PROJECT 026: THE GREAT TEA DIVIDE
The Great Tea Divide, A collaboration with Julian Brown, 2020, Fictional archive which documents the build up to ‘The Great Tea Divide’, an imagined and unspoken of event which caused an irrevocable split in British society, dimensions variable
Me and the artist Julian Brown collaborated on this project in 2020 and created a fictional archive compiled as if from a point 10-15 years or so into the future. This archive describes the build up to an unspoken of ‘event’ and an irrevocable split in British society. This split is caused by two rival campaigns, one staunchly for and one decidedly against the drinking of tea.
The archive contains photographs, posters, artefacts and leaflets which document life during ‘The Great Tea Divide’ and propaganda material which supposedly swayed the opinions of an entire nation at that time.
A selection of the archive materials we made are described below. These documents use real data sets in misleading ways to try and sway opinion and take from found images and existing advertising campaigns or propaganda.
The Great Tea Divide
How did a national beverage lead to a national crisis?
Just over a decade has passed since the Event. As the nation continues its period of self-reflection, this archive and its accompanying exhibition examine the main instigator of the Event: The Great Tea Divide.
Containing photographs, posters, artefacts and leaflets, this archive brings together documentation of life during The Great Tea Divide and the propaganda material which swayed the opinions of an entire country at that time.
The collection presents an opportunity to revisit the past with a fresh perspective and serves as a valuable resource for those looking to examine the circumstances that led up to the Event. It enables audiences to explore issues relating to the use and misuse of data, with a focus on how misinformation may negatively affect society.
Animosity between those who drank tea and those who abstained began slowly, but by the post-war era the two sides were becoming increasingly distinct. Ill feeling grew steadily throughout the decades and was formalised in 2012 with the creation of two rival societies: the National Tea Preservation Society and the National Tea Cessation Society. The end of this decade saw both these societies launch wide-reaching campaigns which split the nation. This is the beginning of the time period now known as The Great Tea Divide.
The Great Tea Divide saw a huge increase in propaganda. Official and unofficial information spread rapidly, and almost every aspect of society, whether perceived as good or bad, was attributed to the consumption of tea, or lack thereof. Much of this information was shared on social media platforms, which provided a fertile ground for confusion, chaos and mistrust. These circumstances led to an increasingly polarised society as members took a stance that was fervently either Pro-Tea or Anti-Tea, leaving no middle ground.
Increased levels of funding from wealthy supporters and donors allowed activists on both sides to galvanise support and employ considerable resources into advertising and publicity. The influence on public opinion was widespread, leading to some observers raising concerns about the power of the two societies and the veracity of the information they were spreading.
Accusations of misconduct in relation to the misuse of statistics in campaign material led to an enquiry which concluded the information could be misleading. However, the outcome of the enquiry arrived late and society had already found itself in a state of disarray, which was to be the beginning of what came next.
The first section of the archive presents a collection of campaigning material from both official organisations; the National Tea Preservation Society and the National Tea Cessation Society.
The official campaign leaflets from the National Tea Preservation Society, 2019 (left) and the National Tea Cessation Society, 2019 (right).
Official campaign posters from the National Tea Preservation Society, circulated 2019-2020 (left) and the National Tea Cessation Society, circulated 2019-2020 (right).
As well as the official campaigns, activists and members of the public also engaged in producing materials to support their chosen cause. Below is a collection of unofficial material from both Pro-Tea and Anti-Tea perspectives. This material was made by a variety of individuals and organisations, active during and in the lead up to the Great Tea Divide.
Pro-Tea poster from circa 1956, creator unknown (left) and Anti-Tea poster from the late 1940s, creator unknown (right)
Unofficial campaign poster from the Pro-Tea lobby, late 1990s (left) and Unofficial campaign poster from the Anti-Tea lobby, late 1990s (right)
A collection of Pro-Tea memes circulated between circa 2018-2021 (left) and a collection of Anti-Tea memes circulated between circa 2018-2021 (right).
As public opinion hardened on both sides of the divide the issue made its way into the lives of every citizen, manifesting itself in behaviour changes and influencing everyday activities. This collection of photographs shows some of the ways everyday life was affected, with some taking their belief to extremes.
Supporters of the Pro-Tea campaign took to drinking huge amounts of tea a day, sometimes up to 20 cups or more in just one sitting. The fourth photo on the left is one Pro-Tea activist’s daily tea intake, as photographed by the Tea Times, 2017.
Anti-Tea campaigners took different directions in their stance against tea. Some kept the ritual of tea drinking, though the tea was replaced with water. It became fashionable to use glass tea cups so the loyalty of the drinker to the cause could be seen and no-one could mistake their affiliation. Others went the opposite way and smashed all tea-related crockery to ensure temptation was never in their way again.