Islington People: Artist Jeremy Deller launches major retrospective

Even by modern standards, projects involving street parades, historical re-enactments and free tea are unconventional for an award-winning artist.

But throughout a 20-year career, Turner Prize-winning artist Jeremy Deller, of Holloway Road, Highbury, has followed his mantra of “art isn’t about what you make but what you make happen”.

His work is currently displayed in a major retrospective, titled Joy in People, which has opened at the Hayward Gallery on the South Bank and includes installations, video and photography.

He said: “It feels good. It’s the right time to show the public what I’ve done. There’s enough work there. It’s good to see what they make of it.

“With social media these days you hear back immediately. I get 50 emails a day at the moment. ”


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Feedback is important for Jeremy, whose projects are often collaborative and driven by a fascination with people’s struggles.

His most famous work, Battle of Orgreave, a historical re-enactment of violent clashes between police and picketing miners in 1984, was rooted in a desire to tell the miners’ story, recruiting many of the original strikers to take part.

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On recent protests he said: “I’m an active observer of protests but I’m not an activist. That’s just how I do it. I’m not at the frontline, I’m at the side. That’s my role.”

Much of his work takes joy in individual lives and in 2009 he created a procession through Manchester to reflect the “social surrealism” of Britain, represented at the Hayward by a replica tearoom, complete with free cuppas for visitors.

A recurrent theme is pop music, looking past the artists to the fans behind – people whose hobby is Depeche Mode and fans of the Manic Street Preachers, as well as Jeremy, a Happy Mondays fan, himself in The Search for Bez.

For a new film at the exhibition he leaves the city and visits a cave in Texas for a hypnotic 3-D experience of millions of bats swarming in the dusk, a stark contrast with the human narratives elsewhere in the show.

Jeremy has lived in Holloway Road for the past eight years.

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