The Battle of Orgreave, 2001
I will be analysing and interpreting Jeremy Deller’s The Battle of Orgreave. The piece is a re-enactment of the 1984 strike by the National Union of Mineworkers in Yorkshire, England. My main interest is in revealing how this piece deals with the themes of time and place, and then in exploring the way that a historical event can take ownership of a specific time and place. In order to achieve this, I will research its contextual information, use of media, accuracy with original event, as well as read critic reviews and give my own opinion.
It’s the first time I hear about this conflict and it is quickly apparent that it was a violent one, especially seeing as the labour strike has been dubbed a “battle”. My first impression as I watch the film excerpt is that this is a very serious piece. I find it hard not to cringe as I see armed policemen on horses or with shields chasing the protesting miners, who retaliate with rocks and battle cries.
The re-enactment took place in 2001 with one thousand participants, including former miners and policemen that had been involved in the original dispute, inhabitants of Orgreave, and members of re-enactment societies. I can compare it to a game I used to play as a child, called cops and robbers, in which it was sometimes hard to tell who were the good guys and who were the bad guys. Adding to this ironic comparison, I was surprised to read that ‘in some cases former miners played police, and ex-policemen played miners.’ (Farquharson, 2001) I find it inspiring that by changing their points of view, Deller influenced the veteran’s memories and experiences of an event that was previously fixed in another time.
It is easy to label this piece as simply a historical documentary, but it is important to note that it derives its meaning from people’s active participation in it. This not only makes it performance art but, considering its archival collection in a gallery space, installation art. I would also interpret the piece as site-specific because it was filmed in the original location of the 1984 strike, thus maintaining its important relationship with the place. It is also video art due to its use of moving pictures and audio.
The installation is titled The Battle of Orgreave Archive (An Injury to One is an Injury to All) and contains texts, documents, objects, and other paraphernalia belonging to both events. The video, part of the installation, is shaky, is reminiscent to the 1980s, contains loud sounds of conflict, and is shot from within the battle, all adding to the feeling that we as viewers are part of it. The chaotic video, though interrupted by original photographs and many testimonials, achieves a high level of realism.
After putting much thought to the question of whether this piece is art, I can argue that it is. I can compare it to Goya’s painting of The Third of May 1808, where he shows Napoleon’s army executing Madrilenians after they revolted against French occupation. Picasso, inspired by Goya, painted Massacre in Korea, which also shows innocent people being attacked by an armed group. Despite the fact that Deller’s work is very different in media, it is similar in theme, in its realism, and its social and political commentary. It seems logical that the Battle of Orgreave, being a relatively recent conflict, be represented via the more accessible media that is film and television in our culture. ‘Throughout the last ten years at Artangel, we’ve always found that people…often become much more interested and much more co-operative if film or television is involved.’ (Morris 2002, cited in Artangel)
Like Goya and Picasso, Deller brings attention to the division between those in power and the common people. He was inspired to commemorate this event after he remembered seeing it in the news and understanding the profound changes it had on British society. ‘It would not be an exaggeration to say that the strike, like a civil war, had a traumatically divisive effect at all levels of life in the UK…So in all but name it became an ideological and industrial battle between the two sections of British society.’ (Deller 2002, cited in Tate 2012)
It is not surprising then to realise how such an important event had the ability to take over the place it happened in. Deller makes it possible that this event take over Orgreave not only once, but twice. By creating new documentation and placing it besides the original documentation, he gives the piece, the memories of the veterans, and the consequences of the conflict, a space to live on. A term he refers to, “living history”, further emphasises the idea that history is not something that is left behind in the past. It is disturbing to think that an event that belonged to another time can be re-lived. ‘For many – participants and spectators alike – this Battle of Orgreave was more flashback than re-enactment’ (Farquharson 2001). More than a re-enactment it was a confrontation of memories, both for the participants and the viewers.
Most of Deller’s work is collaborative, meaning that he involves communities and groups of people to create his artwork. As in The Battle of Orgreave, he often deals with social and political themes and makes a point of how art can exist outside of the gallery. In Procession (2009), he conducts a procession celebrating public space and the people that occupy it. In Do Touch (2015), people are connected with their past by being able to touch museum objects placed in their everyday public places. His video English Magic (2013) focuses on events belonging to different times and places in England, ultimately reflecting British society and history. By choosing people as his medium and history as his concept, Deller is able to create very accessible works of art, as is the case with The Battle of Orgeave.
This piece not only deals with past time and past history, but with the present, living history. The Battle of Orgreave of 1948 and the The Battle of Orgreave of 2001 will always remain part of that particular place. Deller reminds us that even though memories are often forgotten, they can always be re-lived, re-created, and re-written. By using a high level of realism and authenticity, it is possible for people, even those like me unaware of such a conflict, to become emotionally involved and to interact with a moment in history.
Word count: 1086
Artangel. (n.d) The Battle of Orgreave. At: https://www.artangel.org.uk/project/the-battle-of-orgreave (Accessed on 11 January 2017)
Artsy. (n.d) Pablo Picasso | Massacre in Korea. At: https://www.artsy.net/artwork/pablo-picasso-massacre-in-korea-1 (Accessed on 11 January 2017)
Farquharson, A. (2001) ‘The Battle of Orgreave, London, UK’ In: Frieze.com 9 September 2001 [online] At: https://frieze.com/article/jeremy-deller (Accessed on 11 January 2017)
Jeremy Deller (n.d) Jeremy Deller – Do Touch – IHME Project 2015. At: http://www.jeremydeller.org/Ihme/Ihme.php (Accessed on 11 January 2017)
Jeremy Deller (n.d) Jeremy Deller – English Magic, 2001. At: http://jeremydeller.org/EnglishMagic/EnglishMagic.php (Accessed on 11 January 2017)
Jeremy Deller (n.d) Jeremy Deller – Procession, 2001. At: http://www.jeremydeller.org/Procession/Procession.php (Accessed on 11 January 2017)
Jeremy Deller (n.d) Jeremy Deller – The Battle of Orgreave, 2001. At: http://jeremydeller.org/TheBattleOfOrgreave/TheBattleOfOrgreave.php (Accessed on 11 January 2017)
Jones, J. (2001) ‘Missiles fly, truncheons swing, police chase miners as cars burn. It’s all very exciting. But why is it art?’ In: The Guardian [online] At: http://www.theguardian.com/culture/2001/jun/19/artsfeatures (Accessed on 11 January 2017)
Museo del Prado. (2016) The 3rd of May 1808 in Madrid or “The Executions” At: https://www.museodelprado.es/en/the-collection/art-work/the-3rd-of-may-1808-in-madrid-or-the-executions/5e177409-2993-4240-97fb-847a02c6496c (Accessed on 11 January 2017)
Wilson, A. (2012) ‘The Battle of Orgreave Archive (An Injury to One is an Injury to All)’ In: Tate.org.uk October 2012 [online] At: www.tate.org.uk/art/artworks/deller-the-battle-of-orgreave-archive-an-injury-to-oneis-an-injury-to-all-t12185/text-summary (Accessed on 11 January 2017)