Simon Roberts the Election Artist hits Hampstead with a protest

PUBLISHED: 15:25 16 May 2012

© SIMON ROBERTS

© SIMON ROBERTS

© SIMON ROBERTS

Occupy London ephemera and protest posters make up the artist's new exhibit, coming to Swiss Cottage gallery

»Simon Roberts is coming to Hampstead and he’s not doing things by halves. The artist begins his mini-presentation on his plans for the Swiss Cottage gallery space by telling me about how he will fill a wall with words – 5,000 of them- that are the lexicon of the economy and the crisis. “The crisis has moved terminology and jargon from the business pages on to the front pages of our newspapers, radios and TV sets – these words have become part of our everyday language,” he says. “Phrases like credit crunch, default swap. This is an alphabetised list that begins with austerity decade and ends with zeroflation”.

The word map is just one of the approaches he has taken in documenting the economy and its effects which include photographing and collecting protest signs, taking pictures of sales banners and collecting posters and ephemera from the Occupy London protest – something Roberts describes as “almost an art installation in itself.”

“There’s been a rich tradition of photographers exploring austerity. In America in the Great Depression, you had Walker Evans and here, during the Miners’ Strike, you had lots of pretty political photography during the 80s. Paul Graham did work in job centres. What’s interesting is that, recently, there’s actually been very little work made about what’s going on now and so it kind of seemed to me like an important thing to be looking at. Mapping in a visual form initially what are the results of this coalition government and how is that affecting the landscape of the country.”

The library is an apt choice of venue. “It’s a place about learning and dialogue – it is also somewhere which is open to a different audience to a traditional gallery space. It is also a resource which is being hit,” says Roberts, who was a geography graduate-turned-news photographer before his art life came into being.

Exploring the economy in this way is an idea which came off the back of being the election artist for the 2010 general election (he was charged with the task of documenting the campaign trail). Before that, Roberts worked on a project about the leisure landscape of Britain and how we use our space. A big part of his work is collaborative As election artist, he invited people across Britain to contribute their photographs of the campaign trail, creating a 15m wall in Parliament covered in the collected images. This time, he is inviting visitors to leave messages at the exhibition about the effects of the economy on them or their thoughts about the situation we are in – either physically, by writing on a wall, or digitally, using the Twitter hashtag #LetThis BeASign, a useful outlet for (among others) a cheated generation, who as Roberts observes, are dissatisfied and trying to have their voices heard.

For Roberts, his work on the economy is unresolved. “The frightening thing is that it is only going to get worse. People are saying we’re coming out of recession but actually the effects for most people won’t be felt for months yet.” Will that be his next project? “Well, perhaps looking at alternatives. It’s all very well looking at the effects, but I also think it is important as an artist to give some suggestion of what else could be done. It will be interesting to see if people have suggestions about what could change and how we could be different.”

L Let This Be A Sign is at Swiss Cottage Library in Avenue Road from May 25 to July 1 as part of the London Festival of Photography. For further information, visit simonc roberts.com/letthisbeasign. There will be an artist gallery tour and placard-making workshop on June 16 from 2pm to 4.30pm.

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