Feb 1, 2015 - Feb 27, 2015

Folk Archive 

British Council

"With Folk Archive, we are treading a path between being artists and being anthropologists. As artists we engage in an optimistic journey of personal discovery (albeit often close to home).  As anthropologists, we hope we are describing something overlooked and worthy of attention.” Jeremy Deller and Alan Kane

About Folk Archive

The selection of works shown here are drawn from Folk Archive assembled by Jeremy Deller and Alan Kane between 1998 and 2005 in response to the question what might constitute present day folk art.

Just as art practice has evolved with the advent of social, cultural and technological changes so too has folk art and the archive takes into account performance and action, video and installation.

By the artists’ own admission they made no attempt to define popular art and decided to avoid what is most often referred to as ‘outsider art’, preferring to concentrate on a personal selection of things that conveyed their enjoyment of the range and depth of creativity they encountered.

They looked for works that had attributes including humour, modernity, insight, a unique voice or perspective, motifs they recognised and ones they did not, attempts to tackle ambitious subjects, endeavours beyond normal expectation, pathos or just something extra. The one aspect common to all the works is that they have been authored by individuals who would perhaps not primarily consider themselves artists.

Latika Gupta, Curator, Folk Archive

About Jeremy Deller
Jeremy Deller is an English conceptual, video and installation artist. Much of Deller's work is collaborative; it has a strong political aspect, in the subjects dealt with and also the devaluation of artistic ego through the involvement of other people in the creative process. He won the Turner Prize in 2004, and in 2010 was awarded the Albert Medal of the Royal Society for the encouragement of Arts, Manufactures & Commerce (RSA). Deller is known for his Battle of Orgreave (2001), a re-enactment of the actual Battle of Orgreave.
About Alan Kane
Alan Kane was born in Nottingham. He lives and works in London and his practice is concerned with blurring the boundary between the artist and the viewer. His work challenges the system of hierarchies that privileges certain artistic forms over others, notably the distinction between high art and more common cultural activity. While producing a singular body of work that includes photography and installation, his practice is also involved in framing instances of everyday creativity. Kane is well-known for collaborating with Jeremy Deller, which has yielded a number of works, including the Folk Archive: Contemporary Popular Art from the UK (2000), which gathers an array of objects alongside documentation of performances and idiosyncratic events associated with Britain’s local folk culture.
Animals
This section includes two and three-legged birds and animals made of vegetables, straw and plants. Massive straw owl and camel sculptures inhabit fields and vegetable animals compete for prizes at the Lambeth Country Fair, and a topiary animal resides outside a house.

Lambeth Country Fair, London

Ephemeral
The Ephemeral includes examples of creativity, which are temporary, due to the nature of the material used and location. The examples include elaborate floral arrangements, crop circles in fields, sand sculptures on beaches and constructed bonfires.

Sand Sculpture, Trebarwith Strand, Cornwall

Food
Hand-painted signs and posters announcing food stalls, restaurants, grocers and supermarkets bring to light the immense skill and creativity employed in everyday advertising. Images of succulent burgers, hot-dogs, fried eggs, and potato chips reveal the preferred fare of beach-goers, while milk packs, loaves of bread, bottles of wine and cigarettes are seen as the staples available at local grocery shops.  

Food Sign, Brighton Pier, East Sussex

Home
Home highlights a range of images of ‘home’; ranging from a camping site sign, a caravan, the painted exterior of a shed, and a ‘protest house’ (Clare Street Protest House, Cardiff) in which the occupier of the house got into a dispute with the City Council in 1984, and made his house the vehicle for his protest over the subsequent years, by plastering texts of protest on the exterior of his home. This section offers an intimate view of the personal interventions that individuals make in adorning their houses and gardens, making each one a unique reflection of the people who live in them. 
LOVE AND DEATH
Henna-painted hands at a wedding and a heart constructed with pebbles in the sand are included as visual manifestations of the expression of love. The outpouring of grief at the death of Princess Diana in the form of floral tributes speaks of intense love and loss. One of the interesting images in this section is that of a motorcycle hearse that promises a last dignified ride for the departed. 

The Reverend Paul runs a unique service, which enables you to be taken to your funeral in a specially converted sidecar.

He has three different vehicles (an American, British and a Japanese) to satisfy bikers’ demands. He also offers a service in which he will drive you to your funeral at 100mph

PERFORMANCE
Performance includes a range of quirky and humorous community activities that are performative in nature- competitions, carnivals, circuses and processions. For instance, the week-long Egremont Crab Fair in Cumbria that was established in 1387, incorporates wrestling, cycle races, egg throwing, dog shows, talent contests, pipe smoking competitions and the World Gurning Championships, where contestants make ugly faces after taking a bite out of a crab apple in a remarkable display of facial acrobatics. The costume of the ‘Burry Man’ is also displayed. During the annual Ferry Fair in Queensland, Scotland, local residents apply to the Council to be the ‘Burry Man’, and dress up in a flannel costume that is completely covered with burrs, the hooked fruits from native Burdock plants. 

Clowns copyright their make-up by having it painted onto an egg. The egg is then displayed in the clown Museum in Dalston. Thanks to: Charlie Caroli Jnr, Flo, Grock, Zippy and Grimaldi.

The World Gurning Championship occurs once a year in the Town of Egremont in Cumbria.

It has been happening for possibly more than 500 years. The winner of the competition makes himself or herself look as ugly as possible without using their hands.

