In as much as this is a 'critical' piece of writing, it is concerned with some of the ways in which various individuals responded to the issues raised by the Festival Of Plagiarism. While I offer a description of the entire Festival, this description should not be taken as constituting any in-depth 'aesthetic judgement'. Pure aesthetics, were such a thing possible, would not in any case interest me. The description I offer is intended largely for informational purposes (to provide a 'record' of what took place).
The Festival Of Plagiarism grew out of a series of earlier collaborations. Obviously, the outline which follows is schematic and excludes a number of important elements (i.e. it is focussed upon exhibitions, festivals and performances and largely ignores the input of various publications such as Variant, Smile, Edinburgh Review &c.).
In the case of this essay, the 'Eighth International Neoist Apartment Festival' (London May 21st to 26th 1984 becomes a 'fictional' starting point. In the run up to - and during the course of - this festival, Pete Horobin, Stefan Szczelkun, Mark Pawson and myself (amongst others) met each other. The Apartment Festival consisted mainly of performances strongly influenced by futurism and fluxus. As a result of this Festival, the Neoist 'movement' underwent a change of direction. This was (at least partially) due to my subsequent involvement with the group. The 'movement' (or at least parts of it) took up my (highly unoriginal) ideas about plagiarism as a 'positive creative technique'. Simultaneously, Pete Horobin, tentatively a convenience and I helped lay stress upon the development of Monty Cantsin as a multiple identity to be adopted by all members of the Neoist Network.
At the time it was held (May '85) the show 'Iconoclasm' - a rudimentary installation by Malcolm Dickson, Gordon Muir and Peter Thomson (Transmission Gallery, Glasgow) - had no obvious connection with the London Neoist Festival. Although the exhibition consisted primarily of paintings and drawings, these were not simply hung at roughly even spaces along the wall. Rather, they were installed in such a way so as to draw attention to the fact that any arrangement of pictures is culturally loaded (and not - as the bourgeois art establishment would have us believe - an inconsequential means by which a series of objects can be displayed in a neutral space).
Among those exhibiting in 'Our Wonderful Culture' (the Crypt, London December '85) were Stefan Szczelkun, Hannah Vowles, Tom McGlynn, Glyn Banks, Ed Baxter and Simon Dickason. At performances which took place during the course of the exhibition, I met and became friendly with Baxter, Dickason, Vowles and Banks. Shortly afterwards, Baxter, Vowles, Banks, Szczelkun and myself, began to discuss the possibilities of organising a group show together.
Back in Glasgow, Dickson, Thomson and Simon Brown were busy organising "War Of Images". The exhibition - when it took place in January '86 - was split between Glasgow School of Art and Transmission Gallery. This show presented the visual polemics of dozens of young Scots (among them Muir and William Clark), whose work was theoretically and practically opposed to both the successful painterly style of New Image Glasgow and the dominant culture in general. Dickson, having seen a magazine I edited and published at the time, sent me promotional material for this show and added my name to the Transmission mailing list. Contact between London and Glasgow was thus established! Meanwhile, Baxter, Szczelkun and myself (my work was attributed to 'Karen Eliot') exhibited in "The Business Of Desire", held at the DIY Gallery, London May '86. My work consisted of three statements 'against desire': 'Desire is the space between repression and freedom through which capital first entered its colonised subjects'; 'The separation induced between desiring "subject" and desired "object" is capitalist ideology materialised'; and 'The destruction of desire is the first task of those seeking a return to the pleasures of the unitary'. These statements had been mounted beneath a drawing of an arm which I'd cut into three sections; the contents of a syringe (visible across all three panels of the triptych) were in the process of being discharged into the lower part of the limb. Constituting a part of Baxter and Szczelkun's contribution was a text in newspaper format entitled "Bypass Control": "Glamour interprets the desires of all our senses as image. Sexuality ceases to exist as tactile pleasure and becomes an analogue of Power. Sex becomes a scene of power, a struggle for power that doesn't exist: a struggle to produce power relations. The machinery of oppression casts an invisible strain on all our human functioning..."
The full text of "Bypass Control" is reproduced in the book "Collaborations" edited by Stefan Szczelkun (Working Press, London 1987) Denise Hawrysio also exhibited in 'The Business Of Desire' where she met Szczelkun. A further six months passed before I became acquainted with her and it was some time after this that I introduced her to Baxter.
An application for a group show at BookWorks (London) - featuring Baxter, Szczelkun, Vowles, Banks and myself -was put together; but due to the gallery's precarious financial situation the exhibition didn't take place. This show was to have been a further exploration of the ideas with which Baxter, Szczelkun and I had been dealing in 'The Business Of Desire'. Among the proposed exhibits was a bookwork of mine entitled "Destruction Of Glamour/Glamour Of Destruction".
Many of the ideas for the BookWorks show were subsequently put to use in a group installation held at Chisenhale Studios (London) and entitled "Ruins of Glamour/Glamour of Ruins". This exhibition was organised by Stefan Szczelkun and took place in December '86. In addition to those who worked on the abortive BookWorks project, the exhibition also featured work by Gabriel (Gabrielle Quinn), Andy Hopton, Simon Dickason and Tom McGlynn. Two key ideas shaped the ultimate form of this installation. The first was that the work should grow from an organic collaboration between the exhibitors; the second that the audience should be made to respond to the gallery as an architectural space and site of power. A somewhat bureaucratic procedure was adopted to achieve these ends; with the exception of Tom McGlynn (who flew in from New York immediately prior to the work being installed), the participants held regular meetings at which they thrashed out their ideas. A description of the "Glamour" show was included in the catalogue which accompanied a follow-up exhibition (Desire In Ruins, Transmission, Glasgow May '87): "Spectators entering Chisenhale Studios, London, during the 'Glamour' show, found themselves blinded by a spotlight. Since there was a wall to their left, they were forced to veer right. They thus found themselves entering a spiral of heaped coal. Any progression beyond the outer ring of the spiral was impeded by sharpened wood spikes. Similarly, it was not possible to step over the spiral at the point where the spotlight was hung. Spectators were thus forced to step over the spiral at a point just in front of the spotlight. By turning their backs to the light, they would find themselves at the best vantage point for viewing both the exhibition and any other spectators (particularly those entering the gallery)."
The 'Glamour' exhibition was destroyed after it had been up for less than a week. Fierce debate ensued over whether it should be kept open. Szczelkun, in particular, felt - despite the graffiti and destruction of works - that the public should still be allowed to view what remained of the show. However, after much discussion, it was decided to close the exhibition. Had the gallery been kept open the insurance claim we'd lodged against 'damage' of works would have been jeopardised. Vowles and Banks were particularly intransigent on this point and insisted that nothing should be removed from the gallery (including an electrical extension lead which Szczelkun wished to use) until after the insurance company had said that it was permissible to do so. It should be noted in relation to this, that the gallery encouraged/pressurised us into accepting that the exhibition should be closed. Apart from anything else, this early closure greatly assisted them in scheduling the installation of their new track lighting system. Chisenhale eventually waived their right to a 25% cut of our insurance claim (collectable as commission!) but still collected a substantial sum for the redecoration of their premises.1 Following the 'destruction' of the "Glamour" installation, Graham Harwood and I (we had met through Szczelkun) began organising the Festival Of Plagiarism (London). Three months later, a group show entitled "Our Wonderful Culture II - Voyage" was hurriedly put together by Hercules Fisherman at Fisherman Studios, London. The exhibition ran for two and a half weeks in March and April '87. Szczelkun, Baxter, Hopton, Gabriel, Dickason, Harwood, Karen Strang, Graham Tansley and myself (working as Karen Eliot) were among those exhibiting. Like the first 'Our Wonderful Culture', this show was overhung with an eclectic variety of work. However, because little attention was paid to organising an effective system of lighting, aesthetically considered hanging or ensuring that the gallery was open at the times advertised to the public, the exhibition did not meet with the same critical acclaim as its predecessor in the Crypt. Simultaneously, Malcolm Dickson and Gordon Muir held another installation entitled 'Iconoclasm' at the Transmission Gallery in Glasgow. Dickson's work was focussed around a transmutation of a May '68 slogan (which substituted the word 'Sewer' for 'Beach' and thus ran 'Beneath The Cobble Stones The Sewer'). The slogan simultaneously referred to the fact that a sewer ran beneath the cobbled floor of the gallery and the failure of the sixties youth revolt. The gallery space utilised by Dickson was lit by a single naked bulb which illuminated a uniform series of black, rectangular, plaster reliefs (entombed inside these were nuts, bolts, combs, broken records and other discarded objects). Muir's work consisted largely of paintings and drawings - many of which included quotations from (or other references to) the song lyrics of punk and post punk bands (in relation to this see Muir's text 'Iconoclasm' presented during the course of the show and included in Edinburgh Review No. 77).
Immediately afterwards another group installation, "Desire In Ruins", ran at Transmission Gallery as part of the Glasgow May Festival. This show was organised between Ed Baxter, Malcolm Dickson, Carole Rhodes and myself. It featured the work of Baxter, Banks, Dickason, Hopton, Vowles, Szczelkun and myself (working as Karen Eliot) and was in many ways a further exploration of the themes dealt with in the DIY and Chisenhale exhibitions. Alan Robertson and David O'Vary (in an unpublished review) give the following description of the show: "Looking through the heavy grilles which protect Transmission's windows, one sees a surface covered with earth, upon which lies a rubber chicken and several other found objects, including a toy piano with its keys violently nailed down. On entering you find yourself amidst an Aladdin's cave of images and objects, lit only by a single spotlight. One's presence was immediately made known by the noise created from stepping on the discarded beer cans strewn across the entrance (a reflection on a drinking culture in ruins perhaps?). Stepping in front of the light in order to enter the space, shut off all illumination and brought a sinister peep-show squalor to the surroundings. The space was cluttered with objects, reminiscent of the stalls in Paddy's market. Pictures of a Pope in ornate plastic frames, bottles of 'Liquid Sky', paintings from a hair- loss advert, sheets of writing stuck on the walls, plastic baby dolls, condoms filled with some white substance, a bottle of ketchup on a plinth. All of these trash objects stand as icons to a culture of commodity, image and desire. Occupying a great deal of the first gallery space was an installation made up of bamboo canes, boards, wires, switches and the like. Impaled and stretched on these canes was a nylon leopard skin, through which the canes poked at strategic points..." The rear gallery was largely devoted to a visual investigation of those links between sexuality and childhood which had been outlined in the catalogue to the 'Glamour' show ('the glamorous adult is modelled on an idealised vision of children'). Two works dealt most explicitly with this theme. Ultra-violet light illuminated a stereo-typed image of a cowboy (which was neither adult nor child and approached in appearance a gay 'clone') taken from a children's colouring book and reproduced life-size on the gallery wall. This piece was entitled 'Kind Pride' ('kind' has been adopted by certain paedophiles as a term of positive self-description). Another wall painting featured two naked children holding hands (the image was taken from a commercially available post card). Balloons filled with white paint were placed on and around this picture (to be shot at with an air gun, thus obliterating the image of the two children). The same image was used on posters for the show and resulted in threats of police prosecution.
