? (K Foundation: Nailed To The Wall)- Library of Mu

Library of Mu record:
Title: ? (K Foundation: Nailed To The Wall)
Date: January 1994
Journal: The Face
Author: ?
Type of resource: Articles
Status: text
No. views: 5393
Description: Appreciative account by Art Award witness. Recommended.


? (K Foundation: Nailed To The Wall)

By ? (January 1994, The Face)

"This is a million pounds. It's also the first work of art by the K Foundation, formerly known as the KLF, who recently hijacked the Tate's Turner Prize. Serious statement or a daft prank? Either way, they're laughing all the way from the bank..."

Seeing a cool million in crisp 50s brutally pinned to a worthless piece of wood has a strange chemical effect on the body. A rush straight to the greed centre of the brain kicks in, delivering a thrilling jolt to the higher senses. It's here, laid out two feet in front of me, radiantly seductive in tight little 20,000 bundles. A million quid!! Tonight money has presence and panache. Tonight money is truly beautiful.

For the first and only time this evening, Mr Ball looks troubled. Flanked by two unblinking bouncers, the dickie-bowed MC is standing by the K Foundation's first major art exhibit fending off the group of goggle-eyed, slack-jawed "witnesses". "You may look, but you may not touch the exhibit!" he barks over the mega-phone. "Please view the art!" Herded like a group of fluorescent sheep in our pink hardhats and K coveralls, we file past the exhibit awestruck. Almost everyone is impressed. Joke or not, this is a stunt that took some doing. Having spent over 200,000 on the run-up to tonight's denouement, to announce that money itself is the message is classy irony indeed.

An hour earlier our 30-strong group of hand-picked "witnesses" set off from a London hotel in a fleet of purring white stretch limos bound for a secret location. We would, we were told, witness "the Amending Of Art History" and attend a private view of the K Foundation's first major body of art. Minutes later, a second communique is delivered: "Enclosed you will find part of the 1994 K Foundation award money. Every witness has 1,600. Collectively you all have 40,000." Inside each envelope was 1,650 in mint fifties, the extra 50 included for the purposes of verification. It was real. All the money we would see tonight was real.

In the limos, speculation is rife. "They'll have us parachuting over the Tate showering the cash down," quips one wag as we speed past a country airfield. Much laughter follows - only those who know Drummond and Cauty's track record don't laugh quite so hard. Twenty minutes later in a frozen clearing deep in the Surrey countryside, a bizarre floodlit scene unfolds. Armoured trucks painted in fluorescent pink blaring the K's Red Army Choir peace anthem, "K Cera Cera", circle the exhibit. Imaginatively titled Nailed To The Wall, we are told it is the main exhibit in the K's forthcoming trilogy of exhibi- tions: Money - A Major Body Of Cash.

After several minutes of blind communal avarice, something snaps inside the mind of artist Andy Elton. He seems paralysed with rage. Invited by the K Foundation to attend after writing the following letter in response to their ad campaign, he claims to speak for many who were repulsed by the K's apparent pisstake: "The art world is full of crap and your joke adds nothing to it. Don't fucking throw your money at the shortlist for the Turner prize, use it to terminate the likes of Nick Serota [Tate curator and chair of the Turner judges] and the rest of the jury and then give me the small change. There is so much that could be done, and only access to large funds will make it happen - if you give it to one of the Turner prize shortlist, then you will fail. I could show you how to bring chaos and change to the closed shop of London art dealers - are you brave enough for the challenge or are you just a couple of rich retired anarchists with a tax problem and no balls left? Fuck You. "

A self-confessed "impoverished artist" who makes ends meet doing odd plumbing jobs, he starts ruffling the wads of cash in a nervous "up yours" act of defiance. Mr Ball shouts into the megaphone, "You may look, but you may not touch the art! Stand away from the exhibit."

"The K Foundation can go and fuck themselves as far as I'm concerned," bawls Elton. "This is a diabolical outrage. Look at it! This so-called piece of art. It's shit! It isn't even signed!" "I think you'll find that every note is signed, sir," deadpans Mr Ball. "This is art and you will not touch." Elton slinks away, defeated by the overwhelming absurdities of K-logic.

If you're wondering what this is all about, here's the story so far. In April 1992, after their win at the Brit Awards (where they deposited a dead sheep outside the after-show party), the KLF released a statement announcing their retirement from music. It concluded: "The path is about to take a sharp turn into a netherworld of we know not what. " With that they deleted all their records, thus walking away from a fortune in back catalogue sales alone, and disappeared.

