What does Jeremy Deller make of modern Britain?

The Turner Prize-winning artist who inflated Stonehenge gives his take on where we are, where we’ve been, where we’re headed – and the British dish that trumps the rest.

Taken from the new print issue of THE FACE. Get your copy here.

Afternoon, Jeremy. Big question: what’s the state of the nation as you see it?
Depends where you are, and who you are, and where you’re standing. Febrile” is a word I like.

Do you think we’re heading for a Disunited Kingdom?
I think we’re already there. The 2016 Brexit vote divided people into two camps, in the way that America is divided into two camps. That’s really what did it. Everyone’s a bit annoyed with each other, unfortunately. And that’s ripe for exploitation by disinformation campaigns or politicians.

What would you say is the importance of regionalism in modern English culture?
I’m all for regional differences, for dialects, for people having pride in where they’re from. It’s when pride becomes something else, that’s the problem. When patriotism becomes nationalism. But you should go to different parts of Britain and it should feel different, look different, sound different. Those are really important aspects of the country. I’m always interested in looking at those differences.

What’s the most underrated part of the UK?
Everywhere has something. I was in Plymouth two days ago and it was a beautiful day and I had an amazing time. When you get beyond the ring-road and go into the city itself, it gets interesting. And having the sea as well… It’s quite something.

Do you like to be beside the seaside?
Sometimes. Depends. I’m not there enough. But I do travel around Britain a lot, so I do get to see the sea. Which is interesting because at the moment the sea and the rivers in Britain are massively polluted. And we know why. Literally, there are rivers of shit. It’s an almost apocalyptic metaphor. That is something for everyone in Britain to get angry about. It’s not even about party politics.

You have to be patriotic but also have a realism based around history – not just think about the great stuff”


Talking of matters faecal: to take you back to your 2019 work Welcome to the Shitshow! [that slogan, emblazoned over a Union flag], what was the creative impulse behind that piece?

It was about what was going on at that time in UK politics and the attempted proroguing of parliament. There were all these bills that Boris Johnson was trying to push through, failing at every point, and he was getting hammered in parliament. It was constitutional and political chaos. But it could have worked at any time in the past seven years. Ideally, it would have been at Heathrow Airport, as a poster where [a brand like] Rolex would have a big advertising sign. You’d have that instead as people entered Britain: Welcome to the shitshow!”

Shane Meadows’ TV series The Gallows Pole, Cornish horror film Enys Men, pagan raves taking place at Salford’s White Hotel – is there an English folk revival going on?
People have been interested in it and embarrassed by it for a time, because of the way it was talked about – in a sneering way, almost. But people are into the regionalism of it. They’re into something that’s non-digital and that’s about people gathering together in a time where we’re fragmented through social media. And it’s about authenticity. About trying to think about the countryside differently. I’m all for it, obviously.

How important has the Lionesses’ success in the World Cup been for English national identity?
I don’t like football very much. I’m not interested in sport in general. I try not to get involved, but I can understand why people would be very excited by it. Anything that makes you feel that good about the country you’re from, that’s nothing to do with politics, something that’s about pleasure, is a good thing.

To close on another broad question: how patriotic are you?
Relatively. You have to be patriotic but also have a realism based around history – not just think about the great stuff. Everyone’s patriotism is very personal, like the relationship with your parents. That can also be tricky and complex. Like our relationship with our country.

Finally, the really important stuff: your most iconic British dish?
Marmite on toast. Massive fan.

Remember: It’s not the origin of the song that makes it folk, but what the folk do with it

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