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– Spring/Summer 1999

The Uses of Literacy

Will Bradley

Jeremy Deller, The People's Princess, London, 1997, Installation View. Courtesy the artist

Jeremy Deller is in love. This isn't hot news - he's always been happy to talk about his work in terms of his own and other people's love, for the things that matter and make life worthwhile. Sometimes it's undoubtedly a carried-away-with-passion, tell-the-world kind of love but, translated into the world of Deller's art, it feels more like a system of allegiances - a pantheistic mini-universe, peopled with personal heroes, where the familiar cultural boundaries have shifted.

A place where the Cornerhouse arts centre in Manchester presents 'You're Rendering That Scaffolding Dangerous' - the poetry of Shaun William Ryder; the Museum of Modern Art in Oxford is reassessing the life and work of Spike Milligan ('What are we going to do now?'); and the lyrics of Stephen Patrick Morrissey are in the British Museum, alongside Oscar Wilde. Deller, in a spirit of optimism, has produced press releases for all these and more, along with posters proclaiming, among other things, that 'Keith Moon Matters' and that 'Brian Epstein Died For You and maybe it says something about the difference between his approach and that of many of his contemporaries that the work he's campaigning to get into the museums isn't his own.

The words 'popular' and 'culture' turn up plenty in connection with Deller's work, and for obvious reasons. There's something of a mythology even, growing up around the mass media moments some of his activity has generated - taking in for example the semi-legendary Acid Brass collaboration and its spirited but slightly dodgy adoption by the KLF, and rehab-era Robbie Williams' appearance on MTV in one of Deller's My Booze Hell t-shirts. But to figure his project