John Goto

John Goto’s New World Circus

Bodies pile up along the roadsides of Iraq, British troops are bogged down in Afghanistan, and Iran is firmly in the American’s sights – but to look around the UK art galleries you would suspect none of this. John Goto’s New World Circus is the exception; an exhibition dealing with American political, cultural and economic hegemony within the so-called New World Order, and Britain’s willing complicity. 

Goto’s exhibition takes the form of a circus performance, with one act following another, towards its nightmarish climax. Through the use of symbols and personification, the images hint at a wider arena than that of the sawdust ring. American patriotic emblems, army uniforms, cowboy outfits, Union Jacks, shalwar kameez costumes, Disney characters and military insignia are mixed with traditional circus apparel, creating an disquieting bricolage. This is circus as political allegory.

Outside the New World Circus there is a group of portraits of the performers, at the centre of which is the brutish ringmaster, Pops McGovern. The surrounding troupe consists, for the most part, of his family. Even today one comes across such small family circuses, pitched in a muddy field, or fly-posting announcements of the magical spectacle that awaits the paying customer.

Once inside the big top, the band strikes up and Goto’s show begins with a Grand Parade of colourful characters filling the circus ring. The artists include the Strongman, a Fortune-teller, a pretty Ballerina, the Clowns, a Flying Trapeze troupe, the Illusionist and an armless Juggler. Above them float three huge, grinning, moustachioed heads, and at the apex of the tent are acrobats in a cruciform shape. In top hat and tails, McGovern looks on, foolishly bemused by his creation, whilst a tiger ominously circles the perimeter ring.