Tuesday, 9 April 2013

Orgreave and Other Battles - interview with Jeremy Deller

[this is an interview I did with artist Jeremy Deller in July 2010, still fresh to the Islands, for my planned book with interviews with British thinkers, philosophers, artists, activists about the meaning and possibility of a revolution today. amongst other interviewed are: Mark Fisher, David Crowley, Owen Hatherley, Dominic Fox, Jon Wozencroft, Isaac Julien, Ulrike Ottinger, John Roberts, Douglas Crimp, to name a few.

Still unfinished, there may be a new spur to finally do it. The yesterday's event of Margaret Thatcher's death gave me the impulse to publish this interview on the blog. Miner's strike and Orgreave remain a wound on the UK's working class. So often it occurred to me that many who were interested in Jeremy's work (crowned last year with a big retrospective in Hayward Gallery, Joy in People), may not necessarily share his politics or politics of the miners.

Mind you, this was made just after the Tories have been elected, and doesn't contain any of the atrocities of the last 3 years, only their predictions.

Let it prompt my work on this book (when I finish the previosu one). Hopefully, we'll see it published this or next year. If you like it, please share it and cheer me on to finish the book).


with thanks to Owen Hatherley, who helped with transcription

AGATA PYZIK: I wrote to you for the first time when there was still a Labour government four or five months ago, and I thought that would be a good start. My partner lives here, and I've been visiting for seven months...

JEREMY DELLER: So you know a bit about the politics.

Yes, or everything I can. People are terrified, and it's funny, though it sounds like a simplification, but your best known work, on the Battle of Orgreave, considered the disaster of the previous Tory government, and we're having another one, in fairly different circumstances not only politically but as far as the development of capitalism goes, but I thought – there will be some kind of...the amounts of cuts that are going to be introduced...

...are going to be bad. But I think everyone knows it's going to be bad. Because earlier nobody knew what was coming. All the arts organisations should be worried, everyone should be worried – there'll be cuts from 25-40%, more or less. So we'll see. But they seem to be enjoying it.

Who seems to be enjoying it?

The government. So it could lead to a social breakdown, some sort of breakdown of our social fabric, of society. There could be more riots, a repeat of 1981.

Do you think a kind of historical repetition is possible?

Yeah, I think it always is. It's really about human behaviour rather than history. So I think it's...we'll see. If they do what they say they're going to do and things happen, then there could be a lot of trouble ahead. A lot, I imagine. Though they don't seem to be worried about this.

So I started with the Battle of Orgreave, which is nine years old now -

Yes, 2001.

Which has become some kind of...one of the favoured examples in terms of participatory art, for instance in Clare Bishop's text in Artforum a couple of years ago, where she wrote about you, Artur Zmijewski and a few others, as a kind of 'delegation', delegating other people to make your work or to interact, which then becomes your work. On the other hand, re-enactment is fairly present in domains that have nothing to do with art. We have a lot of historical re-enactments in Poland, especially under the right-wing government. This year we had the re-enactment of a 600 year old battle with the Germans, and the Warsaw Uprising is one of the favourite themes – battles in the streets of Warsaw that get re-enacted.

The Jewish uprising?

No, the Warsaw uprising of 1944.

That's interesting, I didn't know about that.

So Artur Zmijewski, who is frequently juxtaposed with you and others working in this area has been shooting this cycle called 'Democracies' for the last two years. You're familiar with it?


...which is filming direct participation in 'democracy'.

It sounds really good.

I could send it to you. It's his testing the very basic possibility of participating in democracy.

But it's documentation.

Documentation plus editing of some kind. But I'm mentioning it in the context of the Battle of Orgreave, which is something completely different, though you have real people, real policemen and real miners, as well as people who specialise in re-enactments. So my question is – what is the strategy behind it, given that the poignancy of the Miners' Strike has been a trauma ever since, something that people put almost on the same level as the Second World War, a myth of the working class – what was the strategy behind staging it like this?

