The English conceptual, video and installation artist discusses rave and cancel culture ahead of a visit to Dublin.
I’d previously crossed paths with Jeremy Deller a few years ago when he ended up on a personal project Just Six Degrees, an inspiration pay it forward of sorts, in which I asked people who inspired them right now. Brian Eno chose Jeremy saying, “his work surprises me at so many levels. It expands the idea of what an artist does, of what Art could be, and what it could be for.”
Deller published Art is Magic earlier this year which curates his work and vision into a volume which spans his career to date from Acid Brass, 1997, which saw him “get a brass band to agree to perform a repertoire of acid house music.” through his Turner Prize winning The Battle of Orgreave, 2001, which had him re-enact the famous 1984 confrontation between the police and miners using about eight-hundred historical re-enactors and two-hundred former miners through to his next commission The Triumph of Art, 2025, which will see him mark the 200th anniversary of the National Gallery in Trafalgar Square.
“In a way making art is a way to give you hope.”
Deller drops over to Dublin this month for a screening of Everybody in the Place, 2018. His ‘Incomplete History of Britain, 1984-92’. In it he shows a class of A-Level students archive material encompassing acid house and rave culture and the protest movements of that time.
“It’s a film about how the past looks to young people, especially for those whose parents weren’t necessarily born in the UK. For them it was a new story. It’s a time before the internet, social media and mobile phones so it’s like a time before television and radio for us.
“In a sense I am trying to find out what it is like for them now. It’s a film about the past but also about the present and future. Whenever people talk about the past in films it can be done in a cliched way so I wanted to do it in a way which included the future of Britain which these young people effectively are, also as a subtext the lack of music education and opportunity in schools in the UK. I wanted them to muck around with that equipment and have fun doing that.”
We witness the students engaging with a barely comprehensible past – one which hilariously opens with footage of record producer Pete Waterman and Michaela Strachan presenting The Hit Man and Her, a TV dance music show. First we see them in The Palace in Blackpool in 1988 showing a suited Waterman surveying a dance floor of suits and shoulder pads reflecting the conservatism of its time. Four years later they end up at ‘Energy’ rave night in The Eclipse in Coventry with a somewhat bemused and profusely sweating Waterman referencing Altern 8. “There’s been a coup, here the king of the producers has been deposed…his world has collapsed around him,” observes Deller. He goes on to explore the genesis of house music in the gay clubs of Chicago and the Post-Industrial wasteland of Detroit, through sound systems of British-Caribbean communities to the Balearic bliss of Shroom, charting the momentum that exploded from illicit underground dance floors.
“It could be good to bring the culture back into culture than the ‘war’ or the ‘cancel’.
“I follow my instinct really in terms of my work and what I am interested in and knowledgeable about…Often what you are thinking about is what someone else is thinking about,” he says. In an interview with Sean O’Hagan, Deller mused how, “A country or institution that can’t laugh at itself is in trouble.” When I ask him if the UK has the capability to still do this he reflects on how, “the culture wars are a sign of people not having a sense of humour, taking things at face value and not thinking about the intricacies of something…A sense of humour shows you have a different take on something and probably more depth and profound understanding if you can make light of it…It would be good to bring the culture back into culture than the ‘war’ or the ‘cancel’.”
In terms of current culture which inspires Deller it ranges from seeing Billie Eilish at Reading on the TV and being thrilled at how the fans “responded to every word, screaming out…it’s a deep human emotion and it’s good to see it.” to the “gripping” read that is Show Me the Bodies about the Grenfell Tower fire. And, of course, there’s Rod Stewart who is in a cut-out behind Deller during our Zoom. He’s someone who Deller admires in a “sincere and not a kitsch way” and he reckons he’d be “alright” to meet though he has yet to do so
A Night of Art & Magic with Jeremy Deller and friends takes place in The Complex on Saturday October 21.
talk: jeremy deller & siobhán kane in conversation
film: everybody in the place – a jeremy deller screening
film: resonant frequency – a johnny savage screening
magic: denzil the magician
music: frog of earth (live)
music: marion hawkes (deejay)
music: kate butler and friends
Tickets €20 via here.
Totally Dublin readers get 20% off by entering the code ‘totally’
Art is Magic is published by Profile Books Ltd, £30.