In September '87, Dickson exhibited a video installation entitled "XS" as part of the Smith Biennale at the Smith Art Gallery, Stirling. A less ambitious version of this installation (without television monitors) served as Dickson's contribution to the Festival Of Plagiarism; the film which had been put together for multi-screen use as a part of 'XS' was shown on a single monitor during one of the Festival video evenings. In November '87, Dickson exhibited another video installation - "Arrival/Departure" - as part of AVA (Audio Visual Experimental) at Arnhem in Holland.
I toyed with the idea of organising 'The Festival Of Plagiarism' from the summer of '85 onwards. I felt that if I was to set up such an event it would give me the opportunity to create something positive from my experiences at the Ninth Neoist Festival (Ponte Nossa, Italy 1st - 7th June 1985).
Two months prior to going to Italy I'd decided to 'renounce' my 'membership' of the Neoist group. I'd become disillusioned with Neoism because many of the individuals who constituted the 'movement' appeared to lack the theoretical skill with which to effectively direct their activity. However, since I had promised organiser Pete Horobin that I would attend the Festival in Ponte Nossa (and I knew he greatly valued my support), I felt 'duty bound' to put in an appearance. While I was still prepared to work with selected Neoists on an individual basis, I decided that the Italian Festival would be the end of any 'official' involvement I had with the group.
Events in Ponte Nossa served to reinforce my worst suspicions about Neoism. Many of the performances undertaken during the course of the Festival indicated that the perpetrators had omitted to make any conscious effort to engage with a specific (or even a non-specific) audience. Beyond a vague desire to 'shock' outside observers, much of what occurred during that week in June appeared narcissistic and self-obsessed (and only escaped collapse into complete solipsism because of the participants' need to have an admiring crowd of friends applaud their antics). The audience (if one happened to materialise, which was not always the case) was used - quite literally - for personal gratification. Despite lip-service paid to the concept of 'creating open situations', the idea that the audience had a productive role to play in the creation of culture appeared quite alien to the small group gathered in Ponte Nossa. The local community was utterly bemused by the entire event. Over the past three and a half years I have received several indications of organiser Pete Horobin's low level of engagement with the implications of holding an 'avant- garde' festival in a small mountain village. The most significant among these is the fact that he suggested I was mythologising what took place after I wrote that local teenagers used the event as a backdrop against which to engage in mildly 'anti-social' behaviour. If Horobin had stopped to speak to the locals, he would have discovered how incorrect he was in assuming that the behaviour of village youths, during the course of the Festival, was 'normal'.
Horobin's attitude towards the inhabitants of Ponte Nossa was reflected in the way he treated the Festival's participants. Over the previous year Horobin and I had become close friends; his cavalier behaviour in Italy (which was directed at all those around him, including myself) revealed several character traits I had not previously noticed. I was thus neither prepared for nor (due to personal circumstances) in an ideal condition to deal with the resultant personality clashes. I had been sleeping on a different floor virtually every night for the previous eight months. On top of this I had missed three nights sleep while hitch-hiking to Ponte Nossa. As a result (and as Horobin knew), my bodily rhythms had become so confused that I was finding it difficult to sleep for more than two or three hours each night - and this, despite the fact that I felt extremely tired the entire time. It should have been obvious that I was not going to take kindly to being woken up during the few hours sleep I was managing to snatch. Despite this, in the small hours of the fifth night of the Festival, Horobin shook me from my sleep and informed me that 'something strange is going on' - while Stiletto filmed my barely conscious reactions. When I'd woken up enough to realise that Horobin and Stiletto had exploited my fatigued state to manipulate me into performing a scene they wanted for their video, I told them that unless they gave me the footage, I was leaving Ponte Nossa. Since they refused to give me the film, I walked out of the village and continued walking for the several hours it took until there was any traffic on the road from which I could hitch a lift. On reflection, I count myself lucky that I wasn't exposed to the same dangers as two other participants in the Festival - Horobin set fire to a vast pile of screwed up paper they were lying beneath. It should, however, be noted that Horobin later apologised to me for his behaviour. As Festival organiser he was under considerable pressure, which may account (at least partially) for his poor sense of judgement (and general lack of concern for the safety and welfare of others) during the course of events in Italy.
The Festival Of Plagiarism was thus partially organised in response to what I perceived as the multiple failures of the Neoist Festival in Ponte Nossa (and in particular the exploitative, cavalier and generally thoughtless way in which various Neoists conducted themselves in relation to the local inhabitants - who were presumably considered as constituting the audience). Other, more positive, sources of 'inspiration' (perhaps because I didn't experience them 'personally') included the Fluxus Festivals of the 1960's and Gustav Metzger's "Destruction In Art Symposium" (which attempted to deal with the theoretical and practical issues raised by the destructive urges which exist throughout Western culture).2 I mentioned my idea for a Festival Of Plagiarism to a variety of individuals (most notably Stefan Szczelkun), in the hope of persuading someone to assist me in the administrative tasks it would entail. Graham Harwood, who heard of my ideas for the Festival via Szczelkun, approached me and suggested we should organise the event together.
Harwood and I met at least once every two weeks throughout the first half of '87 to talk over plans for the Festival. When not focussed on 'practical' questions, such as which venues to approach with our proposals and how to present our ideas to gallery administrators, Harwood would use these meetings as an opportunity to expound his ideas on the mass media. During the summer, discussions about the Festival took place between a larger group (which - along with Harwood and myself - included Baxter, Szczelkun, Hopton, Dickason, Vowles, Banks, Graham Tansley and Denise Hawrysio). From the ideas raised in these discussions, Harwood hoped to create a fat and lavishly illustrated paperback book. In the event, the book wasn't produced and the discussion (while being crucial to the development of the Festival) created organisational difficulties. Vowles and Banks withdrew from the Festival (and offered a variety of contra_dic_tory reasons for doing so). Szczelkun, who initially planned to mount a one person show at the Escape Gallery, changed his mind and then organised his 'Routine Art Co. Retroactive' at M&B Motors so late in the day that it missed inclusion in most of the Festival's publicity. Personal circumstances forced Hawrysio to leave London and return to her native Canada over the period in which the Festival took place.
There were a number of reasons why the discussions we held over the summer (while necessary) proved disruptive to the organisation of the Festival. Graham Harwood had initially convened them so that we could talk over plans for a collaborative installation at Battersea Arts Centre. Harwood believed he had successfully concluded negotiations over the use of exhibition space at Battersea. The participants spent weeks working on the project, before they were informed by Harwood that the Arts Centre had decided his proposal was an unsuitable choice with which to open their annual programme. This news had a drastic effect on the morale of the group, which had been led to believe that formal confirmation of Harwood's proposal was a forgone conclusion. After this, there was little enthusiasm for the other project Harwood had been pushing in the course of these meetings - his plans for a lavishly illustrated plagiarism paperback. When pressed on how he intended to finance the book, Harwood suggested that everyone present donate £100 towards printing costs. Since a number of individuals im_me_di_ately protested that they did not have access to such a sum, this seemed a weak basis on which to proceed with the project. After a month or two in which he bemoaned our lack of support, Harwood abandoned his plans for the book.
After the initial enthusiasm for the Festival had thus been spent, the unstructured nature of our meetings became a serious problem. Without any formal agenda, the conversation would either wander haphazardly from debate of organisational problems to argument over theoretical issues and on into slanging sessions directed against mutual acquaintances - or else just splutter to a halt. My response to this situation was myopic in the extreme; rather than addressing theoretical disagreements, I attempted to find some common ground between participants. This is a stance I consistently adopted. It is reflected in my response to Harwood's ideas during the earlier stages of the Festival's organisation when, rather than being 'mutually supportive', we should have been hammering out theoretical issues. While Harwood's views on plagiarism were heavily influenced by the cultural theory of John Berger &c., I wanted to orientate the Festival around a perspective informed by the more radical tenets of the (Berlin) dadaists and Fluxus (as 'personified' by Flynt, Paik and Vostell). Initially, I attempted to synthesise these two approaches; the gauche nature of the resultant texts ("Plagiarism As Negation In Culture" and "Plagiarism, Culture, Mass Media"), are a measure of the underlying unease I felt at making such a compromise.
Despite this unease, I included these 'gauche' texts in the pamphlet "Plagiarism: art as commodity and strategies for its negation" (published by Baxter and Hopton's Aporia Press in November '87). To minimise printing costs, the booklet was unillustrated. Harwood, who suffers from dyslexia, therefore found himself effectively barred from contributing to the main publication issued to coincide with the Festival. Understandably this fact caused a degree of friction between us; these differences were resolved when Harwood saw the final product - which, upon reflection, he felt gave adequate representation to his theoretical position. As well as writing by Baxter and myself, the 'Plagiarism' booklet also contained texts by John Berndt, Simon Anderson, Ralph Rumney, John Zerzan, Valerie Solanas and John Carlin (the writing of Zerzan, Solanas and Carlin was reproduced without the authors' or their publishers' permission).
Many of the texts included in the "Plagiarism" booklet were intended to overstate the case for a particular polemical position. My intention in doing this was to stimulate debate and help create the conditions for a radical shift in the reader's orientation to the mental sets creativity, identity, originality, individuality, value and truth. Unfortunately this tactic tended to mask both differences and similarities in how Baxter, Harwood and myself approached various theoretical issues. It also led to broader misunderstandings; a number of individuals (such as the journalist John A. Walker) took ideas connected to the Festival over-literally.
The most extreme response to the "Plagiarism" booklet came from Ed Baxter, who quite rightly questioned the adequacy of certain contributions - but in a 'ham fisted' manner which was grievously flawed and tended to gloss over the real weaknesses of those texts he attempted to 'criticise'. In his capacity as publisher, Baxter removed several short pieces ('all his own work') from my final selection of material for the pamphlet and replaced them with an essay entitled "ReDistribution" (which he'd written using the pen name Waldemar Jyroczech). This last minute switch effectively prevented any debate (prior to the "Plagiarism" booklet being published) of the issues raised in "ReDistribution".3 In "ReDistribution", Baxter veers towards dogmatism over the question of 'truth' (or to be more specific, the absence of any 'truth'). He assumes, in relation to the essay "Why Plagiarism?" (written/plagiarised by me and credited to Bob Jones), that I - literally - 'mean what I say' (as though 'meaning' could be fixed in such a way). If one accepts that there is no absolute truth, Baxter's position is - in itself - problematic. Simultaneously, Baxter's attempts to impose a 'literal' meaning on "Why Plagiarism?" downgrade the productive role of the reader in relation to the text (and necessitates that he studiously ignore the ironic aspects of the essay, such as the fact that it is partially plagiarised from a source of which I am highly critical - Debord and Wolman's "Methods Of Detournement").
A general downgrading of the productive role of the audience is a feature of the 'Jyroczech' essay. For example, Baxter claims that 'originality' and 'creativity' 'occur in the realm of production'. These categories are actually 'moral tags' which are applied in the course of cultural administration and consumption (that they cannot be 'objectively' measured or produced to order in the same way as the output of coal or steel provides sufficient evidence of this fact).
