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Your Space Or Mine

14 Years of Hurt

Jeremy Deller has been making poster art ever since he enrolled onto a screen-printing class in 1994. Posters are part of his work, alongside films and artworks that reflect recent history, and which often involve people doing things, for example his re-enactment of the Miners’ Strike-era

A top ten of Jeremy Deller posters might include the rave-era benevolence of ‘Bless This Acid House’, his Brexit-era ‘Welcome To The Shitshow’ (printed on a Union Jack), and a poster showing Stonehenge as if the monoliths were actually spelling out the word ‘vote’.

The 2024 General Election campaign sees two new Deller artworks hitting the streets, in collaboration with BUILDHOLLYWOOD. One states quite accurately ‘We Have Been Swimming In Shit’ with the other bearing the legend ‘14 Years Of Hurt’ (designed by Fraser Muggeridge). Posted up around the UK, they are he says, ‘self-explanatory’. ‘When you’re making a poster in the street you have to make it attention-grabbing, something easily and quickly legible, ’he says, adding that these two additions to the political poster archives are ‘insanely legible’.

The Euros influenced one of the posters. ‘Because the football’s on, I thought I’d wrestle it in. The design looks like the back of a football shirt, not that I’m a football fan. It’s obvious, maybe it’s too obvious, but everyone knows what it means, and what the 14 years refers to. It doesn’t need explaining’.


Words by Emma Warren

Do you remember what you were doing in May 1997 when the Tories got kicked out?  

I had a mad night barely believable. It started with a meeting with Bill Drummond and Jimmy Cauty from the KLF at Paddington Station, about making a record together. Then I saw a friend and somehow, she was hanging out with Simon Le Bon from Duran Duran and his supermodel wife Yasmin Le Bon, and we went to James Goldsmith’s kids house in Cheyne Walk in Chelsea for a drinks party early evening. So, I ended up sitting with Yasmin Le Bon and socialite Tara Palmer Tomkinson. I then cycled to a big party on Charring Cross Road, in an artist’s studio where we all watched the results coming in, Michael Portillo losing his seat. I knew that the Labour Party were using the Royal Festival Hall as an HQ that night so went down to see what was going on and Tony Blair give a speech outside, the ‘A new dawn has broken, has it not?’ one. I’d been working at the South Bank Centre, and I knew there was a little side entrance into the Royal Festival Hall, so I managed to evade security and get into the celebration party. I spent a few hours in there with everyone just going berserk. The atmosphere was incredible. I spent the whole-time nicking drinks off people and left at about six in the morning with crowds outside cheering as I walked out. Quite a night and not a single photograph to prove any of what I’ve just told you! This year will be less wild. I think I’ll watch it at home, like Glastonbury. 

There were many things you could have said when you decided to make two posters to mark this General Election, but you chose those two. Why? 

‘We have been Swimming In Shit’ obviously has two meanings. It’s literal and metaphorical it speaks for itself and also speaks what single party rule does over a period of time, and how it’s affected us mentally. 

How have you coped with the general brokenness of everything and the psychic pollution that comes with that? 

I’m not on the cutting edge of it. I haven’t suffered as much as most people have. But it’s what you observe especially if you leave London. I was in Rotherham last week and was shocked by the state of the town. 

Tell me about how you’ve seen the posters on the street, and how the meaning is changed by the location and the other posters around it? 

Being around other posters puts it in a context on the street, which makes it real. Even when they get vandalised, I quite like that. There’s one on the side of a telephone box, I don’t mind that, as long as they’ve been up for a bit of time. 

Do you have a relationship with fly poster artwork generally? 

When I was growing up in London, everywhere was flyposted. Look at photos of London in the ‘70s or ‘80s and there were posters for gigs everywhere, which of course now you wish you had copies of. They were often printed with Fluorescent colours and seeing them everywhere, I think that was an influence. Then the law changed, which was a shame. It was a really efficient way for me to know what was going on. It was a service. I like the culture and I’m glad it still exits. For me as an artist, to see a work up in the street like that is as good as it gets. However much we live online and on our phones it’s still best to have something in the real world jostling with everyday street life. 

Have you ever done it yourself, going out with a bucket and paste? 

No, I’m such a scaredy cat. And I’m super impractical when it comes to anything to do with DIY. The thought of having to wallpaper paste something would be proper Laurel and Hardy. So, no. I leave it to experts. Also, I just assume I’d get caught.  

In terms of your own political awakening, do you know when that was. Your politics are demographically anomalous, aren’t they? 

Are they? 

They are in some ways, you might say. 

