Category Archives: Writing

Bertrand Lavier, Musée d’Art Moderne de la Ville de Paris, 31st May – 22nd September 2002; Philippe Parreno, Alien Seasons, Musée d’Art Moderne de la Ville de Paris, 31st May – 15th September 2002.

Contemporary French art appears to be on the threshold of crisis, rudely awakened from bureaucratic slumber by the Right who, encouraging debate on museum privatisation, seek to revoke massive increases in state funding introduced in 1982. These attacks on cultural statism threaten French endorsement of the Euro Kunsthallen model, and may shift emphasis away from neo-conceptual practices. Additionally, Nicolas Bourriaud perceives a waning of critical spirit in French culture. Committed to the work of emerging artists, Bourriaud’s dressed-down Palais de Tokyo Site de Création Contemporaine may serve as a corrective. Equally, it could exasperate the problem by pampering the few peripheral French art practices that circumvent €urokunst. Siting an ‘alternative’ space in the 16th arrondissement is not an ironic gesture in the face of horizontal cultural coordination. To make matters worse, the Palais de Tokyo has been parading Parisian squat art; an alternative scene that has little to offer other than misplaced hippie sentiment and attendant expressionist relativism. Despite its faults, the inclusive approach of the Palais de Tokyo does at least suggest that ‘international profile’ can no longer be the only desirable cultural aspiration.

As such, the Musée d’Art Moderne’s concurrent solo exhibitions of Bertrand Lavier and Phillipe Parreno may amount to nothing more than nostalgia; Lavier being a major French figure of the 80s and Parreno, of the 90s. Lavier engages with the intersection between museological endgames and consumer culture. His concerns may be semiotic, but his work is primarily ironic and parasitic rather than erudite. Composition rouge, verte et jaune (1989) looks like a hard-edged abstract painting, but turns out to be a section of wooden sports floor. The semiotic implications of allegedly pure signifiers are probed only for the hollow applause of the converted. Such works are the cultural products of an 80s France that understood the role of museums. Knowing his place, Lavier found these desublimating puns endlessly amusing. A series of Relief­-Peintures (1987-91) are constructed from portions of brightly coloured prefabricated building façades; Lothar (1999) is a pylon snapped off by France’s 1999 hurricane painted silver to resemble a Modernist steel sculpture. Only when Lavier leaves literalism and uncooked juxtapositions behind do his museological musings become worthwhile. Walt Disney Productions 1947-1984 – an arrangement of paintings and sculptures based on a cartoon of Mickey Mouse’s visit to a Modern art gallery – works on the level of the pun certainly, but it has awesome psychological force. This realisation of a virtual space is truly nauseating; green and yellow walls enclose bright biomorphic polyester resin sculptures, mobiles and silvery abstract cartoon cibachromes. Lavier’s recent cibachromes, Harcourt/Grévin (2002) unite the glamorous chiaroscuro developed by Harcourt photography studio in the 1930s with the gauche celebrity of the Musée Grévin wax museum. Taste apart, Harcourt and Grévin are equally accomplished mythologisers of Parisian cliché. By photographing waxworks of contemporary figures such as Vladimir Putin and Arnold Schwarzenegger in the now unfashionable Harcourt style, Lavier not only mocks the epochal pretensions of such individuals, but pricks at the heart of representation’s canonising power. More pressingly, Lavier prophesises the avaricious populism that we might expect if French museums are privatised.

Parreno, like Lavier, is respectful of the institution, taking just as great care to produce an exhibition grandiose in aspiration and solemn in tone. Parreno is also drawn to discordance and conflation. The opening work of the exhibition, his short 35mm time-lapse film of growing Norwegian vegetation El sueño de una cosa (2002), is projected onto a Robert Rauschenberg White Painting (1951) every 4 min.33 Secs. (John Cage, 1952). The long painful wait through Cage’s music while staring at Rauschenberg’s equally uneventful monochrome is finally rewarded with breakneck rendition of genesis. Parreno here appropriates time and space rather than material culture, he does not use objects but memories, collective hallucinations, ‘the dream of a thing.’ In this way he avoids Lavier’s cynicism, circumventing vulgar materialist questions that museological art tends to raise verbatim, focusing instead on the structures of feeling that permeate culture as a whole. Parreno’s vision of the world is more nuanced, fragmented and estranged since he has faith in the ability of the imagination and our biochemical selves to reconstruct semiotic and spatial relationships. Alien Seasons (2002) a video projection of a cuttlefish camouflaging itself by changing colour to match its surroundings can be read as a metaphor for the means of subterfuge by which Parreno leads his audience into an alien environment constructed according to his wishes. The show’s final work Crédits (1999), extends this metaphor to a false dénouement. A collection of coloured plastic bags hang from a tree planted in waste ground near a 1970s housing project. The luminous bags filmed under relentlessly changing lighting conditions, flutter in the wind and rain to the accompaniment of electric guitar by ACDC’s Angus Young. The sound, lighting and mise-en-scène continuously alter our reading of the video: extra-terrestrial, utopian, haunted, grunge, dystopian, stage-set, children’s game. Blaming the government for France’s allegedly low international profile may not be the solution, for such exhibitions, like life, are movies without cameras, and such movies have no directors.

