Jeremy Deller on the impact of industrialisation

A two-part review, firstly from Seb C, with additional material in the PDF attachment at the bottom from Ann S.

Jeremy Deller: The Return To Benyon’s Colliery (1973). Deller’s father pictured in a South Wales coal mine with Adrian Street as a glam rock figure. (picture via Silvielyn’s Blog)

‘All That Is Solid Melts Into Air’ is a multimedia exhibition by artist Jeremy Deller that attempts to demonstrate the impact of industrialisation on the British workers’ culture and psyche, drawing from an array of illustrations, books and augmented with a jukebox belting out a collection of workers songs to really present a strong image of how industry transformed and transforms the world around work for people alive both then and now.

Starting from landscape engravings and diagrams of new sewer systems Jeremy demonstrates the physical changes of the landscape caused by industry before taking us right to the human element with postings of factory rules from around 1830 (demonstrating the power of the owners compared to the workers and some commented that such clauses were still included in contracts today….), portraits of the average workers and an incredible half-hour film of steel production in Britain in 1945 (well worth watching by itself) as workmen craft steel from start to finish. The walls are plastered with broadsides, song-sheets to be sung in public to inform the illiterate passersby of news and laments about the conditions they were working under and the family trees of several musicians show the industrial heritage of such stars, going from blacksmith to Noddy Holder. Signs on the walls link the modern entertainment industry that we know to the rise of music halls and bands to old street gangs in urban environments as the Happy Mondays see Salford in 1987 captured in photographs.

This link from the past to the present is handled very well, linking the conditions the workers of old faced to modern day conditions very well. A timekeeping punch-clock used to track workers hours is set next to a electronic personal tagging device used in warehouses to track worker efficiency, a great woven banner typical of trade unions is instead emblazoned with the words  ‘Hello, today you have day off’ which is revealed to be a text sent to a 0 hours contract worker in 2013. Next to it a cardboard cut out of a working woman stands next to quotes supposedly from a workforce stating their love for working for Amazon and saying they miss it when they aren’t there. The words of a broadside written in 1873 describe the futuristic world of 1973 accompanied by footage from that year. Finally there is a video interview of Adrian Street, miner turned professional wrestler, who bares his soul in parts to describe how he took himself out of the pits and entered the ring.  These powerful transpositions and transformations create a genuine link between how generations past lived and how their lives created even the most modern aspects of our work and entertainment today. Each piece is interesting in its own way, frequently amusing or raising one emotion or another, and the exhibition overall is welcoming, accessible and enthralling.

The exhibition is travelling to Nottingham, Coventry and Newcastle in the coming year and if possible I would recommend everyone attempt to see it. For some pictures of some of the exhibits please read the accompanying PDF, which you can read here.


  1. Hi Seb, great review of this exhibition. I have been trying to find which 19th-century paintings were exhibited, and was delighted to see that there was an accompanying PDF. Unfortunately, the link to the PDF doesn’t work. Would it be possible to fix the link.


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