Jeremy Deller is pretty demanding. As part of ‘Joy in People’, a survey of the Turner Prize-winning artist’s work showing at the Hayward until May 13th, Deller and the exhibition’s curator, Ralph Rugoff, expect you to nosy around in his teenage bedroom cupboards, walk blindly through a Stuart Hughes mural of an open mouth and sit down for a cup of tea in Valerie’s Snack Bar.
Then again, that’s nothing compared to building a float to parade around Manchester as part of Deller’s procession during the International Festival in 2009. Or restaging the Battle of Orgreave, a clash between miners and riot police under Thatcher, with 1000 other people – sixteen years after the event.
The films and audio slideshow of Deller talking through some of these works – Beyond the White Walls – only serve to remind visitors to the Hayward that we weren’t part of the original work. But you just have to get over this or you won’t enjoy Deller’s stories. He’s modest, engaging and funny as he talks about his lack of a formal education in art and his interactions with all sorts of groups and individuals in the UK and, with a burnt-out Iraqi car in tow, across America.
The smaller projects that made me smile the most were The Uses of Literacy – in which Deller asked fans of the Manic Street Preachers who felt educated by the band to make art inspired by their music and recommendations – and Middle Class Posse, a series of hand signals that Deller came up with to allow gangs of Radio 4-loving, tea-with-one-sugar drinking people to communicate secretly.
His work is like a series of flashmobs with heart – the thrill comes from being part of a short-lived or publicity-shy event but the difference is Deller tackles subjects that matter, if even just to one community.
And although this is a retrospective, Deller ain’t dead just yet. Something tells me there will be a lot more volunteers from the Middle Class Posse rushing to sign up for his next “work of art” if the queues at the Hayward were anything to go by.
All images show installation views of Jeremy Deller: Joy in People at the Hayward Gallery, Southbank Centre. Click to enlarge – if you don’t join in, Deller won’t be happy at all. All works courtesy the artist. Photos: Linda Nylind