I first heard UK public/conceptual artist Jeremy Deller on an interview on NPR. He was discussing It Is What It Is, a project commissioned by the New Museum, in which he set up a tour of a blown-up vehicle from Iraq as a conversation piece around the US. As you can imagine, it’s a project that takes guts, and I was impressed with Deller’s thoughtfulness and integrity. His approach just seemed right — political sentiment balanced with an urge to connect with average citizens and the absence of ideological rhetoric.
His well-known projects also include a re-enactment of a miner strike and the commissioning of an acid-house brass band. I also loved the site-specificity and public nature of the Procession he organized for the recent Manchester International Festival.
In his podcast lecture at the University of Michigan, Deller delivered a chronology of his background and the development of his approach, and an overview of his major projects and inspirations. If you’re interested in his work, and seek context for his idiosyncratic ouvre, I highly recommend it.
Deller is very British — unfailingly polite, serious, a tad self-deprecating, thoroughly appreciative of British folk culture, and concerned with overcoming the UK’s North-South divide. In contrast with the stereotype of English reserve, I’ve found that many Brits can be forthcoming, and Deller talks unapologetically (and also, without the American tendency for dramatized moral indignation) about his focus on working with people, rather than making art. Exhibition-making is merely coincidental to the culture industry that supports his public projects.
This got me thinking about how the work of exceptionally visionary people like Jeremy Deller don’t fit in other modes of production, and somehow, the culture industry (in this case, art institutions and networks) is able to make room for them. I am interested in this expansive, fungible realm of art practice, in which the forms are not conventional (pictures/sculptures/environments), and the sites outside of white cubes/black boxes. Furthermore, Deller didn’t once mention “relational aesthetics” or “Bourriard” in his talk. The work is valid on its own terms. It’s not “Art” as your grandparents understood it, yet the phrase, “art,” is useful for creating an exceptional space for social, experiential, participatory play.