Interpret Jeremy Deller’s Battle of Orgreave and reflect on the importance of time and place in this piece (800-1000 words)
Personal response – to piece (media and form) including performance and subsequent installation of associated paraphernalia.
The footage of the performance is now reminiscent of modern news footage. Today, initial footage is often from the general public using camera phones to record events as they happen. In 2001 when the reconstruction was staged, there weren’t camera phones (?) and certainly in 1984 any recorded footage was from journalists. Perhaps Deller unwittingly foretold the direction in which media would head, with video being produced from within an event and from various viewpoints.
It seems to allow the viewer to experience the fear and chaos that must have occurred for participants on both sides of the event. Some ex miners played policemen and were interested to see what it was like to be on the other side. Experienced re enactors were used. There is footage of one of the people playing a police officer saying how intimidating it was to face a large crowd.
It is interesting to see that there is footage from both sides of the conflict and in modern times, the ability to obtain multiple viewpoints is significantly easier. It begs the question as to the ability to ‘spin’ a story whichever way the editor decides and this issue is discussed in the documentary with footage having been transposed before showing it to the public. How much of what we see is an accurate portrayal when reported? How much manipulation of public opinion occurs?
I feel very conflicted over this work as I grew up hearing from my parents what it was like for the general public to live through the strike years. As a young adults, they vividly remember the three day working week of the 70s and sitting in the dark when there was no power. There are almost throwaway comments about how in 1972 the pickets “allowed some lorries …to supply hospitals, schools and places like that” with no discussion as to how this affected the rest of the country such as the ill and elderly who were still at home. Any reference to those who did work during those years is as a “scab”. There are no comments or interviews from the workers in the Orgreave plant who weren’t striking to understand the opposing view within the community. Surely there must have been tensions within the community themselves? While this doesn’t have direct bearing on the events of that day, it would have brought a more balanced view to the complexity of the situation rather than pitch it as a “war” between the police and the workers. I think this is also an important issue as there were miners from other areas bussed in to Orgreave to picket and stop local workers who chose to work. Where is the line between a Union fighting for the rights of all and a Union dictating to all what they can and can’t do? I am also not 100% from this piece what the Union were trying to achieve? I gather that they wanted to stop closures of mines but I feel like it is more complicated than that. There are comments about moving to technological infrastructure that allowed 5/6 people mine at the coal face but it is implied that they were still uneconomical?
Why did Deller choose this format?
The re enactment took on a life of its own much like the real event. The installation is a combination of objects, newspaper articles, footage etc and blurs the original even with the re enactment.
Context of piece?
Orgreave occurred during Great Miners’ Strike 84-85 June 18 1984. People lost lives, others were put in prison. Miners felt that Nottingham and Yorkshire had become a police state. Tony Benn MP was told by the BBC journalists that their footage from Orgreave was originally of the police charge and then the miners throwing stones but was deliberately transposed before airing to make it look like a riot. In 1991 apology letter the BBC acknowledged the “mistake over the sequence of events”. The miners didn’t trust the media so footage was only taken from the other side. Yorkshire miners were picketing in North Wales. Rumours of military troops (soldiers from army) were put in police uniforms with no officer numbers on arm to fill out lines. Ran coal from 60 miles away through strike areas and 20,000 officers were needed. Ridley report 1979? Thatcher called miners “the enemy within” and miners had abuse shouted at them.
Miners went to Orgreave to try to prevent the coke from getting to the steel works
Time and/or place
One of Deller’s aims with this piece was to keep the event within living memory as the reconstruction was staged 17 years later. Whilst the event had a strong effect on the local community, there were increasing numbers of people who did not have a memory of the event itself.
Although Deller attempted to be as faithful to the original event as possible by staging it within the same village. However, the landscape had changed significantly since and so the reconstruction was staged on the other side of town.
Artist’s other work
Deller’s work exists at the intersection of art, documentary and social commentary.
The easy accessibility of The Battle of Orgreave (documentary shown on Channel 4) is continued in later work. Do Touch – IHME Project (2015) brought exhibits from Helsinki Museum to general public. It Is What It Is (2009) brought the work to the public and actively engaged people in a discussion about Iraq. Speak To The Earth And It Will Tell You (2007-present) also engages members of the public by asking the gardens to produce diaries. These may be people who have never participated in art before.
What Would Neil Young Do? (2006) “A few times now I have given work away for free at art fairs. It’s contradictory, really – the fair is where you’re meant to be selling high-value art objects to people, not giving art away, but it is a great opportunity to interact with the public because these events are so busy.” Deller
Procession (2009) included elements of the community that are often frowned up such as the people who congregate to show the mods on their cars. With Alan Kane Folk Archive (2005) celebrates contemporary popular British culture. Sacrilege (2012) feels to me like reclaiming British culture and history for the masses. They are a celebration of thing that give people joy without any pretence or snobbishness over what those things should be.
My Failures (2004-present) is an interesting work that allows the public to see behind the scenes as it were by exhibiting ideas for works that were never accomplished. It asks the public whether the art is in the idea or the execution? Are works that the public never see still artworks? It also acts to demystify artistic practice by showing that for each success there are many failed ideas.
Evidence that can RESPOND and INTERPRET using methods outlined.
Suggested source material:
Room 5: politics/control
Now exists as an installation. “Also as an artist I was interested in how far an idea could be taken, especially one that is on the face of it a contradiction in terms, ‘a recreation of something that was essentially chaos’.” Deller
“During the strike in 1972 we pretty well closed down most of Britain with our picketing.” An interview with David Douglass – what disturbs me slightly about this is Why would you want to? There is a pride to that statement which makes me wonder why you would want to stop an entire country from functioning? I have always been someone who protests or objects if I don’t agree with things but personally I try not to ruin other people’s lives in the process. At some point, you surely lose the moral high ground that you are trying to maintain?
Orgreave already referenced in History of the World
the curator Ralph Rugoff explains, ‘to openly acknowledge that any history is inevitably impure, highly mediated, and in need of being re-written’ (Deller 2012, p.17). Jeremy Deller, Joy in People, exhibition catalogue, Hayward Gallery, London 2012.
characterises the way in which different orders of material – those that reflect on the original historical event or the re-enactment – are brought to bear in the installation, and the differences between artifice, documentary realism and fact are challenged.
Deller’s use of re-enactment societies and his subversion of their usual relationship to history are an important aspect of the subject and meaning of The Battle of Orgreave Archive (An Injury to One is an Injury to All). For this work, as with most of his projects, Deller interacted and engaged with different social groups or communities to produce an artwork that can take many forms. Some of his other projects have been realised in the form of an exhibition, a march, a book, an installation, a discussion, a road trip or a convention. Instead of making objects, Deller is an artist who curates or facilitates the unfolding of situations between groups of people.
Jonathan Jones review
The fleeing over the railway line couldn’t be recreated as it was too dangerous without stopping the National Rail line.
Alex Farquharson’s review