Capturing Britishness

David Shrigley: Brain Activity

The Hayward Gallery in London is at the moment hosting two extraordinary exhibitions, David Shrigley: Brain Activity & Jeremy Deller: Joy in People.

Shrigley has taken over the upstairs gallery with  drawings, sculpture, photographs and films providing a treat for any visitor with his irreverent schoolboy doodles. I have seen many followers of his work but none have been able to describe our personal insecurities in such a simple, direct and profound way.

As one would expect the show is dominated by the absurd anarchic drawings that he has become famous for, punctuated by equally surreal sculptures – like the stuffed puppy holding a placard stating ‘I’m Dead’ and the short video ‘New Friends’ which follows a square character who falls from his own world into that of another race of circular people who grind his edges to become like them (I watched many visitors howling with laughter as they watched only to see their faces change to concern as they walked away – as the implied metaphor of  forced compliance to social mobility sank in).

The simplicity of description of our country’s psyche is what makes David Shrigley one of our greatest contemporary artists – entertaining, absurd, eccentric, intelligent and individual he promotes the British character to the world.

Jeremy Deller: Joy in People

Jeremy Deller – star of the excellent ‘Culture Show’ special is an instigator of events. His work follows the path of Joseph Beuys – leaving the artist’s ego behind and promoting the community as an artwork, he is the modern shaman re-presenting and re-establishing the community’s links with their culture.

From the first exhibition in his parents home he defined a new path for artists as event organizer – exploring the historic and cultural oddities that provide the foundations of our national identity, with works like ‘Jerusalem’ (a 14 minute video-collage of 1980’s-90’s London, and the procession he organized in Manchester for their International Festival (there’s the reconstructed ‘Valerie’s Snack Bar’ sited in the center of the exhibition where you can sit and have a cup of tea while watching a video of the procession – fantastic!), the film ‘Acid Brass, where he asked a traditional brass band to play anthems of our Rave culture.

Then there are the events from our recent cultural history explored in ‘The battle of Orgreave’ which restaged the 1984-85 miners’ strike mixed with our fascination with re-enactment (the 1000 participants in this event were a mix of historical re-enactors and local people – many who were former miners).  

In an area titled ‘My Failures’ we see Deller’s proposed project for the fourth plinth in Trafalgar Square – a burnt-out car from Iraq, which intended to highlight the victims of that war but I feel it’s a shame that he was unable to do it as  coming from a seaside town the wrecks of burnt-out cars destroyed by joy-riders were part of the normal scenery and provide a great metaphor for the Britain.

The Hayward has provided an inspired coupling making these the best two shows in town and a must see experience for all.

The Shows continue until 13th May 2012 a The Hayward Gallery

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