Most model villages are rural idylls. A row of cottages, a parish church, a duckpond, that sort of thing. But yesterday I visited a model village that's anything but, in a railway arch off Southwark Bridge Road. You might have seenit at Dismaland in Weston-Super-Mare over the summer, as part of Banksy's seaside bemusement park. And now it's come to London, rather closer to the environment it represents, and you have two months to take a peek. [10 photos]
The creator of this dystopian model village is Jimmy Cauty, one of the members of 90s pop collective the KLF. He's morphed from successful bandsman to artist with a social conscience, with a particular focus on the rule of law. In 2011 he placed model police and protesters inside glass to create A Riot In A Jam Jar, a concept which latergrew into an entire installation. Entitled The Aftermath Dislocation Principle it covers the equivalent of one square mile, but at 1:87 scale, from a cluster of tower blocks in one corner to a bleak country lane in the other. There are cars and buildings and houses like any other model village, but here represented in the aftermath of a riot so generally wrecked, empty or rolled over. And although there are no residents - they've either fled or been taken away - over 3000 police officers are standing around in hi-vis jackets and collectively wondering what to do next.
Naturally it's excellent.
The whole thing's quite dark, both in tone and in illumination. A roving spotlight moves above the town, but it's the combination of sodium lamps and blue flashing lights which provides most of the atmosphere. But keep looking carefully, because the attention to detail is spectacular. The billboards have twisted slogans for multinational brands, the Meat Rendering Plant is named Slaughterhouse 22, and there's even a proper scaled-down road sign showing the turnoff for the Model Village. Ah, the irony of a poster urging you to join the Bedfordshire Police, in a neighbourhood seemingly inhabited by nobody else. Poor old Bedfordshire has been selected for this fictional dystopia, I'd say more likely Luton than the county town itself, but the location is never further narrowed down.
At Weston-Super-Mare the village was so popular that visitors started walking off with the figures, so a fence was swiftly erected around it, and here in London that's been taken one step further. The entire board is surrounded by a hoarding drilled with holes, and visitors can only peer inside through one of these. Rather than scanning the whole thing far too quickly you find yourself forced to view each tableau in turn, taking in each set piece with a smile. A car stacked up in a pyre of branches. A lorry toppled from a traffic-free overpass. A Burger King restaurant entirely overrunwith police officers. And my personal favourite, a roadblock on a flyover where the media have pulled up in outside broadcast trucks to hear a speech from the Home Secretary, who's standing on a podium and has a big black cross on her back.
I'd not have realised it was the Home Secretary if I hadn't read the map provided on the way in, so make sure you check this out or you'll miss some visual treat. That stage erected in the midst of the tower blocks is for some X Factor-style competition, although the gallows alongside suggests elimination has been taken over-seriously. The helicopter hemmed in by an army escort supposedly contains the Duchess of Cambridge, her destiny never to evacuate. And the McDonalds drive-thru has suffered a particularly appropriate vehicular accident... actually yes, I spotted that one without the need for the map to point it out.
What's more, the model village still isn't finished. The main S-shaped board, yes, but an additional zone is under construction in the front half of the arch. The latest creation is New Bedford Rising, a gold-encrusted pyramid inside which the police force is building a fresh crime-free society. Officers can be seen ferrying supplies inside, either through a ground level portal or up steep external staircases, Egyptian style. Even better, you can watch the miniature construction project unfold at the workshop benches alongside, where a small team of model makers are busy cutting material and painting fresh policemen. All the materials are laid out, including boxes and boxes of not-yet-yellow human figures, with a full-size Bedfordshire Police caravan behind to act as store and bolthole.
You might even see Jimmy himself, as I did yesterday afternoon, continuing to treat his pet project with the seriousness its subject matter deserves. The model village is open between noon and six at weekends, and noon and seven from Wednesdays to Friday, and continuing until 28th January. Admission is £4, which is about right assuming you hang around and take a proper look. And it's not busy, at least not yet, the arch in America Street being far enough off the beaten track that you'll not walk past by accident. To find the entrance follow the railway line west from London Bridge station (or walk in from Borough, or catch the RV1), and look for the postered entrance beside the car valet. Excellent both in its construction and as an incisive satire on the way we live today, Jimmy's model village is well worth a look.