Souped Up Tea Urn & Tea Pot (Dartford 2004) is an installation by the British artists Jeremy Deller and Allan Kane comprising various pieces of tea-making equipment arranged on a table. Viewers can be invited to use the objects when the work is on display, but Kane has stated that the work can also be shown without this interactive element (Allan Kane, email to Tate Curator Rachel Taylor, 6 December 2004, Tate Acquisition File, Jeremy Deller and Allan Kane 2002–, PC 10.1). The items on the table include a large urn and a teapot, both painted with a stylised flame pattern featuring dark red, gold and orange tones. The urn is designed to boil water and features a temperature gauge. Both the teapot and the urn have smooth, shiny surfaces, and they show indications of use, including stains and residue around the teapot’s interior and spout. The installation also features twelve assorted and used-looking mugs, which are presented on a pale brown, rectangular wooden tray with a low rim. The table has metal fold-out legs and a shiny, greyish upper surface.
This work was first conceived by Deller and Kane in 2004. It is an identical reproduction of an installation that was initially commissioned for Romantic Detachment, a 2004 exhibition at P.S.1 Contemporary Art Center in New York which focused on contemporary European and North American explorations of romanticism. In 2005 the original version was donated to Water Yeat Village Hall in Cumbria in the UK, which is near the headquarters of Grizedale Arts, the institution responsible for curating Romantic Detachment.
The objects in this installation were acquired by the artists, who then asked car body painter John Dillon to paint the urn and teapot. The artists reportedly asked Dillon to decorate them using a design based on those normally found on Harley Davidson motorcycles and low rider cars (Griffin and Sutherland 2009, p.167). In 2004 Dillon detailed his painting procedure, which included many stages: the objects’ surfaces were sanded multiple times and various coats of paint were applied, after which both items were machine polished (Allan Kane, email to Tate Curator Rachel Taylor, 6 December 2004, Tate Acquisition File, Jeremy Deller and Allan Kane 2002–, PC 10.1). According to the Grizedale Arts website, the mugs accompanying Tate’s version of the work were purchased from the Kendal-based warehouse of the charity Help the Aged by Alistair Hudson, Deputy Director of Grizedale Arts, and chosen for their compatibility with ‘village hall aesthetics’ (‘Jeremy Deller and Alan Kane: At Grizedale’, Grizedale Arts website, http://www.grizedale.org/contributors/deller.and.kane/jeremy.deller, accessed 1 September 2015).
The phrase ‘souped up’ generally refers to modified cars with increased engine power. Here it emphasises Dillon’s use of car body painting techniques to adapt the appearance of the urn and teapot, yet it could also refer to the idea of these objects being used to heat up soup. The work’s punning title therefore seems to emphasise its odd conflation of catering implements with car culture. As the art historian Hal Foster has noted, such incongruous combinations of signifiers are common in Deller’s practice (Hal Foster, ‘History is a Hen Harrier’, in English Magic, exhibition catalogue, British Pavilion, 55th Venice Biennale, Venice 2013, p.11). This can also be discerned in the juxtaposition of British tea-drinking culture with a painted design which, according to a text produced by Grizedale Arts, ‘directly emulated a style of American West Coast iconography which was itself influenced largely by Latino culture’ (Griffin and Sutherland 2009, p.167).
The work’s references to vernacular culture are characteristic of Deller and Kanes’ practices. For example, from 2000 to 2007 they collaborated on Folk Archive, which saw them collecting and documenting works of contemporary British folk art. Discussing Deller’s interest in ‘the vernacular’, the cultural theorist Stuart Hall has associated him with the principle that ‘people who are sometimes considered to be unimportant, or not worth listening to, matter. They are creative but often have their creativity denied or taken away from them. He believes they should be valued for what they are ... and that one way of doing that is to re-deploy them as sources of new artistic work’ (Stuart Hall, ‘Jeremy Deller’s Political Imaginary’, in Hayward Gallery 2012, pp.88–9).
Tea-drinking has also featured in other works by Deller. For example, when he represented Britain at the 55th Venice Biennale in 2013, staff members served free tea in one room of the pavilion. Discussing this in 2013, Deller stated: ‘it’s a mild trap. It means people hang out, they sit around, they might read the catalogue, you hope, might read some other things, they might chat’ (Deller in Freire Barnes, ‘Meet the Artist: Jeremy Deller’, Time Out, 2013, http://www.timeout.com/london/art/meet-the-artist-jeremy-deller, accessed 1 September 2015).
Jeremy Deller and Alan Kane, Folk Archive: Contemporary Popular Art from the UK, London 2005.
Jonathan Griffin and Adam Sutherland, Grizedale Arts: Adding Complexity to Confusion, Coniston 2009, p.167.
Jeremy Deller: Joy in People, exhibition catalogue, Hayward Gallery, London 2012.
Supported by Christie’s.