For the Elevation of Man 2013-16
This page shows a small selection of images from my recent exhibition For the Elevation of Man. I have been slowly working on this series of photographs and short texts over the last three years documenting changes to public space as a result of cuts to council budgets in North East England. The work was recently exhibited at Northern Gallery for Contemporary Art as a series of twenty framed hand printed photographs, this is how the curator Alistair Robinson described my work, I like the way he’s drawn out some of the ideas.
"Allen's second exhibition 'For The Elevation of Man', examines the competing ideas of what roles we might hope the State to perform, and what our civic responsibilities are to one another. She asks what, if anything, binds us together: and if there is still, or should be such a thing as 'society'.
Allen's poetic, hypnotically detailed large-format photographs bear witness to a quiet revolution in how we are governed. She observes the bewildering panoply of places, spaces and artefacts accrued by the State over decades - and observes which of them are set to be reordered or redistributed. Allen's observations are poignant and plangent, rather than polemical: but her work is about what is at stake in modern politics. What, if anything, has a value that can be measured through things other than cost alone?
And what could or should be expected of those who govern us? Should the State be a paternalistic overseer, 'nudging' us into bettering ourselves? Can we believe 'less is more' in government as in art? And hope for what the The Daily Telegraph first asked for back in 1956: "the smack of firm government"?
The exhibition's title is taken from the inscription on a Victorian drinking Fountain, donated by public subscription to celebrate a group of philanthropists who secured an area of parkland in Elswick for the public. The inscription on the fountain reads: "They saved this park for public use, for health, beauty and happiness, to elevate man and honour God." Such heroic, munificent ideals seemingly appear as ideological relics. The soaring optimism of such rhetoric almost draws to mind Soviet-era statues, now toppled, and displaced by the victory of consumers' power. In a world where individuals now pay more taxation than major corporations, are such 'gifts' as parks, swimming pools, libraries, and museums mere anachronisms? "