Interpret Jeremy Deller’s Battle of Orgreave and reflect on the importance of time and place in this piece.
On initially watching the clips of Jeremy Deller’s site specific performance piece of a re-enactment of the 1984 violence between police and mining strikers on South Yorkshire on his website, I immediately went in search of the full video on You Tube. The performance really is a spectacle of the political and social issues involved around the police brutality and reported details of the confrontation. Watching it I was transported back to 1984 and felt like I was really there and witnessing the events unfold behind raw camera footage. The shift in focus between the miners side and the police side of the fight made for an emotionally strong experience and feeling of involvement. Being shown not just the re-enactment, but the development, deepened this feeling of involvement. Being witness to the rehearsals, safety risks, police training and direction of how the events happened and needed to be replayed and also getting to hear the thoughts and feelings from the people who were actually involved in the original strike was very moving. The piece really lays out the controversy around this incident which even to this day, effects the lives of families, towns and economies that were involved in this strike.
I think the success of this piece lies firmly in the dedication to research from the artist and his intent of the involvement of the people who were part of the strike in the creative process. The extensive interviews with people close to the cause and the reviewing of newspaper clippings, articles, posters and other paraphernalia, all of which are part of his Battle of Orgreave exhibit in the Artangel Colletion at Tate Modern, is shared with the viewer and provides a rich and extensive true course of events which allows the viewer to connect with the performance on a deeper, more informed level which I feel is very important due to the fast paced, live action format of the piece.
‘The Battle of Orgreave’ is a piece that lives up to it’s title. Watching the even just the clips of the performance, you feel like you are watching a proper battle, the brutality, the scare tactics and precision of the police are very reminiscent of medieval military behaviours. They move in rehearsed formations which, against the uncoordinated strikers, poses a sense of inferiority and power and even more so when they bring in the horses. But it’s not just in these ‘battle’ clips that this idea is formed.
Deller’s use of professional historical reenactors and allowing the viewer to see the development of the performance instils that idea of ‘battle’ further. Being witness to the choreography of the battle, listening to them advise, prep and coordinate the unprofessional participants is, what I imagine, military training is like. The training of the formations and zulu chants for the policemen, training the horses to get used to the noise the actors would be making, this step by step building of experience gives way to the realisation of just how out of control people were that day. This is especially clear in the constant reminder to people to not get over zealous, to remember that this is just a re-enactment and that they don’t want people hurt. They were training these people to get into a battle field mind set, so different from the every day mentality. And it’s for this reason I feel Deller chose this media for his piece, or at least one of the reasons. To truly get an understanding of the way this day played out, how the violence started and escalated, to the war like feeling of the conflict, was to relive it, get people back in that mindset, put them in their shoes and get them to really feel it. This is why the setting of the performance was also very important.
Deller wanted to make the re-enactment as close to the original event as possible in all ways, the order of proceedings, the people and the place, and even though he couldn’t get the exact field the original conflict took place in, he managed to get as close as possible. I think this had an effect on the overall performance more so for those who had been there in 1984. You could tell that to be back in that setting, rehearsing the events that took place 17 years earlier, events that had long lasting effects on their lives and families, was a highly emotional situation for them to be in. It brought everything back for them and I think, for this reason, they responded by acting the way they did that day which increased that raw, authenticity of the performance which I think was an intentional move of Deller’s part.
Deller is known for politically strong and collaborative projects. He commonly uses the involvement of other people in his creative process like with his performance ‘Acid Brass’ where he worked with a traditional brass band and had them play acid house and techno music which also lead to a visual rationale entitled ‘The History of the World’ and ‘The Bruce Lacey Experience’. I feel that it is this running theme that makes his work so successful and emotional.
“Jeremy Deller”. En.wikipedia.org. N.p., 2017. Web. 27 Feb. 2017.
“The Battle Of Orgreave”. Artangel.org.uk. N.p., 2017. Web. 24 Feb. 2017.
“Jeremy Deller (Born 1966) | Tate”. Tate. N.p., 2017. Web. 2 Mar. 2017.