Jeremy Deller (British, 1966-) has been known for his art work that pulls his audience into actively discussing and confronting political, social, and historical issues. His video work English Magic (2012), on view now until August 2014 at the Hirshhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden, is an example of this dynamic. The film was selected for the British Pavilion at the 2013 Venice Biennale as the film served as a representation of British history through its interlacing imagery of the nation’s past and present.
However, many believe his most famous work to be The Battle of Orgreave (2001) in which he staged a re-enactment of a violent encounter in 1984 between striking miners and police, a historical topic that is very familiar and still applicable to the British people today. This piece solidified Deller’s label as an artist interested in creating interactive ways to experience history and art. In this way he has even been recognized in the field of history, described as being “interested in challenging the hegemony of the official archive, celebrating the complications of memory in the now, and suggesting new modes of communication between subcultures with their own ‘folk’ traditions.” (1)
Perhaps it is because his pieces are so interactive that the best method for increasing audience participation was through a book. Turning his eyes to the U.S., Deller started a new project that resulted in the artists’ book, After the Gold Rush (2002)(N7433.4.D45 A7 2002) which the Hirshhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden Library holds in their artists’ book collection. The piece was in part created with what a foreigner, such as Deller, understood California to be and what he wanted to discover. He began by buying a piece of land in California as he felt “It’s the idea of coming to the West where everyone wants to own a piece of land.” (2)
The piece itself serves as Deller’s guide through California with a premise based loosely on a treasure hunt. Referring specifically to his affinity to creating interactive art, he described his reasoning in Artforum: “A guide book is a convenient vehicle with which to tell a story and connect disparate elements, and there’s an interactive, even performance aspect to it, with readers acting out the journey in their own way. The book is more about the people than the places. It’s literally a tour of the people I met.” (3) The book includes interviews with and biographical sketches of the individuals he mentions, urging the reader to follow his lead and meet them as well. At the time it was written, these individuals he met were known to give small tokens to the visitors guided to them by the book, reinforcing the piece’s purpose as a treasure map, though the experience of meeting them is the real treasure. Scattered throughout the book are images of the people, places, and objects he saw, as well as a CD that includes vocals of the auction at which he bought his plot of land. He described this experience as a “religious revival meeting revolving around money and land.” (4)
The format is also reminiscent of a diary or journal and is similar to his later book, It Is What It Is (2010)(N6797.D45 A4 2010), which can be found in the Hirshhorn Library. The 2010 publication is also similar in topic as it documented Deller’s road trip through the U.S. as he towed a car destroyed in an attack in Baghdad to promote discussion about the Iraq War.
Many artists’ books are about the experience of interacting with the book and this is certainly the case with After the Gold Rush. The item itself, the interaction with the item, and the individual experience that each person has are all aspects of Deller’s After the Gold Rush as a work of art.
This book among three other artists’ books from the Hirshhorn collection was shown at the Congress of Scholars Research Tent, July 1st during the staff picnic.
- Jerome De Groot, “‘I am not a trained historian. I improvise.’ Jeremy Deller interviewed by Jerome de Groot,” Rethinking History 16, No. 4 () : 587-595, 588.
- Jeremy Deller. “A Thousand Words: Jeremy Deller Talks about ‘After the Gold Rush’ 2002.” Artforum 41, No. 3 (November, 2002) : 170-171, 171.
- Deller, “A Thousand Words,” 171.