Having been commissioned by an august institution to promote British culture to the wider world, an artist may be forgiven for playing it safe with their choice of subject matter. No such timidity from Jeremy Deller and his series of installations, English Magic, created for the British Pavilion at the 55th La Biennale di Venezia.
One can infer from Deller’s work that all is not rosy in England’s garden – but then show us a garden in which it is. However, in true British style, we are finding a way to overcome our modern adversaries and adversities. Particular criticism seems to be aimed at capitalism; two 4x4s, that symbol of excess, come a cropper – first carried off in the talons of a hawk in a huge wall mural, the other flattened by a car crusher into a bench from which you can watch the genius artist’s English Magic film, celebrating more positive aspects of the country. The tax haven of Jersey also meets fiery misfortune in Deller’s mind, and Roman Ambramovich’s extravagant yacht – viewed as something of a carbuncle when it moored at the festival two years ago – is headed for a watery grave at the hands of the resurrected William Morris.
The British Council, best known overseas for teaching Johnny Foreigner to speak the Queen’s English proper, have been taking our talents to the arts festival since 1938. At the end of the Venice run, English Magic will be returning home to London to be exhibited at the William Morris Gallery, the Bristol Museum and Art Gallery and the Turner Contemporary, Margate. Wales and Scotland haven’t been forgotten either; the regions are displaying their work via other organisations.