It surely helps that, even though Deller is the artist of record, he contracted Mike Figgis (Leaving Las Vegas) to direct The Battle of Orgreave. The film cuts back and forth between the re-enactment and reminiscing miners to develop an oral, people’s history that often contrasts with the official version. In one instance, the video presents the text of an apology the BBC made in 1991 for switching the order of news footage to suggest that miners threw stones at police before police made their initial charge, when in fact the police charged first.
On a grassy field near the site of the original clash, miners chant, “The miners/United/Will never be defeated!” Police drum on their shields. Miners throw (fake) bricks, but they’re outgunned by police with their helmets, shields, clubs, and charging horses. It’s mediæval warfare. Police funnel the miners into the narrow streets of the village. Mounted police scatter picketers. Officers on foot charge forward, clubbing strikers. The miners yell and kick and punch and hurl stones. A car burns. “We weren’t victims all the time,” says one codger. “We gave them a bit back sometimes. In fact, we sometimes gave them a bit back first.” Thatcher, in a recording about the strikes from the time, proclaims, “Violence and intimidation here are the enemy of democracy.”
Most heartrending are the recollections of a man whose father worked in coal pits for 46 years, whose brother was a miner, and who himself was a miner before he gave it up to become a policeman. He wound up participating in the Orgreave clash as a uniformed officer, and he admits to getting “pissed off” when a fellow officer was badly wounded by a brick. But later he says, “One of the reasons I joined the police was that I wanted to do something for the community I came from. And thanks to Margaret Thatcher I did — I helped destroy it.”
When at the top of this article I suggested that you could skip the rest of the show, I was perhaps a bit hasty. Let’s just say that you don’t need to spend a lot of time with it. “The World As a Stage” was organized by two Tate Modern curators, one of them Jessica Morgan, a former ICA curator who put together shows here of many of the artists who are now keystones of the museum’s permanent collection. Its cast of 16 international artists incorporate props, acting, costumes, and other trappings and tactics of theater, and they reshuffle them, the wall text explains, “in ways that blur the lines between artifice and reality” and thereby reflect “how life and art are experienced in our spectacle-soaked era.”
Rita McBride offers bleachers that, when you sit down, are supposed to make you feel that you’re part of an audience and that the other museum visitors are performers. Ulla von Brandenburg hangs a large curtain to make you think of the sense of anticipation you feel when you’re sitting in a theater waiting to see what’s behind the curtain. Jeppe Hein presents a walk-in carousel of very slowly rotating mirrors. Pawel Althamer leaves a pile of clothes and props on the floor that he used to take on the character of a businessman — and talk about the public roles we play every day — during a business-funded art residency in Berlin. These things are supposed to open our doors of perception or something, but they feel like empty arty drivel.