On the occasion of the publication of Yan Morvan’s new book “The Iron Age” at Serious Publishing, Sit Down Gallery presents the exhibition “Anarchy in the United Kingdom”, a selection of prints whose negatives were buried in a box named “England” since the eighties. These images are a precious and essential testimony of an era that remained in the collective memory as the golden age of British countercultures.
What happened in England in the late 1970s when Yan Morvan landed there for the first time, defied understanding. This country, “sick man of Europe” as the business community described it, struggling to recover from the oil crisis. Galloping inflation, rising unemployment, colossal deficit, salary freeze, extended strikes, it is as if the seven post-industrial plagues of Egypt had fallen on the big island, once the heart of an empire “on which the sun never set “according to an illustrious formula now obsolete. The Labor government had been reduced to appeal to the International Monetary Fund to avoid sinking and the British nation, accustomed to success, military, economic, or sports, aware of the advantageous position it occupied in history, suffered one of its worst humiliations. This unprecedented slump since the end of the Second World War brought Margaret Thatcher to power in May 1979 to implement a program of a rare brutality. Within a few months, the horse remedy imposed by her government came on the verge of finishing the patient. Activity fell by 10%, unemployment was multiplied by two, entire sections of the industry were collapsing, plunging into precariousness hundreds of thousands of families deprived of social rights, suppressed to meet the ultra-liberal demands of the “Iron Lady”.
When he crossed the Channel in November of the same year, Yan Morvan expected the worst. But certainly not to embark on a crazy ferris wheel which canceled the idea that many had of a country described as a depressed drifting wreck. The London he discovered was more like a “dystopian wonderland” with its bands of punk, nazified skinheads, rough boys, hooligans standing at the ready, mods perched on their scooters. In the photographer’s eye there, was a vast open-air theater whose actors seemed to come out of Orange Mécanique, the grotesque millenarian of stronger Hieronymus Bosch. In the streets, straggling gangs of unproductive youth who want to turn away from despair, for whom boredom seems much worse than suffering …
… Excluded from a system now incapable of integrating them, young Englishmen threw themselves into oblivion to the sound of an ever more fierce and aggressive rock. It all started three years earlier with punk, with Johnny Rotten, a flute player, who, with gut feeling, belching his “no future” with a glimmer of dementia in his eyes. In its wake are engulfed thousands of teenagers aware of being the non-recyclable waste of an economic model only operating in a vacuum. Many of them form groups, opening the golden age of “do it yourself”. An apogee of the resourcefulness, of the assumed independence which gives birth to an abundant artisanal production of records, all of which signify to varying degrees a furious rejection of the world as it is. So never before in history, music had so much cemented a sense of frustration common to a generation deprived of future.
… Here is the essence of what these photos reveal, an England jealous of its traditions, of its savoir vivre which intends to recycle forever a glorious past and another which in convulsions of one of the worst crises of its history look for a reason to be.
Yan Morvan – Anarchy in the United Kingdom
From September 15th to October 18th, 2019
Sit Down Gallery 4 rue Sainte-Anastase