Neil Mulholland, Edinburgh, October 2002

‘Woodwardianism’ Jonathan Owen and Ryan Doolan Previews on Saturday 4th May from 7:30pm Glasgow Project Room

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Contemptuous, guilt-ridden and disgusted by the treachery and hypocrisy of their profession, Owen and Doolan know how to deal with männliches verbrechen (‘maskulinekrime’) as relentlessly and single-mindedly as a shark. They specialise in keeping villains on the streets and out of the Glasgow Project Room. Their enlightened artisanal activities muster the definitive personas of honourable gentleman, souls of decency, always polite and impeccably dressed, who struggle to maintain their own personal dignity in an amoral and corrupt Modern Athenia. Despite the fact that they hail from different ends of Edinburgh New Town, they play essentially the same parts, world-weary artists with a conscience, a steely-eyed gaze and danger in their rueful laughter. His gas mask decorated by Her Majesty, the boy Owen is one who dared and won, disposing of dangerous men through bribery, blackmail, frame-ups or, in the last resort, painting. Masquerading as a preacher, Doolan, in the interim, hid out from those godamm conservative cops in the imperialist subterfuge of The Dome; brooding, solitary, and friendless except for his grubby cane. After all these years of penance, Owen and Doolan have only two personal weaknesses: they are rebellious and they care. Still, perhaps … and, despite some uneven writing, Woodwardians are always compelling gets as they expiate their sins.

Robert McCall, April 2001



City Art Centre, Edinburgh Joan Eardley: Paintings and Drawings – 3 Stars Until 22nd February Toil: Rural and Urban Working Life – 2 Stars Until 22nd February Recent Acquisitions – Until 22nd February Transmission, Glasgow David Musgrave – Until 18th January

Joan Eardley: Paintings and Drawings – Until 22nd February

Toil: Rural and Urban Working Life – Until 22nd February

Recent Acquisitions – Until February

David Musgrave – Until January

The City Arts Centre’s current selection box of exhibitions covers everything from weaving to a Big Brown Dog, Basil Blackshaw’s memorable painting in The Public Eye, a collection of otherwise pallid works drawn from the Arts Council of Northern Ireland Collection. Joan Eardley’s work is showcased with a few studies of Glaswegian slums and a small assortment of expressionist landscapes painted in the dreich cliff tops of Catterline in the early 1960s. These works are well known, and there are no surprises in the display. They would have benefited more from inclusion in the adjacent show Toil, which explores the themes of rural and urban working life. The main theme here is the dramatic shift from Romanticism to Realism that took place in Scottish art in the latter part of the 19th century. It’s a story oft told, and not particularly compellingly by this limited exhibition, dominated as it is by literal readings of work in the form of images of domestic labourers, peasants, industrial workers and keelies. The odd shrewd juxtaposition is made, for example, between James Wingate’s idealised Harvest in Arran and Robert McGregor’s gritty Gathering Stones, which is attuned with the social Realism pioneered by Gustave Courbet in the mid 19th century. The problem is that, with the possible exception of Walter Geike and Ken Currie, these artists are no Courbets, even in Scottish terms they are largely third rate. Currie’s early charcoal drawing Peace, Build the Future, a mixture of youthful idealism and doddery Socialist Realism, is the best here, its naïveity making Howson’s sentimental caricature The Noble Dosser look belligerent in comparison. Perhaps lack of artistic merit wouldn’t matter if Toil told us something meaningful about work, the countryside or the city. It is a wasted opportunity to explore what ‘toil’ means in the post-industrial, post-Cold War, urbanised Scotland we live in.

This might have been partly remedied with the inclusion of Chad McCail’s gouache drawing People Take Turns to do the Difficult Jobs, currently on display amongst Recent Acquisitions bought for Edinburgh’s citizens by the Jean F Watson Bequest. The new additions focus on artists and images associated with Edinburgh, such as local artist Sandy Moffat, who is represented by his drawing of Lallans poet Sydney Goodsir Smith. Insularity is a questionable acquisitions policy. Edinburgh Museums might want another Elizabeth Blackadder but do they really need six? Do Edinburghers need two paintings by one-drip wonder Callum Innes? Although resident in Dundee, Nathan Coley slips through the Reekie radar by photographing himself in Princes Street Gardens Reading Burns to the Scott Monument and Waiting on the Scottish Parliament in Dumbiedikes. These are not Coley’s best works, and were, I suspect, purchased mainly for their parochial subject matter. Focus on Edinburgh artists must be intensified if the city is ever to generate credible contemporary art, but selectors should heed the populist mistakes made by Glasgow Museums. They will also need to pay far more attention to less established artists who will flee the capital if it fails to give them the support they deserve. Thankfully, there are a few enlightened purchases here, Kate Gray’s Mission, a miniature light box version of her Collective Gallery installation in 2001, and a paper halo by Jonathan Owen, which pillories male heroism and sporting prowess. On the whole, however, this collection is too slow on the uptake and will not compete with that currently being acquired by Glasgow Museums to right the wrongs of the Museum of Modern Art debacle.