Baxter criticises me for the statement that '(t)he plagiarist has no problem with meaning, reality, truth'. He claims that such an assertion is 'inaccurate and misses the point'. But if there is no absolute 'truth' (and on this issue Baxter appears to concur with me), one wonders what (in the absence of a Platonic ideal) he is using as a criteria for measuring the (in)accuracy of my statement. To make a 'problem' out of a category which has no 'objective' existence (and little relevance in this context, since we both seem to agree on the 'fact' of its 'objective' non-existence) is simply a quasi- academic fetishisation.
Baxter goes on to 'critically' quote a phrase from the essay "Orientation For The Use Of A Context" (which I wrote using the name Karen Eliot, while the phrase in question was plagiarised from a text Michael Tolson wrote using the name Monty Cantsin). The relevant section of Baxter's essay reads as follows:
"No one nowadays need rely on, say, the use of multiple names 'to create a situation for which no one in particular is responsible'. The very existence of the law implies a generalised absence of responsibility, one reinforced in the realm of 'the arts' by the 'death of the author' (cf. Barthes) and the 'liquidation of originality' (cf. Warhol). Indeed, part of the problem is that this state of affairs seems to belong to the past, to an accepted but not understood history; a plagiaristic repetition of the issues will tend to result in the erection of a facade of ahistoricity; a kind of fetishisation."
Here we find Baxter willfully imprisoning himself in an ivory tower. Most people would find Baxter's world view - should they chance upon it - completely alien. While I would not dispute Baxter's claim that '(t)he very existence of the law implies a generalised absence of responsibility', his assertion that this constitutes part of an 'accepted... history' is utter nonsense. One of my intentions in consciously assisting in the creation of situations for which no one in particular was responsible (via the use of multiple names), was to bring (by analogy) this 'generalised absence of responsibility' to the attention of those who did not already perceive it. In writing and publishing "ReDistribution", I felt Baxter's actions were at odds with his 'theoretical' position. This divergence was underlined after the Festival Of Plagiarism, when Baxter typeset the texts which accompanied the 'Refuse' installation. He waited until after the other participants had handed him their 'polemics' before producing his own contribution - a text which was in part a 'response' to his 'co-workers' writing.4 As with the "Plagiarism" booklet, Baxter attempted to present his opinions in the form of a 'meta- narrative'. Thus while he writes about cultural artefacts 'producing' their creators and their audience, Baxter has (at least on occasion) operated as if the written word (and specifically the academic text) occupies a position of privilege which cannot and should not be questioned.
The "Plagiarism" booklet sold well (the initial print run of 300 sold out within four months and it has subsequently been reprinted three times) and acted as a very efficient advertisement for the Festival. Looking at the pamphlet now, this surprises me, since the speed with which it was put together shows in the (at times) flimsy arguments. Whatever its faults, the publication did prove itself a useful tool for generating debate (particularly between Baxter and myself) and as a result of these discussions I became openly critical of Harwood's ideas relating to the mass media. However, despite the interest generated by the pamphlet, most of those who actually showed work under the aegis of the Festival seemed happy to let Baxter and myself argue out 'theoretical positions' while they 'got on' and 'did their own thing'; which often meant contradicting what Baxter or I had to say without any attempt being made to refute the views we held on those issues which came into dispute. One of the more extreme examples of this was the press statement issued by William Clark, which suggested that 'spiritual values' played a primary role within the realm of the arts! I found it disappointing that most 'plagiarists' were unwilling to critically examine their use of the term 'art'. As I stated in the "Plagiarism" booklet, I felt the term stood for many of the things I oppose in ruling class culture (claims of universality &c.). On the basis of this, one participant in the Festival (not Clark) informed me that I did not 'understand' art, because if I did, I would not be critical of it! From such a statement, I could only conclude that for the individual in question, art was not something to be 'understood' so much as an article of religious faith. The inability of certain plagiarists to engage in critical debate was reflected in their inability to give me a verbal description of their projected contributions to the Festival, something I required if those contributions were to be effectively publicised. To take one ludicrous example, Krystyna Borkowska and Andrzej Borkowski sent me two concrete poems to use as publicity material - stating that they wanted the content of their exhibition 'to be a surprise'! Despite having moved to a position of openly criticising Graham Harwood's plan to 'infiltrate the media'5, I still accepted that it was foolish to 'ignore' the press and the uses to which publicity may be put. It was clear in a number of cases that the 'extensive' media coverage of 'Ruins Of Glamour' was a deciding factor in galleries allocating free space for plagiarist exhibitions. And despite an alarming tendency towards distortion and trivialisation, the press still has a 'useful' function in attracting (parts of) the audience to events such as the Festival Of Plagiarism; or, at the very least, informing individuals of the existence of various cultural interventions which they may have 'missed' or chosen not to attend. However, I did not feel the success or failure of the Festival rested on the amount of press coverage it received. Reviews were useful, not essential. From the outset, I felt that Graham Harwood's approaches to television companies, which amounted to nothing, were a 'waste' of time. Harwood, however, insists there would have been coverage on "01 For London" if Baxter had not 'backed off' from allowing the producers of this programme to film the 'Hoardings' installation. On more than one occasion Harwood has informed me that Baxter's 'antagonistic' attitude towards the media, combined with my disinterest in seeking exposure outside the medium of print, discouraged him from pursuing other (reasonably firm) possibilities of television coverage.
At the time of organising the Festival, I had not previously orchestrated a publicity campaign. I therefore found Denis MacShane's "Using The Media" (Pluto Press, London 1979) a very useful guide to the most efficient means of formatting a press release &c. Because press coverage was not a top priority (and I was tied down with more pressing aspects of Festival administration) I did not make follow-up 'phone calls to the journalists who received our promotional literature (something which should have - at least in theory - increased the number of post-Festival reviews). My chief concern was to ensure that Festival events were included in as many of the relevant magazine listings sections as possible.
Writing an effective press release entailed a certain degree of 'spoon-feeding'; in doing this I do not believe I compromised the Festival. The general press release covering the entire event read as follows: "Painter Graham Harwood and writer Stewart Home have organised a 'Festival Of Plagiarism' to take place all over London in the New Year. The event will focus attention on the redundancy of 'serious culture', in both its modernist and post-modernist forms. The Festival will simultaneously offer a platform for alternatives to these worn-out modes of expression.
"We want to show that culture isn't the sacred possession of a few moralists and intellectuals." says organiser Stewart Home.
"We're calling our event the 'Festival Of Plagiarism' because anyone can get involved with what we do. You don't have to be a genius to plagiarise something!" said Mr Home.
The Festival will open on January 7th with "Hoardings" by Ed Baxter, Simon Dickason and Andy Hopton at the Bedford Hill Gallery, Balham. The show will consist of a bizarre arrangement of kitsch objects and rubbish picked off the streets of London. William Feaver, writing in the Observer ("Anger In The Crypt" 8/12/85), described previous work by Baxter and Dickason as "both protest and warning" which raised "more answers than questions".
"Hoardings" will be followed by seven more exhibitions over a two month period: including a group show at Copy Art in Kings Cross, where all the contributors will be showing under the name Karen Eliot. The idea, here, is to undermine the false individualism of consumer society, where 'cultural products' are often judged by the 'brand name' put on them. Other events incorporated into the Festival include evenings of video, a weekend of music, National Home Taping Day on January 30th (bound to infuriate the music industry), and the 're-enactment' of famous crimes by John Berndt.
A full list of events is enclosed with this, as are a brief definition of plagiarism and a reduced size xerox of the poster being used to promote the Festival. The Festival in London will be accompanied by simultaneous events in Madison and San Francisco. A 32 page pamphlet, "Plagiarism: art as commodity and strategies for its negation", edited by Stewart Home is being published by Aporia Press on December 10th. This will provide a theoretical focus for debate raised by the Festival." As stated in the press release, the Festival Of Plagiarism (London) took place over January and February '88. It opened with a show entitled "Hoardings" which ran at the Bedford Hill Gallery from January 7th to January 23rd. The exhibition consisted of 'found' objects which had been arranged by Ed Baxter, Simon Dickason & Andy Hopton. Among these were a section of wooden fencing mounted on a gallery wall, two paperback books placed inside a pop-up toaster, a hammer balanced on a sheet of glass, and a series of post cards - featuring sunsets - exhibited in a post card rack with barbed wire wrapped around it. A stuffed bird perched on a supermarket trolley served to emphasise what appeared to be the central message of the show: commodity culture is a system based on the aestheticisation of death. Capitalism takes human life and its possibilities, freezes them and then sells the resulting products back to those whose very existence it has stolen. A text which accompanied the exhibition (partially based on an article Baxter had written about the destruction of the 'Glamour' show; "Rueing Meaning Ruin?", Re Records Quarterly Vol. 2. No. 1, London March 1987) made it clear that such an understanding of the work was at best tentative:
"The dialogue we wish to set up here focuses on the creation of the totality of a 'universal world' which has emerged in Western culture and the sense of unbelonging which has accompanied this vision. To travel through the world is also to create it. To retrieve the 'primitive' and the 'unique' objects of other cultures is to perpetuate a major contradiction of this accumulative culture. We import the exotic and singular, and export the mass-produced and banal. Attempts to resolve this position inevitably fail: we carry with us our cultural baggage into the Lost World 'beyond' 'our culture' - and part of our baggage is the field glasses through which we view the world: asked to send something rare as a souvenir from India, Roussel sent a friend an electric fire.
A critical response to cultural data will inevitably entail a degree of definition - of fixing that data in place, relating it to a code of 'the known'; and investing it with certain values. But if this is so, then it is still the case that this response has itself been prefigured in the process of cultural production: that is to say, in the case of this installation, the 'artist' will have had an analogous critical response to the work in hand. To state the obvious - any work of art is redolent of particular (critical) definitions of 'reality' and 'art'; and these definitions are all ideological. The dubious nature of a particular cultural artefact - that dimension of it which seems out of the control of its supposed creator - constitutes an area of struggle. This is not necessarily something which one aims to resolve: indeed, as soon as efforts are made to resolve it as a problem, the artefact tends towards meaninglessness. Art which tends, in the words of Dubuffet, to 'lie down in the bed made for it' is a mere prop. Art which is made to lie down in the Procrustean bunk of the bourgeois art establishment has typically been tamed in the market. Any element of doubt has been resolved by defining the work first and foremost in terms of money, to a given amount of which it is said to be worth, and via the medium of which it is measured against other works. Such art could be described as useless, were it not for the fact that it indeed has a specific use: it is 'made to do the job' - of centring power. Such art is 'meaningless' not in that it does not stand for a particular definition of 'reality', a definition of which it is a part, but in that it does not question social relations. Meaning is a construct which is produced as a contingent affirmation of transformable/transformed social relations. Given this, there can be no question of the artists alone simply 'achieving meaning', as if a particular work were equivalent to a meaning of which it was the index. The work of art does not even 'mean' what it was 'meant to mean' to its 'creator'. The artist and the work enter a kind of meaning gap. Something other than what was intended will always arise in the art-work. While the artists may indeed 'create' a work of art, this is only part of a more complex process: the work of art in part produces the artist. It also in part produces the audience, those who experience the work of art. It will be readily appreciated that there are other productive forces as well, which can be broadly defined in terms of context (where the art 'appears', the political environment, the assumptions and beliefs of the audience, the cultural moment, &c, &c.). It is within the framework of these ideas that 'Hoardings' has been installed. The work is in part an attempt to trace the geometry of the 'meaning gap' and to explore the process of mutual production discussed above. The installation comprises in the main of 'found objects' and work created by other, anonymous hands, which the artists have arranged, acting collectively. This work calls into question the concepts of creativity, suggesting that the artefacts have a productive power of their own, which we struggle to grasp. The so-called product actually produces the so-called creator; and the artist and audience occupy a similar position in relation to the artefacts. The role of the audience is again a productive - perhaps performative - one. The audience constitutes a part of the means of production of the installation. It is not so much a case of 'everyone can do it' rather than one of 'everybody does it, whether they like it or not', you are implicated. The work is necessarily incomplete and open-ended: 'time-based' in that (like all artefacts, in fact) it has not been decidedly resolved. The material we have used here is deliberately and necessarily (given our finances) 'cheap': material which it is, we hope, hard to venerate and which provokes the audience in such a way as to call into question the tendency, promoted elsewhere to a ludicrous degree, to be drawn onto the level of commodities."
