Jeremy Deller, Sacrilege, 2012. Photo: Jeremy Deller

In Love With the World

Art is Magic by Jeremy Deller (Cheerio, £30.)

There’s a moment in Art is Magic, Jeremy Deller’s entertaining, informative, and self-consciously unpretentious book, that gets to the heart of his joyfully eclectic practice. Fittingly for this arch collaborator/instigator, it is a quotation from someone Deller has worked with on numerous occasions, rather than the artist himself, that beautifully sums up his approach. In a conversation with Deller, Jonny Banger—who has a practice that ranges from “a business selling streetwear” to “all sorts of multimedia mischief”—shares what he believes is the essence of what they both do. “Your work[s] and mine,” he explains, “are a celebration of people’s relationships with each other and their surroundings.”

Celebration, people, relationships, surroundings: In different ways, pretty much all of Deller’s work includes these crucial elements; elements that bob and weave through this quirky, good-natured, and rather lovely looking book, designed by another regular Deller collaborator, Fraser Muggeridge Studio. The artist’s life-size inflatable model of Stonehenge, Sacrilege, which premiered at the 2012 Glasgow International festival of contemporary art before embarking on a U.K. and international tour, is a great example of Deller bringing these elements into dialogue. There is a lot wrapped up in Stonehenge—heritage, landscape, paganism, archaeology, “Englishness,” belief, ritual—but while embodying all of this, Sacrilege ultimately transcends it, too, by virtue of being such fun. Wherever it was installed, kids and adults alike bounced and smiled and shrieked on it. They were, you could say, brought together by its bounciness. In a chapter dedicated to the work, Deller explains that, as he considered the enduring mystery of Stonehenge, he was “trying to think what the stupidest idea of what was possible to make would be, the sort of thing you might see on The Simpsons.” 

This tendency toward the unusual, the unexpected, the un-art-world is another hallmark of the works catalogued in Art is Magic. Deller’s 2001 re-creation of The Battle of Orgreave—a crucial turning point in the 1984–85 miners’ strike, which saw the police and picketing miners “in a pitched battle” outside a coking plant in Orgreave, near Sheffield—is another improbable idea that Deller pulled off, and probably his most well-known work (or as he puts it, “My ‘Stairway to Heaven’”). Deller recounts the genesis of the work, from a 1995 poster he designed announcing a fictional re-enactment “supported by English Heritage and the Yorkshire Tourist Board” to a successful proposal sent to art producers Artangel, best known for commissioning Rachel Whiteread’s House and Michael Landy’s Break Down. “They called my bluff by accepting it,” Deller writes. The eventual performance in the streets and fields of Orgreave involved hundreds of ex-miners, had a £500,000 budget, and was filmed by Channel 4 for a documentary directed by Mike Figgis.

Art is Magic provides matter-of-fact but thoughtful accounts of many more Deller works: his Folk Archive project with Alan Kane, which included a 2005 exhibition at London’s Barbican; a fan-focused Depeche Mode documentary from 2006; 2016’s Iggy Pop Life Class; his 2013 British Pavilion exhibition at the Venice Biennale; and 2009’s Creative Time-produced It Is What It Is: Conversations about Iraq, which took a car destroyed in a Baghdad bomb attack on a U.S. tour. There are bats in Mexico and gardens in Münster, a waxwork Rupert Murdoch melting in Melbourne and a real Andy Warhol photographed in The Ritz hotel in 1986 (when, as a student, Deller met him). “Art is a way of staying engaged and in love with the world,” is how Deller sees it. Art is Magic would seem to prove his point.