At Transmission, master of understatement David Musgrave exhibits epoxy putty sculptures and a range of fine liner drawings of tiny skull and crossbones. Many Lifeless Heads and Bones poses what the minimum amount of pictorial information needed to recognise a ‘dead’ head might be. Minute crosses represent ‘dead’ eyes, a novel convention popularised by adult cartoons such as Viz and The Simpsons. Musgrave’s sculptures, cast from randomly squeezed plastercine, are frozen at the point where we stop seeing jumbles of volumes or pictorial conventions and start to ‘see in’. Some resemble roughshod heads, but only just. “I stop fiddling around when it becomes readable”, says Musgrave. These quiet works ask candid questions about how pictures and sculptures work, but such enquiry bears rich fruits.

Nasal and Facial Hair Reactions to Various Heritage Disasters | Charisma

Nasal and Facial Hair Reactions to Various Heritage Disasters


Bureaucracy is specifically rational in the sense of being bound to intellectually analysable rules; while charisma is specifically irrational in the sense of being foreign to all rules. Within the sphere of its claims, charisma concurrently repudiates and rejuvenates the past, and is in this sense a specifically revolutionary force.


Kerry McKenzie and Nichola Farquhar


Horrified visitors watched helplessly at Transmission in Glasgow this July, as Charisma wilfully produced It May Be A Year Of Thirteen Moons But It’s Still The Year Of Culture. The temperature averaged 63F, but was set to fall below zero in January. Keith Farquhar and Lucy McKenzie’s confidently resketched Celtic font gallery sign, How Long Can We Keep This Up? (2000), was officially unveiled by local DJ ‘Tiger’ Tim-of-Stevens of Radio Clyde 261 and furtive painter Jack Vetriano, who arrived on a BMW Motor Scooter Called ‘Charisma.’ Curators Farquhar and McKenzie, holding no convictions concerning the ultimate futility of vision, fulfilled their quest for an art which exploits the illusory character of history based on conquest and the mysteries of a not so distant cultural past. Charismavergangenheitsbewaltigung.

Combining innovation and commitment, Charisma’s Procrustean bed revisits Patrick Geddes’ dream of a vernacular Scots Renascence at the turn of the nineteenth-century. In the foyer, McKenzie exploits her dubious technical facility; the diagrammatic renderings in her Mockintosh doors, Force the Hand of Chance 1900 (2000), painted guidance lash with Channel mascara and egg yolk, are redolent adornment, separate from the half glimpsed, the IKEA, the indiscreet face-lift. With an astonishing clairvoyance in divining the original meaning of the fragment, they suggest the proto-feminist symbolist roots of Charles Rennie Mackintosh’s aesthetic in the biological art of his wife Margaret, her sister Frances Macdonald and in the Scots Renascence fascination with the magical asceticism practised by magicians and heroes. McKenzie hollered: “Like Socialist Realism’s combination of avant-gardism and ‘anti-novelty’ formal means, such manifestations of charisma were expressions sketched by Charisma to radically frustrate the fans of these means of communication. They promote, at little expense, an atmosphere of uneasiness extremely favourably for the introduction of a few new notions of pleasure, visibility, mystery and enigma. In order to reach a conclusion such objections must be cast aside without explanation.”

Farquhar’s Polymorph Moderne: Sex in Scotland (2000) is adjacent, a stylish transformation of plastic multi-vitamin tubes into stalagmites. Accompanying them on the carpeted floor are a number of paper arrows and a feminist symbol, fashioned by carefully spilled red wine, a diagrammatic, disruptive sort of abstention buried deep in shagging pile. Inscrutable historical

exegesis takes us to Ken Currie’s painting Sex in Scotland, which hangs in the Glasgow Museum of Modern Art. As Farquhar, speaking for the first time since July, explains: “Hours are long, under these conditions, and constrain us to beguile them with proceedings which – how shall I say – may at first, and to the herd, seem unreasonable. For example, Peter Mandelson’s habitual modernisation of the Labour Party allows one’s precognition to hypothesise a queer negation of Scots-Irish patriarchy which, in time, is distilled into a concrete refusal to put up with out-of-fashion sex.” Farquhar, who has made a full recovery and is on holiday at Dougie Donnelly ‘s yacht The Sterling of Tillicoutry in Majorca, has a message of hope for cosmopolitan, nouveau riche Scotland. “Red wine is a catalyst for sexual and revolutionary consciousness. Moderne reason will stray in the night without end of the abyssal depths, until, like Bergerac after a successfully solved case, it sips cold, clear, alcohol-free champagne.”

