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In honor of the many veterans who have lived and died in all wars I am posting this thought-provoking piece written by British journalist and art critic Jonathan Jones. It is about a traveling price of art created by Jeremy Deller. Nothing need be said about the piece as it speaks for itself. Jones is a thought provoking, courageous artist who puts himself on the line with each conceptual piece. The take away is the futility of war, the result of which is never good, leaving society and the unfortunate survivors of these tragedies to pick up the pieces and hope for a better day. Our thoughts go out to the survivors and the families of those who did not make it back on this Memorial Day Weekend. May you find peace during your lifetime.
Jeremy Deller (born 1966) is an English conceptual, video and installation artist. He is a Turner Prize winner. Deller is known for his Battle of Orgreave (2001), a reenactment of the actual Battle of Orgreave which occurred during the UK miners’ strike in 1984.
Deller turned his focus to the Iraqi war in 2009 with the traveling installation of a car that was bombed during the Iraqui War. Below is a photo of all that remains of a car hit by the bomb. Turner prize-winning artist Jeremy Deller tells Jonathan Jones what happened when he took it on a tour of America
Written by Jonathan Jones
- The Guardian, Monday 13 April 2009
Jeremy Deller is on the phone from New Orleans, telling me about the journey he is taking through the US. Deller is the Turner prize-winning artist who once got a brass band to record acid house anthems, and who staged an exhibition dedicated to the Manic Street Preachers. So you might imagine his travels, with stops at places such as Memphis and Nashville, have something to do with music. But Deller doesn’t even mention Elvis. This journey, it seems, is a dark reimagining of that familiar subject: the American road trip.
Picture this. A giant mobile home pulls past you on the interstate, cruising south. In it are a bunch of guys who look as though they’re having a good time. Only – what the hell are they towing? Behind them, on a trailer, is the burned-out husk of a car. Speeding along the road, this reddish-brown wreck draws shouts, gestures and honks from drivers – friendly ones, as far as Deller can tell. “In America, the car is such a sacred object,” he says. “People are incredibly curious.”
When Deller and his travelling companions reach a destination, they park the car somewhere prominent. Their first stop, after setting out from New York, was Washington DC. Since then, they have been to campuses and car parks from Virginia to Louisiana; by the time you read this, It Is What It Is, as the work is called, will have been through Texas. “We pitch up for the day and go out and talk to people,” Deller says. “There’s something quite religious about what we’re doing.”
In a land that worships the car, people want to know what happened to this smashed, scorched vehicle. Deller and his cohorts – an Iraqi citizen who worked for the Americans and now must live in exile, and a US soldier who served in Iraq – tell them. “The car was destroyed in a major attack on a book market in the cultural centre of Baghdad in 2007,” says Deller. “The street itself was totally destroyed, 35 people were killed, and hundreds were injured.” Conversations about Iraq, inspired by this information, then ensue, all of which are filmed and posted on YouTube. As Deller says: “It’s the conversation piece from hell.”
It might seem natural for artists to want to portray military conflicts. But most wars since 1945 have passed without them doing so. Where are the masterpieces raging against the Falklands conflict or the first Gulf war? It seems that a good war for art has to be an especially bad war for human beings. The first world war provoked formidable work, including the dada revolution, whose cut-up collages mirrored the disfigurements that were a consequence of trench warfare. The barbarities of the Spanish civil war inspired not just Picasso but Magritte and Miró, while Vietnam produced powerful films and photography. What these wars have in common is that they all gave rise to new styles of slaughter. They brought new lows in disillusion and disgust.
The invasion of Iraq, and the continuing occupation, is that kind of war, too. It has released something in art: a rage, a sense of purpose, or perhaps just an extreme nihilism. Two years ago, in a London gallery, I could have sworn I had travelled back to the dada protests that rocked Berlin in 1919. Cardboard figures of US soldiers paraded through a scene spliced together from images of Iraq’s war dead. These grotesque, but real, fragments had been found on websites and collaged into a furious installation by Swiss artist Thomas Hirschhorn. The pulverised bodies, photographed by soldiers for reasons that are hard to fathom, were barely recognisable as human.
