Up the Gunners
“My two initial thoughts about this project on meeting the team who organised it were: I can’t do all of this alone and the fans have to be involved from the beginning.” When renowned Turner-Prize-winning artist Jeremy Deller was approached to create the new stadium artwork for Arsenal FC, he immediately wanted to involve those who hold the club so close to their hearts. Together with artist Reuben Dangoor, graphic designer David Rudnick, Arsenal legends and a load of passionate fans, the team created a series of works that represent Arsenal as a unified community, through epochs, cultures, kits, managers, teams, highs and lows.
Amongst the works, one mural titled Remember Who You Are portrays the famous East Stand of Arsenal’s former Highbury stadium, with iconic figures from the club’s history standing in its windows, including Alan Smith, Ian Wright, Faye White and Arsène Wenger. While in Victoria Concordia Crescit (meaning ‘victory grows out of harmony’, written on the club’s badge), former players stand ready for battle alongside the cannons from Arsenal’s synonymous emblem, created in the style of a neoclassical French revolutionary painting. Invincible immortalises two of the club’s greatest sides, the women’s Champions League winning team of 2006/07 and the men’s invincible Premier League season of 2003/04, and We All Follow The Arsenal is a vast tapestry of fan scarves embroidered with where they are in the world.
Throughout his career, Deller has explored cultures, communities and fandom – whether that’s staging a public re-enactment of a confrontation from the 1984 Miners’ Strike, chronicling Depeche Mode fans around the world, or collecting folk art from across the UK for his visual account, Folk Archive. This latest project with Arsenal plants another flag in Deller’s cultural documentation; creating a symbol of allegiance and acceptance – a piece of art for the fans, by the fans.
Alex James Tayor: I’m interested to hear about that initial fan forum meeting – what words and emotions came from the fans? How did that meeting help guide the project?
Jeremy Deller: It was held in the Tollington pub near my flat on the Holloway Road, and my two initial thoughts about this project on meeting the team who organised it were: I can’t do all of this alone and the fans have to be involved from the beginning. Having said that, I didn’t know what to expect from the first meeting as it was packed with representatives of many supporters’ groups who were themselves representing thousands of fans. It was an intelligence-gathering operation to get the temperature of what supporters felt about the club, its culture, history and future, which was very helpful for me.
I can’t remember specific words, but the emotion was of course a love for the club and hopefully a mutual trust between the team commissioned to do this and the supporters’ groups themselves.
“people will come to the stadium in a form of pilgrimage and see themselves represented.”
AJT: Your work often centres around movements and communities – how does football tribalism feed into this? And how important was it to have the Arsenal community involved?
JD: If the fans were not involved or considered I would not have been comfortable working on the project. However, this was never going to happen and luckily the team and I were on the same page as this. My work often involves the public and communities with specific interests, alongside fan culture in general, so I am quite experienced being in a room full of strangers effectively, who have great knowledge about something I don’t. I understand these passions and identify with them even though I do not follow them in depth personally.
AJT: The work is incredible, it really creates this epic, folklore-inspired tapestry that reminds me of your Folk Archive project – this idea of generations passing down traditions, rituals, and paraphernalia. How do you see this project relating to ideas of folk, especially in terms of your own work?
JD: Well, it’s very close. You could say where there are people with passions, there will be art, so football is fertile ground for this obviously.
The banners I got made are by Ed Hall, who is a craftsman we showed in the Folk Archive exhibition – there is a direct connection as Ed makes Trade Union banners, which I consider to be classic works of folk art. With this project, I was keen to bring the handmade aesthetic in because people can notice the skill within the craft and it counteracts the corporate look that doesn’t represent the supporter terrace style banner style.
“I’ll be able to see my work from my flat as I have a view of the stadium”
‘Remember Who You Are’
AJT: You’ve previously explored football culture through projects in terms of British culture, did working on this give you a greater insight into that world? Did anything surprise you or stand out?
JD: I have done a few football projects before but not much to be honest. Some work around Paul Gascoigne in the mid-90s as he was such an interesting character – English, epic and everyday.
I think what I got out of this project most was the people I worked with. From the fans to the team at Arsenal – by which I don’t mean the footballers – there was a dynamic relationship between the different elements, which I enjoyed as I was in a world that was new to me at all levels. It was like being on holiday from the art world, even though it was work and we put on an exhibition at the end of the process.
AJT: What was the process with the flag tapestry? How did you collect all the flags from the different fan groups?
JD: To be honest the team at Arsenal got on with that. It was one of the first things we talked about as it’s like an alternative map of the world in a sense. It’s the world of Arsenal, and at the exhibition people were posing and pointing with their country or city flag. Even Martin Odegaard, the captain of the team, did this, so when it goes up people will come to the stadium in a form of pilgrimage and see themselves represented.
It’s like a mirror to the fans effectively and a recognition of the team’s reach. I am very happy with that work and how people really took to it.
AJT: Being an Islington resident, how will it feel to see the work on the stadium and see the crowds gather below it each game day?
JD: Well, I’ll be able to see my work from my flat as I have a view of the stadium, so that’s kind of amazing to be honest, and for it to be part of the London landscape for me as a Londoner is quite special.
One of the banners I worked on reads ‘Welcome to North London Home of the Arsenal’ and will be placed on the stadium so it is viewable from every train that arrives into Kings Cross. That was important for me to welcome people to London regardless of their allegiances. It also marks a place and a city where it is normally unusual to have messages of ‘welcome’ visible as it is viewed from trains as opposed to roads, but this piece does that in a unique and special way.
‘Come To See The Arsenal’