14 Oct Interview: Jeremy Deller / AnOther Man
While he might be best known for winning the 2004 Turner Prize, and representing Britain at the Venice Biennale in 2013, you’re more likely to find Jeremy Deller reenacting a miner’s strike in a remote, sodden field than exhibiting on the walls of a blue-chip Mayfair gallery. Over the past three decades, Deller has quietly expanded the possibilities of public art: whether setting up a giant bouncy castle at Stonehenge or staging a nationwide ‘living memorial’ to the Battle of the Somme, his forays into the murky terrain of British social history have enjoyed popularity beyond the art crowd, thanks to their unpatronising playfulness.
It’s an attitude that carries through to his latest project: a documentary titled Everybody in The Place: An Incomplete History of Britain 1984-1992, commissioned by Frieze and Gucci to screen at this year’s Frieze Art Fair. The film is a return to the dance music he memorably explored in his series Acid Brass, where he collaborated with a Stockport-based brass band, fusing their music with acid house and Detroit techno. This time, Deller turned his lens to the seismic impact of British rave culture in the 1980s and early 1990s.
“It happened at a pivotal moment, just as Margaret Thatcher was beginning her decline,” he says following a screening of the film. “I think it was a celebratory goodbye, but also a hello to something else that might be coming. It wasn’t just about partying: it changed licensing laws, it liberalised the public attitude to drugs. It can’t be separated from history.” Often in Deller’s work the relationship between past and present is implicit, but in this documentary the parallels are more obvious: archival clips are intercut with footage from a sixth-form college where, earlier this year, he presented a group of A Level politics students with a history of rave culture and recorded their responses.
“I just thought it would be interesting to show a group of young people at a very important moment around 30 years ago, where young people took a lot of initiative,” he explains. The demographic of this college is largely Muslim, and he notes the uncertain future facing minorities in 2018. “With Brexit and the rise of the far-right in Britain, it’s not clear really what the next decade will hold for any of us, but particularly for a 17-year-old Muslim kid. We don’t know what direction the country is going to take, so in that way I felt it was a similar time to then, a divisive time.”