The issues raised by this text were further explored in two talks given at the Bedford Hill Gallery on January 13th and 21st. At the first, Ed Baxter gave an illustrated lecture which was followed by a general discussion. On the 21st, Baxter's lecture was followed by a brief talk by myself, in which I gave an outline of the Festival's 'collectivist' orientation. The basic thrust of my argument was that originality and individuality as categories are essential to the maintenance of capitalist social and property relations and that plagiarism as a cultural practice is a strategic weapon for undermining the hegemony of these concepts. My talk was followed by a presentation of Alessandro Aiello's slide/tape work "Recycled Arts". The evening ended with an action by John Berndt. During the course of this performance Berndt stripped while simultaneously claiming to have committed some of the most famous crimes of the past century. Interspersed with these fanciful stories was an equal amount of somewhat bizarre but genuine material (such as the fact that one of the items of clothing Berndt removed during his strip had been soaked in semen). The action ended with Berndt exhorting the audience to take a close look at the tattoos on his chest and back (those who did so quickly ascertained that there were no tattoos to be seen).
Prior to these two talks, a series of mystery events had been advertised as taking place on the Circle Line of the London underground on January 9th. This was the day of a massive gay rights (anti-Clause 28) demonstration in central London. The impromptu speeches and actions made by demonstrators using the Circle Line to travel to and from the rally made the minimal performance actions of Graham Harwood and myself (chiefly pointless and 'unending' travel) pale into insignificance. From the beginning it had been intended that the concept of the day's guerrilla performances should include random actions made by individuals unaware of the Festival Of Plagiarism (and the advertised mystery events). As it turned out, the number and intensity of such events resulted in them coming to dominate the day's proceedings.
"Iconoclasm" by William Clark, Malcolm Dickson & Gordon Muir was a plagiarist installation housed in the Bloomsbury Crypt from January 15th to January 28th. The gallery was divided into three parts. William Clark used collage to attack the capitalist system in general (and in particular the weapons industry, the growth of third world hunger &c.) through a simple and highly effective use of juxtaposition. The fact that Clark created one large work covering an entire wall of the gallery (rather than resorting to small framed pieces) greatly added to the power of his message. Gordon Muir used paintings, drawings, collage, prints and sculptural arrangements to attack the British (and specifically Scottish) prison system. Malcolm Dickson made an installation/sculpture from a heap of abandoned consumer technology (hi fi, an electric shaver &c.) which served as a metaphor for the human and ecological wastage created by Capital. The song "Born To Lose" by Johnny Thunders and the Heartbreakers, playing on a tape loop, blared from speakers placed on the outer layer of Dickson's sculpture.
The 'Iconoclasm' exhibition took place in the Crypt by default. It had originally been planned that a group installation organised by Graham Harwood and entitled 'Plagiarism: The Living Tradition' should take place at this venue. When the proposed exhibition failed to show any signs of materialising, Harwood somewhat reluctantly agreed to the space being re-allocated to the 'Iconoclasm' installation. Being located in central London, any show at the Crypt (like those at St. James's Church and Copy Art) was in a position to attract a relatively large audience. Given the nature of the 'Iconoclasm' installation (and the Festival itself), all those involved were extremely pleased (and somewhat surprised) to find that Clark, Dickson and Muir's work attracted approximately forty visitors a day. "Xerography & Other Ephemera From The Eternal Network" was a group show held at the Reality Studios between January 16th and 24th. The front room of this 'apartment space' gave the 'public' access to a continually changing installation which Mark Pawson 'created' between June '87 and September '88. Throughout this period, Pawson pasted all the mail he received from cultural workers around the world onto the walls of his bedroom, until the whole room was covered; then he went over the walls again, and again, covering them three times in all. The installation had not been on public view prior to the Festival, nor was there any public access to it afterwards. Pawson was forced to abandon this project (and move to another property) when the charity which owned the house decided to renovate the building.
The second room of the Reality Studios also featured works on paper pasted directly onto the walls; this time text and images created specially for the Festival Of Plagiarism by Miekal And and Elizabeth Was of Xexoxial Endarchy. And's work took the form of a series of fake Mayan codexes (crude, cartoon style, imitation Maya drawings combined with text - such as "cerebral value lies in excess"). Was dealt with the material processes of plagiarism and xerography by creating a series of repetitious designs based on the international copyright symbol (the letter 'c' placed inside a circle). Also exhibited in this room were all the submissions for the "Crucifiction and Canonization" show which Graham Harwood had planned to hold in the Gallery, St. James's Church. Disappointed with the works submitted, most of which failed to conform to the set theme, Harwood had cancelled the exhibition. I felt obliged to do something with the pieces that had been sent in, and so arranged for them to be shown in this space.
In "Karen Eliot - Apocrypha", held at Community Copy Art between January 28th and February 28th, twenty-seven separate individuals engaged in a pseudepigraphic experiment by exhibiting plagiarised imagery and texts under the name Karen Eliot. The work was deliberately crude and amateur in terms of both presentation and execution, with a number of relatively sophisticated pieces being used to counterpoint the aggressive 'anti- aesthetic' which char_ac_ter_ised this 'overhung' show. Provoking the most controversy among the image based works was a nineteenth century landscape painting which a contributor had bought at a flea market and then detourned through the addition of a cut-out photograph of an aeroplane (pasted directly onto the picture in question). One member of the public was so upset by this 'wanton vandalism' of an art work, that he attempted to buy the painting - so that he might 'restore' it. Another picture on display had been stolen from Jamie Reid's 'Twenty Year Retrospective' at Hamilton's Gallery in Mayfair; it was exhibited without any additions or alterations (when Reid - dedicated anarchist that he is - was informed of this, he replied by telling me that the next time I wanted some of his work, I just had to ask for it). Other pieces on display included re-workings of fine art and advertising imagery and even unaltered reproductions of famous paintings. A variety of texts and banners were pasted to the walls and draped from the ceiling to ensure that visitors to the exhibition did not miss its central point: that Karen Eliot is a multiple identity used by a variety of cultural workers. The text of a flyer gave an explanation of this concept: "Karen Eliot is a name that refers to an individual human being who can be anyone. The name is fixed, the people using it aren't. Smile is a name that refers to an international magazine with multiple origins. The name is fixed, the types of magazines using it aren't. The purpose of many different magazines and people using the same name is to create a situation for which no one in particular is responsible and to practically examine western philosophical notions of identity, individuality, originality, value and truth.
Anyone can become Karen Eliot simply by adopting the name, but they are only Karen Eliot for the period in which they adopt the name. Karen Eliot was materialised, rather than born, as an open context in the summer of '85. When one becomes Karen Eliot one's previous existence consists of the acts other people have undertaken using the name. When one becomes Karen Eliot one has no family, no parents, no birth. Karen Eliot was not born, s/he was materialised from social forces, constructed as a means of entering the shifting terrain that circumscribes the 'individual' and society.
The name Karen Eliot can be strategically adopted for a series of actions, interventions, exhibitions, texts, etc. When replying to letters generated by an action/text in which the context has been used then it makes sense to continue using the context, i.e. by replying as Karen Eliot. However in personal relationships, where one has a personal history other than the acts undertaken by a series of people using the name Karen Eliot, it does not make sense to use the context. If one uses the context in personal life there is a danger that the name Karen Eliot will become over- identified with individual beings. We are perhaps heading towards the abolition of the personal, perhaps everything is social and the personal (the individual) is just illusion; this area of activity must be debated, examined. However, previous experiments with multiple names, such as the Monty Cantsin fiasco, indicate that the failure to differentiate between the personal and the social and in particular over-identification by certain individuals with the context, is disastrous. The use of multiple names for pop groups and magazines has proved far less problematic than with human beings..."
I put this text together in '85 (the opening sentences are lifted from an earlier piece Michael Tolson wrote as Monty Cantsin). Although 'useful' as a 'pop' explanation of multiple name concepts, re-using it during the Festival Of Plagiarism gave me an opportunity to focus on some of its inadequacies. For example, Karen Eliot is not 'an individual human being who can be anyone'. Karen Eliot actually refers to an identity/context which has been utilised by approximately one hundred individuals over a three and a half year period. Apart from myself, those to make 'systematic' use of it include Pete Horobin in Dundee, John Berndt in Baltimore, Arthur Berkoff in Amsterdam, Graf Haufen in Berlin, R. U. Sevol in Paris, and Drake Scott in Madison.
As well as the text 'explaining' multiple name concepts, there were several other written works on display -most significantly a series of Fluxus style performance scripts for visitors to act out under the name of Karen Eliot. The inclusion of work of this nature (which was so obviously located in opposition to formal closure) ensured that if the exhibition was to make any 'sense' to the audience, then the audience had to 'understand' its role in relation to the show - and the Festival in general - as a productive one. Of course, promoting such an understanding is a difficult task, since many individuals find a set of social relations in which audience, artefacts and creators are comprehended as mutually productive forces, more or less 'meaningless'. This fact demonstrates the necessity for events such as the Festival Of Plagiarism (which, if not always 'successful', at least attempt to deal with the problems of promoting such an understanding). Through the dissemination of suitably disguised 'propaganda' (of which the Festival Of Plagiarism is an example), it will hopefully be possible (at some point in the future) to achieve a discursive shift away from the general passivity (and senseless worship of a few privileged individuals) encouraged by the mental sets which presently dominate society.
While the attempts of Fluxus (and other groups) to bring the productive role of the audience into general discussion have yet to achieve widespread success, they were (and are) not without merit. Thus the Festival Of Plagiarism was, to an extent, an attempt to consolidate ground already covered twenty-five and more years ago.
