Jeremy Deller

Posted: January 2nd, 2009 | Author: | Filed under: no blah blah: one artist | Tags: , , , | 2 Comments »

That’s something that I try to bring out in my work: a sense of enjoyment of what I do.”
(interview for Tate online, Turner Prize, 2004)

Born in 1966.
London based.
1992: MA in Art History, Sussex University.
1988: BA in Art History, Courtauld Institute of Art. He majored in Architecture and Baroque.
While still studying he began to make little interventions in the public area, such as sticking up posters of exhibitions he wished he could have visited.
1986: meets Andy Warhol at an opening in London who invited him to come to the Factory for a two-week stay.
1993: he displayed his first exhibition at home while his parents were on holiday. Open Bedroom included twelve Keith Moon paintings (The Who’s first drummer who died from medicine abuse at age 32).
Designed T-shirts with explicit messages such as MY DRUG SHAME and MY BOOZE HELL (the latter of which Robbie Williams was spotted wearing at a children’s TV show, showing a surprising level of self-mockery).
Awarded the Turner Prize in 2004 for Memory Bucket.
Was appointed a Trustee of the Tate Gallery in 2007.

The four projects listed below deal with aspects of British history or British culture. Deller’s interest for History and vernacular culture is palpable. Some say he’s doing socially engaged art. I do not like the term social, Deller is more acting as a catalyst to me, trying to show the existing connections between things.

The idea was a simple one; to get a traditional brass band to play a selection of Acid House anthems” Jeremy Deller (leaflet of the Acid Brass CD)


The History of the World, 1997-2004, wall painting, Courtesy of Art: Concept, Paris

Started more than ten years ago as musical collaboration between Jeremy Deller and the Manchester’s Williams Fairey Brass Band, Acid Brass refers to Great Britain’s recent history on a social and industrial basis, in relation to the collapse of industry under the liberal regime of Margaret Thatcher.
On one side you’ll find the brass bands, legacy from the industrial conglomerates in North England (the workers were encouraged to gather in brass bands to avoid alcoholism).
In the mid-eighties emerges Chicago’s acid house music. Because of Thatcher’s severe politic, clubs were required to close at two am. In challenge to this, clubbers sometimes organized parties in disused factories: rave parties were born.
Both brass bands and acid house are popular music forms, spread especially in North England. In this respect they are linked to the working class culture. In the Acid Brass project they were combined as symbols: one for a dying era and the other for an emerging one.
Since 1997 the Williams Fairey Brass Band has played Acid Brass many times in England and all across Europe, thereby contributing to its spreading.

2006, Jeremy Deller and Alan Kane

Steam Powered Internet Computer, 2006, Courtesy of the Modern Institute, Glasgow

In the middle of a field in Kent you could actually use an Apple Mac powered by a steam engine. The two perfect symbols for industrial revolution and digital revolution put in some unlikely connection. “We’re at a certain point in British history, at the end of something“, says Deller (The Guardian, July 11, 2006)

2001, initiated by Jeremy Deller, filmed by Mike Figgis and commissioned by Artangel.
In March 1984, the National Union of Mineworkers went on strike.
On the 18th June that year, one of the most violent clashes between picketing miners and police took place near the Orgreave coking plant.
Estimates vary but as many as 15 000 people are thought to have been involved.” (taken from the film)

The Battle of Orgreave, 2001, Courtesy of Gavin Brown’s Enterprise, NY

Margaret Thatcher, Prime Minister at the time, launched what we can call a civil war against the National Union of Mineworkers. The fight was one of the most violent in the history of workers protest.
Jeremy Deller organized a reenactment of the event, (historical reenactments are a popular British tradition). It took three years to complete this project, a work of collective memory, staged with about a thousand participants including local people, members of amateur historical reenactment groups and minors involved in the battle who recreated a traumatic moment of their lives.
Unlike the battles that happened in Antiquity or in the Middle Ages, Orgreave is part of contemporary history. But it also argues that some events could be quickly forgotten. The film wasn’t the main goal in fine, Deller was more interested in the public event, the way it was deformed by the media at the time. He didn’t want The Battle of Orgreave to be part of a healing process, he rather wished to bring a dialog on the subject. He wanted the people to remember, not just the ones who experienced Orgreave, but all the others, the public opinion.