Why did I do it, you mean? I did it because I remember seeing it on TV when I was a child, or a young man, a teenager, so I wanted to do it as an investigation. Also there's a sense of absurdity to it, and ridiculousness, and a humour which doesn't get picked up on much. To re-stage a riot - it's almost impossible, by definition. And too use the re-enactment societies, who are huge in Britain, where it's not really a nationalistic thing, because they re-enact battles from all over the world, but also ones where the British lost, often. So it's...I don't see it as too nationalistic, but I wanted to engage those people on something, and work with them on a political re-enactment. A political battle, not something that happened a hundred or more years ago, but something very very recent, or too recent to re-enact. Too soon for them. For them it was very unusual to do this. So there was a number of reasons to do this, really. Personal, and then about history, British history, because re-enactors look at history in a very specific way. I wanted them to look at British history in a different way, in a rough way. In a way they don't really understand, maybe, in the sense that they don't see the Miners' Strike as a war, as a Civil War. I was presenting it as a form of warfare. So they had to think of it as part of a war. And also, they were meeting people who had been part of the strike, which you can't do with any other war, really, apart maybe from the Second World War, because they're all dead. So they've got to meet and mingle with veterans of a war, of a campaign. I was interested in that. You can see that in the film – they mix or don't mix, or maybe they get a little bit scared. Mainly it was about investigating a moment of history, on a grand scale. Investigating it physically rather than with a text, or film. Rather than just looking at an archive, actually doing it as a reconstruction as a form of investigation.

So it was an attempt to raise or create a political consciousness in people living in 2001?

Yeah, although people who live there don't need to re-live it. It was really for other people, because they know about it already, they live with it. It was for the actors really, and then the general public.

What about the miners who participate? Whenever there are anniversaries of Auschwitz, the survivors sometimes wear again the stripes. There's this very interesting aspect of trauma or reversing the trauma...

...but also of pride, a sense of pride, for the miners, and if you're an Auschwitz survivor there's a shame in that you survived, or a shame or whatever. For the miners...yes, they didn't really wear old clothes, they just wore their normal clothes. Everyone does, really. We didn't go for re-enactment in those terms, but we did try and make it a piece of performance art, like a massive performance art piece. But going back to your question. Yes, the miners are always brought up, and as the years go on, it's looked at differently. The anniversary was more sympathetic to them. Initially, there were no anniversaries until 2004, so we did it in 2001, and before that there hadn't been anniversaries, or any interest in it, because it was too difficult to talk about.

What was the impact on the participants?

Some had a really good time, some were upset by it – the miners, I'm talking about. It was a range, a variety, but what I think they enjoyed most was meeting all their friends, everyone came back together – about 200 guys came back together, and they could talk, they could socialise, which was really important.

What about the potential that...this is in a way the sense of re-enactment, but since it was staged, it raised again those emotions, but it couldn't have a political impact in a way.


So there is a certain futility to it.

Yeah, of course, and an absurdity to it as well. The absurdity of remaking a riot.

But what was the miners' reaction, weren't they disappointed?

No, they understood it. They weren't expecting a new revolution because of a re-enactment, they weren't expecting the world to change because they were doing that. They're realistic people. If anything, it was the re-enactors who were expecting something to happen during the re-enactment, who thought it would start a massive real riot and then a battle and then a revolution or something. So the miners were just totally pragmatic about it. They weren't expecting public policy to change or the mines to re-open at the end of it.

The boundary, if there is any, between art or what have you arises – did you experience criticism on that level, that this thing promises much more than it's able to give?

No, or if it did I didn't hear it. No. I wasn't setting out to change the world. It wasn't promising anything, there was no promise. It was an artwork.

You use the word 'performance', and obviously there's discussions about what performance is, whether it can be reproduced. For you what's the essence of performance as such?

That's a big question. In that piece in particular? It's a public event, people acting out roles, or former roles. It's rehearsed, it has a script – and it has an audience, and that's what a performance is really, because a film hasn't got an audience. There is no audience when it's being made. So the role of the audience is important. But I'm improvising really. To be honest - I don't really think about these things. I don't think very much about my work, and I try not to, and let other people do it.

But on the other hand something like this re-enactment is a very consciously political work.

Of course it is. It's very pointed. But what I'm saying is that doesn't mean I think about it too much in retrospect, or even at the time – I have an idea, and think let's do this idea. I don't think of the theory, or dissect it too much, because if you dissect ideas you end up thinking 'that's a terrible idea'. This won't work, that won't work. So I try not to. But it was a consciously political work, and made at a time in which the art world was not particularly interested in politics, where the mainstream artworld was more interested in hanging out than making political artworks.

When for the first time did you think you wanted to make art that engaged other people, not just the artworld?

I think that in terms of making art that works with people, which is I think what you mean,

Yes, working with people, that is collaborating, that is delegation...

1996. Because I did a project with a brass band. It happened in 1997, but it began in '96. I realised I enjoyed doing it and that I didn't have to make objects anymore, but I could just work with people. I wouldn't have to make an object, but it was a thing.

