As it rattled through the 1800s, The Industrial Revolution was a turning point in British history, leaving not a corner of society unaffected. With its dawn in 1760, most of the landscape and its people were to change forever and, for some communities, the transformation was shockingly abrupt.
Now a new touring exhibition by 2004 Turner Prize-winning artist Jeremy Deller explores its impact on popular culture, and his personal take on the mighty subject – with the help of film, photography and music – captures its lasting influence on us today.
Deller is best known for his re-enactment of The Battle of Orgreave – the name given to the clash between police and miners outside a steel plant in South Yorkshire during the 1984 Miners’ Strike – which was filmed by Mike Figgis, and he represented Britain in last year’s Venice Biennale with an exhibition featuring jailed ex-soldiers of the Iraqi conflict.
So, when All That Is Solid Melts Into Air opens at Laing Art Gallery in Newcastle on July 12, we can expect similarly thought-provoking content. A Hayward Touring exhibition from Southbank Centre in London, it takes its title from the Communist Manifesto by Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels, which was also adopted by philosopher Marshall Berman for his 1982 academic text about social and economic modernisation.
Curate Deller uses it to explore how the Industrial Revolution and chaotic urbanisation affected our society, tracing lines of cultural history like a “social cartographer” through a range of 19th-century images and objects.
These range from the likes of Victorian paintings capturing the early industrial era to a photograph taken in 1973 of a Welshman called Adrian Street who was born into a mining family but broke away from a life down the pit to become a flamboyant androgynous international wrestler. Among the represented working-class communities, with their generations of factory and mill-workers, is the world captured by James Sharples, a 19th -century blacksmith and self-taught painter from Blackburn whose much-reproduced scene of The Forge is instantly recognisable.
Laing Art Gallery contributes one of its own famous works to the show: the apocalyptic painting The Destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah by John Martin, which apparently caused Victorian ladies to faint on first sight of its swirling, terrifying, red flames.
Also set to get the heart thumping will be contemporary music: film and sound installations of industrial folk music and the incessant rhythms and racket of the factory floor, as well as heavy metal and glam rock.
All That Is Solid Melts Into Air will run at Laing Art Gallery from July 12 until October 26.