The mud-soaked ruins of prehistoric Britain are the setting for a new collaborative book, collection and exhibition, Wiltshire Before Christ. Here, Aries Arise designer Sofia Prantera and Deller explain all
- TextLiam Hess
With motifs including Greek temples and busts of ancient warriors, the design aesthetic of cult streetwear label Aries Arise is steeped in the world of classical mythology as much as it is in 20th-century counterculture.
But for a new capsule collection produced in collaboration with artist Jeremy Deller, the Italian-born designer Sofia Prantera has turned her attention to a very different corner of ancient history, far from the splendour of the great Mediterranean civilisations: the mud-soaked ruins of prehistoric Britain. Her goal? To make archaeology sexy again. “With Christianity failing to deliver a relevant message to new generations, it makes sense that society would return to antique or less structured forms of belief,” Prantera explains.
Accompanying the collection is an exhibition and a limited-edition book, featuring a guide to the country’s most important neolithic sites alongside a series of ravishingly gloomy images shot by David Sims at both Stonehenge and the fields surrounding the Cerne Abbas Giant, whose famous stylised phallus also shows up in the collection. Models in dark cloaks stalk the ruins in solarised black and white like Macbeth’s witches, or convene in the middle of sodden fields at twilight, arms outstretched like pagan worshippers from a 1970s folk horror flick.
That these moody, cinematic visuals feel like the perfect accompaniment to the collection is testament to Sims’ skill. The project in fact began long before he was involved, as a far more unexpected collaboration: between Prantera, Deller and the historical preservation charity English Heritage, with drops accompanied not with lines around the block in Soho but released at the far more humble environs of the Stonehenge gift shop. “When English Heritage offered Stonehenge as a location for the shoot, we knew we had to involve someone of David’s calibre to do the photos,” explains Prantera. “A lot of the research supplied by David was of Romantic painters from the late 19th and early 20th century, mainly depicting shrouded, almost mystical figures.”
The exhibition will feature not only Sims’ images, but artworks Deller has made specifically for the show – with Prantera and Deller’s capsule collection also on sale, of course. Given his recent collaboration with House of Voltaire, including t-shirts bearing the memorable slogan ‘Fuck Brexit’, does Deller feel clothes form a central part of the deep dives into British social history he makes as part of his art projects? “Very much so,” he adds. “Unless you are studying naturism.” As far as the t-shirts are concerned, he notes that “people love a slogan – it’s just translating the words into deeds or change that’s the problem”.
While we’re looking forward to seeing Aries acolytes pick up their chisels and trowels and go full Time Team in the English countryside, besides the challenge of making archaeology sexy again, how did Prantera go about integrating this murky corner of ancient history into Aries’ broad creative melting pot? “Neolithic megastructures are fascinating on their own, but Jeremy’s involvement made them accessible. The Stonehenge trilithon structure is so recognisable, so I approached it more like a graphic brand collaboration. Maybe I’m not giving it the respect it deserves!”
On a more serious note, Prantera is keen to emphasise the lessons our ancestors can teach us today in a time of political turmoil. “We live in a society on the brink of self-destruction, so references to pagan Britain or the fall of the Roman Empire feel right. It’s not just a broken temple, but what will grow from its ruins.” It’s a message of optimism that feels nicely in keeping with Deller’s own outlook: a generous welcoming of collaboration, whether that’s with the public, fellow artists or ancient monuments. Even thousands of years later, the mysterious fields of Stonehenge are still fertile ground for imagination to blossom.
Wiltshire Before Christ, with Aries, Jeremy Deller and David Sims is on at The Store X, 180 the Strand until January 27, 2019.