Such consolidation is infinitely preferable to the fetishisation of novelty prevalent in the art establishment. This said, however, the Festival Of Plagiarism - although influenced by Fluxus - was in no way intended to be a retread of that movement's activities. The theoretical precision with which certain plagiarists approached the question of the productive role of the audience is merely one indication of the difference between the Festival Of Plagiarism and the activities of Fluxus.
Like a number of the other shows which constituted the Festival, the 'Apocrypha' exhibition was mounted in a space which did not act primarily as a centre for the display of cultural works. In this case, the exhibition was housed in a building which functioned as a community xerox centre. Although this imposed limitations on the ways in which the work could be installed, it had three important advantages over a traditional gallery space.
First, it created an audience out of those who had gone into the space to make photo-copies. Secondly, the chatter of those making xeroxes - and the noise of the machines themselves -ensured that a reverential atmosphere (which is all too common a feature of the traditional gallery) could not develop around the exhibition. Thirdly, the immediate accessibility of xerox technology enabled visitors to add work cheaply and easily to the show (much of the displayed material was in the medium of xerox). This ready access to the machinery with which scores of plagiarists had created their exhibits proved a powerful aid in the fight against closure and the concomitant emphasis on the productive role of those viewing the exhibition; among that section of the audience which was not created from Copy Art's clients, several individuals who first visited the building to see the 'Apocrypha' show later became regular users of the centre's facilities.
It had been intended that the 'Apocrypha' exhibition should be completely unjuried - but a number of works were removed by the collective that ran the Copy Art space. This was done on the grounds that the work in question was sexist. Only one member of the Copy Art collective had voiced objections to the images which were subsequently removed - but since censorship within the space was operated on a veto basis, a single objection was sufficient to cause the removal of a specific work.
The majority of censored works had used collage techniques to critically foreground gender stereo-typing within media discourse.
The response of the organisers to this censorship was somewhat ambiguous. I felt that, on one level, censorship (with its anti-individualist implications) was to be welcomed. However, the problem with such censorship is that it tends to reinforce the idea that there is a realm of 'self-expression' which can be suppressed. It thus leads to consumption being viewed as essentially passive rather than active and productive.
The censorship debate itself has, unsurprisingly, tended to centre around the question of the 'right' to 'free expression'. This so called 'right' has never been 'enjoyed' by the vast majority of the population in western society, many of whom are in any case uninterested in constituting themselves as 'bourgeois subjects' who view the act of 'creation' as productive and that of consumption as essentially passive. Rather than attempting to 'defend' this so called 'right' to 'free expression', I felt that the real issue lay elsewhere (i.e. in the mutually productive roles of 'audience', 'artefact' and 'creator') and was therefore unwilling to take up either a 'pro-' or an 'anti-' censorship position.
Throughout the course of the Festival there were attempts to demonstrate that in the dominant culture's foregrounding of the role of individual 'creators' (a foregrounding which is made particularly explicit within the censorship debate) lies a very real source of social conflict (and this is an area of struggle which should be fully exploited by those who are working for social change). One of the many ways in which we attempted to make this area of conflict visible was by declaring January 30th to be 'National Home Taping Day'. The general public were asked to 'help kill the music industry by making a cassette of far-out sounds for a friend'.
To turn music into a commodity, the record industry requires that the role of the musician (as 'creator') is foregrounded (and that - in terms of appearance - the listener is reduced to the status of a paying customer).
In a very limited (but still positive and productive) way, home taping challenges this state of affairs. By highlighting this area of conflict, we hoped to demonstrate that an understanding of how commodities are consumed is more important than simply reiterating that as commodities they are consumed per se (hi-fi equipment provided a convenient illustration for our argument and complemented the extensive use of xerox techniques in the 'production' of work for the Festival).
Just as it commoditises music, the reigning culture also commoditises 'love'. The exhibition 'Plagiarism - Sweet Revulsion' which was held in The Gallery, St.
James's Church, Piccadilly between February 4th and February 12th, dealt explicitly with this process. It was a collaborative installation by Karen Strang, Jeni Briggs, Anni Munday, Mark Pawson, Gabrielle Quinn, Graham Tansley, Todd Hanzo and Kate Fraser, which attacked traditional notions of 'romance' from a feminist perspective.
Among the most striking works on display were a series of large, expressionistic, paintings based on the covers of the romantic fiction published by Mills and Boon - to which slogans (such as "Sisters, Make Love To Revolutionaries!") had been added. Actual Mills and Boon paperbacks also featured in the installation, hanging from washing lines and placed upon church pews as if they were prayer books. Amid the scores of displayed images were graphics appropriated from the ubiquitous Jamie Reid (different promotional work for the Sex Pistols than that attributed to 'Karen Eliot' at Copy Art). Like the 'Apocrypha' exhibition, 'Plagiarism - Sweet Revulsion' was 'overhung' in a deliberately crude and amateur fashion. The work being characterised by an a bright and trashy 'anti-aesthetic'; given the church setting, the confetti which had been scattered across the space was a particularly powerful ingredient among those elements which went into creating this effect.
The installation worked best on the opening night, candle lit and shadowy. Several of the exhibitors came dressed in clothes which parodied accepted notions of what women should wear to make themselves attractive to men; Brighton based cultural worker Andrew Longbottom provided an effective counterpoint by posing as a 'macho- statue'. During the course of the evening, Karen Strang gave a performance in which she 'detourned' the texts of several Mills and Boon novels. Members of the 'Jesus Army' were so 'provoked' that they felt compelled to add a biblical parable to the comments book: "No wonder Jesus turned over the tables in the temple".
Graham Harwood and Graham Tansley showed work under the title 'There Is No Natural Religion', in the Wren Cafe, St. James's Church between February 4th and February 28th. Images from Blake and the media were re- worked (using collage and xerox processes) to make a critique of both capitalism and Christianity. This work was probably the 'slickest' exhibited during the festival - and yet, despite the 'fine art' aura that surrounded it, the content was still powerful enough to offend a good number of the people who viewed it (even after the work had been subjected to a rigorous process of censorship by those who controlled the space in which it was exhibited). Several of Tansley's framed pieces were stolen during the course of the show. Harwood's work (created entirely from xerox and pasted directly onto boards and the walls of the cafe) escaped both damage and theft.
'There Is No Natural Religion' had originally been planned as a group show entirely dedicated to re-working Blake images. However, during the course of organising the exhibition, Harwood decided to re-orientate it towards issues raised by the media. As a result, a series of Blake re-workings executed by Gabrielle Quinn were transferred to the 'Plagiarism - Sweet Revulsion' installation, where (somewhat unsurprisingly) they appeared a little out of place. This switch enabled Harwood to use the Wren Cafe as a showcase for much of the work featured in his book of visual narratives "John And Other Stories" (Working Press, London 1987), as well as his more recent Blake plagiarisms.
Of all the participants in the Festival Of Plagiarism, Harwood and Tansley were the two who were most immediately concerned with issues raised by the mass media - as a statement which accompanied their show demonstrates (it is actually an edited version of a text entitled "The Public Image" which Harwood had produced in '86 with the assistance of Chris Thomas, this new version being jointly credited to Harwood and Tansley):
"I see the media as the main producer/exporter of images within this society and they seemed (sic) to be used by the dominating interests, both material and cultural on the whole to reflect their values, goals, aspirations and prejudices. The media seems to show just enough dissatisfaction to titillate the feeling in us that the dominating interests are changing and that this society will remain fair, just and free.
I feel that this cultural domination coaxes and teases us into submission by the degrading rejection of our own personal his/herstories and culture. The media fools us into believing that we are of less importance than the reality/normality it shows. We are made to feel insignificant unless we are depicted with the media (sic).
As the dominant interests are best served by our continued isolation and crippling feelings of inferiority, the media steers, on the whole, well away from our his/herstories and culture. Instead it creates a contemporary version of Greek Gods and/or Catholic Saints for us to believe in. Giving eminent people quasi-religious power through their reproduction in our minds.
The simple role of reproduction is that the more images you make, the more people see them. In the same way I feel the more an image is imprinted in our minds, the greater its influence, until it becomes normal and expected. This imprinting in our minds can give us the impression that the public image is normality. So a photograph of royalty in riches put say next to an image of starving Ethiopians, appears unproblematic and not obscene in our minds and in the Sunday press.
The television documentary appears to me to be a strong force for social change within this society. It derives its power, both symbolic and social, from the simultaneous reproduction of a series of images in as many as 5 million homes up and down the country.
However, usually within the space of two or three weeks after seeing a documentary, most of us find it difficult to remember its "stunning social message", and yet we always seem to remember 'Bold Automatic', 'Daz' or 'I.C.I.'. I believe that we retain these images because of their continual reproduction in our minds. It is the same way that we pick up and retain the roles and prejudices that are used to promote these products.
Images dominate our daily lives in the form of the media, yet their role within society seems little understood. Public images are in urgent need of exploration both within the art world and outside."
Harwood and Tansley placed great emphasis on the reproducibility of their work. And its slickness reflected their desire to see this reproducibility realised in the media. Between them they created most of the promotional graphics which accompanied the Festival Of Plagiarism. These found 'mass' distribution via a number of publications, including Artists Newsletter, The Times Higher Education Supplement and the free listings magazine LAM. However, while there was a general consensus that the media can, and often does, play an important role in the creation and definition of various audiences (a role which is often as productive as the concomitant input a specific audience brings to this process), most plagiarists did not share Harwood's ambition of 'infiltrating' mass culture or the belief (implicit in the text which accompanied his exhibition) that the act of consumption is essentially passive.
Indeed, reading Harwood and Tansley's text leaves me with the impression that they do not believe that it is possible to exercise any degree of choice (or critical judgement) over the question of rejecting engagement with (for example) television as a medium. As was the case with Clark, while greatly admiring Harwood and Tansley's visual work, I have little sympathy for the 'theoretical' explanation issued to accompany it. It should, however, be noted that Harwood and Tansley (along with Baxter, Berndt and Briggs) numbered among the few participants in the Festival who were willing to discuss the role 'art' played in reproducing the mental sets of the British ruling class.
Shaun Caton was another individual who 'failed' to engage with the issues which formed the 'theoretical core' of the Festival. On February 7th at noon, he gave a performance entitled 'Time Of Arrival'. This was held in a disused petrol station near the Waterloo railway terminus. The audience were advised to assemble outside Lambeth North tube station, from where I led them across a main road to the site of the performance. Here they discovered Caton made up to look like a corpse and lying as if dead amid a pile of rubble. The performance consisted of Caton lying still for approximately eight minutes. Although only ten people attended this action (and despite Caton's indifference to the issues raised by Baxter, myself and others), it was - to my mind - the high-point of the Festival. Caton's performance was more or less incidental to the success of this event. This really was a case of the audience realising its productive role in the creation of culture! The 7th was a bitterly cold but very sunny day, the chatter and intimacy among those present created a wonderful atmosphere. After the performance had finished the entire audience (with the single exception of the late Steve Rogers - a professional observer from Performance Magazine) retired to a cafe where the socialising continued.
I understand (from a second-hand source) that Caton was less than happy with the event and in particular the size of the crowd he attracted. Like a number of other participants in the Festival, Caton proved incapable of organising a venue for himself. Since he was keen to participate, I suggested he should undertake his performance at the abandoned petrol station. He agreed, although he continued 'phoning me and trying to persuade me to find him a 'better' venue. At one point he even claimed that the petrol station had been demolished.