The work Deller is creating on the roads of America is another supremely eloquent attempt to show us what it is we have done. It began as a proposal for a public artwork that would sit on the fourth plinth at Trafalgar Square, “to introduce a really ugly, nasty thing” into the popular tourist spot. The maquette was shown in the National Gallery and put to a public vote, but Deller lost out to Antony Gormley and Yinka Shonibare.
The proposal seemed destined to remain only an idea – just as, in the early 1990s, Deller’s plan to restage the Battle of Orgreave, the notorious police-and-picketers clash during the miners’ strike, appeared a pipe dream, until Artangel stepped in. This time, the New York public art body Creative Time lent a hand. A Dutch activist got the ball rolling, though, by getting in touch to say he had shipped a wrecked car out of Iraq to exhibit in an anti-war protest. Did Deller want to borrow it?
Earlier this year, Deller showed the work at the New Museum in New York. But there, he says, people expected anti-war rage – something more like Hirschhorn’s work, perhaps. “The biggest hostility we’ve had is from the anti-war lobby,” says Deller, who organised some lectures around the piece. “Some were shocked to hear one speaker support the invasion. But what we’re not doing is making an anti-war statement. We’re trying to present it as neutrally as we can. A lot of veterans talk to us about the car.”
He feels the car works better on the road, because that way people don’t see it as art, but as a terrible relic. “We had a prang in the car, and the police came. I was nervous but one of them was a Vietnam vet, a black guy, and he was very interested. He was photographing it.”
In tone, Deller is very different from the raging Hirschhorn. While it might seem provocative to exhibit a blown-up car from Iraq across America, Deller wants to avoid finger-wagging; his purpose is to generate insight through conversation and debate (after all, his Battle of Orgreave involved police as well as miners). In one of the videos, someone says: “You have to realise you’re not looking at a car – you’re looking at 35 dead people.”
Still, Deller and Hirschhorn are alike in one respect: they are putting the violence of Iraq right under our noses. I suspect this is a process that is just beginning. A war that began with claims of simple triumph and rapidly became a pit of horrors is going to be examined for years, if not decades, to come. Deller’s work has something of the American freak show about it, wheeling through America like a small procession, in a twisted echo of Ripley’s Believe It Or Not. I once saw the Kennedy death car in a sideshow in Florida. It was behind a fence patrolled by snarling guard dogs. Deller’s car is that kind of grotesque exhibit.
While Americans stop to ponder and discuss this wreck, another Turner winner, Steve McQueen, continues to campaign to get the Royal Mail to issue a set of stamps bearing the faces of British soldiers killed in Iraq. Again, this is a simple act of truth-telling. The wounded and the dead are less visible in Britain than they are in America. In the US, it is hard to avoid being confronted by the physical, individual consequences of the war, simply because troop levels are higher, casualties more numerous. The numbers are bigger, so the story is bigger. Wounded veterans are more high-profile, some even standing for office. In Britain, the numbers are smaller, the faces easier to forget. A stamp issue would be an appropriate memorial, free from the pomp of a permanent monument.
Last summer, Jake and Dinos Chapman exhibited their remake of Hell, their hilariously vicious tableau of Nazi atrocities enacted by toy soldiers in a Hornby railway landscape. The original version, which was destroyed in a fire, appeared before the Iraq invasion, and seemed to be a work about cinema – about how our fantasies feed on Apocalypse Now and old second world war films. It was war art for a generation that knew little of war. Now that it has rematerialised in an altogether different world, does it seem bankrupt? No. It is more potent than ever.
Back in New Orleans, Deller says the most moving conversations he has had have been with US war veterans, the majority of whom are now disillusioned with the invasion and its aftermath. But this should come as no surprise. As Deller says: “It’s usually people who don’t go to wars who support them”.