From a Bedroom Art Show to Iraq
Betsy Mead

British conceptual artist Jeremy Deller’s first large-scale piece, Open Bedroom, was truly an at-home job. One day in 1993 he found himself home alone. His parents had gone on holiday. With the house his own for a blissful, but short, time, Deller turned his room—mess, posters, and all—into an exhibition.

Since then, Deller has played with a variety of visual media in a number of projects, including The Battle of Orgreave, for which he won the Turner Prize in 2004. His work is often tinged with political undertones: Battle, for example, dealt with social unrest in Britain in the 1980s. However, it wasn’t until this February that he managed to stage a full-scale survey of his creative output. A retrospective, Joy In People, is now on view at London’s Hayward Gallery in the South Bank Center, showcasing several of his successes, as well as a room of select failures.

Among the many pieces, 2012’s So Many Ways To Hurt You, which scrutinizes boxer Adrian Street, stands out. Street, the son of a Welsh coal miner, became famous as a pioneering “glam” wrestler with a penchant for glitzy pink clothing. According to Deller, he still packs a mean punch, even though he’s currently 72 years old.

The political slant of Deller’s work is apparent in pieces such as 2009’s It Is What It Is, which consists of an overturned car that was damaged in a bombing in Baghdad set next to two people engaged in a discussion of the unstable area. Maps of the U.K. and Iraq are hung next to each other, featuring each country’s landscape dotted with the other country’s cities. And yet, the heaviness of the concepts and the politics are offset by whimsical touches. Three machines at the end of the exhibition offer viewers the chance to stamp their programs for a lasting reminder of the show.