5:02 PM GMT 17/05/2013
His first art-work was a Stations Of The Cross on the life of Keith Moon. For The 2004 Turner Prize he exhibited a giant chalkboard showing lines of connection between brass bands and acid house. In 2009 he organised a march through Manchester named after a New Order song. For the past twenty years the art of Jeremy Deller has been influenced and informed by the intangible power of pop music. Now, on the eve of a major retrospective at The Hayward Gallery, the Turner Prize-winner discusses the educational power of music and TV, and the conceptual perfection of The Iggy Pop Life Class, with MOJO's Andrew Male.
Your first exhibition was in 1993: in your bedroom while your parents were on holiday. When did you decide that you wanted to be exhibited? To open up the shrine of your bedroom?
Shrine is a good word. I just thought it would be quite funny to do something in the absence of my parents. It was a mischievous thing. Without their knowledge. They only found out relatively recently. I was living with my parents for some time afterwards. I felt I should just do it. It was a way of getting work seen. I think it dawned on me that the best place to show those paintings was the place where they were actually made, that they would look odd out of the context of the bedroom. We're going to reconstruct the bedroom for the Hayward Gallery exhibition. It's a good place to contain all my early work.
How many people came to that first exhibition?
Maybe 25, 30. They were very personal invitations. Not many. I wanted to limit the numbers. I was half afraid of what might happen. Someone might spill some wine. I was 27. I lived at home until I was 31.
Did the idea of turning your bedroom into a gallery space come out of your love for museums in general, these comforting childhood spaces?
Museums, as opposed to galleries, yes. I mean, I like galleries but I think a lot of people, in their early years, if you weren't into sport you'd go to the museum. The Imperial War Museum... The British Museum... you can run around the British Museum...
What TV did you watch when you were a kid? I'm guessing you were a fan of James Burke's Connections. That Burke approach, of starting at one point and seeing where you end up really seems to inform what you do.
Yes. I was talking to Nicky Wire about this: British television and how important that was, growing up. BBC2 documentaries, old Arena documentaries. I loved James Burke's Connections, the whole look of it as well. Back then the BBC would show all the Orson Welles' films, all the kitchen-sink films. I could go on and on.
It was an educational tool. Our generation's Open University. What do you think its value was?
It's just imaginative thinking, isn't it? James Burke did it and I suppose Adam Curtis does it now. He's someone who grew up on that same diet of British television and he's remade that format hasn't he? He likes playing around with television and ideas. Placing it in the context of a journey, a narrative.
What was your first experience in an art gallery that blew you away?
It was an exhibition of Russian Constructivist Art at the Royal Academy. That was quite late on. I started going to museums when I was about four but it was an exhibition of Russian Revolutionary art, abstract art, people like Malevich, that blew me away. Also, probably being in The Horniman Museum looking at masks and objects. They changed The Horniman a lot when it reopened in 2002. I found it quite depressing, how they'd changed it. You'd go there as a kid and see 50 masks and think they're amazing! But now there's all this information surrounding the display, attempting to contextualize it. And you end up showing only five percent of the collection. One of my favourite museums is the Pitt Rivers in Oxford. Absolutely beautiful. They show everything. The Horniman used to be like that and now it's more like everywhere else. That was definitely the kind of museum I liked. A real cabinet of curiosities.
Yes, one drawer is beetles with pins through them and the next drawer is arrowheads... Museums are very good places to get inspiration because they clear your head, and allow you to make these weird connections and comparisons, like going to a junk market or a jumble sale.
How important was it meeting Andy Warhol at the Ritz in London in 1986?
That was the key moment. Because it just made me realise that I wanted to do what he did - play around with culture and ideas and images and get away with it. He was the archetypal contemporary artist and always will be. I was always drawn to him as a teenager, as a lot of teenagers were. The Velvet Underground thing. There's so much humour and he's cool. Damien Hirst isn't cool. He's an idiot. He's clever, but he's an idiot. Warhol was cool, and a total nerd, and that appealed to me. He chronicled American Postwar life, the Empire, and he wasn't around to see it fall. He was the chronicler of his times.
Do you think that it was key that you took him up on his invitation to see him in New York?
Yes, because I saw him in context, I saw him at The Factory. There were no naked women running around then or people with syringes hanging out of their arms. It was much more businesslike. You went in and there was a big desk and there was Brigid Berlin, who was in all the films, people walking about. The magazine [Interview] was part of the building at the back, there was a production studio at the top for the MTV show. It was busy.