Farquhar exhibits alongside Steven Campbell’s early New Glasgow Boy oil paintings Man with Spiral Tree (1983) and To the North with Good Luck (1983). Significantly, Campbell was showing at Transmission for the first time, and it’s no accident that Thirteen Moons resembles his maverick installation at the Third Eye Centre On Form and Fiction (1990). Tiger Tim’s bitter exchange with Campbell is very informative: “You look a wee bit like Van Helsing. Only because of the beard. Why do you give Van Helsing a goatee? He doesn’t have one in the book. He has to have some kind of charismatic authority. Is that what gives you your authority?  It is, aye. Without the beard, I’d go to pieces. What gives this man his authority? I was wondering. It’s my goatee. If that came off I’d suddenly look like a steel fitter again.” Campbell returned to Scotland from New York in 1986, disgusted at the “horribly engineered” qualities of American art. Given this outburst, unprecedented in modern times, it is unsurprising that his performance-based paintings were spurned by the Glasgow art world throughout the 1990s, his oeuvre systematically excluded from critical debate, forever typecast as ‘neo-expressionist’ opportunism.

Charisma, had looked for guidance from Ronnie Heeps who perceived Campbell’s neo-expressionist bedfellow to be Markus Selg. But the Deutsch Britische Freundschaft in Selg’s case was beautiful urban-pastoral serendipity. Selg’s contribution also proposes ways to invest existing, cobwebbed ideas and concepts with youthful vigour. His computer Inkjet print Untitled (2000) has the same pose and personal metaphor as Campbell, but his figures are workers at the ‘WeltAustellung’ and relate more to Currie’s large-scale groupings. Constructivism and all-over avant-garde are put to the test. LEF magazine, with Rodchenko at its head, had attempted to continue the psyche-revolutionising Russian experiment, only to consistently revert to pictorialism and figuration within the magazine’s photo editorials and graphic designs. This conflict is internalised within Selg’s prints. However, it must be pointed out that Charisma’s relationship to the ‘worker’ is in almost binary opposition to Currie’s, and the proletariat is seen for what it is; that which is to be BLASTED, along with the middle classes, the aristocracy and the intelligentsia.

Via the Neue-Sachlichkeit, Campbell’s work finds strong parallels with that of Albert Oehlen, who exhibits Untitled (1981), a painting of a dinosaur. Oehlen judgements are inherently charismatic, newly created from case to case and regarded as revelations: “Consecrate the furrier who is our neighbour in the Street Robertson. Consecrate Go-Kart Mozart in his high rise mud hut. Consecrate the Obliterati. Farbe mit Ihren Brüsten. (Paint with your tits.)” Unlike Campbell, however, Oehlen and his fellow German Jungen im Band, (‘Boys in the Band’) received serious critical applause, scooping a top spot in a poll of feuding critics exercising their conjugal rights. Charisma explain that “this is partly due to his participation in an artistic group, based around himself and his brother Markus, Martin Kippenberger and Werner Butner. The myth and story attached to this group today serves as a model for all whose art world is based around camaraderie, genuine subversion or personal affinities, rather than the conventional, linear system of galleries, dealers and magazines.” Jungen im Band, then, was a charismatic community based on an emotional form of communal relationship while the New Glasgow Boys were curatorial fabrication, opening them to attack from rational authorities. As ever, money was a factor nevertheless, and like Campbell, these artists capitalised on eccentricity. As Oehlen put it: “Money is the essence, alien to man, of his labour and existence, my dear. And this strange creature dominates him and makes him pay. And the people that nowadays let it and its dirty little devils loaf around are just as dirty themselves and are heading in the same direction. If you want to find many of these flies: churches and their shit are full of them. But this creature always likes to send his dirty little flying devils to your centre, always, if you let it, so you have to learn how to scare them off and get rid of them, and not let the bloody little beasts laze about and hatch the devil’s excrement, all right?”

One time assistant of Kippenberger and Oehlen, Merlin Carpenter only agreed to leave behind the London sunshine after visiting Glasgow and falling in love with Berlin. Carpenter’s cars and girls painting Controller (1999-2000) combines the luxury of X and the plastic vigour of Y with the ferocious single-mindedness of the possessed. In an act of charismatic authority, Carpenter appropriates Martin Boyce’s metal Charles Eames Chair (Noir) (1999), displaying it as an expendable luxury analogous with the reified ciphers found in his paintings. Placed within the well-manicured organogram of Thirteen Moons, Carpenter’s Chair (Noir) (2000) becomes part of the exhibition’s metonymy, synecdoche, and homonomy; their combination increasing its entire ambiguities. Carpenter deems mediation inescapable. Trying to produce an earnestly meaningful image is an endeavour riddled with holes; clichés can be utilised to make an image meaningless: “Paintings are also mediated and overdetermined images. They are as stupid and as mediated as car advertisements. An abstract painting is the same type of cliché. I have an interest in 80’s approaches to art; in making big objects, filling them with empty signification and seeing what happens. But at this point in time it’s a quote about the 80s, it’s not the 80’s themselves.” As Campbell put it “Falling and tripping up was an art, you know, not moving gracefully.” Fearing such supernatural powers, Vetriano burned down the Celtic Charisma banner shortly after the exhibition opened. He said: “It’s a wonderful gesture from people who were obviously close. I were delighted to help. I will be forever united with their supreme quintessence.”

