Jeremy Deller. English Magic, 2013
Jeremy Deller, passionate chronicler of the tangents of war. The reviews have called his installation at the British Pavilion at the Venice Biennale aggressive. Angry, yes; resigned perhaps; this video captures something else. Deller's 2008 piece at the Imperial War Museum, It Is What It Is, was made from a bombed Baghdad car: there is something about the gratuitous destruction of cars in this film that with that earlier car in mind seems obscene. As does the aftermath of the inflatable Stonehenge: heritage as entertainment, the critique levelled at Danny Boyle's orchestration of the positive side of Britain for the opening of the 2010 Olympics. There is a place and time for critique and the London Olympics was not one of them. Deller has no such restrictions.
He isolates contradictions in Britain – the gap between pride and insignificance, between a blithe skipping along and a still, red in tooth and claw, countryside; between an imperial history and its modern incarnation as entertainment and celebrity. Perhaps not contradictions, rather they are complex, near-inexplicable realities which artists and critical theorists keep trying to explain, reframe, re-present. Adrian Searle calls Deller's Biennale installation a war on wealth — maybe, obviously I haven't seen it, I'm not British and I receive such works through a different lens, however, it seems that at the heart of Deller's work is a critique of war that uses a panoply of images used to disguise the project of war as a series of successes, heroisms and parades.
Will Gompertz on BBC World last night (Thursday, May 30, 2013; content no longer available) reported on Jeremy Deller's Venice project: his language a classic put-down. 'Aggressive' figures as the first word in every review, every report. If someone is angry, and as Deller said, these things had been in his mind for a long time, they can be dismissed as being aggressive, much as how angry women are written off as strident.
And then, and this is unforgivable, Gompertz called Deller's angry, close to the bone murals that show just how socially conflicted England is today, 'the heir' to Danny Boyle's Olympic extravaganza. This trivialises Deller by giving him a critical biography not from art but from the world of entertainment. Controversy safely contained.