Like David Shrigley, Jeremy Deller is an artist whose work doesnt always fit easily into the gallery space. Unlike Shrigley though, when his work is brought together as an exhibiton it exceeds expectations. Joy in People at the Hayward Gallery is a show that is much more than the sum of its parts. And there are some pretty great parts.
In 1993, while others were holding open studios, Deller staged Open Bedroom, his first exhibition, in his parents’ house while they were on holiday. The work, his teenage bedroom presented as art, is reconstructed here as the route into both the show and the head of the artist. We get to open drawers and cupboards and explore the ideas, images and objects that fascinated the young Deller. It’s a great start and a useful grounding for a show that picks up these enthusiasms and makes them art.
In 1983-84 when the miners’ strike tore apart communities, dominated the news, generated heated debate and an unparalleled culture of badge wearing, Deller lived in this bedroom. It was home to him through growing political awareness and changing teenage enthusiasms. There is evidence of his musical taste, his social life and family, his sense of place and pretty much everything else that formed both his adult self and his unconventional art practice.
Almost two decades later, with the support of Artangel, Deller worked with former miners and members of Sealed Knot – more used to restaging a rather earlier English Civil War – to re-enact the battle of Orgreave, at which striking miners clashed with the police in was to be the pivotal moment of the year long strike and which had much wider implications for the British trade union movement as a whole. Deller’s re-enactment provided an opportunity to reexamine the events with the benefit of hindsight and his gathering of information and Mike Figgis’s film of the event provides a compelling pictures of an event that already seems unimaginable.
Deller has an infectious curiosity about vernacular culture and much of his work involves staging participatory events and intervening in everyday situations and championing the more absurb traditional practices that have often been taking place for generations but are under increasing threat from contemporary culture and growing cautiousness. Above all, his work reveals his fascination with people and all aspects of public and community interaction. The video of the parade Deller organised for Manchester International Festival in 2009 can be watched from a life-size reconstruction of Valerie’s Snack Bar from Bury Market over a cup of free tea. The snack bar was carried on the back of a float at the parade. Banners from the parade also hang in the space recalling the rich history of protest and trade union banners but carrying such slogans as ‘The Unrepentent Smokers’ and ‘The Last of the Industrial Revolution’.
In 2009, having missed out on a commission for the Fourth Plinth in Trafalgar Square, for which his proposal was to place the wreckage of a car bomb from Iraq on the plinth, Deller put the mangled, burnt out car – the explosion of which killed thirty-five people – on a trailer and travelled round America using it as a talking point; to remedy his own lack of first hand knowledge of Iraq, Deller was accompanied by a US soldier and an Iraqi citizen. The film that accompanies It Is What It Is includes some extraordinary interactions between the Iraqi, the soldier and those who stopped to find out more about the wreckage.
Deller describes himself as a “self-taught conceptual artist” having studied art history rather than art practice. Like many other contemporary artists, Deller doesn’t draw, paint or make sculpture; his work is about ideas and interactions. That he’s found a way to turn his interests and obsessions into art is a result not of art school training but of his own determination, intelligence and ability to interact with people and to win them round. The route he took to get here is irrelevant, it’s the work that matters. And the work is very good indeed. This is a show that warranted a second visit. I’m just sad I’ve run out of time for a third.