Land is the focus of Jeremy Deller’s solo exhibition at The Modern Institute. By definition, land is used to describe great shared expanses: rural locations, countries, nations, even fantasy faraway places. On the other hand, land also determines areas of personal territory, property or estate. Through several correlated works Deller incites and celebrates our historical, political, social and cultural environment, drawing attention to events and individuals that form a part of it.
A painting on canvas hangs at the centre of the wall at the end of the gallery space, entitled ‘Monarchs of the Glen’, in reference to the famous 19th Century oil painting by Sir Edwin Landseer, which is currently on loan to National Museum of Scotland. Painted by Stuart Hughes, with whom Deller worked with on his British Pavilion exhibition ‘English Magic’ for the 55th Venice Biennale in 2013, Deller’s narrative fantasy ‘Monarchs of the Glen’ replaces the stag with the figure of Conservative MP and former Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State at the Department for the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, Richard Benyon. Known for his part ownership of the De Beauvoir Estate in East London, his family company is currently involved in a managed eviction of the New Era estate in Hoxton, East London. Benyon is also strongly associated with shooting interests and owns both a pheasant shoot in Berkshire and the Glenmazeran Estate (a Grouse moor) in Inverness-shire. The painted figure here is laid out on the moor at the mercy of five raptors: Hen Harrier, Golden Eagle, Buzzard, Red Kite and the Peregrine Falcon, suggesting the revenge of nature on the huntsman. In 2012, Benyon is cited to have refused a request from Senior MP’s to ban the possession of the deadly poison Carbofuran, which is used to kill raptors. He has also suggested the trapping and re-nesting of buzzards due to their predation of pheasants.
Further works within the exhibition are shown to depict scenes of the Scottish landscape, from a series of photographic images taken on an uninvited walk onto the Glenmazeran Estate, to printed fabric beanbags from which the audience can watch Deller’s new film work. The work ‘Jill-Isle of Lewis, 2012’, is a short film of the artist, writer and performer Jill Smith, projected on to the surface of Dalbeattie granite. Previously known as Jill Bruce, formally one half of the performance art duo ‘Bruce Lacey and Jill Bruce’, she performed large-scale spectacular, ritual, ceremonial and elemental celebrations at outdoor venues in the 1970s and 80s. Jill now lives on the Isle of Lewis, and the film shows her walking amongst the prehistoric megalithic structure Callanish III (Cnoc Filibhir Bheag). This work forms links with Deller’s recent works ‘Sacrilege’ and the use of Neolithic arrows and axe heads, and his continued interweaving between the elemental and historic with popular expressions for the everyday, contemporary world.
Deller, who represented Britain in the 55th Venice Biennale in 2013, has been producing projects over the past two decades which have influenced the conventional map of contemporary art. He won the Turner Prize in 2004 and in 2012 was commissioned by Glasgow International Festival of Visual Art and the Mayor of London to produce the public work ‘Sacrilege’. Originally shown on Glasgow Green during Glasgow International Festival of Visual Art 2012, ‘Sacrilege’ toured throughout the UK and has been shown at events across the world. In 2014, Deller will be curating ‘Love is Enough’, a major exhibition at Modern Art Oxford, which will examine the prolific careers of William Morris and Andy Warhol, bringing together rarely seen works by these two figures.
Taking on the roles of artistic producer, publisher, filmmaker, collaborator, curator, parade organiser, and cultural archivist, Deller has invented new ways of exploring the social landscape. Referring to his work as ‘social realism’, Deller focuses on people, icons, myths, folklore, cultural and political history.