I'm thinking about social sculpture, and Beuys...

Yes, but I wasn't thinking about that.

Whenever we do something that engages people it engages communities, and this is something that your work is about.

It can be, yeah. The brass bands are people who make music within communities, so there is that. But I do lots of other things as well, because if that's all you did then you become a certain kind of artist, especially in Britain, where everyone has to work with communities, you are asked 'can you work with these kinds of people', these people of this area...so with the Olympics there's all this art made about the people who live in the area, all of that.

In the Lea Valley. So is that what you're doing now?

Of course not – I just want to do my own thing. I don't want to be asked and dropped into a town or a school and think 'these are the people I have to make art with'. I'm not interested in that. So no.

How did you get interested in fandom communities? For instance with the Manic Street Preachers?

Well, I liked them, I wasn't a 'fan' in those terms. I liked Depeche. You probably like them, being Polish!

Well yes...I can't remember whether you included Polish fandom.

No, sadly. If we made the film again we'd make it about the Eastern Bloc, really. Russia. Rather than the US and the world. There's a really interesting US-Russia connection with the band, they were big in both countries during the Cold War.

I must get back to fandom communities, because they're transcending communities. Brass bands are a group of people who all live in the same town, Manics fans are living in the different cities of Great Britain. But I would prefer to discuss that project now, 'The Uses of Literacy'.

That was the same year as the brass band performance, that happened within four days of the brass band performance.

I just happen to live with an ex-massive fan, so I know...

Do you have the book?


It's really nice, you should give it to the person you live with. It's cheap!

I probably will. Well, two things. It's funny for me, because it shaped him in those seminal years...

15, 16...

Yeah, maybe even younger. This plus the Folk Archives.

Yes, because they're the same thing, they're both forms of contemporary folk art. Well not this, but what we did with the exhibition, and folk art was about traditional and contemporary folk art, because folk art in Britain hasn't been looked at in a good way, as being stupid.

There is this distinction, that Hanns Eisler made between folk art and mass art. This is mass art, but folk art is in a way nostalgic, yearning for the past, but this is not. Depeche Mode called one of their albums Music for the Masses.

Yes, but I think the fan response is a kind of folk art. This is mass art, it's mass-produced culture; but when someone produces something about the band, that's makes a drawing, this is folk culture. That's what I believe. Because folk art isn't about yearning for the past. It can be, it can be about ancient ritual and tradition, but then so many things aren't. And who's to say that those drawings of pop stars aren't yearning for something? They're also about the past or about nostalgia.

I'm not saying that nostalgia's bad.

That's why we make folk art, and why we make folk art contemporary as well. Contemporary folk art which isn't about the past, but which is modern. Traditionally folk art has often been very political, about the moment – about the strike, about the event that happened, the riot, or whatever. So we included a lot of material like that, trade union banners and so on. So I don't agree with that definition. But then I agree mass culture is not folk art, obviously.

But forget about the definition – I thought that was brilliant, that you gathered all this work. A friend of mine said once that the writings on the walls of loos...

I did a book on that once. A book of poetry from toilet walls, in 1994.

If we take this definition of art as something that is made of...that is modern and fresh, to be honest, something disinterested, made out of free will, this modernist idea – so this is it, art created by fans, and poetry on the loo...

Yes, it's equivalent. And also it's not...you don't see it very much on the whole. Maybe now with the internet you can see it more, but mostly it was invisible. So I wanted to make the invisible visible, really. Art made by fans – you don't get to see that. Unless you get sent it, if you're a member of the band – but otherwise it's private. I wanted to make it public.

How did you start to gather this?

It was pre-internet, so I gave out pieces of paper to fans, at a queue for a concert, in London. And I put an ad out in Melody Maker, or NME, I can't remember, and then people sent me things. It's very simple. We kept in touch, and I did this show, and now it's owned by the Arts Council. It gets shown round the world or whatever or in Britain, and it's part of a national collection, which I'm really happy about.

So did it come from the idea that pop music is the modern form of folk art.

Popular art. I like music, and I enjoy seeing people's devotion to bands. I enjoy that. So it seemed natural. I was interested in the band, and the band's fanbase. It was only meant to be an exhibition for one day, but it worked as an exhibition, so it was repeated – it had its own history after that, which is great. After that I did a few more things about the band. It was very enjoyable doing the exhibition.

The band had a very exceptional appeal, because it wasn't really about the music itself, it was about Richey Edwards.

Those lyrics.

