Between the Acts, Part II – The Brexit Lexicon

The Brexit Lexicon is a two channel video work (c. 80 minutes) that explores the store of metaphors and verbiage that have become the stock in trade of politicians and journalists during Britain’s exit from the Europe Union. Creating a compendium of the most common terms that have coloured the way Britain and the EU have described current political discussions associated with Brexit, the lexicon is read out by a news presenter who appears at a desk in an anonymous news television studio against a green-screen.

The lexicon is presented as a monologue addressed to the viewer as the newscaster reads from a teleprompter. The broadcast itself remains unedited; we hear all the news reader’s hesitations, mistakes, his pauses for breath or to drink from a bottle of water. He is a news journalist, not an actor, and the video was shot in a real news studio, and yet the event is orchestrated, a stage-set. The broadcast’s artifice reflects an exploration of the way in which Brexit was reported; the combination of truths and mistruths, and sense of media ‘noise’ that has surrounded the negotiations. The projects asks questions about the function of mass media in a post-truth environment and explores how language has been wielded in the process of campaigning and reporting; notably inventive, drawing on historical figures and events, veering from a Hogarthian commentary on social mores, convenient xenophobic and often racist rhetoric to hyperbolic declarations of financial ruin, cultural collapse and back again to economics shorthand, political slander, and acronyms.

The lexicon was created through a kind of ‘fieldwork’, by collating newsprint from British media organisations, newspapers, campaign websites, Facebook pages, and official documents issued by the British Government and European Union. Over the course of two years, notable headlines and terminology that has been used to describe the Brexit progress were gathered together to form a database containing nearly five thousand individual words.

A special edition publication of the work was created to mark Brexit Day, 31 January 2020, when the the UK’s membership of the European Union officially ended. The design mimics the format of a TV teleprompter where the pages of the book concertina out to produce one continuous list of words, unfolding to nearly 18 metres long.

The Brexit Lexicon was created with support from Arts Council England and is the second lexicon work Roberts has produced, the first being the Credit Crunch Lexicon (2011-2012).


View installation shots here

Article featured on BBC Culture referencing the Brexit Lexicon (link)

Review of the Brexit Lexicon installation at Regency Town House by Kitty Bew (pdf)