Stuart Murphy

History from below and microhistory are areas which dominate my practice, exploring the undervalued and persecuted - vagrants, slaves, masterless men, radical peasants, etc. - their communities, subversive culture and anti-authoritarian politics. My work also attempts to gain an understanding of the effect pandemics, famines, enclosure acts; sumptuary, vagrancy & labour laws; and other authoritarian reigns of terror (culminating with Foucault's 'Great Confinement') had on lower class people, and how radical and heretical sects displayed various acts of resistance to counter this oppression.

I mainly work in drawing, assemblage sculpture, collage, painting and text, with the majority of materials either inexpensive, free, re-purposed or salvaged, such as newsprint, ink, acrylic, electrical tape, mannequins, string, used food packaging, old drawings and various types and sizes of paper. Initially due to cost restraints, this low budget use of materials has now become a staple and important aspect of the work.

Every century has eventful turning points, none more devastating than the Black Death of 1348, which the historian, Silvia Federici, identifies as a "watershed" moment in history. This is understandable, however, I'd personally apply that across the entire 14th century if you consider the other devastating event - the Great Famine, occurring over 30 years prior. Both events caused not only mass depopulation, but a knock on effect of political, religious and social turmoil which continued throughout the following centuries, the remnants of which can still be felt to the present day. Out of this upheaval evolved the previously fractured idea of class consciousness into a more solid concept, made evident by the bursts of resistance (notably, the Jacquerie in 1358 and the Peasants' Revolt of 1381) which became more frequent in following centuries, and on a more nationwide rather than provincial scale; thus becoming a significant and symbolic moment in lower class history.

This after effect of the Black Death, which literally 'turned the world upside down' is a main focus of my work. From the drastically reduced labour supply due to depopulation and, in turn, the mobility of masterless men and vagrants, to the dissolution of Feudalism and the authoritarian concern of vagrancy by implementing various labour and vagrancy laws, and the gradual growth of corporal punishment and public humiliation between the mid 14th and 17th centuries.

Carnival, a staple of popular/folk culture, and its various ritualistic ways also feed into my work. Although considered as a safety valve from above to prevent revolt from below by providing a space for 'letting off steam', it was also believed to be a cover for revolt by dissenters taking advantage of the relaxed laws during that time, or even a starting point for revolt with the intention of eventually spilling out into everyday life. In any case, a subversive phenomenon in whatever capacity - upturning social norms, if only mockingly and symbolically (such as role-reversal), where social status is dissolved, and spectators don't exist as everyone involved is part of a social body; reduced to their basic bodily functions of eating, drinking, fornicating and shitting.