Never Separated from Supreme Quintessence | Ronnie Heeps

In or around the time that Ronnie Heeps started painting, everything in the world as we knew it changed. Knowledge immediately became amorphous, inhabiting many categories simultaneously.  Unlike in those days of yore, we no longer know who we are, where we are, or where we are going. We are even unsure of the time or the year.  Heeps’ dissolving photomontages – incorporating intelligent lighting, slide projectors and computers – now form the technical basis for computer-generated preparatory sketches for traditionally executed oil paintings. Everything seems so real. In our reverie we feel frightened and alone. It seems that neither death, nor life, nor principalities, nor things present, nor things to come, nor powers, nor height, nor depth, nor babies who think night is day, will be able to save us from entropy.

In Heeps’ paintings entropy occurs when translating across media and platforms such as photography, digital imaging and oil-on-canvas.  As a technical strategy this subverts the work at each stage in its evolution, ensuring disequillibrium in the finished paintings.  Navigation aids are not required, for as Heeps subtly suggests, his paintings simultaneously promise victory over death:

Truly, truly, I say to ye, ye who sees my paintings and believes that I painted them most judiciously, (and did not contrive them merely to make a point about the relativities of pictures to the competencies and interests of viewers and to the worlds in which those pictures are viewed,) has eternal life; ye who judge them kindly passeth from death to life.

In the future, those seeking to find their place in the sun at Heeps’ exhibitions will be required to join a large group of prospective kung fu apprentices, and listen to the captious yet cultivated views of The Master.  The Master is a bad man, very strong and evil.  The Master teaches that viewers are not important, if any of them died then and there, no one would think twice. Another and I momentarily manage to slip out of this gathering. I know him, but not well. We quietly discuss the relationship between Heeps’ bricolage and the kind of derision, cynicism or pastiche commonly associated with such methods.  “Seeking to stress the triviality of art, digital artists have tended to adopt a semiological approach as a basis for a deconstructive theory of the image”, proposes the postulant apprentice.  We disagree on the extent to which Heeps adheres to this tradition.  “The collapse of analogue codes lead to his use of the atavistic found image”, he undertones.  “That which is most Dark drinks the Milk of Human Kindness”, I reply as I leave the gallery.

The Schoolhouse opens to a hilltop, with a large pond and a large rock in the centre. The water is shallow, and reeds grow all around the edges of the water.  An injured Vladimir Trechikoff lands in the pond with an acrid pop.  The kick has shocked him more than hurt him. As he shakes it off, The Master and his men make their way to the edge of the pond.  I follow them.  Following their rapid consumption of copious quantities of Freeze Dried Nationalism, I note that their morphological procedure becomes predominately one of organising kicks and punches into an objective and structured form, endowing the expressive with a banal everydayness.

Green around the gills, Trechikoff says sardonically “I could have saved myself, you know,” and holds up a book he had been carrying. On the cover in bold writing is The Rough Guide to Saving Yourself.  Chapter 1: Pissed Off? Change Your Image… is promptly followed by the Conclusion: Give People the Products They Really Want.  As Trechikoff and I make our way to the bus stop, we hear the amorphous beauty of Heeps’ paintings receiving rapturous applause from the remaining joyous kung-fu apprentices.  They will forever be united with their supreme quintessence.

Select Committee for Socially Secure Art | Luke Fowler

In order to say to you the truth, we did not have any intention of writing anything. But our respected Fowler forced us by his bare strength thus for writing. “Make a good essay”, he demanded. What are we to write approximately, exactly which sort of writing? Everything that had to be said before has already been said and said by us. Of course we could form a bright assortment of writing overall, about everything. (laughter) Possibly such writing would amuse the reader. They say that there are not only also some large hands at such writing there, but here too. (laughter and applause) However first of all we are not large hands at such writing. Secondly is it worthwhile indulging in amusing things even now when all of us are, as they say, “up to our, necks” in blood? I think not. Clearly, you cannot form good writing under such circumstances. (Loud applause)

