Across the UK, more than one million people aged 16 to 24 are unemployed. Frustration is widespread, and localized reports of competition for jobs being as high as 50 applications per position are common. Many of the unemployed are university-educated and desperate to work.
In the summer of 2011, riots spread around the UK. Although initially sparked by the police shooting of a London resident, they spilled out to other areas of the country, with high unemployment rates cited as being one of the causes. The London Borough of Haringey, which saw more than its fair share of trouble, had the highest rate of unemployment in the capital at the time.
In April 2012, artist Alexander Augustus, having experienced a long period of unemployment and unpaid internships from 2009 to 2011, began a project to try and raise awareness of the issue. After over a year working with fellow The Bite Back Movement artist Seung Youn Lee, the pair's efforts have culminated in an exhibition titled A Dangerous Figure, currently running at London's Somerset House.
Update, August 27th, 2020: Here’s a new URL in case the one linked above isn’t working.
- A Dangerous Figure is situated in Somerset House's Deadhouse Gallery. On entering the exhibition, you're confronted with the continually-morphing image of the UK's unemployed masses. Job applications hang from the ceiling, carrying with them the frustrated hopes of thousands into the darkness.
- A wall of unsuccessful applications. Jobs applied for range from supermarket clerks to fully-qualified English teachers. On the left is the exhibition's logo, which, as well as being a ligature of "1" and "m," also served as the template for the composite "average unemployed" image.
Augustus and Lee's art collective, The Bite Back Movement, surveyed "tens of thousands" of young people, collecting information and photos through a web app. With the help of collaborators, they then created an algorithm that averages together a random subset of images. The photos are swapped in and out at random, creating a lingering animation that's constantly changing.
The image above is a static representation of that animation: the average face of an unemployed young Briton.
- A graphic novel accompanying the exhibition transforms dialogue from countless interviews into a narrative that aims to empower unemployed people.
- The space is filled with small rooms, into which dialogue is piped. Chairs are arranged facing each other, which gives the feeling of being in an interview. Each room also has a copy of the graphic novel.
- "The ultimate aim is to change the way young unemployment is discussed," Augustus tells us. "The UK young unemployed have unique insight into what's going wrong, and indeed, what's going right in the world of work here. It can be a hopeful message, it can also be a threatening message."
- "The journey begins as an online form, much like a job application, but instead of meeting with rejection or silence, it converted the statistics back into the humanity they represent."