Battle of Orgreave, June 1984

This second episode introduces a link between collective identity and its history connected to traumatic historical events.

Jeremy Deller, a British artist created The Re-enactment which concerns a period that had a deep impact on the collective identity of social history in England. This work refers to the battle of Orgreave in 1984 in which the National Union of Mineworkers went on decisive confrontational strike which lasted for over a year, and culminated in a brutal and bloody police cavalry charge that left 70 people hospitalized and 93 arrested: “This battle was the most bitterly fought since the general strike of 1926, marking a turning point in the struggle between the government and the trade union movement.”1

Jeremy Deller : “It would not be an exaggeration to say that the strike, like a civil war, had a traumatically divisive effect at all levels of life in the UK (…) After a year of archive reading, listening and interviewing people, many of those involved, the re-enactment finally did take place on, or as close to as possible, the original site with over 800 participants. Many of these participants were former miners (and a few former policemen) who were re-living events from 1984 that they themselves took part in.”2
Mike Figgis directed a movie that includes interviews of the participants with archive images of that event.
This artwork is linked to the representation of the memory of the history as much as the collective trauma. On the one hand, it appeared with the violence from the suddenness of the shock, which is connected to the definition of trauma. And on the other hand it went because the English media strongly denied the impact and strength of this battle, obscuring it inside of their news-making. In consequence, the arrested and injured men could not have defined and recognized themselves as victims.
We can define trauma as a sudden event associated with a feeling of helplessness with an impact that is overwhelming the psychic system. The suddenness is one of the most important keys to understanding the process of the trauma. During it the shock is as strong as the mental protection mechanism repressing every connected emotion. This can explain the time of “no emotion” for the traumatized person insofar as they can not even remember any visual or emotional remembrance.

In The Re-enactment, the participants can have the opportunity to re-live this traumatic historical moment and be able to re-connect the emotions linked to this reality. Re-opening the history can allow taking control of the memory, especially the traumatic one. Even more The Re-enactment has allowed the English media the chance to reconsider the victims as they were. More than simply allowing the cathartic effect of this reconstitution, re-living the historical event can open up and access collective memory as much as collective identity.

The different changes of collective identity can be observed through different facets - to the past as well as to the future, but as well to inside the different generations of the Miners. This historical battle had the effect of a break inside of the worker’s union identity. Deller’s work questions the relevancy of the worker’s unions in the face of the Globalization process: what ways and what forms of resistance and opposition can one find to face this? With this work, the artist built bridges between collective memory and new collective identity.
But it asks the question of a new representation of resistance especially directed towards the international economic market, which is not well defined nor clearly identified.

In my upcoming episodes, I would like to consider other examples of struggles, who work against the history of collective identity as alienating and paralyzing, as is often the case when connected to a trauma.
Some of my interests include, for example, the pacifist “Refuzniks”3, citizens who refuse to serve in the Israeli army, represent a form of resistance to the alienation of collective identity that would deny any individuality. The trauma would be linked to the traumatic historical event in the Jewish history, the Holocaust which galvanized the establishment of the State of Israel and so brings to that society, an irrational fear by the Refuzniks specific refusal to all war - and in particular the occupation of the Palestinian.

As well, “Interapy”4 is a group of German researchers (BZFO), who used the Web as a way to support the victims of trauma (war experiences, witnessing or being the victim of violence, severe sickness, participation in a violent conflict, the death of a loved one, traffic accidents…) in Iraq.
The treatment is based on internet writing therapy and is composed by three phases: self confrontation, cognitive restructuring and parting.
The first one goes through writing down any details of the trauma, linked to the emotional and most painful memories.
The second one proposes to identify themselves as a victim in writing letter to other victims by giving them advices. The last one would be to also write a letter but as a memory letter. Each phase is composed by different writing moments with the therapist. Their goal is to ask the patients to re-live by writing the violence of their memories, in a kind of reconnection to reality.

  2. Jeremy Deller, Introduction to The English Civil War Part II: Personal Accounts of the 1984-85 Miners’ Strike by Jeremy

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