Joy In People

Lee Hood
Joy In People

Goth, flamboyant drag standing next to a coal miner. The androgynous, professional wrestler wears black-sequined pants, a fur-lined jacket, and a long blonde wig. He stands defiantly next to a dirty coal miner. The miner has a slight smirk, as though this isn’t his first encounter with the Welsh-born Adrian Street. It’s not, the coal miner is Street’s father and biggest supporter. Featured on the main page of the Institute of Contemporary Art’s website, the photograph from So Many Ways to Hurt You (The Life and Times of Adrian Street), was the catalyst to my visit of Jeremy Deller’s Joy In People at the ICA. 
The installations that are shown between two floors depict the joys 
and melancholies of mass culture in which Deller calls his particular art form, “social surrealism” of everyday life. (“Jeremy Deller: Joy in People.” n.d., n.p., Web. 28 Oct. 2012). In addition to Adrian Street’s wrestling costumes, video footage, and photographs, the exhibition contains several other cultural scenarios. Open Bedroom, is an actual depiction of Deller’s bedroom when he lived with his parents in his early 20’s. To enter the bedroom and ultimately the entire exhibit, the visitor must pass through the rainbow-colored swinging door, which reads, “Bless this Acid House.” The bedroom weaves into a large gallery, where several paintings and banners are hung. In the middle of the room is Valerie’s Snack Bar, an almost exact replica of a diner taken from Manchester, England. There you can sit and have tea while watching video footage of a Manchester parade. Make your way upstairs and you will experience, among others, What Would Neil Young Do?, Our Hobby is Depeche Mode, Barbeque Summer, and Dr. David Kelly Fourth Plinth Proposal. 
Each installation shows some depiction of British society, starting in the early 1990’s and to the present. Some are mundane, some are amusing, and some are horrifying. Together they represent mass and pop culture through the eyes of the artist, who lived (literally in the sense of Open Bedroom) and experienced this culture. It’s interesting, entertaining, visually-stimulating, and relevant to our current times. The winner of the 2004 Turner Prize, the judges praised Deller’s “generosity of spirit, across a succession of projects which engage with social and cultural context and celebrate the creativity of individuals.” (“Turner Prize Shock: Out of Four Serious Competitors, the Best Artist Wins.” 7 Dec. 2004., The Guardian., Web. 17 Nov. 2012).
He offers scenes of daily life while also dispersed with terrifying events in history, always featuring the masses, those that had to live and die through them all. Deller focuses on ‘us’ and urges the visitor to bond with some part of his work. It is a constant reminder of who we are and what struggles we may face. While many more parallels and hidden meanings can and probably will be drawn from Joy in People, Deller also lets the viewer see art as just another pursuit of mass culture. He states, “people tend to take art very seriously and they probably shouldn’t.” (“Jeremy Deller: Joy in People.” n.d., n.p., Web. 28 Oct. 2012).

All images Courtesy of Institute of Contemporary Art