Not content with having his English Magic show from last year’s Venice Biennale beginning a nationwide tour at the William Morris Gallery in east London, Jeremy Deller has a second touring exhibition currently on the road – All That Is Solid Melts Into The Air – a fascinating look at the impact of the Industrial Revolution upon its workers and their culture, with a meaningful sideways glance at the managerial and working practices of large businesses such as Amazon and the widespread use of zero hours contracts.
So we have photographic portraits of women workers from heavy industry in Wales in the 1860s alongside a Double-Dial Longcase Clock that measured productivity as well as working hours, and a copy of the rules set down for people employed in the factory belonging to Thomas Ainsworth and Sons of Preston, which begins thus:
Each person employed in this Factory engages to serve THOMAS AINSWORTH and SONS, and give One Month’s Notice, in writing, previous to leaving his or her employment, such notice to be given in on a Saturday, and on no other day; but the Masters have full power to discharge and Person employed therein without any previous Notice whatsoever.
Much is made of industry’s links with popular culture; a juke box plays sound recordings made in mills and down mines, together with folk songs such as The Blackleg Miner. Connections are drawn between heavy industry and Heavy Metal. Family trees of singers Brian Ferry and Shaun Ryder stretch back fascinatingly through several generations of working men and women. A short film documents the journey of Adrian Street (seen below with his father) from the time he left the Welsh coal mines at fifteen, through his years as a body builder and model to superstar status as a boldly camp professional wrestler.
As with a great deal of Deller’s work, the exhibition is of a wonderfully ragbag nature, drawing together art and artefacts from many sources into an impressionistic whole. There’s something here to interest most people, young and old, as it’s a shame that Nottingham City Council and whoever is more directly responsible at the Castle haven’t made more of an effort to publicise the show during its time there.
After Nottingham, where it closes on 22nd April, it moves on to the Mead Gallery at the University of Warwick, Coventry, from 3rd May to the 21st June, and then to the Laing Art Gallery in Newcastle from12th July to the 26th October.
Oh, and that title … it comes, of course, from The Communist Manifesto, written by Marx and Engels and published in 1848.
All that is solid melts into air, all that is holy is profaned, and man is at last compelled to face with sombre senses his real conditions of life, and his relations with his kind.
All together now …