The lyrics, and slogans.

This is the best example, this album is the best example. What's the quotation there? They always had loads of quotations, from history....and on the singles.

There's now a novel about Richey Edwards, Richard by Ben Myers.

Fiction? Is it any good?

It's a first-person narrative by a former music journalist. I was wondering what appealed to you in Richey Edwards' work, because now it seems obvious...

It's not obvious when you're 13. Obviously he wasn't 13. But it's very appealing to young people at a certain age.

I must say that I find it strangely appealing, this in-your-face attitude, and the tragedy behind it...his going to the end in certain things. I'm asking you – why this following, why this band?

Because it was unique. It was at a time in Britain when most bands wanted to be as stupid as possible, as dumb as possible. And they were they exact opposite. About every generation, every decade, there's a band who is intelligent, clever and witty and so on. There wasn't another one. It was the Smiths in the '80s and in the '90s it was this band. In the '70s I don't know. A band which is going against what is popular. Which is what they always did, they were very good at that, especially with this album.

At the peak of Britpop, with the rise of New Labour.

It's such a downer of an album. 'What is this album?'

It's monstrous.

It is, something really unpleasant about it. So I was very happy to do this.

So who was the typical fan?

It's quite easy to guess. Not surprisingly, it was a sixteen year old girl who lived in the countryside or at least not in London, and who didn't have many friends.

It appealed to...

The classic pop fan, who was very intelligent, and read a lot.

Who was working class?

Not necessarily – but definitely not wealthy. It was exactly as I expected, which is a community in itself. But now with the internet it's much easier to really feel part of something. Before it was fanzines, letters, maybe phone calls, but now of course it's something else. So maybe it's about something that has disappeared. Maybe this fan world has disappeared because of the internet or changed into online rather than at home in the bedroom making stuff. I'm not sure.

On the other hand you could still make a film like Posters came from the Walls.

Have you seen it? You're not allowed to see it. The lead singer doesn't like it, and we're never allowed to show it again – even though it was made by Mute. Mute paid for it in its entirety. It's owned by Mute records. It can never be shown because the lead signer has a problem with it – though I suspect it's his wife, who is this crazy woman. He's a bit crazy too. But it'll end up on the internet, so people will see it. At the moment it's on show in Russia, and it's been shown in the UK. Basically we're showing it until they come down on us and tell us not to show it. Because it's stupid not to show it, it's crazy.

What you were able to still depict is a strong community, persisting for years.

In the Depeche film? Yeah, and that was especially in Russia. I thought that was the most amazing story. Making the film was fun, and I'm very happy with it. We had to cut a lot out, but we kept the best stories. But that's like fan adulation to an extreme degree, like no-one has really had since the Beatles. In Russia, the way they talk about the band.

What was the appeal of the band, why do you think they had this emancipatory effect in the Eastern Bloc?

It's to do with timing, how they looked, about the music, about how it looked, how it sounded, about how it's easy to reproduce, you can make copies and copies of that music and because it's very clean it can be copied very easily, so it's also for technical reasons...they looked really butch but kind of gay...they had everything you wanted really. The songs were really short and easy to understand – it was kind of perfect. And they were making their best records at that time, when it was disappearing, when all that change was happening, they were making their best songs. Even though they weren't really aware of it. They don't really know why they're so popular there, they have no idea. They don't really think about it because it doesn't really matter, it's just great to be popular. But it was really something that was adopted. They were adopted by the Eastern Bloc, the people there. And it's very modern sounding as well. It's not decadent rock music, it's a new kind of music.

Maybe it was embodying their idea of liberation at that present moment.

Exactly, those kind of tortured lyrics. It's not dissimilar to the Manics really. It works well with young people, they identify with the lyrics, the content, and the sound had all these minor keys.

What was interesting for you, the transcending again or the sense of community or the lyrical sense? I remember this tremendous guy, the homeless guy from London featured at the very end. Someone told me there's more homeless people in London than in Moscow. I live in Greenwich and I hardly see them. You made him visible, in a way.

There will be more homeless people now, because of this government. Without a doubt, that's one thing I can guarantee, more people will become homeless. When he was homeless, ten years ago or so it was a very serious problem – there was like a city of homeless people in London, at the underpass where the iMax cinema is now, there was hundreds of people living, like a shanty town. It was called Cardboard City. Hundreds of people lived there, it was like something out of Sao Paulo, and that was the result of ten years of those policies in the '80s. It's got better since, it's not as bad as it was, but it'll get worse now. They were moved to hostels, they were given more help, and also it disspiated, because that site was closed, they dispersed around London. But socially things got better in Britain, so they were helped.

