Jeremy Deller does art outside galleries. It thrives in ‘low culture’ and it is usually ambitious, socially-engaged and unexpected. Indeed, most of his career is built on looking for art in the most unpredictable places, working with the public or with people who have particular knowledge or skill but who wouldn’t otherwise be associated with the contemporary art world. They include unemployed miners, brass bands, a campaign banner maker, fans of Depeche Mode, a glam rock wrestler, experts in battle re-enactments, etc. He even collaborated on an art project with nightclub owner and trendsetter Peter Stringfellow.
In late February, a retrospective of Jeremy Deller’s work opened at the Hayward gallery. It is called Joy in People and joy is precisely what it brings.
In a field near Sandwich in Kent, Alan Gibbs, a local model maker, is firing up his steam engine. Its chimney is coughing out irritated little clouds of smuts and its pistons are bobbing up and down.
At a table, curator Rob Tufnell is using an Apple Mac powered by the engine. For this is the Steam Powered Internet Machine: the latest deeply eccentric project from Turner-prizewinning artist Jeremy Deller and his collaborator Alan Kane. ‘We were thinking about something that connects the industrial revolution and the digital revolution,’ said Deller. Kane added: ‘They are worlds apart but there’s also a proximity. The steam age and the digital age are not so far apart.’