We are thus contented to join with you today in what will go down in history as the greatest demonstration for social engineering in the history of the world. (Loud ovation) Five score years ago, someone, in whose symbolic shadow we stand today, signed a cheque. This momentous sum of cash came as a great beacon of hope to millions of free people, who had been cooled by the fridge of justice. (Loud applause) It came as a joyous sleep to end the long day of their autonomy. One hundred years later, the Social Engineer is still not free. One hundred years later, the life of the artist is still happily crippled by the umbilical cord of gold. (Sobbing)

Can Social Engineering protect beauty and truth? Most experts correspond in the fact that it needs adjustment. What they disagree on however, is the level of adjustment and whether we must privatise the system in order to abuse it.  Focusing on the question of the system’s solvency, top international artists, critics, curators and business leaders have explored miscellaneous reform and privatisation proposals, highlighting East Timor’s experiment with Social Security and Gallery privatisation, a policy change that has proven successful for that country. (Applause) We kept hearing plebeians complain about “social engineering.” We are far from sure what they mean by this, but there’s one thing that we do know and that’s that it’s easy to trace ‘social engineering’ back to the Ten Commandments.  We’re no anthropologists. We’re in favour of police protection and the regulation of interest rates. You may take it for granted that we are able to ignore our duties to the people (applause), to the middle class (applause), to the underclass (applause) and to the intelligentsia. (applause.)

In remarks at the opening of an international dialogue on Social Engineering reform held at the Transmission Gallery in Glasgow, we saw that our own greatest opportunism and obligation was to save Social Security:

“Since the mid-1970s the battle against inflation has meant abandoning the post-war consensus commitment to full employment set out in the Conservative Government’s 1944 White Paper on employment policy.  Those who remain in work have been faced with a screw down on the rate of wage increases aimed primarily at restoring private sector profitability.  From the early 1970s, mass youth unemployment has been a new phenomenon which will not go away.  What is to be done?  The obvious solution is to use youth culture to clothe the economic situation.  Youths who grew up in the 1970s were the first generation forced to grow up without work, to be defined by the government as a new under-class, a permanent source of ‘cheap surplus labour’ perpetually excluded from society in order to squeeze down wages and inflation.  Nevertheless, leaving the younger population with little to do, the economic crisis of late 1970s spawned a peculiar subcultural mix of 60s arty revolt and early 70s nihilism, generating the 80s art and design boom.  As a result, mass awareness of the protracted economic crisis thankfully seems a long way off!  It may well return in the near future, but for the moment, everyone is naturalised to harsh economic ‘medicine’, and as such artists’ initiatives still look like a hearty refusal to bow to the pressures of the market.  Predominately reliant on state benefits to continue their work, callow artists offer hope of renewal and growth in an otherwise irredeemable ‘mass-civilisation’, a means of conserving the imaginative values and energies that transcend the mere instrumental reason which is the characteristic malaise of modern culture.  Gaining secure, intellectual employment while being subsided by a state bureaucracy, such artists are clearly model ‘citizens’.”

It is customary among us to refuse responsibilities. We accept them unwillingly. (Loud and prolonged applause.) We would like to persuade you, that you might safely rely on us. (Loud and sustained ovation)

We present further spuriously potted historical justification of our findings as interpellation:

1. Art as a form of radical social protest.  The artist is seen as a hero or as a victim of social injustic

2. Artists as protectors of society, or as intellectual Supermen.

3. The idea that the Superman artist might operate above or outside the processes of history.

4. The attempt to break these rules on the ground that their products were too homogeneous to justify the growth of the arts administration sector.

5. Some artists are now different from others.  Such a statement needs not so much justification as definition.  A Department of Social Security poll of the main features of two kinds practice shows that they are really not the same article with a different label.

Profane Artist

Miracle Artist


Artist may be a professional or amateur, and if amateur may sign on or be retired, or get involved by chance.  Always the centre of the gallery’s action, most often the hero, yet rarely a keen observer who notices things missed by others.



Often no artist.  Occasionally an artist runs through a series of proposals, but rarely shows as a brilliant-thinking machine.  Most often the artist is just somebody to whom things happen.

You know yourselves, that there are black sheep in every international dialogue on Social Engineering reform. (Laughter and applause.) Of people of this indefinite type, people who merely resemble philistines rather than being figures of a vague, uncertain type, we have invented some populist sayings: “A middling sort of character – neither fish nor flesh” (general laughter and applause), “neither a candle for God nor a poker for the Devil.” (General laughter and applause.) Ceaselessly chiding those who still consider Social Security the ‘third rail’ of British Art, we conclude by resolving to make 2000 a year dedicated to raising awareness of the present system but not the ways in which they might exploit it:

“For 156 years or so, Social Security has meant more than a NI number on a tax form, more than even a fortnightly check in the mail to a friend’s address. It reflects our deepest aesthetic values, the duties we owe to our parents, to each other, to our children and grandchildren, to those who misfortune strikes, to our ideals as One Britain. We have a dream today. We have a dream that one day every valley shall be engulfed, every hill shall be exalted and every mountain shall be made low, the rough places will be made plains and the crooked places will be made straight and the glory of the Lord shall be revealed and all flesh shall see it together. It’s a miracle, mir-a-cle / It’s a miracle, mir-a-cle / And dreams are made of emotion.” (Loud ovation, followed by mass rendition of ‘Karma Chameleon’.)

