The Heritage Industry in Britain emerged in the 1980s. Although the term was new, the practice had a lengthier existence that stretched back to the late eighteenth century with the writings of the Reverend William Gilpin. Gilpin appealed to the middle-class leisured traveller to take pleasure from the picturesque; this appeal became the sales pitch of the travel agent to the modern tourist. Outdated picture guidebooks that portray an idealized landscape are the raw material for David Ferry’s artworks.
The pictorial books that Ferry uses are found in high-street charity shops. Slightly battered and discarded by their former owners, they show a Britain before the decline of recent decades. The books have become antique; they stand as ruins of a lost past. The BBC television programme, Antiques Roadshow, was born at the end of the 1970s. The show’s format is for a team of experts to visit historic sites across the country to evaluate the treasures brought to them by members of the public. As with the bric-a-brac of the charity shop, vulgar objects rub shoulders with those of genuine value. Ferry’s own road-trip follows a similar route as he inserts the common imagery of the hobbyist into the grand locations of British history, and so the idyllic is ruined by the unsightly.
David Ferry’s altered books share their lineage with the series of guidebooks sponsored by the oil company Shell. These publications, published from 1934, were a county-to-county introduction to the delights of the nation. Under the editorial control of the poet John Betjeman, and later the artist John Piper, these guides have become valued surveys. Unlike Gilpin’s leisured travellers, the consumers of the Shell guides were the twentieth-century motorists whose nostalgic viewpoint fuelled the conservative culture of an unspoiled Britain. It is a vision that David Ferry playfully defiles in his own atlas of the country.
Stephen Clarke, August 2018