Jeremy Deller represented the UK with English Magic at the 2013 Venice Biennale.
This exhibition in now on tour and we can see it in Bristol.
Firstly, we have a projection with a fantastic resolution and lighting. We watch some animals flying, owls, hawks, beautiful nature, domesticated, rings on their paws, fur strings to tie them, raw meat to attract them. They are slaves of the humans. But they will turn to sauvage life as soon as you don’t keep feeding them.
In the projection some cars get crushed, pressed, turned into a scrap brick. We should remember Jean Baudrillard’s comments about cars in The system of objects. We get seduced by the objects. The car is not only an object is a sign, a simbol. Is a simbol of status. And is not only language, the car consumes and poisons the environment. While the images are running, some beautiful music is played. The scraping machines spin according to the music, as an spectacle. Any car becomes fast obsolete technology in a consumer society. We produce scrap to contaminate the world. The seductive music is a technology produced with technologic means. Drums, slow rhythms, it could be the sound of the explosion engine embellished until no analogy could be found. Beauty just the opposite as the futurist Marinetti wanted. The seat for the projection is over one of the cars folded in a scrap brick. Like a fossilized sediment, over which we can see the history. What are we doing with technology? Is about that the exhibition? Deller wants us to realize where are we now. Over layers and layers of technology, words, sign and simbols, wich are mostly scrap enough to destroy ourselves. We enjoy the music. Is the music less harmful than the car? Then, could technology be used in different ways?
In the projection we watch some kids playing in an inflatable reproduction of Stonehenge. The technology reproduces another technology. But Stonehenge was a human construction inside the nature, to communicate with her, to enjoy her. The circle is the perfect balance. But the kids are learning to don’t care about history. Just to use it, to play with it. We are teaching them in a wrong way. The history as a thematic park instead of a knowledge source.
After the projection, in the next room there are some pictures from the Ziggy Stardust Tour. I don’t see a clear conexion with David Bowie and the rest of the exhibition. I suppose is about a creative, pondered use of technology, in a concerned way. Bowie tried to do an album involved with a better society against the idea of pop just for fun. But we don’t know if people who went to the tour developed a political sense about a life in community or just escaped from life.
This absence of a guide from Deller can be assumed as a deliberate death of the author, in the Roland Barthes’s meaning.
Following there are prehistoric arrowheads. Weapons first to catch animals and later to go to war, to control the means of production, to defend private property and to invade other properties. Weapons as power, power as knowledge, power as Michael Foucault understand it. Weapons to make slaves as the beginning of the class society. Weapons in a tribal society, as the first step in the Marx evolution classification.
With the narrows there are drawings from prisoners of the 2003 invasion of Iraq. The drawings criticize the war, the propaganda about weapons which were the reason for the war but were never found. All wars are commercials. All the wars want the control of the meanings of production, of the crude oil in this case. The second Iraq War, named the Gulf War, -before the invasion- was the first one seen as a videogame, live, at home, on your tv. Baudrillard said we even don’t take it seriously, “The Gulf War did not take place” summarizes his thesis.
The next are banknotes. Money is a technology. Is a system to trade goods. To trade what we produce. They are coupons and share certificates issued during the collapse of the Soviet Union. The coupons are written, belong to the historic era, the era of writing, and are printed, after the invention of the press. The writing is a technology, and the press is a development of that technology. Greater than any contemporary gadget. The press opened the door to share the knowledge.
Beside the printed money there is a magnificent work of William Morris. A printed fabric, showed with the stamps used to print it. The delicacy with wich the stamps are made is as beautiful as the print. We can see how Morris understands technology as a part of the whole thing -Jeremy Deller is talking about the whole thing- in a different way as the car producers. Deller call his way of work Social Surrealism.
Opposite the money there is a mural with a colossus sinking a big yatch in front of the view of Venice where the Biennale take place. The yatch was owned by Roman Abramovich, the colossus is William Morris. Art and politics are a magma inseparable. We can imagine a contemporary Morris shouting “I said art politic, stupid!”, angry as Slavoj Zizec. Even the less simple draw can be suited in a political mean, because is surrounded by a producer, seller, consumer and market.
A big owl painted on the wall, free, with no rings on its paws, is holding a mashed car. Is getting over the technology. The same owl which appears in the film Her, in a big screen just a few seconds threatening the back of the protagonist who have fall in love with an OS. Until he realizes that the OS, in fact an artificial intelligence, just says what he want to hear, at the same time to many others, to make him -all of them- feel happy, to make him -all of them- faithful to the product he have purchased.
What are all these things talking about? As Umberto Eco said, Superman not save the world but the private property. This owl is a natural superhero who don’t know about property, knows about wild life. Knows about rules to live in a balanced environment. As William Morris.
Roland Barthes wrote The Death of the Authorin 1967, Jean Baudrillard The System of Objects in 1968, Umberto Eco Apocalittici e integrati on 1964, Guy Debord The Society of the Spectacle in 1967, Michael Foucault Surveiller et punir: Naissance de la prison in 1975, and Dawid Bowie The Rise and Fall of Ziggy Stardust and the Spiders from Mars on 1972. All of them in the beginning of Postmodernism, giving a critical view of the life in community and warning against an uncritical and banal way of life. Critical as the voice of William Morris in the beginning of the Modernism. The exhibition is full of associations, ideas and suggestions to develop by the spectator.
At the end of the exhibiton you can print yourself with a rubber stamp a reproduction of one of the murals of the show. The owl or William Morris. And get it for free.
Jeremy Deller: English Magic
12 April—21 September 2014