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The Battle of Orgreave

Jeremy Deller - Joy in People - Hayward Gallery, London, 2012 and Hope is strong - Millennium Gallery, Sheffield 2018

In May 2012, I visited the Hayward Gallery in London for Jeremy Deller’s retrospective, where I watched ‘The Battle of Orgreave’ for the first time. I recall and write about this experience from a 6 year old memory, digging into fuzzy details. I remember walking into the film about half way through and sitting down.

At the time, my own politicial identity is in it’s infancy. I am 23 years old, I am working class and grew up in the Labour Blairite era. My single mum is a Polish immigrant and worked as a cleaner whilst being supported by benefits. In my teens I lived in political ignorance, knowing only what was taught in school. (I wasn’t taught about the Suffragettes and went to an all girl’s school!) Labour’s support led me through education to art school, although I took this for granted and didn’t understand this until my mid 20’s, when I started to see the Tories introduce higher university tuition fees and cut back every step that helped me attain my priviledge. It is in my mid-20’s that I begin to mature politically and I start to think about all of the other children on benefits who won’t get the opportunities that I had. I start to witness firsthand and understand what politics and opression of the working class looks like. I have heard of Margaret Thatcher, I know what her face looks like, I have watched clips of her on TV. I don’t know anything about Sheffield, the north of England, I know nothing about the miner strikes and do not understand the politics of the 1980’s. I stayed for the whole film. I remember taking note of the physical aggression, but knowing it was “just actors” I didn’t have a deeply emotional response, as I had no understanding of the ideological implications of what I was looking at. I remember thinking that this piece was interesting, but I was consuming a huge amount of art at the time and because of this, it became ‘another piece’ in my research.  

Image:  Jeremy Deller, The Battle of Orgreave, 2001. Martin Jenkinson ©
‘The Battle of Orgreave’ is a film documenting the re-enactment of the 1984 miners picket in Yorkshire. The project was proposed by Jeremy Deller in response to Artangel’s first open competition.
“I remember watching the original evening news footage... in which thousands of men were chased up a field by mounted police. The image of this pursuit up the hill stuck in my mind and for years I wanted to find out what exactly happened on that day with a view to re-enacting or commemorating it in some way. It would not be an exaggeration to say that the strike, like a civil war, had a traumatically divisive effect at all levels of life in the UK. Families were torn apart because of divided loyalties, the union movement was split on its willingness to support the National Union of Mineworkers, the print media especially contributed to the polarization of the arguments to the point where there appeared to be little space for a middle ground. So in all but name it became an ideological and industrial battle between the two sections of British* society.
....Many of these participants were former miners (and a few former policemen) who were reliving events from 1984 that they themselves took part in. The rest were members of Battle re-enactment societies from all over the country. I wanted to involve members of these societies for mainly two reasons: first of all, they are well trained in recreating combat and in obeying orders. More importantly, I wanted the re-enactment of The Battle of Orgreave to become part of the lineage of decisive battles in English History.  ....Over a thousand people were involved in the project, either through taking part, filming or helping with the research.” 
In May 2018,  I visited the Millennium Gallery in Sheffield for the ‘Hope is strong’ exhibiton, where to my surpise, I  unexpectedly find ‘The Battle of Orgreave’ for the second time. 6 years later, I have since quit my practice due to deemed failures and exhaustion. I am feeling many different  emotions. Being in a gallery is currently really painful, I have come to try and ease my way back in after quitting. I notice how the art crowd are totally different in Sheffield, visitors to the show  warmly chatting about the work with invigilators, something I never saw in London. 

I sit down once more to rewatch the video for a second time. Everything is different. I am watching exactly the same video and yet the whole thing means something anew. I have since protested for Greenpeace, stood as a Green party paper candidate in Bournemouth, become a Labour member, witnessed the shame of the Brexit vote whilst travelling in China, I have read up on the politics of the 80’s and learned about how Thatcher forced the arts to privatise their funding, since quitting my practice I have watched my friends slowly move out of London because they’re all skint, I’ve moved to Sheffield, Yorkshire where ‘The Battle of Orgreave’ took place and listened to firsthand stories of what happened. I feel a much deeper set of emotions.  The aggression within the piece resonantes with my own personal anger and disappointment at life and the country that I was brought up in. I now understand the ideological battlefield and fear, as I watch the ever-growing devision currently taking place across generations in the UK.
As I watch the piece, I think about my boyfriend, a Handsworth lad, born and bred. His mum grew up near Orgreaves and remembers it all well.  As I watch the film, I decide to invite her to come back to the gallery and join me in watching it. We enter the gallery and she chats away with the invigilator sharing experiences and tells me about local stories as we watch the film. She is surprised that she didn’t hear about the reenactment herself as she still lives in the area and knows everyone! We share our ideas and thoughts on it (including politics) and find that we both have very different opinions. Since the film, and as time has gone on, we have continued to talk about similar topics and often disagree. We have quite difficult conversations about what is happening but we continue to have a very deep respect for each other. We listen to each other but we never fall out over it. It never gets in the way of our family time.  She is a woman who also thinks for herself and I have a deep respect for that. I find our relationship deeply satisfying but this all started when we watched ‘The Battle of Orgreave’  together. Personally, this pieces represents a depicition of political devision in UK politics. In 2018 we are now living in an ever-growing generationally and ideologically devisive time. But it is really important to keep these types of conversations going to deepen our understanding of each other and to not turn our backs on each other. Learn to sincerely agree to disagree and hold differences in opinion with respect. Make sure that the ‘Hope is strong’ and refuse to not see the ‘Joy in people’. 

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