One work that caught our eye on a recent visit to Joy in People, the Jeremy Deller retrospective currently on at the Hayward Gallery in London, was this uncanny remapping of the relationship between the UK and Iraq through town twinning.
Folks in Greater Manchester will remember Deller from his contemporary reimagining of the rich tradition of Whit parades, and other urban processions in the North West, as part of the Manchester International Festival. Others might know his extraordinary historical reenactment in 2001 of the clash between pickets and police during the Battle of Orgreave, a project that reawakened the memory of that bitter dispute and asked searching questions about heritage and the making of history. Deller recently described the miners strike as ‘modern Britain’s defining story.’
The UK-Iraq twinning maps appear in the context of documentation of a project of Deller’s called ‘It is what it is’ which took place in 2009. The project originally involved a road trip across the US, towing the burnt out hulk of a car blown up in a Baghdad market along with dozens of casualties. Accompanied by a US marine and an Iraqi citizen Deller wove his way across the country, pitching up in shopping malls and car parks, and using the wreckage, a trace of awful violence impossible to ignore, as a stimulus for discussion, ‘the conversation piece from hell.’
‘It is what it is’ caught our eye as a powerful and creative attempt to think with the core ideas of twinning (mutual understanding, empathy between citizens in different parts of the world) but also to think laterally beyond its current parameters. In a way it seems to be perfectly twinned with the impulse behind Tower Twinning, the citizen-led exchange between high rise residents proposed by our colleagues at The Islington Estate in Salford.