Rather than cancelling his performance, he wanted me to approach Chisenhale Studios and arrange for it to be transferred to their prestigious dance hall. Fortunately I had been past the petrol station a few hours before Caton made his startling claim about its demolition, and was able to state with complete certainty that it was still standing.
In the case of Krystyna Borkowska & Andrzej Borkowski, language barriers made it difficult for these two cultural workers to engage with the Festival's theoretical orientation. They showed 'Work' at the Escape Gallery from February 9th to March 1st. Borkowska exhibited collages made from xeroxes of drawings by well known Polish artists. Borkowski showed a series of white canvases onto which he'd copied the signatures of famous painters. The pair had been put in touch with me by Stefan Szczelkun who'd worked closely with them in the anglo-polish cultural group Bigos. The Escape Gallery was reasonably close to M&B Motors where Szczelkun exhibited during the Festival. The openings for the two shows were held on the same night with those attending going first to the Escape Gallery and then moving on to M&B Motors. This arrangement prevented Borkowska and Borkowski's exhibition from appearing completely disconnected to the Festival.
Szczelkun had a reasonable depth of engagement with the issues raised by the Festival, partially because he had (in the past) worked very closely with Baxter, Harwood and myself. He held his 'Routine Art Co.
Retroactive' at M&B Motors from February 9th to February 20th. This was a retrospective of all the work Szczelkun had produced over the previous seven years and included his contributions to 'The Business Of Desire', 'Ruins Of Glamour/Glamour Of Ruins' and 'Desire In Ruins' (as well as other collaborative work he had undertaken with a variety of individuals including Harwood and myself). At the opening and on four subsequent days, Szczelkun delivered a performance outside the gallery entitled 'House Of imMEDIAcy (Housework IV)'. This entailed him pasting newspapers over the archetypal facade of a wooden wendy house. Szczelkun then used white wash to daub slogans in an alphabet of his own devising onto the newsprint. After this he was joined by Ian Hinchcliffe and the pair launched into a fuller performance related to the ways in which the media interprets the lives of 'ordinary' people (centred on the news events of that particular day).
Humanity In Ruins', an exhibition I installed at Central Space under the name 'Karen Eliot', was held between February 11th and March 3rd. The two page press release for this show was enlarged to 36 times its original size and pasted to the walls at either end of this long and narrow gallery. Apart from the exhibition details (times, dates, gallery address &c.), this consisted of the following message/description (and other than this the space was completely emptied of cultural artefacts):
"Humanity In Ruins" is designed to bring into question the role art and anti-art play in the maintenance of ruling class culture. Although the installation is situated in an art space, the incorporation of auto-destructive elements prevent its immediate recuperation as a commodity.
The floor of the gallery will be covered with enlarged xeroxes of a ten pound note. These will be destroyed, during the course of the exhibition, by visitors walking over them. Potential patrons will be lulled into a sense of false security by a tape loop of Abba's 'Money, Money, Money', interspersed with silence.
All the doors leading off the gallery and into artists studios will be marked as Room 101. A blackboard will stand against the far wall of the gallery, across which the following message will have been scrawled:
"ART STRIKE 1990 - 1993.
Art is defined by a self-perpetuating elite and marketed as an international commodity, a safe investment for the rich who have everything. To call one person an artist is to deny another the equal gift of vision: - and thus the myth of 'genius' becomes an ideological justification for inequality, repression and famine.
We have been living at a masqued ball; what an artist considers to be his or her identity is a schooled set of notions, preconceptions which imprison humanity in history. It is the roles derived from these identities, as much as the art products mined from reification, which we must reject.
Art is a particular, evolving, mental set of the ruling class. Romanticism, Modernism, Post Modernism -it makes no difference: - UNTIL WE DESTROY EVERYTHING THERE WILL ONLY BE RUINS!" To reinforce this point, and really emphasise that "Humanity In Ruins" is propaganda rather than conceptual - or perhaps anti - art, no photo-documentation will be made of the show. The Artists Strike will commence on January 1st 1990. Unlike Gustav Metzger's Art Strike of 1977 to 1980, the purpose is not to destroy those institutions which might be perceived as having a negative effect on artistic production. Instead, we hope to bring the role of the artist, itself, into question.
Tea, rather than wine, will be served at the private view - since alcohol tends to promote escapism. The invitation card has a part of the exhibition agreement collaged onto it; bringing into discussion the means by which this, and all other, work comes to be shown.
"Humanity In Ruins" forms part of the London-wide Festival Of Plagiarism. The aim of the Festival is to draw attention to the privileged position held by ruling class culture and the various devices through which its ideological content is mystified in current art practice.
Simultaneously, the Festival offers a platform for alternatives to these alienated modes of expression."
Several visitors to the show enquired where the exhibition was to be found (these bourgeois hacks were obviously determined not to grasp their mutually productive role in relation to the work and its 'creator').
"Humanity In Ruins" had originally been conceived as an audio installation which re-worked Marlowe's "Doctor Faustus" into a riot-torn vision of contemporary Britain.
This work was censored because the gallery's controlling committee felt the proposed installation (which they had initially approved) would have given the 'right-wing' press ammunition with which to attack the 'left-wing' bodies who funded their activities. The work that was eventually exhibited was thus, in part, a reaction to this act of censorship; it was, to a degree, an attempt to radicalise the censors by offering a 'left' critique of creativity and a linked project for the abolition of 'self-expression'. This seemed an eminently more sensible position than simply adopting (as the gallery had done) a bourgeois formula which while appearing to 'suppress' the work in question, actually lent the 'censored' product an aura of 'radicality'. Any act of censorship (and those anti-censorship campaigns which are related to it) must ultimately serve to reinforce the mental set of 'self-expression' and via this assist in the right's projected (but ultimately unrealisable) reduction of the role of the consumer to that of a passive spectator whose cultural intake is to be directed by a 'higher' power (in theory the market, in practice a coercive political force).
It must be stressed that rather than trying to oppose censorship with 'anti-censorship' (which reproduces an identical mental set to the very thing it claims to combat), this entire mode of thought must be outflanked with strategies such as 'the refusal of creativity'. The ideological positions of both the 'pro' and 'anti' censorship lobbies, reveal them as rival groups within the ruling class; each of which wishes to exercise cultural power over a passive body of consumers.
While 'anti-censorship' attempts to rally support around an abstract 'right' to 'free expression' (and thus obscures the productive role of the audience in relation to cultural artefacts), the refusal of creativity acts as a mechanism to shift discourse away from those mental activities which play a central role in the construction of the bourgeois 'self'.
The evenings of video, which were held at Community Copy Art on February 16th and February 23rd, did not have any particularly strong theoretical orientation. The first evening was attended by an audience of forty who watched "Instant Copier Animation" and "The Copied Gallery" by Franz John, "XS" by Malcolm Dickson, "Disconcerted States Of Mind" by Simon Anderson, "Work In Progress" by Julia Gash and Neil Combs and "Untitled" by Ben Allen. On the second evening the audience were asked to shout out if they were bored with a video and wanted it stopped (the video would then be paused and there would follow a discussion and vote on whether it should be continued). This system was introduced to prevent a repetition of the obvious boredom which had prevailed on the first evening during the screening of particular videos (most notably "Disconcerted States Of Mind"). The audience sat through all of "Flux Events" by Simon Anderson, "Crickets" and "Instant Copier Animation" by Franz John, "Wallpaper Performance" by Ade Barradell and "Untitled" by Ben Allen (different untitled work to that shown at the previous evening of screenings). Ralph Rumney's "Two Men And A Door" was stopped after twelve minutes and the audience unanimously decided that they didn't want to see any more of it.
Undoubtedly the highlight of the video evenings was the screening of work by Franz John. "Instant Copier Animation" was a film generated from a sheet of PVC.
Using this single original element from which thousands of differently treated copies were made on six xerox machines, John created an animated film. "The Copied Gallery" was a filmed documentary of an installation/performance John had undertaken at Galerie Paranorm, Berlin, in October and November '87. Using a hand-held and battery operated (pocket) photo-copier, John pains_tak_ingly copied the entire gallery and pasted the resulting strips of xerox back over the surfaces from which they had been generated. The performance ended with the doors that gave access to the gallery being pasted over with strips of xerox. The installation was in this way 'completed' in a manner which made it impossible for the work to be viewed in a 'resolved' state (since a part of the work would be 'destroyed' by anyone entering the gallery).
John's work was added to the programme of the Festival at the last minute. He'd come to London wanting to see and participate in our event after purchasing a copy of the booklet which had been issued to accompany it. John introduced himself to me at the opening of the 'Hoardings' show; greatly impressed with his work, I immediately pencilled in the screenings of his films on the video nights.
The Festival Of Plagiarism concluded with three nights of music, noise and performance at the London Musicians Collective. The paying audience on each night varied in size from between fifty to seventy individuals.
The evenings of music were the only events during the entire London Festival for which there was an admission charge. The entrance fee was required to pay for the hire of the hall and a public address system. The small amount made in excess of costs was distributed equally between all musicians.
On 26th February, Serle Kockberg and Chris Lee performed jazz songs, Joseph Curwen (Ed Baxter working under a name adopted from a Lovecraft novel) performed a Nam June Paik piano piece, When played improvised music over which they chanted beat poetry, N. A. Palm and His Full Metal Jacket played country and western, Matthew Saunders performed Bach viola solos, Le Pissoir played a set full of songs whose riffs were plagiarised from 1977 punk classics, Big imitated the Smiths and the whole evening was compered by Erik Fuller. On 27th February, the Massed Ranks Of The Proletariat performed "A Workers Operetta" (improvised style music in a play format), while Klang! and Bing Selfish & the Idealists offered experimental rock. February 28th saw a celebration of technology with Pornosect, The Irresistible Force and A Spanner Thru Ma Beatbox playing industrial dance music.
The industrial musicians were among the most blatant of those attempting to exploit the Festival Of Plagiarism for self-promotional purposes. A flyer advertising their performance read as follows:
"By now, there must be few people who haven't heard about this first London-wide Festival Of Plagiarism.
This spectacular event has been put together by an obsessive and motley crew of post-scratch pundits, with a series of events, installations and 'art crimes' taking place in galleries and concert halls throughout the month of February. It's climax comes on Sunday night, the 28th, at the London Musician's Collective in Camden Town, home of many an obscurist improvising combo. This Sunday, however, promises no ordinary night of rinky- dinky jazz tunes... on this night be ready for CHAOS! Flushed with the success of their debut album on Earthly Delights, comes an aptly-named Spanner thru ma Beatbox. Their music has been described in Underground magazine as "the antithesis of techno advancement, a challenge to luddites and a noise worth savouring... A Spanner cut-up and indoctrinate 100 wayward drum- machines, producing a hap-hazard rhythmic collage which is just as danceable as it's haunting. Now if there really was an alternative to po-faced structured pop dance, then this is it!". God only knows what this most intelligently subversive combo will come up with when performing this, their first, live engagement.