But people had lost interest in the art.
Yeah, he'd kind of coasted a bit. But the last self-portraits are amazing. The way he worked was truly inspiring and the fact that he seemed to be truly enjoying himself. He was happy to talk to you and wanted information. He was quite chatty. He wanted to know what you'd seen, and wanted information and gossip and basically wanted to know what was going on. Quite a laugh, I thought, and not at all the monosyllabic character he was in the interviews. It was an act. I still maintain that if he was still here now he'd have made so much money on the Internet. He would have had an online empire. He was so ahead of his time and we're just catching up with him.
How much of what you were doing early on - the Search For Bez exhibition, the Brian Epstein roadsign - was about bringing music culture and the ephemeral culture that surrounds it into the art world and the art gallery?
Absolutely. It's something I was very interested in which I never thought was appreciated enough as an art form, especially earlier on, and I just wanted to highlight this in a simplistic way by making art about these people and movements in music. It's almost unnecessary to do that now because there's a whole industry in place around music that takes it seriously, like the David Bowie exhibition at the V&A. These people have entered high culture now. That takes care of that.
Was there anything particular that drew you to the music culture of the mid-'90s or was it just 'This is the music culture I'm living through'?
It was the latter, really. Actually, the first time that I felt I was part of 'the music industry' was during glam rock, when I was about six. I was buying lots of records: The Sweet, the unmentionable Mr Glitter, Slade. I was just glued to the telly, brainwashed. Happily brainwashed. But the '90s was special for me. And then Oasis came and ruined it for everyone. They ruined British music and they ruined music journalism. I mean, think of their legacy. What is it? Kasabian?
From 1997's Acid Brass to 2009's Procession, you seem constantly drawn back to the culture of the North of England. Why is that?
I think it's because... Yeah, why is that? (laughs) I was up there last week actually. I went back to Orgreave. They're doing a Culture Show special about me.
That day in 2001, the reenactment of the 1984 Battle Of Orgreave with ex-miners, policemen and members of The Sealed Knot, was astonishing. I saw you talking about it later, about who came out to see it and I thought you underplayed it. My memory of it was it was like an old English fayre. Actually, I have two very distinct memories. The first part of the Battle, in the field, there were food stalls and information desks and what felt like a very traditional battle reenactment, and then, when the battle moved out onto the street it was terrifying...
For me it was immense. It was definitely meant to be a grass roots event but, yeah, what was brilliant about the battle in the street was that we didn't have time to rehearse it so things went wrong, some people arrived at the wrong time and place and actually it didn't have much resemblance to what happened on the actual day in 1984 because the original incident was much more of a rout, not so much of a battle. But because the participants didn't know much of what was happening at that stage of the reenactment it became a much more unexpected, tense, visceral event. But everybody did exactly what I wanted them to do on the day. No-one got carried away and started a proper war! They all knew what their roles were and it was amazingly well done.
You mixed it up, with miners playing policemen, policemen playing miners...
It was confusing and it was meant to be. And I did it as much for the reenactment world as I did it for the miners. To be able to reenact something in living memory, and see what real history is like, as opposed to their version of history which was 300 years ago. You'd never get to meet a cavalier or roundhead but this was the sharp end of history which was still unresolved. The Sealed Knot were quite worried about meeting the miners. They thought the miners were brutes. It was interesting because reenactors on the whole are quite conservative people. They like uniforms, guns, marching, but on the whole, they were thrilled to be doing it and shocked by the emotion. They'd never seen emotion before, because you can't get emotion in reenactments. I think they were really shocked to see real emotion in these guys' faces.
Was it an act of preservation, preserving the memory of something that's in danger of being forgotten?
Not that much. Preserving? No. Highlighting, re-examining, yes. Re-examining says it best, because as soon as you talk about preserving... No, I'm just wandering back to look at something again. Hopefully.
Definitely. That's how a lot of the miners saw the Orgreave thing. It does have a bit of a dusty association with war, but then I did that thing about the bomb car going around America. That was intended as a memorial for the fourth plinth in Trafalgar Square but didn't get selected. So I just took it on a tour. So, yes, memorials are important but I do a lot of work about memory, which is a big word in art. There are a lot of shows about memory. So you have to keep doing different things and I'm consciously trying to think of different things to do.
