Jeremy Deller

The History of the World


Graphite and acrylic paint on wall
Overall display dimensions variable
Presented by The Cranford Collection 2009


The History of the World is a graphic and textual portrayal of the history, influence and context for acid house and brass band music. Adopting the form of a flow diagram, it suggests that there are social and political echoes and points of confluence between these two musical movements that date from different eras; acid house being a post-industrial movement of the late twentieth century, and the brass band movement dating from the industrial era of the nineteenth century.

The work is produced by projecting the image onto a white wall, drawing accurately round the letters and arrows of the design, using a sharp HB pencil, before then painting in the letters using matt black acrylic paint. What looks like a casually handwritten flow diagram is something that has been carefully composed, drawn and painted. Although the wall drawing can be any size, the artist has specified that it should induce a sense of involvement in the viewer: a size of four metres wide is recognized as optimum, though it can be larger depending on the context.

The History of the World provides the visual rationale for another work by Deller entitled Acid Brass – a project initiated in 1996 in which acid house music was arranged for and performed live by brass bands, the first performances being made in 1997 by the Williams-Fairey Brass Band in Liverpool and London (there have been other performances since and the music is now in the brass band repertoire). Will Bradley, writing about the work in 1998, stated that for Deller ‘the two most important phenomena of the last fifteen years were the miners’ strike and the start of the acid house scene’ (Bradley, p.9). The History of the World knits these two events together through two apparently diverging forms of music. Both forms are voices that in different ways dissent from the prevailing political and social order. By bringing the two forms together in this way, Deller proposes an index or typology to the ways in which such dissent is articulated in a wider context. Around ‘acid house’, Deller charts a flow that details the influences on acid house and its own development by band (such as the bands ‘808 State’, ‘Gerald’ and ‘KLF’) as well as effect and sensibility (‘E’, ‘Summers of Love’, ‘Media Hysteria’, ‘Free Parties’, ‘Castlemorton’ and ‘Civil Unrest’). Brass bands signal ‘Civic Pride’ and ‘Melancholy’ as well as ‘Deindustrialisation’ and ‘The Miners Strike’, from which it is but an arrow from ‘Orgreave’ and ‘Civil Unrest’.

If the giant free festival and rave at ‘Castlemorton’ in 1992 led directly to the bringing of the Criminal Justice Bill to the statute book – in such a way that codified the particular dissent exemplified by the way of life that Acid House stood for – so did the 1984–5 miners’ strike exemplify the response to the Conservative Party’s aim to close the coal pits and smash union power; a response that could also be measured by the survival of brass bands at a time that the pits were closing. In a sense this work and, by extension, Acid Brass, also act as a direct overture to the event The Battle of Orgreave 2001 (a re-enactment of a particularly pivotal clash between the striking miners and the police during the 1984–5 miners’ strike), which Deller had earlier called, in a 1994 poster work, The English Civil War (part 2), and the subsequent The Battle of Orgreave Archive (An Injury to One is an Injury to All) 2004 (T12185).

Deller’s comparison between the standing and meaning that acid house and brass bands had in Britain in the 1980s and 1990s is well illustrated by Carl Freedman, writing in 1997 that,

the comradeship of brass bands and their strong sense of pride have meant that they have long been used to symbolise the solidarity of trade unions and the working class. While house music’s original political stance was more one of passive resistance, in England the acid house scene took on a more oppositional, counter-cultural edge. Alongside the shared euphoria of Ecstasy, the music's independence from major record companies and the illegality of many of the raves fostered a sense of community amongst a generation of disaffected, Thatcher-alienated youth.

(Freedman, p.39.)

The History of the World is a particularly important work for Deller as it sets up the terms by which much of his work has continued to be made as an expression of a move towards what Freedman has described as a ‘more community-based culture’ that was an expression of a direct involvement with and understanding of all forms of popular culture as socially (and politically) determining. Deller’s work is always rooted in collaboration and engagement, and reflects in part what critic Nicolas Bourriaud has called ‘relational aesthetics’. This term was first used by Bourriaud in 1995, in a text for the catalogue of the exhibition Traffic that was shown at CAPC Museum of Contemporary Art in Bourdeaux, and later was the subject of a book (first published in France in 1998 and translated into English in 2002). In this book Bourriaud describes relational aesthetics as ‘a set of artistic practices which take as their theoretical and practical point of departure the whole of human relations and their social context, rather than an independent and private space’ (Nicolas Bourriaud, Relational Aesthetics, Dijon 2002, p.113).

The History of the World exists in four different versions: a drawing (artist’s collection, and which was the source for subsequent versions) and a working drawing (private collection) both from 1997; an editioned screenprint produced in 1998 (number forty-six from the edition of a hundred is in Tate Collection, P78412); and this wall drawing produced in 2004 and first exhibited as part of Deller’s contribution to that year’s Turner Prize exhibition at Tate Britain. Where the screenprint exists as white text on black paper (the text being in Deller’s characteristic handwriting), the wall drawing slightly modifies the same image but reversed so that it is in black text on white wall. Deller added elements to the original work to bring it up to date so that ‘Ibiza’ now flows to ‘Superclubs’, ‘Deindustrialisation’ flows to ‘Privatisation’ and both flow from ‘Advanced Capitalism’.

Tate’s example of The History of the World 1997–2004 is number three from an edition of three.

Further reading:
Jeremy Deller, Life Is To Blame for Everything: Collected Work & Projects 1992–99, London 2001.
Carl Freedman, ‘Where There’s Muck’ frieze, issue 37, November–December 1997, p.39.
Will Bradley and Nicholas Blincoe, ‘Jeremy Deller’, Afterall pilot issue, 1998–9, pp.7–24.

Andrew Wilson
May 2009