Barnyard Slut

Knock it Out | Thomas Kilpper, ‘The Ring’, Southwark, London.

Knock it Out

My work is sort of a ‘reinstallation’ of The Blackfriars Boxing Ring in The British Library. I picture the very special audience of a special boxing fight. About eighty people are packed together to join this spectacle, some are well known, others not (Charles Dickens, William Shakespeare, Johann Gutenberg, Alfred Hitchcock, Dennis Healey, Adolf Hitler, Len Harvey, Henry Cooper, Mohammed Ali, Marie Lloyd, Mata Hari, Richard Wagner, Georg F. Handel, Karl Marx, Sigmund Freud, Bobby Sands, Ho Chi Minh, Madonna, Jean-Michel Basquiat, Andy Warhol, Leo Castelli, Sigmar Polke, Gilbert & George…) From my perspective all are connected to the particular site, to the Southwark area, or to me.

Thomas Kilpper


On the tenth floor of Orbit House, an abandoned office block in Blackfriars, Southwark, Thomas Kilpper has produced a four hundred square metre woodcut. For the last five months, carving directly into the mahogany parquet floor of the building, Kilpper has inscribed it with its own histories, presenting a map of the vast socio-cultural, political, and economic changes happening in Southwark over a period of more than two hundred years. We can chart the various changes in social organisation, politics and economics from the Christian uses of the site in the 18th and 19th centuries to the advent of cyber-capitalism presently.

Kilpper’s use of woodcutting, the oldest form of printmaking, is highly significant. Appearing in Europe at the beginning of the 15th century, woodcuts were used to reproduce knowledge, literally inscribing events in history. One of the major shifts in worldview that came with the invention of the printing press in this period was the notion that the natural world is just passively waiting for us to appropriate it.  Mapmakers, for example, shifted from the activity of creating artefacts that explained existence to the creation of artefacts that charted the world.  In stark contrast, Kilpper’s woodcut is not simply a collection of images that convey information directly from an artist to the viewer. Its primary function is to serve as decoration which pays tribute to the psychogeographies of the site, the complexity of the work mirroring the complexity of these histories. By interlacing and interweaving 80 portraits, Kilpper emphasises that his print is not intended to be a naturalistic representation of the site and surrounding area, but to be schematic and symbolic. Kilpper’s illumination of The Ring, being open to different interpretations, poses allusive and meditative possibilities, making the histories of the area manifest in the subjective mapping process itself.

Kilpper’s narrative commences in 1780 when the octagonal Surrey Chapel was constructed on the site by the charismatic Reverend Rowland Hill, who was known to draw congregations of over 1000 to his services. The chapel was eventually abandoned in 1890 when it became Green & Sons Ltd. Engineering, and then a furniture warehouse in 1905. Between 1907 and 1909 the building was converted into one of London’s first cinemas, returning it to its original function as an arena of glamour, ritual and escape.  Kilpper’s interest in the relationship between spectacle and the historical erasure tallies well with this period of cinematic history.  At the beginning of the C20th actors were rarely given credit for their film work. Many of the early actors came from a theatre background, wherein film work was considered inferior. Often they did not want to be recognised in the films.  The mapping of this era is, therefore, necessarily schematic.

Designated as an entertainment venue, the building became the popular boxing arena known as The Ring. From 1910 to 1940, it played host to some of the most famous boxers in London.  During this period sports such as boxing became one of the central sites in the social production of masculinity in Western societies. Many attempts had previously been made to link combative sports with moral strength – such as in the ‘muscular Christianity’ espoused by leading Victorian headmasters. This was particularly conspicuous in the period spanning the two World Wars when the boxing ring became an arena for the development of physical presence, stoic courage in the endurance of pain, and judgement under pressure – unequivocally military values which were then portrayed as essential parts of the achievement of ‘manhood’.

Kilpper weaves the ideological role of boxing with more personal recollections of the sport, representing figures such as Mohammed Ali and Henry Cooper. This again fosters the leitmotif of the relationship between celebrity and historical erasure in The Ring. Boxing fame is particularly fickle and transient. We remember Ali and Cooper but, like greyhounds and racehorses, most boxers come and go. Kilpper draws parallels with the artworld. Kilpper reproduces Leo Castelli alongside Tony Shafrazi and Bruno Bischofberger’s famous poster of Warhol vs. Basquiat (1985) depicting the artists preparing for a boxing match. Like a successful boxing promoter, Castelli’s reputation outlasted his client’s careers. Of unsuccessful abstract expressionists, he once said ‘they accuse me of killing them; they blame me for their funerals. But they were dead already. I just helped remove the bodies.’