1998-2005, Jeremy Deller and Alan Kane
To define Folk Archive is not easy. It could be seen as a collection of everyday objects and traditions in the UK: hand objects, vegetable sculptures, a mechanical elephant, village processions…

Folk Archive, exhibition view “D’une révolution à l’autre”, Courtesy of the Palais de Tokyo, 2008.
Picture by Marc Domage

The starting point for Folk Archive was an attempt to show aspects of British life and creativity, different from the corporate vision of the Millennium Dome celebration. The two have always been interested in what people could create outside traditional artistic circles. As Deller states, “Folk Archive is about people who are absolutely obsessed with what they do and love what they do (…) It’s about people’s obsessions and interests.” (Deller & friends talk, Palais de Tokyo, October 02, 2008).
All the things constituting Folk Archive are anti-consumer culture, they were done spontaneously, without any profit-making intent and they have no financial value.
Folk is overtone pejorative in Great Britain: it represents everything outside the urban life that is to say everything uninteresting. That is probably why Deller and Kane picked the word, in an attempt to reassess the term folk in its wide definition.
There is no deadline; it’s an ongoing work.
The British Council acquired it in 2007.

The following three projects were done while Jeremy Deller was in the US. Travelling is important because it produces meetings with new people. He is not a studio-type artist; he is working outside, focusing on linking things or events with people. He is interested in the connection between places, time (past and present) and people (individual and collective).

2002, 14’10”, DVD, col, son

Veteran’s Day Parade, the End of the Empire, 2002, Courtesy of Art: Concept, Paris

November 2001, Veteran’s Day in Amargossa Valley, Nevada: Jeremy Deller is filming the floats and the cars of the different communities.
Veteran’s Day happens once a year and pays tribute to the American soldiers killed in the line of duty.
This video is part of different pieces of work Deller produced while staying in the US in 2001.

2002, book and CD

Untitled (After the Goldrush), 2003, Courtesy of Gavin Brown’s Enterprise, NY

He spent a year in residency at the CCAC Wattis Institute for Contemporary Arts in San Francisco. On the spot he bought an old Jeep soon customized with bumper stickers. Bumper stickers are part of American culture to express ideas or the belonging to some community. Deller believes they are a possible substitute for proper conversation in a country where people spend a lot of time in their cars. A few ones: “God Bless America“, “Keep your rosaries off my ovaries“, “Bush: Texas homegrown dope“.
The idea of a guidebook of North California came naturally to him as he was collecting many documents, photographs and accounts given by people he met. The result is obviously much more personal as it is shaped as a treasure hunting book. There is an opportunity for the reader to look for the people Jeremy has met, including among others Alan Laird (ex-Black Panthers who now runs an art gallery) and Dixie Evans (Marilyn Monroe look-alike, dancer and owner of the Exotic World Burlesque Museum). Each of them is an opportunity to recall a few events of U.S. history. Of course the title refers to the California Gold Rush that began in the mid-XIXth century with mass immigration, and also to a 1970 album by Neil Young.
The guide is organized around a five-stop journey from Oakland to the Mojave Desert where he bought a piece of land for 2000$ at an auction before leaving the country. It was recorded and it’s actually the first track on the CD, which also features songs by William E. Whitmore, a banjo player.

2004, 28’39”, DVD, col, son

Helotes, 2004, Courtesy of Gavin Brown’s Enterprise, NY

He did the film while on a two months residency in San Antonio, Texas. Meetings and interviews are based on two locations much politically charged:
– Waco where the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) launched an attack on the Branch Davidian ranch during a 51-day siege. (let’s remember that it is supposedly illegal to use military weapons against civilians in the U.S.).
– Crawford, hometown of George W. Bush who also owns a ranch there.
According to the artist, it’s a film about Texas. Our European outlook may think obviously about cowboys riding horses in front of their ranch when it comes to Texas but Deller avoids this cliché in a very simple and effective way. He conducted interviews with local people, including a Waco survivor, put together with TV files.
In 2002 when Deller shot the film, the Bush Administration was still very popular. Some people thought they detected some anti-Americanism in Memory Bucket. Beyond the fact that such criticism is not particularly relevant, Deller’s intent was to make some connections between a patriotic town such as Crawford and Waco, a city besieged by the U.S. government.
He gives much attention to the happy enthusiastic owner of a coffee shop, where Bush habited, as an old Quaker lady who disapproves the Iraq war.
Jeremy Deller hardly reckons that it is a documentary; it is more a video diary according to him. The title is taken from a scrapbook store located in Helotes, in the south of Texas, which can be seen as the opening shot of the film.
Memory Bucket holds some features of Jeremy’s work: looks like a documentary, involves travel and residency, interviews conducted and finally interaction between individual and collective identities.
At the end of the film the camera records a natural phenomenon, which happens on a daily basis at twilight: thousand of bats emerging from the Bracken Cave and flying off. Bats are not in the film by chance: Austin, Texas is also well known to have the world’s largest urban bat colony (and I suspect Mr. Deller to have a crush on bats as well: see below The Bat House Project link). The film almost becomes an abstract painting at this point ; there is no conclusion (at least in the traditional meaning of the word) because no solution is stated here. In some ways the whole film is about human craziness and it is quite sad. On the other hand bats come and bring to mind the XIXth century Romanticism when they were frequently depicted in writings or Pre-Raphaelites paintings such as the John Everett Millais ones.

