We are what we like, as Jeremy Deller demonstrates. The London-born and based conceptual artist’s videos and sculptural installations highlight how consumption reflects and shapes contemporary identity. Winning the Turner Prize in 2004 and representing Britain at last year’s Biennale proves Deller’s position as a forerunning artistic commentator on England’s historical and current day identity. “All That is Solid Melts into Air,” his solo exhibition at the Manchester Art Gallery runs through January 2014. This collection of found photographs, music and film focuses on England’s recent shift from a producer to consumer culture. The show’s star is a vintage jukebox that plays the-now-exotic sounds from a fully functional factory. Here, Deller discusses the ramifications of buying, instead of building, culture.
Ana Finel Honigman: What does being English mean to you?
Jeremy Deller: Not that much, being born in England.
AFH: How has the idea of fame and the value of fame changed English culture and cultural values during the past century?
JD: That’s a big question. It is probably too early to tell. In the UK, we have quite a lot of famous people per capita, maybe more than the US. It probably has a lot to do with speaking the same language as the US, so we have a transferable culture. I am not equipped to answer this fully but pop culture now is very much based around people who are pure celebrities. By that, I mean that is all they are good at being. They have no additional talents such as music/acting/sport. I blame the Spice Girls for this.
AFH: How has the shift from a culture that creates into a culture that consumes influenced art’s role and artists’ creative potential?
JD: I am not sure. We are part of the service economy, albeit an elite part of it. Our role has expanded. Artists are public figures in the UK. Their relationship to the service economy is similar to the inventors relationship to the Industiral economy.
AFH: Do you consider yourself a fan of anything? How do your emotionally invested interests differ from the intense creative devotion of the Depeche Mode fans you followed?
JD: I am a fan of lots of things but I am not that obsessive. I get distracted.
AFH: When you were a child, did you think of artists as “famous.” What was your formative understand of art-stardom or artistic fame?
JD: When I was 7, Picasso died and a photo of him was on the cover of a newspaper. I clearly remember my father telling me about him.
AFH: I read that you spent time in Warhol’s Factory. How do you think cultural shifts towards entertainment, and away from factory-like production, have influenced today’s understanding of Warhol and his work?
JD: His work dealt with very 21st century themes. So, the understanding can only grow. The production methods, if anything, have been imitated by lesser artists to the point of familiarity breeding contempt.
AFH: Do you, personally, believe that Warhol was criticising or admiring pop-culture? Was he, in your opinion, a sincere fan of his source material?
JD: Yes, a big fan if not an obsessive.
AFH: You’ve said “Heavy Metal became the ritualistic recreation of the sights and sounds of industry for those who would never work in a factory.” What is Heavy Metal’s equivalent for an office job? Is there an area of culture that you see as mythologizing the sites of contemporary working-class identity, such as call centres or cubicles?
JD: Those sites are less heroic certainly, less dangerous. The culture of these places is not reflected in music. It is more to do with the community of the internet and celebrity that is something we can all share.
AFH: What inspired you to create a bouncy-castle version of Stonehenge? Do you worry that history is underwhelming without added element of fun?
JD: It is overwhelming not underwhelming and this object was a way of taking the heaviness out of it literally and metaphorically.
AFH: How much thought to you put into your personal purchases?
JD: Very little.
AFH: What are your criteria and what are your main concerns when shopping?
JD: I really hate shopping. I rarely do it. My criteria are to get out of the shop as soon as possible.