Coming back to your connection with the North of England...
Well, so many important historical events have happened in the north of England. And the music scene in London has never been as exciting as in the north of England. London music is based on music hall, in that tradition, without even realizing it. Whereas outside of London... I'm doing something next year on The Industrial Revolution and its influence on British music, its influence on the sound and the look of the bands. It's all mixed up and I'm trying to work out how. I've done Shaun Ryder's family tree. I did that a few years ago. I think it's a more interesting history. The south seems so much more rooted in the financial and mercantile industries. It's not about making things.
What did you learn from bringing acid house and brass bands together with Acid Brass in 1997?
Well, it was my first big scale project but actually it was so easy because the band, the Williams Fairey Brass Band, was so amenable. It was one phone call. It was the first major collaborative effort involving more than two people. They performed it again and again and they loved doing it. A lot of bands would have said no.
In 1997 you also contacted Manic Street Preachers fans through Melody Maker, collating their artworks of and about the band and reexamining the relationship between fan and performer, and ideas of authorship and authenticity. Did you know the Manic Street Preachers when you started the project?
No. I didn't meet them till quite long after that. They came to see that show and they liked it. There weren't many other bands at the time who could have delivered a good exhibition like that, because of The Manics'... pretensions, let's call it pretensions, in a good way. I could identify with that and, again, at the time, the contrast was Oasis, Liam boasting about not having read a book. The Manics had quite singular fans. They sent tons of stuff in and I just made this exhibition out of it. I thought it was a form of folk art. It's historical now, that show. It was only meant to be on for a day but it got picked up and became this thing. I had no idea.
You won The Turner prize in 2004 with Memory Bucket, a documentary about Waco and Crawford, Texas that ends with an astonishing sequence showing millions of bats flying out of a cave and into the Texas sky. That came out of a residency project. Did you know what you were going to do once you got to Texas?
I'd been on a recce and I knew where I wanted to go. For the project you had to deliver an artwork at the end of eight weeks, which for me was a total nightmare. I knew I wanted to visit Waco, and George Bush's hometown, Crawford, and whoever else I bumped into. I went back to Texas again in the summer because I wanted to redo the bats sequence in 3D. Is it longer? You couldn't do it longer. The sound is intense. I put the bats on the end of that film so that you have this historical documentary that has an almost abstract end to it. It needed something, to take it from being a mundane film about the world. Taking it somewhere else. That scene is almost apocalyptic, or life affirming, or both. It was a film about human folly, almost, so when you see these animals you realize, there is this other thing, despite our stupidity.
What was the thinking behind 2009's Procession, your banner-led parade of marching bands, old trades, young goths, shuttered clubs and shops and unrepentant smokers through the streets of Manchester? How much of it was valedictory?
Not too much. There are elements of it that were saying goodbye to parts of Manchester, but not too much. That came out of an idea to open an arts centre in Derby, about eight years ago. I was in their shopping centre and I said I'd love to do a funeral procession through the town, of all the shops that had closed, and each one would have a coffin, and of course they weren't up for that. But I incorporated that idea into Procession. In the middle of it I had a funeral procession of nightclubs, restaurants and shops because the centre of Manchester has become a chain. And a lot of it was about the social and public life of the town, the day-to-day life. Do you know The Urbis building? They have this big green outside and every Saturday goths and emo kids meet up and hang out there, hundreds of them, and it's just amazing to watch. They're seen as a nuisance, but it's all these misfits, out together, and that's where bands and allegiances are formed. And I was watching them and it was amazing, like a nature documentary. These two hoodie kids started biking through them and they all moved out of the way, like two hawks circling a flock of sparrows. So they were part of Procession. It was about how people don't realize that a lot of these changes are good things, they're not bad things.
One of the things your Hayward retrospective will be examining is your failures...
