Sunday 3 November 2013

My name is Paul and I am a Jeremy Deller addict

Well, possibly...

Is doing two Jeremy Deller exhibitions in two different countries in two weeks a little fanatical?

Who can say?

All I know is that they’ve both been very enjoyable and very inspirational.

We’ve just arrived back from a week in Venice, where for two consecutive days we visited the Biennale. The Biennale is an international art exhibition. Or should that be exposition?

All of the countries taking part in the Biennale have their own pavilion where they mount their own particular exhibition for the season. The ‘curator’ for the British pavilion this year was Jeremy Deller. His show was entitled, rather oddly, English Magic.

I’m not going to offer you a critique or even try and explain what the exhibition is about in any depth as that would just be pretentious nonsense. I will offer you some of my thoughts about my impressions and how I feel towards it, but remember they are just my thoughts. And, also remember that art is only ever in the eye of the beholder. Art has no quality or benchmark; therefore no one can tell you what is good or bad art. Those definitions just don’t exist.

As you walk into the exhibition you are greeted by a huge mural of a giant hen harrier clutching a Range Rover in its talons; nature getting its own back on the bourgeoisie so to speak. A fabulous image, I hope you agree:

I’ve only known of the existence of Jeremy Deller for just under two years. I saw him interviewed on telly prior to his Joy In People exhibition last year (which we subsequently visited). I liked his thoughts and approach to art; they rang true to my beliefs. His art is plebeian (and I don’t use that in an insulting way, I use it as praise), he definitely draws from and connects with the common people, the working classes. He also draws a lot on pop culture, sharing very similar reference point to my own even though he is a younger man than I by some eleven years. And hey, anyone that likes Bowie and Depeche Mode can’t be all that bad!

One of the nicest touches to the exhibition was the tea room where mugs of very nice ‘proper’ tea were handed out gratis. The lady and I availed ourselves of this facility as did so many other visitors, UK and non-UK citizens alike, all seemed glad to receive; British tax payers money very well spent in my humble opinion. When you consider what our country spends on armaments and waging war on others and how it achieves absolutely nothing, then realising that if a fraction of that money was spent on making tea and distributing it to other parts of the world and how that might well make the world a better place by fostering a bit of harmony, you wonder why such a thing isn’t happening; make tea not war should be Britain’s motto!

Included in the exhibition are paintings and drawings by prisoners spending time at ‘Her Majesties Pleasure’. Many of whom had served with the armed forces in Afghanistan and or Iraq. One very poignant picture which moved me greatly was ‘R and R: Soldiers smoking crack before deployment, Wellington Barracks, London’ by Neil, HML Shotts, 2013:

There are no winners in war!

I could go on and on about this exhibition, such was the pleasure it gave me, but I won’t. What I will do though is give you a link to the English Magic website so you can at least try to glean a bit of the flavour. Enjoy!

Two weeks prior to visiting Venice we were in Manchester, and whilst there we took the opportunity to go to the ‘All That Is Solid Melts Into Air’ exhibition at the Manchester Art Gallery. Again a Jeremy Deller curated marvel. The exhibition is a presentation of industrial working life, the people and their culture. It mixes harrowing photos of Victorian working people along side family trees from Bryan Ferry, Neville Holder and Shaun Ryder and written examples of the oppressive nature of capitalist imposed working conditions, paintings and other artefacts. It shows the violence and oppression that has been inflicted on working people over the last few centuries and reminds us how it is still happening today.

The ‘badge’ for the exhibition is this photograph of Adrian Street and his father:

Included in the exhibition is a film about Adrian, his sexuality and how he escaped from working in the pits to seek fame and fortune in the, some would say, murky world of professional wrestling.

I came away from the gallery having much enjoyed the show and wondering why we working classes continue to allow our masters to dazzle us with trinkets whilst letting them shaft us at the same time.

In my opinion anything with Jeremy Deller’s name attached to it is always worth a gawp. Check him out and go along to an exhibition of his as and when you can. If you do I hope you get as much out of it as I have so far from the ones I’ve been to.

Art happens – enjoy – think – and deal with it!

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