Right, OK. I had a very conservative education, with a small and a big c. I didn’t particularly like that, so I was probably rebelling against it. Witnessing the miners’ strike on the telly was a key moment. And then after school, you have to unlearn what you’re taught. It took me about ten years to unlearn the attitudes that were hammered home at my school, to not be the person they wanted you to be. That was something I was keen to do, and did, up to a point – I’m sure no-one’s perfect. The school was very traditional, very Empire based. Amazingly pro-Empire, even though the Empire didn’t exist. Famously I was at school with Nigel Farage. He clearly believed everything he was taught at that school, or he wanted to believe it and has carried on believing it and has made a political career out of it, of thinking of Britain as an exceptional country that can do whatever it wants. Brexit was an expression of this. Maybe I understand him because I know exactly where he comes from and know how he was taught and who taught him, and what effect it had on him.   

I loved what David Olusoga said recently about there being one country left in the Empire – England – and that England is like the last person at a party who doesn’t know when it’s time to go home… 

Maybe the Falkland Islands is outside having a fag!. That’s a very good way of putting it. He’ll (Farage) will be the only person left when everyone else has left. You do have moments of realisation – that the education I had and he had didn’t prepare you for the world as it is. Maybe it prepared you for the world as it was, in the 1920s or whenever, pre-WWI. Not now. 

What were your thoughts or observations of Rishi Sunak being drowned by the rain when he announced the General Election, and also being drowned out by anti-Brexit campaigner Steve Bray playing ‘Things Can Only Get Better’ on a very loudspeaker? 

I wasn’t in the country, so I missed the hullaballoo. Everyone understands the imagery, especially a country that’s so obsessed with the weather. It was very telling. And a gift to cartoonists and satirists. I love memes and the rapid response that members of the public do online when things like this happen, it’s a new form of vernacular or folk art but in a noble tradition. I was at the gates of Downing Street when Boris Johnson finally resigned and Steve Bray was there playing the Benny Hill theme tune, I have a film of that. 

Having lived through it once before, can you tell us about what you remember about the day after… about what it’s like to wake up the morning after having kicked the Tories out? 

It was a hot day. It was very liberating. I think in a way there was more hope then. The world wasn’t quite in such a terrible state as it is now. It did feel incredibly new and exciting. New Labour was dynamic compared to what it was replacing. I don’t know how a younger person would feel now it’s a much more confusing time. I don’t think there’s as much expectation this time, the world seems to me to be particularly bleak for young people in so many ways. And it was after 18 years of tory rule. This is 14. Add another four years. Can you imagine what that felt like? A generation.  

I do remember a feeling – and the reverse in 2010 – of those people just not polluting our screens any more… 

They have no power, and their visibility disappears overnight. So, no more haranguing you and saying strange things about people and pretending they represent you or the nation. It’s a huge psychological relief not to have those people pollute your mind in the news space. A lot of people will lose their power. They’ll desperately try and keep it by giving weird speeches for think tanks or getting TV shows, and podcasts but they’ll be grieving when they lose. They’ll be irrelevant very quickly.  

One final thing. You were talking about the state of the world being different. I wanted to ask about the Lost Children poster, which was fundraising for Medical Aid for Palestinians, and your video about Ramallah violinist Maya Attari… 

That film was made because I was asked to be in a show in Cremona, in Italy. It’s the centre of violin production in the world. It’s where Stradivarius had his workshop. There’s an Institute of violins, a museum, concert halls and so on there. It’s a mecca, a site of pilgrimage for anyone that’s interested in violins and violin making. It’s not a heritage town it’s a working town. I was given a space to exhibit in that had been Stradivariushome and workshop and was now a centre for the study and making of violins. I was looking at violin makers around the world and I saw that someone was making violins in Ramallah in the West Bank of the occupied territories. It made perfect sense to make a film about someone making violins in effectively a war zone. It’s a way of taking people out of the fantasy of Cremona and placing them somewhere else if only for a few minutes. It’s a very simple film. It begins with the violinist Maya Atari playing in the street in Ramallah Old Town. The violin maker (Shehada Shalalda) had been to Cremona five or six years ago, then he speaks of the difficulties of making violins in the current situation of the war he then  talks about  his friends in Gaza who make violins and run music workshops . Friends who he hasn’t heard from for months and who he doesn’t know if they’re alive or not. The streets of Ramallah don’t look that different from an Italian village with old dwellings made of stone and brick on narrow streets. It’s just maybe surprising for people to see something happening there that is similar to what happens everywhere in Cremona, to make a connection and to consider how art and culture and beautiful precision instruments in a blockade and occupation. A lot of people wrote to the violin-maker afterwards, which I was happy about. It was very low key as a film. It was a nudge.  

I love the idea of it as a nudge. Did you go to Ramallah? 

I couldn’t go. I signed a letter last year and was told I’d be on an official shit- list basically.  

So, you worked with a film-maker in Ramallah? 

It was directed remotely. I explained to my co-director what kind look I was hoping for, and the questions to ask Shehada the violin maker. I was watching on a phone. It’s low key, not a grand artwork. An intervention of sorts to show the film in the former home and workshop of Stradivarius really, at the heart of the story of violin production, a sacred place.

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