Laura Gordon
 
 
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REBRANDING BRITISHNESS

 

Ok Britain, we need to get it together. We’ve spent the last couple of years arguing with each other about what happened on one day in June 2016. There are some fundamentals that we need to figure out. Who are we as a nation and what makes us distinct from the rest of the world? What do we have in common as individuals and as citizens? How does that play out in a global world and in our everyday lives? If these important conversations are left to the politicians, then many people, including younger people, may be left out.

Rebranding Britishness aims to take a fresh, creative approach to these fundamental questions. Over the course of 2018 we have been consulting millennials around the UK, including people who don’t consider themselves British, on what “Britishness” means to them. We’ve curated these conversations using crowdsourced methods, deliberative events and social media engagement. As well as verbal and online input, participants in the consultation were asked to illustrate their ideas around identity, citizenship and belonging using visual objects and imagery.

This project draws together individual experiences and insights gathered from the consultative process, which we have used to create a series of brand identities and visual products which represent modern Britishness. We explore how the use of different verbal and visual languages can articulate perspectives from a range of geographical and cultural backgrounds, and what representations of visual identity can reveal about national identity and belonging. The collection invites others to consider how debates about national identity can engage young citizens, and aims to stimulate further conversations about who we are as a nation, and how we celebrate both what is common and what is distinctive between people from across the UK.

Rebranding Britishness is a collaboration between Common Vision and Laura Gordon. Products available for purchase here.

Supported by Sky Arts ART 50

Product photography by IOIA

 
 

SHIT BUT GREAT COMMEMORATIVE PLATES

 
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ILLUSTRATION BY PEONY GENT, PHOTOGRAPHY AND STYLING BY IOIA

Commemorative crockery usually marks an occasion relating to a historic event or the Royal Family: but ultimately they represent moments which you want to remember because they are really special. This series of 5 plates celebrates items or occasions which are embarrassing or cliched, but nevertheless a much loved aspect of the British experience: Beans on toast; the paper hats in Christmas crackers; “Sun’s out guns out” (the embarrassing way Brits take their clothes off at the first glimpse of sunshine); the feel of the sticky pub carpet underfoot; a soggy day out at the seaside.

None of these things are hugely noteworthy, but in their everyday, self-deprecating way they represent nostalgic creative comforts which invoke affection across regional borders, socio-economic backgrounds and political persuasions. They also point to another recurrent theme in our conversations, the way in which the British sense of humour, eccentricity and irony is an important part of national pride. Liking things not in spite of, but because they are kitsch and rubbish was a concept that united people – even if they didn’t agree on one particular epitome of rubbishness!

 
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CULTURAL PRESERVES

 

A range of rich and fruitful insights emerged from our conversations about eating. Although we had a specific thematic discussion around food, it was mentioned in various ways across the course of the consultation process. Food represents an important part of our everyday lived experiences, but also tells complex stories about provenance, processes and our own consumption behaviours that we aren’t always comfortable with.

This range of Great British classics looks at what the foods we love tells us about our shared history, culture and society. Many have been adopted or have evolved from other countries and cultures: does this mean we are guilty of ‘cultural cannibalism’, or does it speak to a sense of openness and adaptability? Are some classics truly much-loved staples, or are they evidence of undesirable social norms?

From the way our everyday products have been influenced by our trading history, to the quirky regional variations of our favourite dishes, to the rise in food poverty in the UK, this collection juxtaposes light observations alongside some serious commentary on the different ways we accept diversity, and the way we share our resources with others in the small print.

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PHOTOGRAPHY AND STYLING BY IOIA

 
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#SORRYNOTSORRY TOTE BAGS

 
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PHOTOGRAPHY AND STYLING BY IOIA

Brits don’t say what they actually mean! People who have moved here from outside the UK brought this up a lot in our conversations. Of course, some of this stems from ‘politeness’, the idea that we don’t want to cause offence or be too bold or forthright in our interactions with others. This may come from a positive place, but unwritten rules of communication and inferences can also be exclusionary, generating insecurity in those who don’t understand how to receive or translate the point.

This series of bespoke tote bags provide a handy translation of the hidden meanings behind indirect and vague British phrases and regional colloquialisms. They remind us of the rituals of communication and behaviour as well as other rituals of every- day modern life.

 
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SOCIAL QUEUES

 

Is there anything less easy to navigate than the great British queue? Queueing isn’t as simple as it sounds: What’s right and proper on the tube just doesn’t work at the kebab shop. These designs, printed onto playing cards, explains the rules of the game. Each suit is based on an iconic queuing scenario - some more familiar than others - but everyone is expected to know the rules, and will be quietly punished (via a loud sigh or an eye roll) if you don’t.

The queue is based on historic traditions, pride in convention and orderliness. How much of our culture is shaped by behavioural traits and implicit social rules? If these aren’t always made explicit, do they serve to unite us, or to exclude others? How else do we make actively demonstrating belonging a more complex challenge than, perhaps, it needs to be?

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PHOTOGRAPHY AND STYLING BY IOIA

 
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BRITS ABROAD BEACH ESSENTIALS

 
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PHOTOGRAPHY AND STYLING BY IOIA

There’s a cliche about Brits abroad... but the problem is the cliche is often true. This collection represents the hyperawareness in terms of how Brits are perceived overseas: too loud, too orange, too drunk, and either ignorant or lazy in grasping foreign languages and cultural norms.

Many of our participants sought to actively challenge the ster- eotypes of Brits abroad, such as learning a few useful phrases before going somewhere new: represented in this collection as go-to phrases which might come in handy in key millennial holiday destinations. But in some cases, the sense of embarrassment goes deeper than being seen to act ‘appropriately’. Although not many millennials are consciously proud of our imperial history, do we remain overly reliant on being part of a dominant culture and language, and does this create a sense of entitlement abroad? Are we lacking some of the fundamental skills as well as the collective mindset, to operate and be successful in a globalised world?

 
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PERSONAL PASSPORTS

 

If the passport is a symbol of our collective identity, then what icons and symbols should really be represented in its design? Instead of the royal coat of arms, each passport features an individual contribution from our participants. From the pint glass to the school tie, these individual interpretations of Britishness allude to shared experiences, but also hint at what differs in attitudes towards Britishness.

These passports directly showcase the conversations we’ve had in the workshops and online focus groups, and via social media. They demonstrate how for some, Britishness is synonymous with behavioural traits or social experiences. For others, the concept of national identity invokes more uncomfortable reactions and criticisms of social structures and conventions. For others still, national identity strongly relates to memory and nostalgia, some- thing that can become divisive but can also help us empathise with the experiences of others.

If the passport is a symbol of history and legacy, what is it that makes us who we are and who we will be in the future? Are there some memories or historical narratives that can’t be separated from the national story? And how do multiple concurrent identities sit alongside each other for individuals and as a collective nation?

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PHOTOGRAPHY AND STYLING BY IOIA

 
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