I'll come back to the quotation of Richard Hoggart's The Uses of Literacy, because there's this chapter on how popular culture and popular music are fooling the working class, 'sex in shiny packets'. He's very critical of it.

He was very anti-pop music. He took it too seriously, he was worried in a serious way about popular music, he didn't understand what it was really, because he was too old – he was pre-rock and roll. But the Manics were always interested in America and its effect on Britain, but they were a popular music band who transcended that. This is why I used the term The Uses of Literacy. But also it's an interesting phrase, an interesting four words – because they used literacy, they used books, they used it, they used the act of being literate.

The very name of their band, and calling themselves Ministers of Propaganda...

They were playing a lot, they were playing with their image. It was a game, in a good way. They were very clever, though some of them more clever than others. They understood it, they understood the game, and what they were trying to do. But Richard Hoggart was just terrified by what he saw. He was right in some ways, in other ways he was not right, I think. But that he looked at things closely and took it seriously was very unusual in Britain at the time. So that's why I used the title for my book.

Probably it was unavoidable in the development of the system, what we could see is the levelling, and now the widening the gaps between rich and poor in liberal societies. But you mention the game, and I wanted to ask about that in relation to the Battle of Orgreave. What is the game for you?

It's definitely a sense of play. It was a political statement, but it wasn't out to change the world. That's where activism differs from art. Activists actually want to change something very directly and very specifically, while artists don't really want to do that, or be so clear in their intentions.

And you insist that you are an artist.

Absolutely. If I was an activist and I did that piece at the end of that piece I'd like the mines to re-open, or everyone to get a job or something. Then there's an endpoint, an aim. But with that piece of work there wasn't an aim. So I'm not an activist.

To put it very bluntly, how do you see your role, making these very politically loaded and informed works of art?

Should I have a role? I'm just an artist, I like making things, and seeing what I can get away with. I'm just seeing how far I can go with things, and that's how it is. I don't have any aims, I don't have a list of things I want to do. That's why I'm not an activist. They use art forms maybe, but not as an endpoint, as a beginning. So they'll do performances as a way of trying to change things, and that's what I'm not. I'm not interested in that.

It's something that's always raised...

A lot of activists have art backgrounds, I imagine – they went to college and learned about performance art maybe, and they use those forms for political ends, in terms of issues or policies or whatever. But I'm not in that camp, no pun intended. I'm interested in it, but I don't want to be part of it.

What is this film you're working on at the moment?

There's two, they're both biopics. They're both about elderly men who have had interesting lives. One is about a 70 year old man, he's a wrestler, he's from Wales, very close to where the Manics are from, and he was a coal miner, and left the mine, and went to America to become a wrestler. He still wrestles, but it's really about his life, how he managed to leave industry and become part of the entertainment business. Then another one is about a British artist who's 83 and lives in the countryside, and still makes art, and it's about his life. His name's Bruce Lacey. He's semi-known, but he does incredible things. The other one, which is relevant to you, is the car from Iraq, which went round the US, that's coming to the UK, and is now owned by the Imperial War Museum in London. It'll be on display in September. It'll be part of their collection, on display in London and Manchester. It's relevant for your questions about art and activism and stuff.

It's funny that you mention the Imperial War Museum, which is a very interesting institution, based in a former mental institution, as there you also have re-enactments, of being in a bunker, or being bombed or something like that – museums that provide this 'war experience' – it seems relevant to the Battle of Orgreave. Calling it a battle.

That's a provocation.

As a kind of reference to the Middle Ages, even.

It was known afterwards as 'the battle', it was very quickly known as a battle. Because of the nature of it and the scale of it, with thousands and thousands of people – and also how it looked, it looked like a medieval battle, with police horses and the scale of it. And also its importance. It became one of the most important events in the strike, because the police very publicly won a battle. And they on the propaganda war as well, about the battle. So it was a battle. I did a book about the Battle of Orgreave, called The English Civil War, again as a provocation.

How did you talk to all these kinds of people, did you have to convince them?

No, I think most people understood it very quickly. Re-enactors had to be convinced. I think, maybe. The miners didn't – they understood it, on the whole. On the whole they were very excited about it.

It re-enacted a seminal moment of their life. Did they have a sense of failure about it?