Strong support is from Pornosect playing for your entertainment (but not for your pleasure!) with avant- garde techno Dub... and from Russia, for one night only, the ever-popular KGB Sound System, so don't forget to bring your recording walkman for a night to treasure and savour."
Most plagiarists did not agree with A Spanner Thru Ma Beatbox's estimation of their performance as the climax of the Festival. I was left wondering why, if A Spanner... really considered the Festival to be such a 'spectacular event', they had failed to notice that it had been going on all through January as well as February.
However, it was left to rich kid J.S.G. Boggs to make the most spectacularly inept attempt at cashing in on the Festival Of Plagiarism. A 'friend' of Graham Harwood's, Boggs had been asked to participate in the Festival - and expressed an interest in doing so. But rather than making common cause with the plagiarists, he hired the Young Unknowns Gallery and planned to put on an exhibition entitled 'Money In Ruins', which was timed to clash with the opening of the Festival. After his collaborators (who included Hannah Vowles and Glyn Banks) withdrew from the show (claiming that details had been announced to the press before they'd agreed to them), Boggs was left with an empty gallery and the bill for an exhibition which hadn't taken place.
Such bungled opportunism does not characterise all cultural activity; occurring throughout the course of the Festival was an 'anonymous' (and deliberately unpublicised) project entitled 'Sale Of The Century'.
This was organised by Paul Haywood who sent selected cultural workers price tags, which they were to mark up and attach to public monuments and other suitable targets. The idea behind the project was to add to the chorus of protest against the British government's programme of selling off 'public' assets. I attached my price tag (marked as 'for sale to the highest bidder') to the Cenotaph in London. I have no idea whether anyone even noticed the tag - and if by chance someone did, whether or not it stirred up feelings of outrage (against either myself or the government).
While the London Festival Of Plagiarism was being organised, people in various parts of the world decided to hold their own events under the same title. One such Festival (organised by Miekal And and Elizabeth Was) took place at the Avant-Garde Museum of Temporary Art in Madison, Wisconsin, on January 22nd & 23rd 1988. Others took place at Artists's Television Access in San Francisco on February 5, 6 & 7th 1988; and at HBK Braunschweig, West Germany, on June 8, 9 & 10th 1988.
The San Francisco Festival was a 48 hour non-stop be-in, very much influenced by the 'beat traditions' of that city. The Braunschweig Festival took place in an art school and tended to treat 'plagiarism' as an 'art movement'; using it as 'an excuse' to pay homage to famous artists - rather than as a means of assaulting the individualist ideology of Western Capitalism. Despite this, the event was redeemed by a high degree of audience participation, a wonderful installation by Franz John and a highly subversive plagiarist design workshop/competition run by Stiletto (during which he offered to authenticate the best copy of his work made by a student, so that the winner of this 'prize' could then sell their 'Stiletto original' to a collector for thousands of deutsch_marks). Battling against an institutionalised atmosphere, organiser Daniel Simons pulled off an event which succeeded in extending itself beyond the confines of the art school and into an international community.
Beyond the title, none of the Festivals Of Plagiarism had very much in common. This is not necessarily a bad thing, since from the first stages of organisation, the initiators of the London event had positioned themselves in clear opposition to closure.
A major achievement of the Festival Of Plagiarism was to show that it is possible to organise an ambitious cultural event without enough money to cover any more than the most minimal of expenses. (At the time the Festival was organised, Harwood and myself were both registered as unemployed and our annual incomes were £1500 each, while Baxter was earning £2000 annually from a book distribution service he ran).
The organisation of the Festival Of Plagiarism (and similar events) is a natural outcome of the realisation that art simply is (and always has been) a question of administration (rather than some inherent quality in the objects elevated to the status of art). The extent to which the Festival was able to 'demystify' contemporary cultural practice was limited by the unwillingness of many 'plagiarists' to take on administrative responsibilities. Many of those who responded to the initial invitation to participate in the organisation of the Festival, replied by asking for money and requesting that they should be found gallery space (400 copies of this invitation were mailed out and a further 300 distributed by other means).
It was Graham Harwood's enthusiasm which provided the impetus for work to begin on the organisation of the Festival, while I carried out the bulk of administrative duties with the steadfast support of Ed Baxter. It was not until we had begun work on the Festival that I discovered Harwood was dyslexic and that this condition would limit the type of administrative work he could undertake. Having discovered this, I desperately sought assistance from other quarters. Baxter stepped in and helped me out at a point when no one else was prepared to shoulder any of the administrative workload; without his aid the Festival might well have become an organisational disaster.
Fitting those who wanted to participate (and who were 'unable' to organise venues for themselves) into the available space became an administrative nightmare.
These difficulties were exacerbated by the way in which work was censored by a number of the bodies who controlled the spaces being used. Also, the largest venue - Chisenhale Studios - was lost because after I had arranged for it to be used (for a group show) during the Festival, and then entrusted its administration to Hannah Vowles and Glyn Banks, these two 'friends' pulled out of the Festival and arranged for the space at Chisenhale to be reallocated to themselves at a later date.
Despite all the changes forced upon the organisers during the planning stages, what finally took place was reasonably close to the advertised programme (as distributed to the media and carried in the first edition of "Plagiarism: art as commodity and strategies for its negation"). The 'Plagiarism - Sweet Revulsion' exhibition opened three days late (it was advertised as opening on February 1st) because the participants didn't put the show up in time. The content of the two video evenings differed slightly from what was advertised; ex- Situationist International member Ralph Rumney didn't give his talk scheduled for the second evening because he was laid up in bed with flu. For reasons best known to himself, Richard Barnbrook failed to undertake his planned guerrilla hangings of contentious images over banks and insurance buildings. Stefan Szczelkun's show at M&B Motors, William Clark's participation in the 'Iconoclasm' exhibition and the two talks at the Bedford Hill Gallery were last minute additions and therefore missed inclusion in the lists of events distributed to the press. Such relatively minor changes compare very favourably with the track record of the Fluxus Festivals of the 1960's, which were notorious for bearing little, if any, relation to the advertised programme.
Not unexpectedly, exhibitions and events in Central London were far better attended than those located in 'fringe' areas of the city (where audiences tended to be more 'local' in composition) Despite this, it was heartening that at least some of the participants visited most of what constituted the Festival. On this level, Mark Pawson and Scott Larson (who contributed to the 'Apocrypha' show) proved themselves to be as supportive as Ed Baxter. Others (such as Ben Allen, John Berndt, Franz John, Brian Gentry, Mitch, Malcolm Dickson, Karen Strang and Kenny Murphy-Roud) visited all the exhibitions and events which co-incided with their visits to London and in doing so showed a considerable depth of engagement with the issues raised by the Festival.
Progress within radical culture is often painfully slow due to a general lack of information. For example, multiple name experiments have a history stretching back at least as far as Berlin dada; but to date such activities have borne relatively few results. This is because most of the work in this area has been carried out by small groups who had no knowledge of earlier false starts and failures (or, indeed, of the achievements attained in the field). Producing adequate documentation of activities is a crucial part of the cultural process; if the hegemony of the dominant culture is to be successfully challenged, then those who oppose it must act on this fact...
In drawing up this report, I am dealing with events which are relatively recent; it would be premature to attempt an estimate of the full impact of the Festival Of Plagiarism. In any case, this text is intended to fuel the debate raised by the Festival. I believe this essay will prove useful to anyone interested in the Festival Of Plagiarism simply because it provides brief descriptions of virtually everything which constituted the event (much of which would in all probability go otherwise unrecorded since media coverage of the Festival focussed exclusively on four exhibitions). 6
For me, the Festival Of Plagiarism was a 'success' because it led to a several developments (both theoretical and practical) in that series of interlinked concepts with which I'd been working for several years.
The effect this has had on my understanding of 'plagiarism', 'multiple names' and 'art strike/refusal of creativity' can be gleaned (at least partially) from a close reading of the present text. Although I disagreed with much of what Ed Baxter had to say, I found his ideas pertinent to my own pursuit of issues linked to plagiarism &c. Similarly, the discussions I had with John Berndt during the course of the Festival were both frank and stimulating; Berndt's treatment of the censorship issue was particularly memorable and vigorous.
On a more mundane level and as I have already stated, I feel that our ability to organise and carry through (without funding) an event as ambitious as the Festival Of Plagiarism was a considerable administrative achievement - something with which Ed Baxter now seems to (at least partially) agree. However, Baxter still feels dissatisfied with the level of debate he experienced during the Festival. In my opinion Baxter's expectations of the event were, from the beginning, unrealistic. His experience may also be explained (at least partially) in terms of personality differences, since a number of people I spoke to were discouraged from engaging Baxter in conversation because of what they saw as his off-hand manner. Likewise, a good deal of the most interesting debate over issues raised by the Festival has actually occurred in the year since it took place.
An issue which concerned both Baxter and myself immediately after the Festival was the question of 'coherence'. However, Baxter's claim (in his "A Footnote To The Festival Of Plagiarism", Variant No. 5) that the Festival's organisers presented 'a united front of diverse tastes... to a body of consumers otherwise unable to make sense of the discontinuous and confused manifestations of a supposedly coherent radicalism', is both inaccurate and patronising. With hindsight, it is clear that making the Festival 'coherent' was never a realistic possibility, nor much of an issue. Among other things, Baxter's written statements both before and after the event (i.e. "ReDistribution" and "A Footnote...") warned the potential and actual audience of the fact that the Festival was not so much a 'united front of diverse tastes', as an arena in which various cultural tendencies fought out their theoretical positions. While this may not have been apparent to those individuals who attended only one or two of the events which constituted the Festival, anyone who read the "Plagiarism" booklet and/or visited a variety of the Festival's exhibitions would have been hard pressed to miss the 'in-fighting'.
In relation to this, "A Footnote..." is interesting on several counts and gives a fair indication of the (at times) abstract nature of Baxter's approach to cultural issues. Relying chiefly on an analogy with what he sees as the 'cultural condition', Baxter suggests that 'little ground which might have provided a basis for coherent, intelligent and relevant radical-left cultural activity was gained' during the Festival Of Plagiarism. Despite his assertion that it would be pointless 'to mythologize or lapse into an indulgent celebration of the Festival's inadequacies', mytholo_giz_ing is precisely what Baxter does, since the very thing missing from his recitations of the Festival's 'failures' is any mention of the Festival itself (nothing which occurred under its aegis is described and beyond Baxter and myself there is no indication of who organised or participated in the event!).7 It is debatable whether or not the moral tags of 'coherent', 'intelligent', and 'relevant' which Baxter attaches to 'radical-left cultural activity' apply to "A Footnote..."; within it Baxter claims the Festival was both 'ignored by the establishment' and 'recuperated by the art world' (and here, in view of the derogatory tone and reference to recuperation, the phrase 'art world' clearly signifies the cultural 'establishment'). To suggest that the Festival was thus both 'ignored' and 'recuperated' is ludicrous since, given the context, these categories are mutually exclusive.
