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We don't hear much about 'Big Society' anymore, this exhibition changes that

[THIS WEEK] James Pallister looks at two new exhibitions focusing on social mobility and exclusion

We don’t hear very much about the ‘Big Society’ any more. Photographer Harry Hall is bringing David Cameron’s phrase back to our attention with his contribution to The Social, a festival of documentary photography in Sunderland, Durham, Gateshead and Washington. Hall’s series ‘The Small Society’ was shot in food banks and community halls. As Hall puts it: ‘Long after the echoes of hollow political rhetoric have been forgotten, the quiet army of volunteers will “just get on with it”. Why? Because it just needs doing.’ The festival has some great work in it, including pieces from Simon Roberts (AJ 05.09.13) and Tim Mitchell. Many of the artists use the landscape and people of the North East as their subject matter.

Adrian Street and his father, 1973, photographed by Dennis Hutchinson

Adrian Street and his father, 1973, photographed by Dennis Hutchinson

Meanwhile, artist Jeremy Deller’s exploration of, among other things, how the industrial revolution and urbanisation shaped working class and pop culture, has opened in Manchester. The show’s title: All that is Solid Melts into Air, borrows from Karl Marx via Marshall Berman, whose 1981 book of the same title explored the self-destructive tendencies of Modernity. For Marx, the phrase served as a lyrical evocation of how capitalism’s constant expansion can render things once stable – institutions, pathways and received ways of thinking – precarious and irrelevant. There’s a cruel co-incidence of the Deller-curated exhibition, which traces the social mobility of present-day UK celebrities: never many generations from a labourer or miner, it seems with a report presented to parliament this week. The document states that, for the first time in 100 years, middle-class children can expect to have standards of living lower than their parents’.


The Social: Encountering Photography, 18 October-16 November, various venues; All That Is Solid Melts Into Air, a Hayward Touring exhibition curated by Jeremy Deller: Manchester Art Gallery until 19 January 2014, then touring to Nottingham, Warwick and Newcastle

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