When Jock Mooney turned 15 in May 1997, the Spice Girls were at the height of their fame, New Labour had just come into power, and people were learning what a sun-dried tomato was. The country was embracing youth culture – ‘Cool Britannia’ – in a way that hadn’t been seen since the 1960s. It was a time that seemed open to the possibility of change, of optimism about the future. The UK as a nation seemed to be open to the world. The world, in turn, seemed to be open to us. Britain even won the Eurovision Song Contest that year.

Then, as the millennium turned, the nascent optimism started to seep away, replaced by an uneasy sense that the world was going wrong. The threat of international terrorism, global financial crisis, the climate change emergency, the rise of far right politics, have all contributed to this malaise. In a ‘post truth’ world, the media stoked a fear of the ‘foreign’: visions of the country overrun by ‘the other’ have been sold to an anxious population as justification for greater isolationism. As the country retreated into itself, the rest of the world – including the rest of Europe – was seen by many with increased suspicion, resentment and fear.

In ‘From Spiceworld to Brexit’ Mooney has chosen to revisit his memories of an optimistic youth, to re-examine them with an older and hopefully wiser eye. Devised at a time of ongoing political uncertainty which is still unresolved at the time of opening, the exhibition sifts through the upheavals of the intervening decades and juxtaposes Mooney’s youthful icons with the current political climate in an attempt to reclaim some of the positive spirit of that earlier time.

In the exhibition we are presented with a sculptural tableau, a portrayal of Mooney’s personal Britannia: Spice Girl, Geri Halliwell. The first of a triptych of Geri based works, this tableau is partly influenced by Mexican Day of the Dead displays: floral and menacing at the same time. A warped parody of her appearance is also referenced in Very Geri, a series of small portraits shown en masse that are in part inspired by Louis Wain, famous for his cat-based illustrations and paintings. These became exaggerated and overly stylized over time as the artist arguably descended into madness. Mooney takes the same approach and explores the concept of the UK – and Geri – becoming unrecognisable, bizarre versions of themselves.

In the video, You Can’t Polish a Turd, Mooney has collaborated with the Geri Halliwell themed drag queen, Just May. She performs a song of Mooney’s that name checks, amongst other things, the Leaning Tower of Pisa, Tori Spelling and Spaghetti Westerns. The song is also part of the 11-track soundtrack that Mooney has recorded to accompany the show. The keen of ear may hear soundbites of Theresa May, droning synths, birdsong, and motorway ambience, depending on what point they enter the space. Boris Johnson may or may not be referenced by the title of the closing instrumental piece, Big Bastard.

None of us can ever really return to the naïve optimism of our teens, but in ‘From Spiceworld to Brexit’ Mooney attempts to search for a new identity out of the ashes.

To accompany ‘From Spiceworld to Brexit’, Incubate Experimental Printmaking have editioned a new screenprint by Jock Mooney, Bébé Brexit, 40x30cm, in an edition of 20, for £40 unframed. The print is available from the Vane shop.