Jeremy Deller, ‘Folk Archive’, 2005, The Seoul Museum of Art

Variable dimensions

olk Archive is a modern-day collection of cultural artefacts and social documents that provide a spirited, if incomplete, snapshot of creativity in the UK today. Collected by artists Jeremy Deller and Alan Kane between 1998 and 2005, Folk Archive catalogues British pastimes and pursuits, as well as the weird and wonderful community traditions that animate rural villages and city centres alike. Comprising some 280 items, the archive contains relics from festivals and celebrations across Britain, ancient and modern, alongside artworks created by café owners, street vendors, political protesters and homemakers. These items reflect the various emotions, tastes, and memories of the people who have made them. In Cumbria, men dressed in flowery costumes participate in an annual wrestling competition, a tradition that began in 1387. In seaside Blackpool, murals are painted to honour much loved public figures including the late Princess Diana. Folk Archive gives an idea of looking into British society through the lives of individuals. Also, it sheds light upon the creativity and activities of individuals often overlooked by institutions, celebrating people’s capacity to create, transform, construct and perform their own unique identity.
When the project was first presented, the artists were aware that using academic terms such as ‘folk’ or ‘archive’ might open them up to criticism for performing an amateur form of anthropology, or worse still, for suggesting a hierarchy between their own practices as artists and those featured in the archive. Now that ten years have passed since the project began, Folk Archive reveals itself as an important social document about Britain at the turn of the millennium. As an archive, it allows us to look into British society and its culture through people’s everyday lives, making its presentation in Korea all the more poignant and important.

Image rights: Courtesy the British Council Collection

About Jeremy Deller

In his own estimation, Jeremy Deller is not an artist of a single medium (his works use many), but rather an instigator of social interventions. Critic Mark Brown once referred to Deller as a “pied piper of popular culture”—an apt reference to Deller’s extensive use of music and sound, his deliberately lowbrow approach, and his performance pieces that often require participation of the viewer. His works frequently look towards historic events and archives as a source, which he then builds upon accumulatively with found materials. One of his best-known pieces is the massive performance the Battle of Orgreave (2001), a re-staging of an infamous clash between striking miners and the police in 1984. Deller is also known to frequently collaborate with other artists. “I work because I’m interested in other people,” he has said. “I’m nosy.” Deller won a Turner Prize in 2004.

British, b. 1966, London, United Kingdom, based in London, United Kingdom