The seduction of Sacrilege

A twenty foot-high, inflatable model of Stonehenge has descended on Glasgow Green for the Glasgow International Festival of Visual Arts. The interactive sculpture is the latest creation of Turner prize-winning artist Jeremy Deller, and is his first major public project in Scotland.

One of England’s most notorious landmarks, the ancient Stonehenge itself is a timeless mystery; nobody knows for what this piece of strange architecture was built, or by whom, and it belongs to nobody. It is perhaps this element that attracted Deller, whose previous work has consistently attempted to distract from the concept of the author or original and elevate the power of creative collectivism.

Just as Sacrilege merges the arcane with contemporary vernacular, its title pre-empts its critics, implying the artist’s intention that his appropriation be taken with more than a hint of irony and enjoyed by the public with a sense of unashamed, yet mischievous pleasure. He counters the suggestion that it is a particularly English landmark and disregards political segregation, stating that the symbol of Stonehenge itself is ‘pre-political’, and hence is just as relevant to Scotland as anywhere beneath the border.

Sacrilege, 2012, Jeremy Deller

In its artificial appeal Sacrilege may seem anodyne, but then Deller’s work has always been concerned with questioning the division between ‘high art’ and popular/folk culture, perhaps in part due to his early friendship with Andy Warhol, who took him under his wing before Deller emerged as an artist in the 1990s.

Much of Deller’s work directly engages with communities and celebrates the beauty in the prolific, and the sublime creations of the humble craftsperson. The gesture of Sacrilege is typical of his approach to community involvement and reflects his overarching aim as an artist to truly engage communities through his work, highlighting idiosyncratic cultural traditions, rituals and the omnipresent influence of the past on society.

Well-known for his interactive installations, documentaries and live performance art, Deller’s recent retrospective at the Hayward Gallery has already plunged him into the limelight for 2012, and the GIFVA is now showcasing Sacrilege alongside the work of over 130 other prominent artists across the city of Glasgow. The piece will eventually be moved to London for the Olympic Games.

The Glasgow International Festival of Visual Arts runs until 7 May.

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