Folk Nations: Jeremy Deller and Alan Kane

© BBC and the Culture Show

Jeremy Deller was born in 1966 in London, where he lives and works. He studied art history at the Courtauld Institute, London and Sussex University. In 2013 he represented Britain at the Venice Biennale with the multifaceted exhibition ‘English Magic’. Encompassing socialism, war, popular culture, archaeology and tea, it gives a view of the UK that is both combative and affectionate, and which has roots in early works such as the musical performance Acid Brass (1997) with the Williams Fairey Brass Band through to Sacrilege, Deller’s life-size inflatable version of Stonehenge that toured Britain in 2012. In 2001, Deller staged The Battle of Orgreave, commissioned by Artangel and Channel 4 and directed by Mike Figgis, where around a thousand veteran miners and members of historical societies re-enacted the 1984 clash between miners and police. In 2004, he won the Turner Prize for Memory Bucket (2003), a documentary about Texas, and has since made films on subjects ranging from the exotic wrestler Adrian Street to the die-hard international fanbase of the band Depeche Mode.

Solo exhibitions include ‘Unconvention’, Centre for Visual Arts, Cardiff (1999); ‘After the Goldrush’, Wattis Institute, San Francisco (2002); Kunstverein München, Munich (2005); ‘From One Revolution to Another’, Palais de Tokyo, Paris (2008); ‘It Is What It Is’, New Museum, New York (2009); and ‘Joy in People’, Hayward Gallery, London (2012).  

Alan Kane was born in 1961 in Nottingham, UK and lives and works in London. His work encompasses photography and installation and challenges the system of hierarchies that privileges high art over instances of everyday creativity. For FRAME at the 2009 Frieze Art Fair, Kane presented Collection of Mr and Mrs L.M. Kane – a display of knickknacks, curios and ornaments from his parents’ home that questions the relative worth and legitimacy of personal treasures over the contemporary, conceptual objects of the commercial art world. In 2009 he produced five 30-minute episodes of Life Class: Today’s Nude, commissioned by Artangel for Channel 4, that delivered life drawing classes to people in their living rooms, playing on expectations of both TV and art education. In Home for Orphaned Dishes (2011), the audience is invited to donate ceramics to a floor-to-ceiling display celebrating a forgotten moment of popular craft revival from the 1960s – when wheel-thrown, glazed slipware became a fashionable alternative to mass production and modernist design. 

Solo exhibitions include ‘The Stratford Hoard’ as part of Transport for London’s ‘Art on the Underground’ series (2008); ‘Punk Shop’, Ancient & Modern, London (2013); ‘Orphaned Dishes’, Whitechapel Gallery, London (2011); and ‘The Trongate Codex’, Glasgow Cathedral (2012). 

Jeremy Deller and Alan Kane have worked on projects together on and off for over 20 years. Throughout, their productions have drawn on the irreverent sense of humour that first drew them together.

‘Folk Archive’, their most comprehensive work to date, was introduced in ‘Intelligence’, the first Tate Triennial of British Art in 2000, and realised in full as ‘Folk Archive: Contemporary Popular Art from the UK’ at the Barbican Art Gallery in 2005, touring museums in the UK the following year. Folk Archive attempts to update the idea of folk art by collecting an array of objects besides documentation of performances and idiosyncratic events associated with Britain’s contemporary local folk culture. In 2008, the town of Egremont, Cumbria, which features extensively in Folk Archive, inaugurated the pair’s only permanent public artwork, the Greasy Pole, which functions both as sculpture and occasional sporting apparatus. Folk Archive was acquired by the British Council Collection in 2007 and has since been exhibited in Belgrade, Paris, Milan and Shanghai.