In 2012, Jeremy Deller sent one of Britain’s best-loved landmarks on a tour around the UK. Sacrilege, a bouncy castle version of Stonehenge, offered audiences a compelling mix of politics, history and playfulness: themes that have been central to Deller’s art since the late 1990s, when he first rose to prominence.
Deller, who won the Turner Prize in 2004, has always created work that prioritises ideas and the experiential, rather than the physical artwork. His work is often rooted in British culture: in 1997 Acid Brass saw him collaborate with a brass band to perform tracks from the rave era, and in 2001 he staged a re-enactment of the 1984 miners’ strike with The Battle of Orgreave, which involved around a thousand people – including 200 from the original event.
His enduring interest in pop culture and willingness to question our ideas of Britishness have helped him become one of today’s most influential artists. Here, he takes CR on a whistle-stop tour of the past 40 years, from Top of the Pops and his most important gig of the 90s, to his fascination with the Millennium Dome and The Office.
“I was a very uncool teenager.” Deller entered the 80s as a 14-year-old, and while his teenage years were awkward, they were also hugely significant. This was the era when his long-lasting fascination with pop culture and music began, which would play out later in his career through works such as Acid Brass and his recent Everybody in the Place documentary about the 80s UK rave scene.
“A lot happened between 14 and 24 – that’s a huge moment,” says Deller, who grew up in London. “The 80s was school and university, so I was watching a lot of television. Music and TV have probably had the biggest effect on me. Channel 4 coming on was an exciting time, because of what they were showing – the almost random nature of the channel, and its avant-garde quality.
“They showed, for me, one of the most important art films ever – Rock My Religion by Dan Graham. It’s really the blueprint of arts documentaries about music, and from that era onwards you can trace so many artworks and artists’ films back to the way it used archive and voiceover, and a juxtaposition of images. Channel 4 was one of those things where you could come home drunk, turn on the telly, and see something you’d never expected to see. Almost like what the internet does now.”