A.S. 2004, inc. short text about staging this work)
The installation Class had three iterations between 1990 and 1993. For each, the spartan interior of a temporary classroom was simulated, and in each case this held a single video projection with audio, multiple 35mm slide projections and "light box" school desks.
Other objects, used in various ways include: OHP transprencies; large pointed "fruit-picking" ladders; school rulers; cheap audio cassette players with audio loops; blue-tinted institutional-style bulkhead lights; a variety of standard wooden, local authority school furniture, including stools (with added wheels) and rows of folding seats.
In number and arrangement these items inferred a mixing
up of two systems of measurement: the British Imperial system, with
its feet and inches, divisions of two, four, eight, twelve, etc.; and
the metric system, sometimes associated with the Europeanisation of
In a square, high gallery a single video projection at the centre of one wall shows extracts from a television broadcast: the annual Queen's Christmas Day Message. The footage is digitally "re-shot" as though from a screen. This allows for the use of zooms and pans to deconstruct the stage-management of the scene, in which the monarch is surrounded by children, standing and kneeling. The voice is absent, replaced by a dirge-like sound field created from multiple sources, including an extremely slowed-down national anthem.
The Queen's Message segment alternates with a sequence showing a weird agro-industrial mechanism: a rotating sheaf of corn above an ascending, articulated wooden conveyor belt. The eye is continually drawn into the dark space between these elements by their complimentary, inward motions.
Wooden school rulers inscribed with phrases from the exterior of the Harris building are used in various forms throughout the installation. The phrases include: MENTAL RICHES YOU MAY HERE ACQUIRE; TO LITERATURE ARTS AND SCIENCES; COMMUNITIES EXIST FOR HOROURABLE DEEDS; ON EARTH THERE IS NOTHING GREAT BUT MAN; IN MAN THERE IS NOTHING GREAT BUT MIND; REVERENCE IN MAN THAT WHICH IS SUPREME.
The inscribed rulers appear, magnified, in a continuous band around the tops of the interior walls. Similar giant rulers also creep up and along the walls (by means of mechanically-rotated OHP projections), and slam across the image of the monarch's broadcast, forming a criss-crossed barrier.
All around the walls, beneath the rulers, are white line drawings: a frieze of ongoing struggles involving "pawns" (chess pieces) and other allegorical figures, toiling for various forms of transitory advantage. A 'Dead Monarch' lies in a plot demarcated by pennants, each bearing the iconic head of Queen Victoria from a Royal Mail Penny Black stamp.
Twelve pointed ladders are evenly spaced around four sides, contrarily inverted against the walls. Their higher rungs support 35mm slide projects aimed across the space to the opposite wall (creating the frieze around the room). The ladders frustrate any thought of ascent, since they point downwards and inwards, referring reflexively back to the closed interior.
Two rows of six school desks stand open along opposite walls, their interiors converted into light-boxes. Each bears a text plate carrying a short narrative. Together, these present a pseudo-mythical conception of character, land and nation at odds with orthodox renditions of Englishness. To read, visitors can sit on wooden stools which can be trundled along two straight tracks laid along the rows of desks.
Other seating is provided at the centre of the space,
facing the video projection. Here the viewer is flanked by lines of
blue bulkhead lights and audio cassette players. All are fixed to the
floor; the latter under black grilles, playing endless loops of a child's
voice uttering incomplete sentences: 'And I think and I think and I
think... I wanted to say...'
Here, most of the elements from the first version are used, rearranged to suit a longer, oblong space. The model for this arrangement is the interior of the British House of Commons, with its opposing tiers of seats. The volume dilineated by the inverted ladders echoes this seating, and the blue bulkhead lights down the centre of the floor emphasise the expectation of an oppositional politics inherent to the layout of the Commons.
The frieze of rulers and drawings is configured along opposite long walls. Audio cassette players now hang in two rows of five, facing each other across the space. They play loops of generic, tit-for-tat barracking from Labour and Conservative leaders.
The original video sequence is used.
A different set of rulers is used for this version of the work, inscribed with the phrases: jus sanguinis: the law according to blood and jus soli: the law according to soil. These summarise principles behind the right to reside in a nation state based on genetic/ethinic lineage (right of blood) and/or geographical origins (right of soil).
A curtain of these rulers (projected) divides off the school desks from the deeper interior of the space. In this version, the first desk on the left bears a plate taken from an edition of Tom Brown' Schooldays, Thomas Hughes's famous novel of English public school life. It shows a man reclining in a quintessentially English landscape, the whole scene tinted deep blue. In subsequent plates the reclining man, in a triangle of blue, is interposed into various landscapes framed for the nineteeth-century european, colonial eye. (This set of desks is also the stand-alone work After Tom Brown's Schooldays).
On a semi-transparent screen, like the curtain of rulers, a video projection shows a sequence in which the artist ritually measures his own blue body using one of the inscribed rulers.
Further into the space an image, split between two OHP transparencies, is reconstituted in projection, filling one wall. It shows a garden party (most likely to celebrate the Coronation of Queen Elizabeth II) in which children are dressed as iconic elements of a British nation. Another "scale" is superimposed on this scene: via a system of ten blue bulkhead lights and the black safety trunking bearing their power cables.