Jeremy Deller’s exhibition for the British Pavilion at the 2013 Venice Biennale, English Magic, is subversively witty and political, but most importantly it is currently on show at Walthamstow’s increasingly fantastic William Morris Gallery.
It proves to be the perfect setting as Deller clearly drew much inspiration from Morris, a nineteenth century utopian socialist who also did a nice line in wallpaper and poetry. Indeed, the main piece of the exhibition is mural of Morris emerging colossus-like from the sea and holding aloft Roman Abramovich’s luxury yacht, Luna, in a manner suggesting it is destined for a watery grave in the Venice lagoon. This, apparently, is retribution for bad parking: Abramovich took the Luna to Venice last year but was no doubt oblivious to the fact that his ship is so big that it blocked the view for many visitors to the Biennale and a security fence erected around it restricted the use of the promenade by other visitors and locals alike.
‘We sit starving amidst our gold’ is one of many digs at the Russian oligarchs who made billions from the privatisation of Soviet public enterprises through dubious means. Deller’s exhibition, for example, includes framed workers’ remuneration coupons, which Abramovich and others hoovered up to later exhange for shareholdings worth thousands of times the coupons’ original value.
These are shown alongside a collection of Willam Morris’ ‘songs for socialists’ and the author’s attractive but questionable assertion that “a cause which cannot be sung is not worth following”.
Another wall contains a lovely set of Neolithic hand-axes, archaelogical finds which we are told would have fascinated the young William Morris, and displayed in order of their place of discovery east to west across London. While upstairs in the gallery, Deller exhibits a portraits of key British figures from the Iraq war, including Tony Blair, David Kelly and Alastair Darling, with the twist that the respective artists are former soldiers now serving time at Her Majesty’s pleasure.
A truly wonderful show and, with a packed William Morris Museum, it was great to see the masses treking to E17 to see it. So when are we going to get a decent live music venue as well?!
The William Morris Gallery is in easy walking distance of Walthamstow Tube on the Victoria Line