Time to Ruffle a Few Feathers?
Jeremy Deller’s selection for the British Pavilion is intriguing. As David Cameron’s Conservative party unconvincingly exhorts the benefits of “The Big Society” (read Thatcherite withdrawal of the welfare state 2.0), a heady mix of nationalism is also coming to the boil. The UK Independence Party recently averaged 25% of the vote in local elections, pushing conservatives further to the right with calls for an in-out EU referendum before 2015, whilst the Scottish independence referendum looms in 2014.
In this light, the choice of Deller could allow for some overdue national self-reflection (noticeably absent in previous British Pavilions).
His selection by the British Council Venice Biennale Selection Committee – which is mainly comprised of curators and public museum directors – could also be tinged with misplaced nostalgia. Deller’s rise over the past ten years is aligned closely with Tony Blair’s New Labour and a cultural policy of looking to the arts to heal social wounds, through increased funding for large-scale, participatory commissions. Projects such as Deller’s Battle of Orgreaves (2001) and Procession (2009) received healthy funding form the Arts Council England, whose government subsidy rose steadily during the Blair years before being slashed by 30% in 2010 as part of austerity measures introduced by Cameron et al.
Equally, Deller’s films, installations and performances, which won him the Turner Prize in 2004 – though often accused of delivering a political light touch – did signal a new form of mainstream art practice in Britain, more socially and historically aware, and opposed to the individualism and entrepreneurship of the preceding YBA movement, the cultural spawn of the Thatcher years (two of whom have previously occupied the British Pavilion).
In the year of Thatcher’s death and with questions of national identity and sovereignty dominating British politics, the arts in the UK has also – somewhat reluctantly – had to adapt to the cultural policies of the coalition government. Could Deller’s selection by the establishment be regarded as a call for some much-needed ideological and artistic stock taking?Anonymous