Manufactured Britishness

A guest post by artist and Visiting Artist Campaign supporter Kristina Cranfield, about her project Manufactured Britishness.

‘Manufactured Britishness’ is a project derived from the compulsory and very real ‘Life in the UK’ test created to assess individuals’ eligibility for UK citizenship. The project critically explores the government’s program and displays a future manifestation of the test. In this dystopian future, we see immigrants as an exploitable material – a living currency, compelled to sustain national identity in order to maximise profitable agendas.

The themes underlying this project were driven by my own experience as a UK immigrant, where, in the final stages of my journey, I had to prepare and pass the Life in the UK test before qualifying as ‘British’. It is the last hurdle that all foreign nationals must jump over before being allowed to settle as citizens.

The Life in the UK test was introduced in 2005 and currently features 24 questions with the pass mark set at 75 per cent. It attempts to teach immigrants certain rules and norms such as how to behave in public, important words to know, and common British traditions and customs. The test has been continuously revised since its inception, and in April 2013 it was extended to its third edition, featuring detailed knowledge of British history and traditions – material believed to be crucial for achieving a successful level integration in society. The test has received criticism for its inaccuracies, for being impractical and for being so difficult that most native-born citizens would fail to pass it. Even our prime minister struggled with some of the questions:

A typical question goes as follows:

Which two are associated with Sir Francis Drake?
A The Spanish Armada
B Early flight
C The Titanic
D Sailing around the world

What struck me most about this test was that it selects apparently essential knowledge to determine whether people should qualify for life as British citizens or not. And, by introducing this test, officials claim to identify exactly what British citizenship really is; yet, paradoxically, if unsurprisingly, there has never been one accepted definition.

The film, Manufactured Britishness, is a cautionary tale that critically explores the risks involved in testing citizenship and draws attention to the rather frightening possibilities of where such initiations might lead us in the future.

The narrative is set in post-industrial locations that have ceased to bring any value to the economy. These areas are turned into training zones where immigrants engage in pre-learned and repetitive tasks in order to pass a bizarre test of citizenship. They sing Messiah by Handel, show appreciation for Newton, and demonstrate a calm demeanour when dealing with social accidents and emergencies – all strictly aligned with ostensible Britain’s customs, culture, and values.

In my narrative there is a set protocol for every action and reaction which explicates how to live in the UK. Thus, Britishness becomes manufactured, scripted and, crucially, measurable. The film also highlights and critiques the government’s absurdist inventions contrived for acquiring citizenship, where testing surpasses common sense.

Immigrants have limited rights and a near silent voice in foreign lands, making its almost impossible for us to comprehend the processes we are going through. In Manufactured Britishness these processes are real yet amplified and exaggerated, they are turned into highly stylised, choreographed and surreal activities. This is deliberate. I was curious to find a new aesthetic space that could allow me to stretch beyond the more conventional medium of documentary filmmaking, and by offering novel, engaging and sometimes humorous language, to highlight such complex issues, while underlining the artificial process attaining citizenship itself. Immigration is a daunting and heavy theme. Without using the same worn out words or preaching, I chose to use a more lighthearted and playful approach to record the banal hardships suffered by immigrants. Through this medium, I hope that the issue becomes more accessible and allows the broader public to participate and discuss alternative means for achieving a better future.

Accidental Festival, Manufactured Britishness film screening, Roundhouse, 25.05, London

The 72nd World Science Fiction Convention, Excel London, 14.08-18.08, London
Crossing The Line, Manufactured Britishness installation, Bristol Biennial, 12.11-21.11, Bristol

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