07 Jul, 2009

Jeremy Deller’s Procession

Posted by: admin In: Guardian

Cornerhouse, Manchester

Jeremy Deller once said: “Art isn’t about what you make, but what you make happen”. Though he’s never claimed to be able to do anything as fundamental as paint or draw, the 2004 Turner Prize winner has unparalleled skills in event management; whether restaging key conflicts of the 1984 miner’s strike or introducing acid house to the brass band repertoire.

Procession is the latest expression of Deller’s fascination for the north. Commissioned to stage a opening ceremony for the Manchester International Festival, he has devised a parade in which all members of the community have a place. It features many of the most willing contributors to grand, civic shindigs of this sort – marching bands, carnival queens, dance schools and so forth – but adds a anarchic element of Big Issue sellers, boy racers and noisy emo bands. It’s the lord mayor’s show with an asbo.

Deller deserves credit for keeping things constantly surprising: at one point the procession unexpectedly becomes a cortege, with a series of hearses bearing tributes to lost, legendary nightclubs, including the Hacienda, Wigan Casino and Talk of the North. The prize for the best float goes to Chorlton Park primary school for a vision of Manchester in 2050 (it’s underwater), while the award for best banner goes to Mr D. Hockney for his colourful depiction of an ashtray carried by a group of pro-smokinglobbyists defiantly puffing away.

There’s a strong culinary influence throughout the parade. Valerie’s snack bar – purportedly the home of the finest bacon roll in Britain – has been transplanted wholesale from Bury market to the back of a flatbed truck, and there’s a hilarious gospel choir evangelising about Oldham’s claim to possess the first fish and chip shop.

The danger is that such cheery self-parody can easily slip towards condescension. Deller claims to be fascinated by parades because “they hold up a mirror to a town and become a self portrait of a time and place”. But is there not something banal about a group of former cotton workers waving from a mobile mill? Does a march-past celebrating cholesterol, fags and chimneys reflect anything more than the most stereotypical view of life in the north today? Procession is a admirable way of getting the city engaged in its festival, though the reflection in Deller’s mirror doesn’t look particularly healthy.

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