Ahead of his ‘English Magic’ show at Bristol Museum and Art Gallery, The Fix had a quick chat with Turner Prize-winner Jeremy Deller to get his thoughts on English folk tradition and what it means to be English.
A lot of your work seems to be about the creation of a modern English folk culture. Is this something you think is lacking?
Deller: I think it’s more about documenting English folk traditions [and] crossovers between popular culture [such as Bowie] and folk. English identity is very fluid [in comparison to Welsh, Scottish] and ever-changing, you can’t put your finger on it. We have all that stuff about the Queen and the monarchy and royal family and all that that represents, but actually that’s not our real identity. I’m quite happy that English identity isn’t as fixed as some others. It means different things to different people. Some people wouldn’t recognise Britain from this show or like anything about it, others would like some things and hate others.
If someone asked you what it meant to you to be English, what would you say?
Deller: I couldn’t answer it. You wouldn’t want to, actually. As soon as you start being able to define that, it’s not a good thing really. That’s why Stonehenge is in here [Deller erected a bouncy castle version of Stonehenge for the ‘English Magic’ film], because that’s a kind of symbol of Englishness or Britishness, but it’s a total mystery. No-one knows what it is, what it was for, why it’s there, and that’s good. It’s all about mystery and magic.
Find out what we had to say about ‘English Magic’ at Bristol Museum and Art Gallery
By Conal Dougan