Like the lines of a family tree, Jeremy Deller uses artworks, objects and historical accounts to create a personal view of the cultural, sociological and technological impact of the Industrial Revolution today.
The cities of Manchester, Preston and Salford, among others, provide Deller with a wealth of material and bring an interesting local perspective to the exhibition. A set of rules from c.1830 for the workers in the Church Street Mills in Preston acts as a particularly chilling reminder of factory working conditions of the 19th century – while contemporary working conditions are also a focus through the work of Ben Roberts and Ed Hall, with Roberts' photographs of Amazon.com’s cavernous warehouses presenting a shiny, sterile working environment that is not that far removed from the 19th-century Mills. Hall’s banner, emblazoned with a text sent to a worker on a zero-hour contract, hangs next to an Amalgamated Engineers Union banner from the 1890s that conversely celebrates the working week shortening by one hour. Images and ideas reoccur throughout the exhibition; the apocalyptic fires in John Martin’s The Destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah are repeated in the video of a steelworks in 1945, and again in a mural behind a jukebox full of folk songs and industrial sounds. It is through this repetition that Deller is able to finely tune his narrative.
Today's audiences are all too familiar with the idea of the rise of a 'nobody' to a celebrity (see: The X Factor). Here, Deller tracks Brian Ferry, Shaun Ryder and Noddy Holder through their family's working history. All three from industrial working class origins, they have become world-famous rock stars transcending their family lineage – and their family trees echo the story of wrestler Adrian Street, which is played out in a film made by Deller.
Connecting the past with the contemporary general public is a major role that museums play, and for All That Is Solid Melts Into Air, Deller performs the role of curator, historian and socio-cultural anthropologist, successfully collecting ideas and narratives to create an aesthetic experience that captures the past and connects it in new ways to our present. [Ali Gunn]