Thinking more about sheet material cut into pieces to make 3-d form, Bill Woodrow came to mind – specifically his work from the mid-80s, the middle years of Thatcher who was overturning a generations-long habit of thrift in favour of American-style economics: buy and throw away.
For a sculptor this provided a mine of material as consumer durables (cars, fridges, stoves) were discarded in a new spirit of excess. Woodrow took these heavy metal surfaces and cut out the flat shapes that could make new objects – one complicated shape, left attached to the original car hood or whatever it was, carefully folded up to make a camera, or a gun, or a helmet. The source material itself was ideologically marked; the sculptures equally so.
Looking through the work on his extensive website, one is struck by the carefully controlled violence of the pieces. A lot refer to war. It looks like Britannia's helmet above. 1982 had been Mrs Thatcher's Falklands War, guaranteed to boost her political profile, Britain's economy and a revival of valorious military sacrifice. Many of Woodrow's objects anticipate surveillance society with cameras and microphones peeled out of the shiny enamel of a car door: Diana's death predicted from the early days of her celebrity.
The early 1980s changed British society radically, culminating in the economic meltdown of last year, the 'special relationship' that took Britain to war several times alongside the US, and the overwhelming conspicuous consumption that was promoted as a British 'right'. It was a revolution as radical as the breaking of the Berlin Wall a few years later, and all through it British artists were commenting, critiquing, calling attention to changes made for the sake of politics.
As I write this, I'm listening to BBC Radio 4: Birds and the Battlefield. 'Security correspondent Frank Gardner, examines the links between soldiers and birds and the comfort troops can find in times of stress', from poems, letters and journal entries from WWI to the Falklands to Bosnia, Iraq and Afghanistan. Watching birds, hearing birdsong, rescuing birds, protecting nests, washing oil-drenched birds, befriending birds.
Some British preoccupations survive.