The derivation of the competition is unclear but might relate to imitating the village idiot or the face pulled when biting into a crab apple.

Cumberland and Westmoreland wrestling costumes. Courtesy: Tom Harrington MBE

These costumes are often embroidered and the designs are usually, but not exclusively, associated with nature.

Prizes are given for the best examples and are not merely decorative as they are often worn during the wrestling bouts themselves.

During the Ferry Fair held each August in South Queensferry, Scotland, one of the local residents applies to the council for the honour of being that year’s Burry Man. The successful applicant dresses up in full body costume made up of flannel. This costume is then completely covered with the hooked fruits of Britain’s two native Burdock plants. Whoever plays the part of the Burry Man must collect these ‘burrs’ along with other flowers and ferns to ornament his costume.

The Mari Lwyd is a decorated horse’s skull that tours pubs and villages in Wales between Christmas and New Year. Songs are sung to entertain the public and the horse often is given license to misbehave. Originally, it is thought it was a way to make a little bit of money in a very tough time of year for agricultural workers.

POLITICS
Politics includes an anti-racism banner made by Ed Hall who has made over 400 banners for trade unions, activists and community groups. Images of massive street murals, anti-war displays, pensioners’ protests, and ‘Fathers 4 Justice’, an organisation that highlights their perception of inequality in family law brings to light the visual nature of politics in everyday life.

Ed Hall who has made other banners in this exhibition has produced over 500 examples in the last 20 years for pressure groups, trade unions and demonstrations.

Fathers 4 Justice was an organisation that drew attention to fathers’ rights for custody and access to children for estranged fathers. They were adept at political stunts and media grabbing events, which often involved illegal activity. Every Christmas they would march through London, many holding photos of their children who they had not seen for years.

PRISON ART
Many of the works of art from prisons were acquired through the Koestler Awards Scheme, a charitable foundation aimed at promoting and rewarding creative endeavours from men and women held in prisons, young offenders institutions and special hospitals in the UK. There is an annual exhibition and sale of works and prizes are given in a variety of categories that cover music, writing and the visual arts. This section also includes a display of tattoo guns made in prisons with a ‘homegrown’ technology using a toothbrush, ball-pen refills and wires. 

Confiscated Prison Tattoo Guns:
(From HMP Hull, HMP Nottingham and HMP Long Lartin)

These guns were made illegally in prisons in the UK, their parts are taken from ballpoint pens, toothbrushes and the motor from a cassette player. It is a serious offence to be found in possession of such an object.

HMP Leyhill Collection of Prison Art
made in HMP Belmarsh

Publishing
Alternative modes of publishing are celebrated in this section, which includes a poem scribbled on a pavement, an inscription scratched onto a tree, a modified newspaper cutting, a commemorative plaque, graffiti, and fake parking tickets.
Sea Side
Visits to the seaside are a regular feature of leisure activity in the UK. A profusion of hand-painted clairvoyant hand signs indicates the popularity of fortune tellers. Two coffins from the window display of a ‘Joke Shop’ are included in this section too. 
Tea and Cakes
Tea and Cakes introduces audiences to a culinary ritual that is an intrinsic part of daily life in the UK. Images of quintessentially British puddings and bakes such as Apple Crumble, and Lemon Fairy Pudding were drawn from the Pudding Festival in Braithwaite, Cumbria, which is held at the Braithwaite Village Hall as a fundraising event for the local school. Over 100 cakes were donated. 
THE STREET
We are surrounded by visual images in both urban and rural areas. ‘Street’ includes hand-painted shop signboards, a sculpture of a spine announcing an Osteopathy clinic and a fast-food van ‘McDobos’ that riffs on the popularity of McDonalds. 

Coronation Street by Len Dobson

This is the UK's longest running TV soap opera. Peter Adamson was a British stage and television actor, who is best known for playing the character of Len Fairclough in the long-running television series Coronation Street from 1961 to 1983. He made a replica of the street it is set on when he retired. Adamson has since made many models of fictitious and actual buildings.

Transport
A range of transformed vehicles forms this section, which includes images of painted vans and trucks, and modified ‘Smart Cars’ with handcrafted neon fittings and motion sensitive light switches, ‘Tod Rod’ and cars at the NASC Supernationals. 
WORK AND PLAY
Work and Play blurs the line between occupational and creative activity. Individuals modify the tools of their trade, transforming a welder’s mask by painting on it; a cold storage door is made personal by plastering it with photographs of family and friends. Sport makes its presence with a three-dimensional betting shop window, images drawn from the popular animated sitcom South Park for a sports team fan club; pub and shop frontages, and sick-note envelopes transformed by doodles.

Sick Note Envelopes
By Dean Biggs
St Austell, Cornwall, 2005

Dean Biggs works in a Job Centre in Cornwall. Everyday he has to take sick notes from the front desk to a supervisor and each time he draws a different design on the envelope.

Jeremy Deller and Alan Kane
Credits: Story

Artworks - Alan Kane & Jeremy Deller
Curator - Latika Gupta
Essay - Michael Bracewell
Digital Exhibition - Debesh Banerjee and Ribhu Chadha
Special Thanks - Gill Caldicott, Vivek Mansukhani and Priya Khanchandani

Credits: All media
The story featured may in some cases have been created by an independent third party and may not always represent the views of the institutions, listed below, who have supplied the content.
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