BY Carl Freedman in Reviews | 06 SEP 96
Featured in
Issue 29

Jeremy Deller

BY Carl Freedman in Reviews | 06 SEP 96

Small blue road signs, in RAC colours, appeared for a while last year on lampposts in South London. They bore the words 'Brian Epstein Died for You'. Crypto-religious with a measured poignancy, they reminded us of that urbane pill-popping business manager and his fantasy, which became the amazing story of four young lads who changed the world.

Jeremy Deller, producer of the signs, has a predilection for this kind of tangential veneration and his show is filled with similar idiosyncratic homages to icons of pop culture. Morissey gets the full messiah-in-our-midst treatment. Brief extracts from his songs have been made up into cheap copy-shop posters on brightly coloured paper, like those seen outside poor inner city churches. In place of 'Jesus Saves', there's 'I am Human and I need to be loved, just like everyone else does' and 'I've seen this happen in other people's lives and now it's happening in mine', attributed by Deller to the gospels of likely-sounding disciples Stephen and Ian.

Another poster announces a future, imaginary yet realisable, exhibition entitled 'The Poetry of Shaun (William) Ryder' at the Cornerhouse Gallery in Manchester, based around 'the cut-up imagery and Mancunian colloquialisms of his lyrics and celebrated performances' (according to the attendant press release). Gazza's got his own show at the Museum of Mankind and there's a forthcoming David Bowie conference at the ICA, with guest speakers to include Michael Bracewell on 'Drugs and the creative process' and Professor Stephen Hawking on 'Bowie's Universe'.

These posters are set amongst others of less certain implication including three aphoristic short stories displayed in large print: the infelicitous end of an affair between a 15 year-old Iranian Princess and Mick Jagger (abortion); Morrissey's unhappy dinner party for Vic Reeves and Bob Mortimer (they took the piss and had to go home); and the vacuity of supermodels (Aids ribbons as a fashion accessory).

A slide show in another room moves through a cycle of loosely connected snapshot ideas. A series of photographs of jumble sales are prefaced by the title The Kent Archaeology Society Monthly Dig. There are documentary photographs of Deller's 'I * Joyriding' bumper stickers stuck to GTis and other flash cars in the joy riding capital of Middlesborough; a sunny smiling portrait of some old-timers with their rows of medals at a V.E. Day celebration; pustulating teenage fans posing outside a concert, sweaty and excitable, their foreheads carrying the black marks of the Take That symbol; and a series of photographic studies of hands making Hand Signals for the Middle Class Posse, such as 'Radio Four', 'single-sex schools', 'a cup of tea' ('with one sugar or two') and 'Antiques Roadshow'.

During the exhibition, Deller moved into the gallery, leaving his parents' home for the first time at the age of 29. He set up a temporary bedroom with carpet, Union Jack bed covers, portable TV and colour poster of the irritatingly beautiful Kate Moss. Visitors could peruse a selection of his video and record collection. The records were kept in a Red Cross emergency relief box and played over a major PA speaker placed under a wall text saying 'Let Them Eat Bass'. Hanging on a door was one of Deller's pop T-shirts, made for hyper-trendy babe shop Sign of the Times, inscribed with the slogan 'My Booze Hell'. Taken from a Sun headline, it refers to Robbie Williams, who could be seen actually wearing one on a video recording of a kids' TV show. Not unexpectedly, this act of self-parody contributed to his expulsion from the irony-free zone, formerly known as Take That.

It can sometimes seem as if Deller is stuck in a twilight zone between perpetual adolescent and aspiring semiologist. But his casual and unassuming epigrammatic style has a cumulative effect. By turns inventive, humorous and insightful, he slips freely between subject matter, mapping out a lexicon of cultural phenomena framed by his own particular suburban, semi-detached vision. Though this world is quintessentially English, he manages to negotiate it without recourse to boorish nationalism. With music as a central reference point, he sets off with a Travelcard on his ethnographic jaunts, replotting local history with an attitude of affable and modest speculation.