Untitled (Bats), 2004, Courtesy of Art: Concept, Paris

The following two projects focus on the belonging to a community or clan. Here are collaborations with groups of individuals, fans in both cases. He is interested in the interaction existing between a single individual in regards to a group of people.

Dear Friend / Fan
I’m currently collecting material for a Manics exhibition next year. If you are interested in taking part or you need more information please get in touch. Thanks. Jeremy
This project is collaboration between Jeremy Deller and the fans of rock band Manic Street Preachers. Deller has gathered a collection of paintings, drawings and poems made by the fans.
The title is taken from Richard Hoggart’s The Uses of Literacy, a mostly autobiographical book that also deplores the loss of some real popular culture in England.
What has been conceived in the intimacy of a teenager’s bedroom was put into the public sphere with an exhibition and a book release.
Deller explores and investigates the complex relationship between artists and the audience.
He also co-directed with Nick Abrahams on the MSP video Found That Soul which included infrared pictures of the band playing, supposed fans reading books and bats.

co- directed by Jeremy Deller and Nicholas Abrahams
2006, 72′, a Brown Owl Film for Mute / EMI
I don’t think there’s another lead singer in the world who has the kind of following that Dave Gahan of Depeche Mode enjoys in Russia. It’s like a benevolent cult. For the last six months, my colleague Nick Abrahams and I have been making a film about Depeche fans, and we’ve travelled from Europe to Mexico, but the Russians were the most passionate.” Jeremy Deller (The Observer, October 15, 2006)

Depeche Mode has been famous all over the world for decades; there was really no need for another documentary on their career. The authors chose to focus on their fans and how they expressed their love of the band and the music in different ways, depending on the political, economical and social context they are living in.
The audience in Mexico is very much interested in the religious aspect of the songs. In Iran, a fan is happy to show some bootleg tapes he illegally found. In former USSR where there was no DM merchandise on sale, fans are making themselves T-shirts, badges and buttons.
The movie was screened at the London Film Festival in October 2008 but has not been released yet.

What also makes Jeremy Deller’s work so odd is the fact he doesn’t seem art market oriented: he is producing massive things, but not easily marketable. He often commits to long-term projects such as:

The title recalls the pink plastic bag he designed for Frieze Art Fair 2003 Speak to the Earth and it will show you.
It was a collaboration with Skulptur Projekte Münster 2007. Jeremy Deller probably noticed the associative gardens phenomenon while staying in Münster, Germany. Those must have seemed typically German to his British eyes.
Each of the fifty four shared-garden associations were given a notebook, they were then asked to write down any social, environmental and botanical information in this diary until the next Skulptur Projekte issue in 2017. Individual stories and collective stories are the core of this project.

A contest launched in 2007 to design and provide a home for bats in London.

books / music :
Folk Archive: Contemporary Popular Art from the UK, Jeremy Deller & Alan Kane, Book Works, London, 2005, pp.160
After the Goldrush, Jeremy Deller, Editions CCAC, San Francisco, California, 2002, pp.96 & CD
The Uses of Literacy, Jeremy Deller, Book Works, London, 1999, pp.48
The English Civil War Part II, Personal accounts of the 1984-85 miner’s strike, Jeremy Deller, Artangel, 2002, pp.160 & CD
Life is to Blame for Everything: Collected Works & Projects, 1992-99, Jeremy Deller, Salon 3, 2001, pp.96
Acid Brass, The Williams Fairey Band, CD, Blast First / Mute Records, 1997

Jeremy Deller’s website:

Folk Archive:

Film about Depeche Mode fans around the world:

Art Concept (Paris)
Gavin Brown’s Enterprise (New York)
the Modern Institute (Glasgow)

Plastic bag given to the audience of Frieze Art Fair 2003, Courtesy of Art: Concept, Paris