Jeremy Deller: Joy in People @ Hayward Gallery – REVIEW
Joy in People is the world’s first retrospective of Turner Prize winner Jeremy Deller – an artist whose work typically eschews the gallery space for the public, and rejects the ‘high’ trappings of visual culture for the popular (hence the name of the exhibition).
Given that Deller is an artist who works elbows-deep in contemporary vernacular, it’s no surprise that the first half of the exhibition, displaying works created at the beginning of his career in the early 1990s, feels a bit like a museum of 90s pop culture. Kicking off the show with a recreation of the illicit exhibition held in Deller’s childhood room while his parents were away on holiday in 1993, we are thrown instantly into a boyhood love affair with all things rock and rave; greeted on entrance by a multicoloured poster that reads ‘Bless This Acid House’, visitors are invited to delve around this personal archive of so-then appropriated material, mixed in with teen confession, pinned upon the walls and in UV-lit cupboards – from the sparkling headline ‘I found my son Ben’s body … First experiment with E was his last’, and slogan-emblazoned T-shirts, to a picture of ‘A Girl I Fancied But Never Told’.
In the adjacent bathroom we are treated to typed transcriptions of graffiti that Deller found in the toilets of the British Library in the early 90s, merging pub banter and pseudo-scholarly musings in typical fashion: ‘I can’t think of anything amazingly illuminating to write’, one says; ‘Let me fuck your 15yr old daughter and you will have a topic I promise’, another replies.
Onwards we travels through a similar vein of fin de siècle misspent youth, presented with works such as: The Uses of Literacy (1997), a Deller-commissioned-and-curated collection of Manic Street Preacher fan-art, replete with gushing letters to long-lost Richey Edwards (‘Your face so innocent, and angelic, crys [sic] for love, I can only dream of giving you. … I hope that one day we can truely [sic] be together in a place as beautiful as you’); The History of the World (1997), a spider diagram elaborately linking two Northern, working class musical cultures, Acid House and Brass Bands, through a chain of ‘E’, ‘Ibiza’ ‘Superclubs’, ‘Advanced Capitalism’, ‘Privatisation’, ‘Deindustrialisation’, ‘The Miner’s Strike’, ‘Return to Work’ etc; and The Search for Bez (1994), a pilgrimage inspired by Deller’s grief after the split of ‘Madchester’ band Happy Mondays, and in honour of their shamanistic backing dancer, and living embodiment of the psychotically bouncy zeitgeist.
And this is all before we get onto the work that really made his name (and that won him the Turner Prize) – namely the re-enactment of the bloody clash between miners and police during the 1984-5 Miner’s Strike known as the Battle of Orgreave. Here Deller comes fully into his role as grassroots social historian, organising 1000 participants – including a significant number of local people involved in the original conflict – to collide once again, and to reflect on the events. ‘I joined the police because I wanted to do something for my community’, remembers one; ‘and thanks to Margaret Thatcher I did – I helped destroy it’.
This marks a major turn in Deller’s career, with the artist still exploring the experiences of ordinary people, but departing from humorous celebration to politicised comment. The performance piece ‘Is It What It Is’, for example, saw Deller create a mobile museum of the Iraq war. Accompanied by an Iraqi citizen and US soldier, Deller took a bombed-out car on tour across the United States as ‘the conversation piece from Hell’, in an effort to initiate public dialogue, and bring home the realities of war to the American public.
Joy in People is about listening – as closely to the heartfelt grief of a Richie Edwards groupie, as to the life-shattering experiences of US/UK foreign policy. Viewed as a whole, Deller’s practice is revealed as celebration and commemoration of ordinary people; their music, their culture, their history. Words/ Photo Thomas Keane © 2011 ArtLyst