Many failures. The Iggy Pop Life Class. That would have been so good. My art dealer in New York got hold of Iggy Pop, so I had a very long conversation with him about this idea to have him pose as a life model, unannounced, at a special life class. I'd pick amateur artists and professionals - artists who do autopsy drawing, people who are very experienced with drawing the body - and recruit them to do the life class and they would have done this suite of drawings of aspects of his body and at the end of the session there's be hundreds of drawings of Iggy Pop's body that would then be given to the Smithsonian in Washington DC, this documentation of Iggy Pop's body as part of this archive of Americana. So, everything just came together perfectly and all the ideas were just there and I thought, this is going to be amazing and of course he didn't want to do it! [laughs]. We thought he'd be into it, and he wasn't. And we didn't pursue it, and we should have pursued it. I give up relatively easy. I want people to be at ease with the idea I'm proposing to them. It was perfect. Maybe it was too perfect.
So many people prefer not to discuss their failures...
I think it's good to discuss your failures. There'll be more in the exhibition. There've been completed works that are failures but these are just works that I haven't managed to make that I kick myself about. These are failures because I proposed them. And got knocked back. It's good to show that however big you think you are there's always someone who thinks you're crap. Like the film I made with Depeche Mode fans. It was finished in 2006 and it will be in the exhibition. We've shown it to lots of people. Everyone loved it, [MUTE label boss] Daniel Miller loved it, and the only people who didn't like it were Depeche Mode. Or their management. We never got a straight answer about why they didn't like it. There were a few theories. If you see it you'll realize it makes them seem like a very important band... I spent six months of my life on that I wasn't allowed to show it. It makes you realize that they don't give a shit about you, and it's quite salutary and it's actually very good. You realize where you stand in the world, and in terms of the record business, it's right at the bottom.
What, of everything you've done so far, do you think worked the best?
The show I did in Cardiff with The Manic Street Preachers: Unconvention. It was about art that had inspired the Manics. We literally went through a list of artworks and artists and we got virtually everything we wanted. Amazing artworks, Picasso, Warhol, Bacons, it all seemed so easy. It was very satisfying. That's something I'm very fond of as a project.
Are you still excited and inspired by music?
Not as much as I was. I've just sort of lost touch. I just listen to Radio 4, but that's fine. As soon as I started working with the brass band it opened my ears to other forms of music. Guitar, bass, drums: it's incredibly limiting.
Why did you alight on a band like Earl Brutus in the mid-'90s?
Well, to me they were massively significant and to about 100 other people as well, they were the most important thing in music for about two or three years. I thought the name was amazing and when I saw them I was kind of blasé about music. I just thought I'd seen it all. Seen amazing bands, been to loads of gigs and nothing surprised me and then I saw this band and could not believe what I was seeing and hearing. A band literally fighting on stage and snogging and then making this amazing music that I totally understood, as you do when you meet someone who's had a similar upbringing and interests. They'd been brainwashed in the same way as me - Glitter Band, Human League, Sex Pistols - all these men who were far too old to be in a band. I thought, God, all the shattered hopes and dreams in this band. It was so poignant, old men in their thirties, looking it.
Did you ever want to do something with them?
I was in awe of them, a bit scared of them. Nick Sanderson had a terrifying stage presence. I only met him properly once. A year before he died. I had a brilliant chat with him about music and school days. I'm so glad I met him. I know Jamie and Gordon pretty well and they're doing an event as part of my retrospective - a pop quiz. Jon Savage is doing a talk with Nicky Wire and Alexis Petridis called 'Why All Pop Music is Homosexual'.
Can I ask you about one of my favourite things you ever did: the handbook of literary quotes, for tube drivers to read out on The Piccadilly Line?
That was very simple and it was done with my grumpy old man hat on. It was about how annoying it is to be bombarded with totally pointless messages on the underground. There was a new rule brought in that after ten seconds of a stalled tube train, train drivers had to talk, so I thought this book would be a good way to defuse tension. It took years to come to fruition and when it did it got more press coverage than anything else I've ever done.
How do you make a living as an artist if you don't make saleable art?
Well, I do make salable art but not as much as a lot of people. A lot of artists just make tons and tons and sell tons and tons.
Is that a moral position, on your part?
It probably is really, which is a bit boring. I suppose it's the idea that you don't want to just be churning out variations upon variations of your work. I haven't monopolized on things as much as I could have done. I'm pretty comfortable compared to most people, though. I earn probably twice the average income so I'm very lucky. I don't feel I should be rewarded millions and millions. The reward is just being able to do this stuff.
Jeremy Deller: Joy in People is at the Hayward Gallery on London's South Bank from 22 February to 13 May. Watch the trailer here.
Posted by Ross_Bennett at 3:02 PM GMT 31/01/2012