This really should be a super long essay, but for now these short notes will have to do.
Of course it’s obvious, but moments of British pagentry like the Royal Wedding display the intense choreography of state and crown. The wedding deployed gadgets as diverse as bombers, Alexander McQueen dresses, Gothic architecture, William Blake, and the urban planning of Whitehall. Narratives of power that stretch back over thousands of years are compressed into utterly compelling images and performances that describe British culture explicitly. That’s to say: Sentimentality, conservatism and arrays of military equipment.
For example, Williams saluting of memorials and statues on the drive to Buckingham Palace suddenly actived the relationships embedded into the urban fabric of London. In this symbolic ceremonial act the very fabric of the city vibrates with the violence of empire and imperialism (as PJ Harvey puts it ‘Our land is ploughed by tanks and feet’).
Or, as in the video above, where William and Kate’s consumating kiss is part of the same seamless choreography as Lancaster bombers flying in formation over London. Here romantic intimacy is set within a frame of power. Biological procreation is here inseparable from Britain’s war machine.
We should know from historical record that, in the case of royalty and marriage, love and violence are the very same act, and that power is enacted and created though both. Here we witness the union of wet biology and hard mechanics. At the moment of the flypast, lips and jets were revealed as part of the same object: the object of state.
The decoration of the interior of the Abbey with trees was – as Simon Schama suggested – a kind of rewinding of gothic verticality and vaulting to its original image. Even more, it perhaps takes us back further to pre-Christian Druidic culture where trees were animated with supernatural spirits. Its surreal quality – of interior made exterior – was simultansously reminicent of the atrium of a shopping mall and of Tarkovsky’s Nostalghia.
All of this history is mobilised in a way which hides in plain sight a direct articulation of contemporary power. In fact, its the intersection of the two – where the distinction between heraldic symbolism and literal fact merge into a continuum.
It’s impossible to say where a gilded carriage ends and a Tornado GR4 jet begins. At once, the Tornado can be deployed over Libya launching guided missiles while it also sits within the same family of symbolic objects as, say, the Crown Jewels. Meanwhile, those objects seemingly made inert by their ornamental and symbolic status, their everyday use as heritage, are shown to be still active, still plugged into the sources of power that forged them.
More, even. That this historical reenactment isnt about history at all, it only looks that way. Heritage is enacted and performed as a function of startling modernity. The gothic of the Abbey, for example, is not (at this moment) a historical artifact but remade as a contemporary object.
The BBC’s cameras inside the Abbey moved with the strange fluidity of golf coverage, as though they too on their robotic wires were an extension of gothic spatiality. Outside, on the Abbey’s Great West Door, temporary scenographic additions concealed automatic TV cameras. A kind of cyborg addition to historic architecture which suggests a particular resolution of the British schizophrenic crisis of technology and tradition.