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Solely for having made The Battle of Orgreave (An Injury to One is an injury to All) (2001), Jeremy Deller merits a prominent position amongst the artists of the 21st century. Fortunately for him, Orgreave is just one amongst many other brilliant pieces. Deller’s career is defined by remarkable milestones, such as the reconstruction of the hard confrontation between the police and miners that took place in Orgreave (South Yorkshire) in 1981, that signified the end of an era of industrialisation and at the hand of the highly savage neoliberalism of the Thatcher era paved the way for an economy based on entertainment and services. Another key work is The History of the World (1997) a diagram drawn on the wall that traces connections between the music scene and the social and political context of Great Britain. This mental map establishes a network of influences and relations linking two musical styles -acid house and brass bands- with facts such as deindustrialisation or the miner’s strike, while underlining the component of dissidence –in relation to the social and political order of the moment- they both share.
More examples: So Many Ways to Hurt you (The Life and Times of Adrian Street), (2010) is the biography, recounted by him, the son of a Welsh miner, who was ridiculed by his father and community and who, fascinated by body building, ended up making a career in the sixties and seventies as a professional fighter, making star appearances in television programmes. Adrian Street narrates his own experiences and defines himself in a poem as «a sweet transvestite with a broken nose». His extravagance led him to the United States where he made a career as a renowned figure of American, free-for-all wrestling, and continued to live in Florida, managing a workshop for clothing, that he himself designed, related to the industry of free style wrestling. Another personality, as idiosyncratic as Adrian Street himself, and also an example of reinvention is that of The Bruce Lacey Experience (2012), with a quite peculiar artistic style, that more than emphasising its extravagance places on the table the standardisation of the artistic and cultural scene. Or finally, English Magic, his proposal for the British pavilion of the 2013 Venice Biennale, in which he elaborates a critical portrait of Great Britain, where there is no lack of allusions to corruption or international interventionism, and which, in short, shows everything he loves and everything he hates about his country.
If we are looking back over Jeremy Deller’s career in this way it is because these days one can revise these and other works in an exhibition intelligently curated by Cuauhtémoc Medina, Amanda de la Garza and undoubtedly the artist himself, in the Centro de Arte 2 de Mayo in Mostoles, Madrid. It is a show that fits perfectly within the discursive line of the centre, directed by Ferran Barenblit, that in certain moments has focussed its attention on aspects related to music or popular culture as elements that define our present.
Jeremy Deller.The infinitely variable ideal of the popular is an exhibition that takes its title from Baudelaire, taking its name from the “infinitely ideal variable of beauty”. Baudelaire’s appearance here is not by chance for he in fact always defended the freedom of the artist in relation to the media he chose to use, a parallelism that in the case of Deller is patently clear. The show begins chronologically with Open Bedroom (1993-2012), an installation that recreates the exhibition the artist made in what was his “studio” while he was at college, in his bedroom of his parents’ house, taking advantage of their absence. One they only became aware of ten years later when they saw the images in a book. The installation recreates not just the works presented but also the surroundings and links directly to a whole list of independent initiatives of artists and curators in private and personal spaces, such as Hans-Ulrich Obrist in the kitchen of his house, Hou Hanru in the corridor of his apartment in Paris or Martí Manen in his bedroom, amongst many others.
Jeremy Deller. The infinitely variable ideal of the popular pauses, as mentioned at the beginning, at the milestones of his career. What it evidences is how in this journey his work has become an investigation of the popular, of the aesthetics of participation. Often the artist is the initiator or catalyst for processes for which he counts on quite different forms of collaboration, ceding prominence to diverse groups, be they miners, fans of music groups or craftsmen who make the most incredible pennants. However, above all he reconstructs stories from the past, be they collective or individual. These reconstructions evidence different things, for example, the deindustrialization of a country and how it treats people (The Battle of Orgreave), while at the same time constituting a wake-up call in the face of the effects of the implacable advance of the most savage neoliberalism, a reference we shouldn’t overlook, for if Great Britain was the first, the rest of Europe now finds itself at the doors of this type of disastrous process. It also shows the passing from a model of industrialised country to another based on entertainment (So Many Ways to Hurt You (The Life and Times of Adrian Street)) or the place left for independent and idiosyncratic attitudes (The Bruce Lacey Experience). But above all it places values on people who are at the centre of everything (What is the City but the People? (2009) an installation in the London underground, in which a series of quotes from Shakespeare, Pascal and Ionesco appear).
Deller’s work talks of freedom, the capacity for redefinition and reinvention and shows conflicts and their consequences, but above all it offers the possibility of room for thought. And, last but not least, it appeals to us directly, not just because he uses all sorts of materials and artistic media from very diverse origins, but above all because it breathes honesty, enthusiasm and emotion.
"A desk is a dangerous place from which to watch the world" (John Le Carré)