Three installations by a leading contemporary British artist, including a direct response to the claims of Donald Trump and a piece inspired by LGBQT+ concerns, will go on show at Scarborough Art Gallery later this year.
Annabel McCourt’s Suffering Arcadia comprises two new installations commissioned by Scarborough Museums Trust, which runs the gallery, and an existing piece.
The two new pieces are MAGA Grabber and Happy Hour in the Harmful Factory. The third, Electric Fence, was first seen at Hull Minster as part of Hull’s year as the UK City of Culture 2017.
Simon Hedges, head of curation, collections and exhibitions at Scarborough Museums Trust, said Suffering Arcadia was the first step in a programme to bring more contemporary art to Scarborough.
MAGA Grabber is inspired by the news that Donald Trump’s Make America Great Again caps were made in China, and that their manufacturers were stockpiling them while they awaited an American ruling on trade tariffs.
Based on a traditional seaside amusement arcade claw grabber machine, it will incorporate caps and other promotional items commissioned by McCourt from the same manufacturers, with the addition of the words Made in China.
McCourt says: “MAGA Grabber Is a direct response to Donald Trump’s infamous brag that he just grabs women by a certain part of their anatomy.
“We buy into the illusion of an arcade grabbing machine – we want to win, we suspend our disbelief. Indeed the machine’s instruction manual says that ‘a player must fall under the spell of the game through the fact that the grab can pick up the merchandise easily, but he didn’t play accurately enough and wants to try again.
“It’s a seemingly clumsy yet sinister metaphor, another cheap shot at mocking the ‘Leader of the Free World’, but if you stop and take yourself out of the game for a moment, it’s horrifying that it is so easy for people to buy into the illusion, the promise of a reward, and downright disturbing that women, fathers, humans can knowingly participate in a form of mass coercive control – with MAGA Grabber there are no winners, only losers.”
Happy Hour in the Harmful Factory, a two-part hand-written neon artwork, is a feminist response to the futile optimism of milk as a cure-all.
"It draws on multiple cultural inspirations ranging from the recent Novichok poisonings in Salisbury, Margaret Thatcher (Milk Snatcher) and the heightened abhorrence of female child murderers,” said Annabel.
The inclusion of the existing work Electric Fence will give visitors to Scarborough Art Gallery a rare chance to see a piece of work that was a response to the sermon of a North Carolina pastor advocating a ‘solution’ to same-sex marriage: to ‘build a great big large fence, 50 or a hundred miles long. Put all the lesbians in there, fly over and drop some food. Do the same thing with homosexuals. And have that fence electrified so they can’t get out’.
The installation premiered at Hull Minster during Hull 2017’s Freedom season, before going on tour first to Scunthorpe’s 20-21 Visual Arts Centre and most recently to Dak’Art 2018 – Biennale of Contemporary African Art in Senegal.
“I couldn’t have foretold the current climate in my wildest nightmares. First, Trump rises to power promising a wall, then reports of gay men being interned and tortured in concentration camps in Chechnya, evoking the indescribable horrors of Auschwitz," said Annabel.
“Now, a ‘coalition of chaos’ fuelling fear and throwing into question new-found and cherished LGBTQ+ freedoms. Borders, boundaries, terror, fake news… we are trapped in a loop of hatred where the human condition and an architecture of fear are working in perfect harmony.
“Although initially inspired by LGBTQ+ concerns, Electric Fence is an installation for all; exploring freedoms, both physical and metaphorical, loaded with symbolism and carrying the scars of humanity within its very fabric," she said.
Simon Hedges, head of curation, collections and exhibitions at Scarborough Museums Trust, said: “This new commission is a continuation of the work I started with Annabel McCourt during Hull UK City of Culture 2017.
"Her work addresses injustice, employing a quietly challenging and approachable language, bridging global socio-political and gender-based issues at both an individual and collective level.
“Suffering Arcadia is the first part of our new three-year programme. Scarborough and the surrounding region can look forward to a new platform for contemporary art.”
Suffering Arcadia is at Scarborough Art Gallery from Saturday May 11 to Sunday August 18.
The gallery is open Tuesdays to Sundays (plus Bank Holiday Mondays) from 10am to 5pm.
Entry is free with an annual pass, which costs £3 and gives the bearer unlimited access to both Scarborough Art Gallery and the Rotunda Museum for a year.