Britain Been Rotten
Domino Houses Billboard, Bounds Green Road, N22 8YB
5 - 30 June 2019
‘Illegal and would be illegal migrants and the public more widely, need to know that our immigration system has “teeth”, and that if people do not comply on their own[,] we will enforce their return, including through arresting and detaining them,’
– Amber Rudd, ‘The Guardian’, 2018
Jennifer Martin works primarily with photography, moving image, and installation. A driving question within her practice involves the role of art and media in the social and psychological construction of race and citizenship, and its intersection with agency, nostalgia, and identification.
Her work developed for the billboard site stems from her recent body of research entitled ‘Oral Universe’, which concentrates on immigration and assimilation. One strand of this research, TEETH—which will be exhibited later this October at Primary (Nottingham)—looks at the entanglement of love, power, and administration as well as the production of borders, identity and belonging through the framework of immigration. This wider body of research takes as its starting point a quote lifted from a leaked letter written by the then Home Secretary Amber Rudd to Prime Minister Theresa May. Teeth are the bite of the UK immigration system, its violence and its desirous devouring.
As the old British dental saying goes, ‘don’t let the rot set in’. In new work developed for the billboard site, Jennifer channels the mythology of the ‘tooth worm’; an ancient belief that has roots across the Middle East and Asia. She posits the fictitious parasite, imagined to be the cause of toothache and pain, as analogous to the immigrant/migrant, the mythical cause of rot as espoused by hostile government policy. Within the work, a composition of 3D stock model graphics are accompanied by the voice of the ‘tooth worm’; text-based extracts from a more extensive soliloquy that draws upon histories of sugar and tobacco stained legacies of empire, island isolationism and nationalism, surveillance culture, marginalisation, and the optimistic philosophy of Alexander Pope’s An Essay on Man (1734).
Your breath already fouled from transgression – whiffs of tobacco, rum, sugar –
Plaque encircling the enamel, concentric patterns of decay, echoing the looping of our histories.
I the tooth worm - you proffer - steal from you.
– Jennifer Martin, ‘Britain Been Rotten’, 2019
Her billboard artwork, Britain Been Rotten, will be accompanied by a screening event showing a varied selection of moving image works that bear teeth on Saturday 22 June 2019, and by a digital commission for online project space SKELF to be exhibited on http://www.skelf.org.uk/ between 17 July – 15 October 2019. Design developed and executed in collaboration with Joe Baglow (Baglow & Sons).