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WARNING GRAPHIC CONTENT

The Modern Institute, 3 Aird’s Lane, Glasgow G1 5HU
05/11/2021—22/01/2022

BUILDHOLLYWOOD are excited to be supporting one of Britain’s most celebrated contemporary artists. In a typically low-key appraisal of his new show being exhibited simultaneously in Paris and Glasgow the artist has said, “It’s good to see what’s been under my bed all these years.”

The exterior walls of The Modern Institute’s Aird’s Lane Gallery in Glasgow are currently blitzed with posters that point to censorship. The original black and white Parental Advisory label was introduced in the US in 1984 after pressure from, amongst others, Mary “Tipper” Gore. She co-founded the ‘Parents Music Resource Centre’ whose stated aim was to increase parental control over the access of children to music deemed to have violent, drug related or sexual themes via labelling albums, CDs and cassettes with ‘PARENTAL ADVISORY EXPLICIT CONTENT’ stickers.

In 1985 the American musical virtuoso and arch non-conformist Frank Zappa – even before the Recording Industry Association of America officially adopted the sticker – printed a satirical advisory message on his ‘Frank Zappa Meets the Mothers of Prevention’ album covers to protest at the PMRC’s political activities. The message read: “This album contains material which a truly free society would neither fear nor suppress.”

You get the distinct impression that Jeremy Deller is more ‘Team Frank’ than ‘Team Tipper’. Plastered alongside the black and white iterations of his Aird’s Lane ‘WARNING GRAPHIC CONTENT’ posters are pink, green and orange fluoro versions of the same message. The original warning labels, of course, achieved the opposite of what they set out to do. Acting like magnets for curious minds, the stickers were a sign of challenging, transgressive works you should be paying attention to. So it is with Deller’s multi-coloured street installation/invitation to view his near 30 year survey of ‘Prints & Posters 1993 – 2021’. This show is an understated tour de force.

 

23.11.21

Words by Adrian Burnham

Understated first in material terms. The life of street posters (and their sticker cousins) is usually short-lived, ephemeral, that’s partly the point. It’s a medium capable of responding to an issue, a matter of concern, quickly and directly. They don’t carry the freight of ‘fine art’. They address diverse audiences because of this as well as their placement outside the gallery, in urban environments. Who can resist the pithy plain-speaking of a poster that declares ‘Thank God for Immigrants’ or ‘I Blame the Industrial Revolution’?

Deller’s works are also understated in terms of the subtle allusions behind the apparently categorical. Beneath the artist’s phrases there’s a submerged iceberg’s worth of subtext. ‘Brian Epstein Died For You’ seems straightforward, declarative, but this quickly flips to intrigue. Epstein is known as the fifth Beatle. Without him musical culture, popular culture more generally may not be quite what it is today. He was also gay at a time when homosexual relations were not only illegal but policed and prosecuted. His death is officially registered as an accidental overdose but we can barely imagine the personal and social pressure the man was subject to.

The design of the exhibition is clever, engrossing, kaleidoscopic – except the latter suggests a symmetry or contrived shapeliness whereas WARNING GRAPHIC CONTENT’s display is presented more as a dynamic conglomeration. Exhibited on walls that are painted white, hot pink, pale blue and orange in blocks that abstain from a decorator’s usual attention to the architecture of the room so that the background to a particular piece might share two colours. This scopic disorientation serves the huge range of works well. Whereas for their original display singular text or image poster/print works would have had to vie for attention in the street amidst everything else that’s going on, the exhibition design at The Modern Institute achieves a constructive disorientation that mirrors the constantly roving attention demanded of us as we move through busy urban spaces. You can read the room in multiple ways.

One such ocular rove about might alight top left on a diagonal presentation of the words ‘A Range Rover Crushed And Made Into A Park Bench’ and then be drawn sideways by the demand ‘Do Not Eat Octopus’ and back to the intriguing, funereal dark triptych bottom left that reads ‘Doctor David Kelly’ – the government scientist found dead after being exposed as the source of a BBC story questioning government reports into the presence of WMD in Iraq – and then track diagonally upwards to catch the laconic query ‘What Would Neil Young Do?’ and beside that the archetypal admonishment ‘You Treat This Place Like A Hotel’. More detailed texts draw you in, a billboard size ‘Cronyism Is English For Corruption’ pushes you back, the scale of the work repelling the viewer as much as the enraging and seemingly ever topical message.

Music references: ‘Keith Moon Matters’, ‘Shaun Ryder & Bez’, ‘Folksong’; ecological concerns: ‘The Golden Pangolin’, ‘Time Before Shopping’, ‘Yacht Identification Guide’; pressing social issues: ‘The Grabbing Hands Grab All They Can’, ‘Every Age Has Its Own Fascism’, ‘An Immigrant Saving a Racists Life X 500,000’; political indignation: ‘It is World Human Rights Day’, ‘Strong and Stable My Arse’, ‘Farage in Prison’ all jostle with the delightfully quotidian: ‘I’d Rather Be Reading’, ‘Home Sweet Home’, ‘Marmite on Toast’. Deller’s range of interests is panoramic, the points he makes persuasive, the economy with which he presents his observations and arguments makes the print and poster works all the more acute. In the artist’s words, “It’s all mixed up as a show so not chronological, which I like.” And politely passing up the opportunity to expand further Deller said, “I’d like to think my opinions are more or less on the walls.”

One print is a photographic image of Stonehenge that it’s easy perhaps to skip past. We’ve all seen that circle a thousand times but then you notice the sarsen upright stones have been tweaked to spell the word ‘VOTE’. It’s a reminder to look twice, look closer, think a bit harder. As with pretty much all of Deller’s print and poster works there can be elements of wry wit but there’s a much deeper appeal to our consciences on so many fronts. The WARNING GRAPHIC CONTENT show is largely a call for a kinder, fairer and more considerate world. There’s a huge amount of fun to be had viewing Deller’s survey at The Modern Institute. The consequences, however, of not heeding the diverse warnings on display are both fast approaching and frightful.

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