Scarecrow Zoo

Company Name: Welfare State International
Location: Bracknell
Year: 1982

In 1982 Welfare State created Scarecrow Zoo in South Hill Park Arts Centre, Bracknell, Berkshire. It was an amalgamation of Halloween and November 5th celebrations.

John Fox in Engineers of the Imagination:

‘If you’re working for Hallowe’en and November 5th, as we were at Bracknell, then we’ve got our own track record of bonfires (12 in all). There is some literature about traditional customs. So we’ve got a pattern of the way things have been done in certain traditions to draw upon. The reading we store in our heads, then we visit the place and just by talking to people in pubs, and reading local papers, looking at the place, you find what the local preoccupations are. For instance, we found at Bracknell that the local electronics industry is important. Then you think it’s Hallowe’en, you’ve got scarecrows – you pick scarecrows because it’s a simple image that anyone could get hold of, and anyone could make. You start to talk about black crows and you think perhaps the black crows should be missiles, because Ferranti and others make missile control gear. And you say ‘How do we update Hallowe’en, do we update it at all, or do we chuck it out the window?’ But if it still means something about externalised fear and getting rid of demons that are going to terrify you over the long winter, then why aren’t the demons of today black missiles up the road at Greenham Common, where the women are clambering over bulldozers trying to act out everyone else’s soul by saying ‘Let’s stop this, these are the black crows of modern technological society.’ So that gets mixed up with traditional imagery, but you have to be wary. . . if you make it too agitprop, you only preach to the converted, or you alienate. If you make it too sweet,  all you come up with is jolly spectacle which probably makes things worse in the long run by stopping people thinking. So you’ve got your own traditions, you’ve got the country’s traditions, you’ve got the specific preoccupations of the place, like the electronics; you’ve so got the specific geography of the place you’re in. They all start to go together in a sort of cauldron- a cauldron in my head, and hopefully in company members’ heads and then it starts to simmer and distill, and you start to conjure a few key images in the stream.’ (Reproduced here courtesy of John Fox)

Ersha Memote Over There: Open Your Eyes and Think of England, Village Voice, Dec 21st 1982

‘The Welfare State consider themselves “civic magicians”, “engineers of the imagination” who mediate between art and anthropology, which sound condescending and grandiose; the piece itself was simply grand. After standing outside for several hours, in mud and cold, I was dizzy with images, not fatigue. A wildly costumed primitive version of Lear served as prologue; so many things followed – sound, movement, masque -no just summary is possible. Fire was dominant, recurring theme: as warmth and light against encroaching winter, as destruction, as a mystery. The performance was on a huge open field and fireworks could be seen now and then, connecting this festivity with a wider world. Jack-o-lanterns hovered in the surrounding woods. Animals danced and burned. Monstrous comic puppets of Thatcher, Foot, Jenkins, the British bull-dog, the American eagle (mutated into something much like a turkey) feasted burlesquely on more-than-human-size morsels and then exploded.

Off to the side, a dim, oppressive construction loomed. After an hour or so it began to move by itself, night-marishly – to the centre and lit up. Forty feet high, shaped like Breughel’s Tower of Babel, it was covered with flashing neon signs – disco, porno, take-out food, liquor, gambling, rooms for the night – a monument to the dregs of consumerism.  It was scaled by an Angelic Fool, hung about with scarecrows, circled around and around by 20 teenage motor-cyclists. Finally it exploded. This was meant to a happy denouncement, but as deafening charges blew it up from inside and the structure slowly cracked, bits of neon blinking unkillable as roaches until the whole thing went up in flames, the destruction seemed more frightening that the thing destroyed.

It remains were extinguishable by the spout of great whale, and a candle-lit tree of life was brought on. Sweet, but small potatoes as a final affirmative counterpoint, it seemed to me. Then fireworks cascaded in a hundred cariants, ending with a burst that covered the sky, star sized points slowly descending to embrace us like a galaxy. When they faded, everyone went to the bar tent to drink good English beer and tiny English shorts of whiskey, and danced in the mud.’

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