In his excellent review of Jeremy Deller’s show English Magic which has taken over the British Pavilion for this year’s Venice Art Biennale, critic Alastair Sooke describes it as “the dark side, if you like, of Danny Boyle’s uplifting opening ceremony for London 2012.” It’s a phrase that stuck with me; if 2012 was all-about almost ceaseless national self-congratulation, then here in 2013 maybe Deller is right to force us to consider some uncomfortable truths not prevalent in our golden summer.
There’s a direct link here too – David Bowie’s Heroes was adopted by the BBC as the unofficial anthem of British Olympic glory, and Bowie appears here too with photographs of him in Ziggy Stardust phase juxtaposed with contemporaneous images of violent social disorder.
Elsewhere a huge mural depicts a bird of prey dangling a smashed 4×4 from its talons, while another shows the tax-haven capital of Jersey St. Helier burning to the ground; nearby there’s a huge picture of William Morris tossing Roman Abramovich’s super-yacht through the skies and a series of drawings done by prisoners –many former soldiers – bring a disturbing dimension to our recent foreign policy disasters.
The gloom and doom is tempered somewhat with some of his trademark banners, free cups of tea and a video of people bouncing on his inflatable Stonehenge, a commission for the Cultural Olympiad which coincided with last summer’s games. But as ever Deller challenges and provokes us to think about Britain in a more nuanced way than the overriding national narratives we are often fed, and can be hungry to swallow.
Jeremy Deller’s British Council commission is at the Venice Biennale until November 24 and will tour national venues in 2014.