Magazine article Artforum International

Jeremy Deller Talks about after the Gold Rush, 2002. (A Thousand Words)

Magazine article Artforum International

Jeremy Deller Talks about after the Gold Rush, 2002. (A Thousand Words)

Article excerpt

Jeremy Deller is an artist who gets down with the people, wherever he happens to be. Based in Britain, where he has created artworks with coal miners (The Battle of Orgreave, 2001), marching bands (Acid Brass, 1997), and Manic Street Preachers fans (The Uses of Literacy, 1997), Deller spent much of the past year in residency at the CCAC Wattis Institute in San Francisco. The result of his stay is an unlikely art project: an unorthodox (though usable) guidebook to the once Golden State. After the Gold Rush is a ninety-six-page collection of maps, history (penned by Matthew Coolidge of the Center for Land Use Interpretation), interviews, photographs, drawings, and an audio CD (which includes, among other things, songs featuring Irish banjo player William Whitmore). Deller taps into more than a hundred years of California history, from nineteenth-century miner mania to post-dot-corn doldrums, but it's the things that never went away--rural California's status as a haven for outsiders and its seemingly incongruou s conservative political history--that animate his wry European perspective on dusty desert highways, roadside museums, even a prison gift shop.

Deller used his honorarium to buy a beat-up Jeep (in which he scoured the back roads) and five acres of land ($2,000 at auction) in the beleaguered nine-church, one-bar town of Trona, California, staking a presumably enduring claim on the West Coast. There's no ocean view, however; Deller's homestead is a barren slice of the Mojave Desert.

Inspired in part by the lucid muckraking spirit of Eric Schlosser's Fast Food Nation, Deller's guidebook points out revealing landmarks and minor tourist attractions--a mini-museum devoted to burlesque, for example--that have deep, sometimes insidious cultural meanings (like the seemingly ubiquitous correctional facilities along the highway) and, as it happens, house individuals who carry the torch of some vanishing belief system. On his trips, Deller got out of the car and met folks--former Black Panthers, aging strippers, political exiles. "I listened to these characters for hours, drinking it in," he enthused in a conversation about the project. "You forget a landscape, but you don't forget the people."

I came to America on September 9, 2001, for a residency. I didn't want to produce an exhibition but something more involved with California. I wanted to go out and discover things about the state and in some small way test the level of the culture.

I made a lot of trips to the desert. Because I'm European, it's something I didn't know anything about. Death Valley exceeds your expectations. Even if you've seen it in films, the experience is actually shocking--so I decided to do something about the land in California.

I bought a plot of land because I figured if I were going to spend a year in America, I might as well own a piece of the country. It's the idea of coming to the West where everyone wants to own a piece of land. I bought mine at an auction, which was a very old-fashioned event--like a religious revival meeting revolving around money and land. The first bit of audio on the CD is me buying the property. The clip is only about forty-five seconds long, but it gives you a sense of the experience. …

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