PART A, Reflective Learning

What is Art?  I don’t think my views have changed substantially on this subject, having worked through this module. I have the beginnings of a better understanding about art made from found objects through learning about contextual information. I think that contextual information is part of the art itself; the experience of the viewer is altered by knowing it.

I’ve enjoyed learning about conceptual art, but do find that aesthetic still heavily influences whether I ‘like’ a piece or not. I am drawn to the clever ideas with layers, or with humour, or that relate to the future and are out of reach. I have been surprised by the strength of my response to various pieces, from disgust and anger at Hirst, to acute irritation at Dean & Millar’s essay, to utter enchantment by Longplayer. Certainly the strength of response is increased the more I study something, and the guiding questions in each exercise are helping to reawaken my research skills. I graduated in 1995, pre-internet, and the experience is now entirely different. I find myself disappearing down virtual rabbit holes looking at art and watching interviews. What I’m not so good at is writing up what I find and think, and this is largely due to time pressure. I need to plan better.

I feel I am still missing something when reading critics’ articles. I struggled with this in the Drawing 1 module as well. I occasionally read one that is in a more journalistic tone that I can appreciate, but I often find them comically pretentious.

My learning log is this electronic blog (even my exhibition ticket was an e-ticket!). I have a notebook alongside in which I scribble notes simply because sometimes I prefer to write on paper than tap away at a laptop – it’s more organic – but those scribblings are mostly all written up in the blog. This is also something I was lacking in Drawing 1. Documenting minutiae doesn’t come naturally to me – in my practice, I keep and develop ideas in my head and rarely sketch them down, usually only if they’re keeping me awake or stopping me concentrating at work. I will consciously try to do this more as I progress through these studies.

PART B, Interpretation of Jeremy Deller’s Battle of Orgreave (2001)

In this essay I will describe my personal response to and interpretation of Jeremy Deller’s ‘The Battle of Orgreave’ (2001), both the original performance and subsequent installations. I will consider the role and impact of both Time and Place on the work, and explore the contextual information around it.

I do not remember the original event, having been only 10 years old in 1984, and was not aware of it. A first glance at the picture provided in the course material, ironically, gives the impression of a right-wing march because the participants are white males (as such groups tend to predominantly be), and the shaved heads and 80s clothes they wear have since been adopted by some of these groups in the UK. Closer inspection reveals that the banner they carry is of the Yorkshire Area of the National Union of Mineworkers. This changes perception immediately, and even with only a secondary-school level of history education, one realises that this picture is likely not of the present day, and has political connotations. My personal politics are fairly far left of centre, so my emotional response to a close look at this first picture is one of sympathy and interest to learn more, especially since the title is so evocative – there is clearly a dramatic story attached.

Time plays an important role in this work. The relatively short period of time that had passed since the conflict means that emotions are in some cases just as raw, with some participants allegedly being a little too exuberant in the fighting. This was surely to be expected by Deller, having met and spoken to original participants on both sides. Subsequent political and social changes are essential contextual information to this work. Jonathan Jones commented in the Guardian, “…what we see is as much about now as then. How did things change to such an extent – and so violently – that an entire history of the labour movement … is now safe and distant enough to be restaged like a battle that happened 500 years ago?” (accessed 18/01/20)

Time, or rather the misrepresentation of time, played a role in the public perception of the original event. In Mike Figgis’s documentary of the re-enactment, MP Tony Benn talks about how BBC footage was deliberately edited to portray the picketing miners throwing stones at the police, followed by a mounted charge, when in fact the charge took place first and the miners threw stones in retaliation., 13:40 (Accessed 18/01/20)

The event made a significant impression on 18-year-old Deller in 1984 and for a long time he wanted to research and re-enact it. I think the motivation to make the work was to highlight an injustice, evidenced by Deller’s own description; “Basically, I was asking the re-enactors to participate in the staging of a battle that occurred within living memory, alongside veterans of the campaign. I’ve always described it as digging up a corpse and giving it a proper post-mortem, or as a thousand-person crime re-enactment.” (accessed 26/01/20). His intent may have been, in part, to afford some closure to those involved in the incident by inviting them to take part, some taking the role of a member of the opposing ‘side’, or to spectate from the sidelines and experience the atmosphere. Deller said of the veterans prior to the re-enactment “They’re excited I think … because no-one has spoken about these things in public for quite a long time. There are a lot of things that still need to be resolved”, 4:15 (Accessed 18/01/20). I believe Deller decided to re-enact the conflict in Orgreave for the same reason. Search engine algorithms notwithstanding, an internet search for ‘Orgreave’ reveals very few results that are not related to the battle. In this virtual environment at least, the place is synonymous with the event and holds momentous meaning in the history of trade unionism and British industry representing a pivotal moment in the doomed fight against Thatcherism.

Orgreave had such an impact on Deller that it featured in a number of his works in the years leading up to his securing the commission to realise his re-enactment vision. It appears as one of the links between Acid House and Brass Bands in ‘The History of the World’ (1997), and even earlier, in 1994, Deller was signalling his aspiration with a poster that he displayed to advertise other exhibitions “announcing the Sealed Knot’s re-enactment of ‘the bloody battle of Orgreave’ under the title ‘The English Civil War (part 2)’” (accessed 27/01/20)

There were clear stages to the conflict that took place over several areas; the original stand-off, the charge of the mounted officers and snatching of targeted individuals, the retaliation of the miners, the dangerous drive onto railway tracks and the pursuit and clashes through the village. To capture all this in a single work, Deller almost has to use live actors and film as his medium. One might consider the entire village as an installation piece for that one day; the spectators were afforded an immersive, time-bound experience.

The subsequent, more permanent, art installation at the Tate was in two rooms. In one, a collection of workings, research documents, artefacts such as clothes, newspapers and a riot shield, from both the original conflict and the re-enactment, archive TV news coverage playing on a screen, all displayed around a timeline of the clash and surrounding events. In the other the Mike Figgis documentary film plays. The description on the Tate website is objective, and makes the work seem all the more poignant. I would like to have seen it.

Jeremy Deller was deeply affected as a young man by a traumatising social conflict played out and twisted on television. He spent years processing his thoughts and ideas about it, a process culminating in the re-enactment, described by Hettie Judah as ‘A monument of sorts, the performance was at once participatory ritual, spectacle, living archive and a space to mourn’. (accessed 27/01/20). Both the film and the Tate installation are powerful portraiture of the end of a chapter of British history which particularly affected the North of England, absolutely evocative of that time and that place.

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