During this period the building doubled as a theatre and Music Hall, where the music of Wagner and Handel could be heard.  The Old Vic Company – with Robert Atkins and Leslie French – performed Shakespeare’s Henry IV at The Ring.  (The original ‘ring’, Shakespeare’s legendary Globe Theatre, had not been reconstructed as yet.) Alfred Hitchcock used The Ring as the set for his 1926 silent movie of the same name, in which a boxer falls in love with the ticket girl. Hilter also left his mark on the site. Nazi air raids struck The Ring twice, bringing an end to boxing and theatre at Blackfriars.

The current office building Orbit House, was erected in the sixties for the Ministry of Defence, commissioned by Dennis Healy to house the secret printing office of The Army. Kilpper illustrates this era by reproducing the first Western representation of a printing office, The Dance of Death (Lyon c.1500).  This macabre image raises the history of print as an instrument of control. The Church’s monopoly on information during the manuscript book period, ended with the arrival of print. European nation states flourished as the world could now be mapped without recourse to religious propaganda.  The world was no longer unknown, but a manageable, controllable resource to be exploited.  (A replica of Francis Drake’s 16th century galleon the Golden Hinde, docked adjacent to Orbit House, testifies to this.) As a Eurocentric world economy flourished, armies and attendant nationalist propaganda were needed to protect and develop the new colonial markets. Thus print liberated and imprisoned simultaneously.  As Kilpper observes, newspapers covered the windows of the Ministry of Defence’s secret printing office. The Ring traces the use of print as a means of subjugation during the Ministry of Defence’s occupation, reproducing newspaper images from the Falkland’s war and numerous reports of the troubles in Ulster.

For more than 25 years The British Library’s Oriental Collections Department mainly occupied Orbit House. The production of books and therefore the very existence of libraries are, of course, inseparable from the invention of woodcut technology.  In 1452, Johann Gutenberg conceived of the idea for movable type by bringing together technologies of paper, oil-based ink and the winepress to print books. At Bruges in Belgium in 1475 William Caxton and Colard Mansion printed The Recuyell of the Historyes of Troye, the first book printed in English, thereby heralding the standardisation of the language. Yet the printing press was not a single Western invention but the aggregation in one place, of technologies known for centuries before. The Oriental Collections Department is the home of the Diamond Sutra (868AD), the oldest dated and known woodprinted book of the world, a major source of technical knowledge for European printers. Kilpper simultaneously relates the Diamond Sutra to his own pre-history, to the genealogy of The Ring and to European colonialism.

Kilpper’s father was born in China where his grandfather was a missionary. His father recalls the Boxer Rebellion, an uprising against European encroachments on Chinese territory and against Christian missionary activity. The Boxers formed about 1899 as a secret society, calling itself ‘The Fist of Righteous Harmony’. The Movement, centred in Peking, reached its climax in June 1900. Some Christian missionaries and many Chinese Christians were murdered. Kilpper’s grandfather was kidnapped. Foreign residents and many native Christians took refuge in the British legation, where they made a determined stand against the Boxers. On June 21st China declared war against the western allies. During this fight the allies destroyed Peking’s Summer-Palace. Foreign troops remained in Peking until the peace protocol was signed in September 1901, a severe humiliation to the Chinese. Kilpper’s Mao Tse Tung proclaims: “We took some of your missionaries to the mountains, you took our Diamond Sutra to Europe – we gave them back, you did not…”

Now Orbit House is abandoned and due to be demolished. The landlords intend to erect a new and bigger office building named Southpoint. Costing £90m, this will be the largest private investment in this area of London for 15 years. In such paperless offices, methods of mechanical reproduction such as printing are virtually obsolete. The ‘printed’ word and image are now used for real-time social interaction and for fully individualised navigation through interactive documents. Information flows digitally, making it instant and free, yet unaccountable. Consequently, the era of the nation state is over as we enter the epoch of cyber-colonialism. The might of the fully globalised economy has forced the Southwark area to change as a whole. Nearby Bankside Power Station, designed by Giles Gilbert Scott, is being converted by the Swiss architects Herzog & de Meuron, transforming it from a building planned for an industrialised nation state, to one designed for an information-based global network. The first phase conversion into the Tate Modern will cost £134m. The London Borough of Southwark was a key initial investor, recognising the regeneration and employment potential the scheme offers the area. Typically of service-based economies, Bankside will provide employment but have nothing in common with the district it inhabits. When it is not simply ignored or erased, the history of the ancient market and port of Southwark is being neatly packaged (The Globe, The Clink Prison, the Golden Hinde) as the area is globalised to attract lavish international investment. Since the introduction of the Jubilee Line and the near completion of Norman Foster’s Bankside-City link bridge, the Dickensian alleys look destined for enhanced gentrification. The area’s rich history and plenitude of sights are transforming once again, but not, as The Ring intimates, without a fight.