We are in a north London caff, eating toast and Marmite, and Jeremy Deller, fresh from his triumphant turn hosting Britain’s pavilion at the Venice Biennale, is signing 12in copies of his version of A Guy Called Gerald’s Voodoo Ray. The record, one of Deller’s personal favourites and a defining track of the acid-house movement, will go on to sell for £100. Later this week, Deller will share a night at Tate Britain with Warp Records, the world’s most revered techno label, when, among other things, a brass band will perform Voodoo Ray. Rave culture is one of Deller’s big reference points, along with the deindustrialisation of the north. Adults today will understand his confrontational approach to the super-rich (and his pleasure in crushing Chelsea tractors for art). It’s familiar ground for anyone who was a teenager in the 1980s, and Deller, now 47, has become something of the art poster boy for Generation X. He first came to wider public attention in 2004, when he won the Turner prize — “It was like winning a Bafta,” he says, while Venice “is like an Oscar” — but he has determinedly kept himself apart from the London loop of YBAs. The price of art at auction is a preoccupation that Deller finds “tacky”. Unlike other artists, he says he is not motivated by money. His pavilion was an anti-capitalist statement — ironic, considering that Venice has further increased the value of his art, and that many of its visitors are the high-net-worth individuals his work skews. One of his Bless This Acid House posters recently went for more than £10,000 (though you can still buy a small, unsigned one from the Southbank shop for a fiver). Deller says he doesn’t work for the money, but he recognises that many serious artists do. He mentions seeing Damien Hirst at Glastonbury, surrounded by bodyguards. “I make a living, a very comfortable one,” he says, “but I don’t need a bodyguard or a driver. No, I cycle. Fine if you want to be that sort of person. I’d feel silly if I was.”
The History of the World, 1997-2004, by Jeremy Deller (Guardian)When he won the Turner prize in 2004, the judges praised his generosity of spirit. Deller works with a whole community of craftsmen, from banner makers to steel bands. He isn’t a hugging sort of chap, but his work is full of the spirit of rave — he uses huge numbers of ordinary people. The Battle of Orgreave, 2001, brought together 800 people in a public re-enactment of a violent confrontation from the 1984 miners’ strike, while in 2009, Procession was a parade through the centre of Manchester, working with diverse groups drawn from the city’s 10 boroughs. Andrea Rose, director of visual arts at the British Council, who led the selection committee for the British pavilion, says Deller’s pavilion “was the best show we’ve seen in ages. It has evoked so much positive comment for being approachable.” She also talks about his “genius for friendship... and the way he brings random people together in his art, which is what happened in the rave era that forged him. It wasn’t elitist, it was for everybody.” Last month, Deller chose to open his current show, All That Is Solid Melts into Air, at Manchester Art Gallery during Frieze, London’s air-kissing and shopping opportunity for contemporary art lovers. Rose says: “As a person, he is unique among artists because he seems to be someone without ego, which in the art world is incredible.” One of Deller’s best-known works is his Turner-prize entry The History of the World, a map of how acid house and brass bands are linked. In Acid Brass, the Williams Fairey Brass Band will play Voodoo Ray, a concept repeated in the British pavilion under the name English Magic, but with a steel band. The lyrics to Voodoo Ray, “Ooh-oo-hoo ah-ha ha-yeah”, are reproduced on a banner. Born in London in 1966, Deller managed to meet Andy Warhol when he was barely out of school, and spent two weeks with him at the Factory, in New York. He began making artworks in the early 1990s and staged his first exhibition secretly in his parents’ house while they were away on holiday. “Teenage boredom — there’s something wrong if you weren’t bored as a teenager,” he says. “Young people have so much more fun now. There’s tons of music out there, they are more connected to each other and they live in less homophobic, less racist, less misogynistic times. They are far more evolved. The world has changed for the better.”
Jeremy Deller – Bless This Acid House, 2005 (Guardian)He isn’t interested in looking back on the rave era in a nostalgic way. How important it was “has yet to be understood. It changed people. It was a really big deal — hedonism in the face of recession. It happened so soon after the miners’ strike. Both were social movements that were important moments in the history of Britain.” Dom Flannigan is a 30-year-old A&R man at Warp. “My brother lived through acid house — I only heard about it. Now we are in an even more corporate place, and some of the rave generation are using what they learnt to manipulative ends. They are the ones putting the ‘friends’ message on Coke bottles. Our generation is looking for a connection with a time that felt more authentic, when everyone was unified. Everything we do is a response to that authentic environment where there were fewer rules, a real counterculture.” Deller’s contemporaries now run the country. We discuss the video that surfaced of an early Sunrise party, with a fleeting glimpse of what looks like a floppy-haired young David Cameron. Even though the prime minister has denied it, given the uncanny resemblance, Deller still wonders. Fellow partygoers at Matthew Freud’s recent 50th saw Cameron punching the air as he danced, and he apparently enjoys his discreet annual visit to Ibiza. “The same age as me and trying to run our country, or attempting it,” Deller says. “It’s a bit scary.” For the Cultural Olympiad, Deller made a giant bouncy Stonehenge — a “scene of mass happiness”, he called it. “I just wanted to make the stupidest, biggest public artwork I could, and I succeeded. A ridiculous, bizarre, absurd and funny thing about enjoying history and not taking it too seriously. It was only art because it was made by me, and on such a scale. I just do what I want.”
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