However, despite the numerous criticisms I have of Baxter's theoretical position vis-a-vis the Festival, I do not wish to obscure the influence he's had on the development of my thinking. This influence will be readily apparent to anyone who compares the present essay with the text "Plagiarism As Negation In Culture" which I wrote (as Karen Eliot) in February or March '87 (after Graham Harwood had badgered me about incorporating some of his ideas on the media into a written statement that could be handed out as an example of what should be produced in terms of text for his proposed plagiarism paperback).
While Baxter feels the Festival was a 'failure', Harwood, like me, considers it to have been a 'success'.
Indeed, Harwood insists that rather than having problems with the Festival itself, his difficulty was in knowing what to do afterwards - since he could think of nothing which might better it! Obviously, I did not share Harwood's predicament since I committed myself to the Art Strike of 1990 to 1993 long before the Festival took place...8
Stewart Home, London March 1989.
Other Events Of Interest
A number of events related to the Festival Of Plagiarism have taken place over the past year. These include "Arrival/Departure" a video installation by Malcolm Dickson at the Third Eye Centre, Glasgow, in March '88; "A Conspiracy Of Feelings" a one-person show by William Clark at Transmission Gallery, Glasgow, in March '88; The Festival Of Non-Participation which was organised in Scotland by Pete Horobin over the summer and autumn of '88; The Festival Of Censorship which was organised in Baltimore by John Berndt in the summer of '88; a one person show entitled "Work" by Graham Harwood at Transmission Gallery, Glasgow, in September '88; and "Refuse" an installation by Glyn Banks, Ed Baxter, Simon Dickason, Denise Hawrysio, Andy Hopton, Hannah Vowles and myself (working as Karen Eliot) which was organised by Simon Dickason and held at Galleriet Laderfabriken, Malmo, Sweden, in October and November '88. This last event was arranged before the Festival Of Plagiarism took place - and it is unlikely that all its participants would have agreed to work together had they been asked to do so in the aftermath of the Festival. The organisers of the San Francisco Festival followed up their first event with a week long "Art Strike Mobilization" in January 1989 (and like their Festival, this was held at Artists Television Access). The Fifth International Festival Of Plagiarism will take place in Glasgow between August 4th and 11th 1989.
Festival Of Plagiarism, selected bibliography:9
"Plagiarising Art Trivia", photo-story, Caribbean Times, 15/1/88.
"A New Look...", photo-story, Streatham & Lambeth Comet, 22/1/88.
"Hoardings Go On Show", photo-story, Streatham & Tooting News, 22/1/88.
"All Whose Own Work?", Jonathon Sale, Punch, 5/2/88.
"Festival Of Plagiarism", (cover story) Artists Newsletter, February 1988.
"Steal A Little Entertainment", Leslie Goldberg, S.F.
"Living On Borrowed Time", John A. Walker, Times Higher Education Supplement, 26/2/88.
"Art Imitates Art", Peter Johnston, Prism, March 1988.
"City 68/77/88/2000" (Item 3), Jon Savage, Heartbreak Hotel No. 4 July/August 1988 (this article had previously appeared in the Paris based City Magazine - date not known - and was subsequently reprinted in Vague No. 21, January 1989).
"A Footnote To The Festival Of Plagiarism", Ed Baxter, Variant No. 5, Summer/Autumn 1988.
"Festival Of Plagiarism" (review), Jon Winet, Bloatstick, Fall 1988.
Extracts from the booklet accompanying the Festival Of Plagiarism ("Plagiarism: art as commodity and strategies for its negation" edited by Stewart Home - first published November '87 by Aporia Press, new edition with two reprints Aporia Press '88) were published in Force Mental No. 15. Reviews of the "Plagiarism" booklet have appeared in "Box Of Water" No. 3 (autumn '88) and Artists Newsletter (November '88).
The essay "Plagiarism As Negation In Culture" by Karen Eliot was published in the "Desire In Ruins"
Catalogue (Transmission, Glasgow May '87). "Why Plagiarism?" by Bob Jones was published in Variant 3 (Glasgow Autumn '87). Pieces by Tex Beard (Ed Baxter writing under a pen name) and Stewart Home appeared under the heading "Plagiarism" in the Encyclopaedia section of Edinburgh Review 78/9 (Edinburgh Summer/Autumn '87).
These texts were all reprinted in the "Plagiarism"
Also see "Photostatic" No. 31, a special 'plagiarism issue'; "The Plagiarist Codex: an Old Mayan information hieroglyph" (Xexoxial Editions, Madison '88); "Classical Plagiarism" by Elizabeth Was (Xexoxial Editions, Madison '88); and the small catalogue Baxter, Dickason and Hopton issued to accompany the 'Hoardings' exhibition.
1: A word of warning: press coverage of "Ruins of Glamour" should be taken with a pinch of salt. For example, the London listings magazine City Limits (18/12/86) claimed that: "What really aggrieved the collaborators was the 'anti-art' nature of the attack".
Glyn Banks did virtually all of the talking to the press -and so the coverage actually reflects his opinions and not those of everyone involved in the show, some of whom took extremely strong exception to the way in which the media reproduced Banks' opinions as though they 'represented' those of the group.
The two most accurate reviews of the 'Glamour' show were "Pink Feather Duster..." by William Feaver (Observer 14/12/86) and "Ruining The Ruins" by Nick Houghton (Performance No. 46, March/April '87). The rest of the press coverage was so inaccurate that it is likely to hinder, rather than enhance, any understanding of the exhibition.
Similarly, press coverage of the Festival Of Plagiarism generally represents a mixture of the opinions of whoever an individual journalist happened to talk to and the journalist's own peculiar biases - it should not therefore be taken as representative of the attitudes of the participants as a whole. Jon Savage's coverage is the most intelligent because he places the Festival in a cultural and historical context.
Ed Baxter's "A Footnote To The Festival Of Plagiarism" (Variant No. 5, Glasgow Summer/Autumn '88) was written a few months after the Festival took place.
It thus lacks the benefit of distancing from events - and is, in my opinion, useful (in that it is a record of how Baxter felt about the Festival at that time) but deeply flawed (in that his assessment is not particularly accurate). I produced a similarly flawed text - "A Short Reflection On The Festival Of Plagiarism" (which was written in March '88 and included in the revised edition of the "Plagiarism" booklet). I would attribute the chiefly (and definitely over) negative attitudes of Baxter and myself at that time to exhaustion (caused by the vast amount of administrative work with which we dealt during the course of the Festival).
2: Prior to the Festival Of Plagiarism being organised, Ed Baxter and I were in contact with Andrew Wilson who was in the process of setting up a second Destruction In Art Symposium. The 'original' event, like the Festival Of Plagiarism, was run without any outside subsidy.
Wilson's Symposium was eventually postponed because the venues at which it was scheduled to take place (Tate Gallery &c.) felt there was insufficient funding to cover costs. It became a standing joke between Baxter and myself that we would organise a second Destruction In Art Symposium before Wilson had raised sufficient cash to cover the cost of holding a more 'official' event in the style to which London's cultural 'elite' had become accustomed.
3: I typeset the "Plagiarism" pamphlet and I did not see the "ReDistribution" text until after I had delivered the completed typesetting to Baxter for proofing; the essay appeared along with the list of corrections Baxter returned to me. When I complained that I had not agreed to this text being included in the "Plagiarism" pamphlet and that I disagreed with it, Baxter informed me that this was 'tough'. Since I did not want to delay the production of the booklet with an argument, I typeset "ReDistribution" under protest alongside the other 'corrections'.
4: The essay is situated after two texts which deal with the political-economic dimensions of culture, it begins:
"...Moving away for a moment from the political-economic dimension of culture, but still keeping it in sight, a few points may be pertinently raised." Baxter has informed me that this sentence referred to his previous writing, rather than that of the other contributors to the 'Refuse' brochure. Given that this essay accompanied an exhibition in Sweden where few, if any, of those reading it would have seen Baxter's earlier writing, I find this an unlikely explanation of what was intended.
In my opinion, Baxter's text was consciously composed as a 'commentary' on the other writing included in the 'Refuse' brochure.
5: Harwood's project of 'infiltrating the media' is based on a number of implicit assumptions, including the belief that the technological aspects of the media are 'neutral'. In relation to this, it is perhaps interesting to note that Harwood regularly watches television, a leisure activity neither Baxter or I pursued at the time the Festival took place.
6: In producing this text I have quite consciously been engaged with the process of historification. Anyone wishing to make a 'critical' assessment of what I have written is, of course, well advised to take this into account. This said, and since my description of the Festival Of Plagiarism was composed with the intention that it should be accepted as 'history', I have done my utmost to ensure that the facts I cite are 'historically accurate'"
7: "A Footnote..." was intended as a 'theoretical', rather than a 'descriptive', text; consequently I would not expect to find detailed description within it. But even taking this into consideration, I would expect more description to relate the theory to its subject. Baxter has informed me that "A Footnote.." was aimed at those who participated in the Festival. If this was so, I am left wondering why it was published in a magazine where the majority of those reading it were unlikely to have attended the Festival, let alone participated in it.
8: In the course of this essay, I suggested that Ed Baxter attempted to present his opinions in the form of a 'meta-narrative'. In composing this text I, too, quite consciously exploited the position of privilege granted to the written word within our culture. Since it is impossible for me to go beyond the 'limits' of this society (quite obviously I am a part of it), I have chosen instead to make what I perceive as its 'limits' visible (this is a tactic I adopted throughout the Festival Of Plagiarism).
9: This bibliography includes all feature length articles of which I am aware that have been published in English and which relate directly to any of the Festivals Of Plagiarism; it omits published writing in languages other than English and short commentaries appended to listings of plagiarist events as carried in a variety of magazines.
E. Lynne Beal
Neil G. Combs
Pedro Juan Gutierrez
John Held Jr.
Joki Mail Art
Jurgen O. Olbrich
Barry Edgar Pilcher
Radio Free Dada
This text was originally published by Sabotage Editions, BM Senior, London WC1N 3XX, UK (full address) in 1989. The printed version contains 15 illustrations not included here. Only a typeset version of the final text was saved and there were some problems converting it back into a word processed format, therefore there may or may not be some unintended differences between the printed edition and this one. However, this situation was not unproductive because among the jumble of text was the following 'randomly' created slogan REALISE YOUR PRODUCTIVE ROLE IN THE CREATION OF STEWART HOME. Yes, the author is dead and it's your job to reinvent him. To proceed further with this process please read some of 'his' other works such as THE ASSAULT ON CULTURE and NEOIST MANIFESTOS or the novels PURE MANIA, DEFIANT POSE and RED LONDON.
The British Library Cataloguing in Publications Data for the printed version of this text is as follows:
Home, Stewart, 1962
The Festival of Plagiarism.
1. Visual Arts. Copying
I. Title II. Festival of Plagiarism (1988: London, England) 702.8'7
Stewart Home QUICK, CLEAN AND EFFICIENT SINCE 1962
can be contacted c/o Sabotage Editions.
Author: Stewart Home
Text of the pamphlet of the same name, documenting the history of the Festivals of Plagiarism organised in the late 1980s.
Keywords: Art, Anti-Art, Plagiarism, Home