Well they're glad it's remembered. And also that through history the opinions on the miners have changed, because it's a much more sympathetic view. Through history you can see what was going on much more clearly, the results and consequences. So they were happy for the attention, and for the opportunity to tell the story in their own terms, and that was important. You've seen the film?

Yes, it was part of an exhibition at CCA in Warsaw. I was interested by the form in which you have parts of the battle and then single people commenting on it.

We tried to interview different people, like a policeman, an organiser, a woman, that's important, some of the miners. We wanted to have a narrative structure to the film. And also those people who don't usually get interviewed about their time in the strike. Normal people, really – it wasn't the politicians, but the footsoldiers, really. Which was interesting, because they were all very compelling, they way they spoke. It was really good to do that. We did it after the performance, we spent a day with each person. We were really happy with those interviews. In the book there's interviews on a CD.

Do you know Artur Zmijewski's work?

A little. I've not seen it, but a friend's worked with him on a project. I really like the sound of it.

He's getting into controversial things like the Holocaust, for which he's frequently accused of exploitation. Were you ever?

Of course. As soon as you're working with people that's what you're accused of, as if they're not intelligent enough to understand what's happening. Even with the Folk Archive, when we put on a big nice exhibition with a book, we were told we were exploiting them. It's just the most stupid thing to say. A lot of people really hated that exhibition, really hated it. Art critics hated the fact they had to review it. They wrote 'I didn't want to review this show, but I had to', which is funny, but it really shows the kind of attitude to folk art in Britain, it's very class-based. That was interesting to see. They couldn't bear to see it, some of them.

They didn't like it because of class?

No, they didn't think it was art, they thought it was terrible. And it was exploitative. What they were voicing was their own fears, because they didn't have the capacity to review what we'd presented them with, they didn't know how to understand it as art.

The Depeche Mode film is a classic form of documentary...

You don't have to be an artist to make a film like that.

Why is that appealing for you?

I like documentaries. I like them, I like making them, I like watching them, I like making my own. With the Depeche film, more than anything I love films about music and musicians, so I wanted to make a film in that tradition, about a band. It was very exciting. I like the process of making films, seeing what happens. I'm doing a variety of things really, there's no way I'd want to limit myself to doing one thing, I never have. I'm curating as well, I'm curating a show in the next year, doing more films, maybe another performance piece. I'm lucky really, because of winning the Turner Prize not a lot of artists can do what I do in the UK, so I'm in a very good position. I'm always being asked to do things so it's good not to do one thing.

The things you've been creating to date are very unusual, in that they're works not made by artists, so is this going to be in this vein?

It's actually a version of an exhibition I did in Paris at the Palais de Tokyo, about British music, and British identity through music. It's music-based, but it'll have art in it and music. It's not clear at the moment. It's about how our identity has been shaped through industry and music. It's not clear as you can tell.

Music as industry?

The industrial revolution and its relationship to British rock music.

Probably what happened a hundred years in Manchester was probably the biggest revolution since the Palaeolithic or something.

Yes – Manchester, Birmingham – all these big musical towns had an industrial base.

I'm going to Sheffield later today.

Well that's a very important one, for electronic music.

I'm fascinated by this, that the most exciting music from the late '70s was made by working class people in industrial towns.

Well that's what my exhibition is about, Manchester, Birmingham, Sheffield, Newcastle. Centres of heavy industry and their relationship with what became the music industry.

Now we have this austerity nostalgia, a sort of cover for the austerity policy of the government, 'Keep Calm and Carry On' and so on, which unconsciously tried to use the war policy.

Those posters when they came out were massively unsuccessful, because they were seen as massively patronising to the general public. Now they're taken as ironic, and they're everywhere, aren't they. People felt patronised by the English ruling classes – you are fantastic and you are the British public, keep going. Really crude propaganda. Now it's seen as very nice.

Can people see the very cynical politics behind it?

Well some can, though some voted for it. People must understand what's happening, they'd be crazy not to.

If it was possible for an artist to influence how people vote, would you like it?

No. That's for activists, I'm not interested in that. It's nice not to be told. That's the problem with activism, it's very preachy, it's very 'you are wrong, I am right, and I have a moral high ground and you do not'. It often doesn't see the complexity of situations. Some people in Iraq think the invasion was a fantastic thing. You could tell some people that and they wouldn't believe it. But for a lot of other people it was the worst thing that ever happened to them, so I'm much more interested in complexity rather than having all the answers. That's what politicians do, they say they can solve all the problems, and they're usually wrong. Usually it's better to see things in a more complicated way.

The Trevi, somewhere on Holloway Road