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Herb Sundays 36: Jeremy Deller
The acclaimed UK artist puts together a "non-threatening selection of songs for a Sunday afternoon, a time when I have no idea what to do with myself."
Herb Sundays 36: Jeremy Deller
Jeremy Deller (b. 1966 in London; lives and works in London) studied Art History at the Courtauld Institute and at Sussex University. Deller won the Turner Prize in 2004 and represented Britain in the 55th Venice Biennale in 2013. He has been producing projects over the past three decades. He began making artworks in the early 1990s, often showing them outside gallery spaces.
As a conceptual artist, Jeremy Deller makes an unlikely, if often conflicted nationalist, proud of Britain and seeking to unpack its history, from Stonehenge to the enduring appeal of Depeche Mode. Deller utilizes Britain’s icons, folklore, and failures, which have become increasingly prophetic in a post-Brexit world.
More than an artist, I see Deller as sort of an unlikely community organizer who kickstarts the machine but can’t seem to turn it off (for the better). Similar in some ways to Eno in setting up a “system” and letting it unfurl, Deller ideates, organizes, and lets it fly, the results often surprise. He shares some space with other mischief artists such as The KLF where the stakes jump from low to high very quickly, depending on the mood of the public.
My first interaction with Deller’s work was Acid Brass, a 1997 project/work where Deller collaborated with the Williams Fairey Brass Band, a nearly 100-year-old Manchester institution. “The project was based on fusing the music of a traditional brass band with acid house and Detroit Techno.” I found the CD in Michigan but didn’t know it was conceptual artwork, I just thought it was sort of just a funny idea that actually sounded good.
The work is about two Britians, pre-and post-industrial, and finding a fundamental agreement between them. Deller has employed similar ideas with notable steel bands, which also bring in the tensions of the commonwealth and the detritus of industry in its making. These works are essential Deller as they form a collaboration of past and present, fantasy and reality. In his work, it’s hard to tell if they come from a certain idealism or a deep melancholy and rage of what could have been.
"Based on the connections I made in The History of the World, I decided to try to get a brass band to agree to perform a repertoire of acid house music. I was terrified of ringing up the bandleader of the Williams Fairey Band to ask if he would do this. I thought it would take lots of convincing and explaining – but he agreed immediately. He just said, "All right, we'll do it. We'll do it once and see how it goes", Which is exactly the attitude you want. So we performed it once, and it went really well, and we continued to perform it. The experience taught me a lot about working with the public. I realised that I didn't have to make objects anymore. I could just do these sort of events, make things happen, work with people and enjoy it. I could do these messy, free-ranging, open-ended projects, and that freed me up from thinking about being an artist in a traditional sense. I had been liberated by a brass band."
Deller’s work utilizes British culture as a bounding box of sorts. Like his original hero artist, Andy Warhol, employed using American icons, Deller uses the true myths of UK culture as source material. But as opposed to Warhol’s pure surface/impact approach, Deller prefers to let the outcome unfurl in public, often onto the streets. As such he is often found outside galleries, interacting with the public which gives his practice a certain warmth, even if the underside is largely seething such as his “re-enactment” of the 1984 UK mining strikes, a pivotal and televised series of events that Deller sees as a turning point in the culture.
In 2001, conceptual artist Jeremy Deller originated and set in motion the idea of a re-enactment of the event as an arts projec…the event took place on 17 June 2001 and was filmed by film director Mike Figgis for a Channel 4 documentary. The re-enactment featured 800 people including 280 local residents, a number of people (police and pickets) from the original encounter and 520 re-enactors from various groups such as The Sealed Knot, Legio II Augusta (Romans), The Vikings (reenactment), War of the Roses and English Civil War Society, but with authentic 1980s clothing and techniques. Only the railway crossing was omitted from the re-enactment, on safety grounds.
His lecture/film Everybody In The Place - An Incomplete History of Britain 1984-1992 (ostensibly named for a 1992 single by The Prodigy) traces the division of post-industrial Britain (in particular, the miner’s strike) as a gateway to Acid House and Rave culture. The video casts Deller as a kindly professor, earnestly speaking to actual students about his ideas: How rave was political in its inversion of city and country, leisure and work, and day for night.
Deller deftly weaves Chicago House, Kraftwerk, and Marx into a comprehensible whole. It also speaks to an alternative history perhaps not taught in schools, that only artists can give us. There’s a little bit of “not a cellphone in sight” but it’s not at the student’s expense and it’s fun to watch the students shake off the seriousness of the classroom in an impromptu jam. When watching I was reminded why dance music has meant so much to me and Deller never loses the idealism around the collisions of genre and ideals that led to its popularity.
So the mix is not very political at all, but with Deller, there’s always more going on than you’d expect. We get a great groover of a mix. Maybe we can let Jeremy have the day off. I’m sure he’s scheming on something good.
I've put together a non-threatening selection of songs for a Sunday afternoon , a time when I have no idea what to do with myself.
It starts with some hazy English Psychedelia then onto more laid-back tracks , I love cover versions and what they tell us about ourselves, there is a small selection here . this section is about as dancey as it gets with the floor filler being Rod and The Faces . the last 3 tracks are almost purely vocal but all are hardcore.