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FACE THE FACTS
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Springburn. Test Dept‘s spokesman Angus Farquhar affirms his belief that the current show on the Heritage Industry is ‘the most important statement that Test Dept could make‘.
‘The image I‘ve been using lately to sum it up is that the heart has been ripped out ofindustry. What you’re seeing now all over the country in the way of heritage museums and theme parks. is a transplant — a new heart being put into those dead areas — and what this show is specifically about is who controls the blood supply. Is it an adman’s dream? Is it Disneyesque. or is it to do with the real story of what happened in those places? And it's very much to do with the danger ofthe industrialised past being sanitised. These areas. if they‘re not being knocked down. are being turned into museums where you see a couthy. efficient work force pretending to show how uncomfortable work was. But the struggle is written out ofthe equation. It‘s also indicative of a country where people are beginning to feel more and more comfortable with the past. ()n a vast scale. Britain is going back to its past. to a place where you knew where you stood. where the hierarchies were intact.‘
He echoes Ascherson. who has been developing a critique of Britain as ‘Druidic. essentially authoritarian’. susceptible to the suggestion that recently-invented ‘traditions‘ stretch back to time immemorial. and. as such. ripe for exploitation. particularly by the current government.
‘Thatcherism.‘ he says. from his desk at the Independent on Sunday. ‘is a very strange mixture of. at one level. an attempt to change British society quite radically. and at the same time to pretend it is some kind of restoration of pre-existing values which have been forsaken. of sturdy freedom and entrepreneurship and all the rest ofit.‘
From beating out rhythms on discarded machinery in London. Test Dept have crossed East and West Europe and America. as well as presenting some memorable events in Britain (often on British Rail premises). They have grown more comfortable with the theatricality of their work along the way. adapting their performances to each place they visit and broadening their scope to involve actors. writers. filmmakers. dancers. gymnasts and. for one album. The South Wales Striking Miners’ Choir. Last year‘s triumphant Gododdin was a collaboration with the Welsh theatre group Brith Gof. and showed what could be achieved when all the aspects ofa production -— narrative. music. movement. design. lights and the venue itself- worked as a harmonious whole.
In the last few years. the group. which is half-Scottish. has directed a great deal of its energies towards this country. Their show at the Doulton Fountain last year. a combined celebration of Glaswegian craftsmanship and attack on English imperialism. met a mixed response from those who turned up at Glasgow Green to see it. but the revellers at A Day for Scotland waved flags and cheered the group. quelling fears that they might be canned off by Runrig fans. Their next record. l’ax Britannica. is a collaboration with the Scottish Chamber Orchestra.
Their part in the revival of the annual Beltane Fire. which is held on the eve of Mayday on Edinburgh's Calton Hill. can be seen as a way of subverting the ‘official‘ version of the past. Naturally. paganism doesn‘t havegiuch ofa resonance with the general public any more. but it