the dominant and most powerful elements of our society, sustained over the following eight years in the interests of the same, prevailing forces, before turning its latest trick: the campaign to leave or remain in the EU aiming to skewer what remained of cohesive society.

At first glance, the idea of a civil war within these lands may seem crazy, but just how far-fetched is this in the age of the Hillsborough revelations, phone tapping by the media and the disappearance of thousands of BHS jobs in the name of creating unimaginable individual wealth? We fear terrorism, nuclear disaster and other unlikely, catastrophic events more readily than civil war as our state of conflict is, perhaps, our 'new normal'.

The signs of militarised violence are replaced with domestic violence and abuse, household debt and payday loans, deterioration of the NHS, increases in racial tensions, fragmentation of communities and zero-hours contracts. It is the environment in which 'us versus them' cultures proliferate amongst people without power and privilege, without the means to determine their own laws, leaving the road clear for those that do.

Just who does really benefit from ideas such as Brexit, austerity and privatisation? These are the questions found at the heart of the work of a number of artists from the UK and around the world that are stepping up to the plate - not just now, but constantly - to examine the constant attacks on people who can't ascend the accepted economic and political systems. Those people might be migrants, the unemployed and, perhaps, the artists themselves.

An artist and activists role is often to challenge what is true, acquire knowledge of alternatives and, as a result, challenge the norms that become engrained. Newcastle is home to Hidden Civil War, a concentrated period of art expression throughout October, inviting artists such as Darren Cullen - the originator of the 'pop-up' Pocketmoney Loans for children outlet as well as a series of maimed Action Men toys - and Richard De Domenici, who held a funeral cortege for London's social housing provision earlier in the year, to find and reveal evidence of our hidden civil war.

Asking artists to do it, often in collaboration with communities, means we get to appreciate and celebrate alternative voices and expressions of life with honesty, whilst also disrupting and dis-lodging mainstream forms of knowledge and understanding. Hidden Civil War won't be some 'lefty finger pointing exercise', as the organisers we know that we are truly all in this together, in as much as we are all economic addicts and unwittingly complicit.

There are no simple solutions to identifying and solving Britain's hidden civil war - we don't know who is fighting or who we should be rooting to win - but that cannot mean simple surrender. Placing art at the heart of our exploration is no mistake, it's vital, but it is not in isolation. Voices and ideas from the areas of food, land, travellers, domestic violence, poverty, asylum and debt are all vital to finding grains of truth that allow us to face up to our Hidden Civil War. To face difficult truths in troubled times, we require deep collaboration, reflection and above all, listening.

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