Venice Biennale: Jeremy Deller's British pavilion declares war on wealth

From wildlife attacking the super-rich to a mural of Roman Abramovich's yacht being cast into the waves, Deller's British pavilion strikes a combative note

Jeremy Deller's British pavilion at Venice is about money and magic, heritage and horror. The artist's enthusiasms as well as his politics suffuse a complex and timely show that can make you feel both light of step and heavy of heart. Did our English warrior prince Harry and a mate shoot a couple of protected hen harriers, which inconveniently like to dine on grouse, on the Sandringham estate in 2007? A huge mural of one of the birds, with a Range Rover clasped in its talons, fills one wall. Elsewhere, you can sit on a bench made from a pulverised four-wheel drive and watch more Chelsea tractors being sent into the crusher as a steel orchestra plays Ralph Vaughan Williams and A Guy Called Gerald, and Bowie's The Man Who Sold the World. A tawny owl flaps by. This is the end of England, with the lord mayor's procession and a bit of birdwatching thrown in.

Deller punctuates his show with murals. He imagines the Channel Island tax-haven Jersey on fire, the banks and financial institutions of St Helier consumed in a future insurrection. Victorian social reformer William Morris returns from the dead to hurl Roman Abramovich's vast yacht Luna, which blighted the waterfront beside the Giardini at the 2011 Venice Biennale, into the waves.

You can hold Neolithic and Paleolithic axes, found in the Thames Valley and borrowed from the Museum of London, feeling the weight of ancient history in your hand. One flint weapon is so old it was fashioned by a pre-human. On his 1973 Ziggy Stardust tour, David Bowie was definitely post-human. Photos of the tour, of the artist and his fans, are juxtaposed here with images from the Northern Ireland streets during the Troubles, industrial labour disputes on English soil, strikes and demonstrations from the same year.

Deller brings us back to the present with drawings by convicted British soldiers, imprisoned for various crimes after their return from our current wars. A couple of squaddies smoke crack at Wellington Barracks the night before deployment. A soldier in full kit hides under a camp bed in Basra during an enemy attack. Portraits of an evil-looking Tony Blair and of the late Dr David Kelly remind us of our unfinished and interminable travails. Oh to be in Venice, now that Deller's here.


Adrian Searle

The GuardianTramp

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