When the first in a strange series of full-page ads (which cost a total of 70,000) appeared in the Independent on July 4, people started whis- pering. The cultish rhetoric, the unfathomable "Divide and Kreate" slogans, the K symbols, all suggested that the kings of cultural anarchy were back. They urged us to "Abandon all Art", then announced the "Mutha Of All Awards" - a 40,000 prize to be given to the artist on the Turner award shortlist who had contributed the worst body of work over the preceding 12 months. It became clear that Drummond and Cauty had reincarnated themselves as culture-terrorists launching guerrilla strikes on the cultural high command. But why choose art?

While he doesn't claim to be their spokesman, Mick Houghton, the K Foundation's publicist, does offer an insight into their mercurial transformation."They had to escape from music if anyone was ever going to take them seriously. They have a lot to say and this whole event is the prelude to something much bigger and more important over the next couple of years. There's no scam, and they have nothing to sell. "

"Attention Please!" The megaphone crackles back into life. "You will now be taking part in the Amending of Art History. Please take the 1,600 you were given and nail it to the frame provided. This will form part of the 1994 K Foundation award to be presented to Rachel Whiteread. " We dutifully nail up our wads, cre- ating at the same time a work of art in the same vein as Nailed To The Wall. David Lister, art critic of the Independent, cackles gleefully as he drives his hammer down. "To think I gave up a black tie do to stand in a frozen field nailing wads of notes to a picture frame. I must be mad!"

Mr Ball notes we are three bundles short of the 40,000. "Nail your cash to the board. Rachel will be most disappointed if it's not all there. " No one comes forward. Later it's discovered that almost 8,500 has been skimmed off, leaving Drummond and Cauty to make up the shortfall. "It proves that age-old maxim: all art is theft," says Houghton. "Everything Bill and Jimmy do is a gamble, and when people take advantage like this they have to reach further into their pockets. They really don't have a lot of money. "

Originally the K Foundation planned to announce the winner of their K award in a series of TV ads booked and paid for at a cost of 20,000 during the ad break in Channel 4's coverage of the official Turner award ceremony. However, Rachel Whiteread, the winner of the "let the people decide" ballot which yielded over 2,000 responses, refused to let her name be used. Consequently the last of the four ads couldn't run, and the award couldn't be made as planned. Plan K was then put into effect and a letter sent on the afternoon of the Turner award delivering an ultimatum that she either accepts the prize or the K Foundation burns the cash. With most of the money now nailed to the frame and Art History successfully Amended, the motorcade sped back to the Tate for a showdown.

At the Turner Prize preview evening exactly three weeks earlier, politicians, media celebs, the cognoscenti, the diamante brigade, the crocodile tans, Versace types and the generally well-heeled affluent dahlings of the art world are sipping pink champagne, gossiping away merrily. As the evening wears on the talk turns to those mysterious ads. The theories about the K Foundation are legion and range from the fairly well-informed ("I heard they were some avant-garde pop group with more money than sense") to the plain ludicrous - "I have it from a very reliable source that they're part of the Warhol estate. A directive in his will or something. Look at the evidence, it's all very Andy, don't you think?" One spoof fax sent to the Tate and THE FACE offices and purporting to be from the Kaos Kollective, even claimed that the duo intended to amend their own award shortlist and make themselves the recipients of the money.

One couple, lolling elegantly at the base of a Rodin statue in the foyer, reflect a general misguided view that the K award is little more than an unsophisticated joke. "Have they nothing better to do than pillory the arts? A prize for the 'worst' artist. It's a tired old cliche. "

"I've seen it all before," says her companion. "They're trying to appeal to the person who thinks all modern art is of the blindfolded-monkey-could-do-better school." Both dissolve into fits of fizzy laughter and the party rolls on.

The accusation that this is a tiresome Situationist gag with a whoopee cushion pay-off belittles the K Foundation's distracted message. They are not mocking any of the artists involved in the Turner or their work so much as the whole tired institution of awards themselves. As Andy Elton suggests in his impassioned plea, with art awards, the gongs are distributed long before the public knows what it's all about, and to artists who are usually already established. It's a cartel. As Tom Wolfe once said in an essay on modern art: "The public are not invited and never have been." By telling us to "use our critical faculties or our innate prejudice" to vote, the Ks are asking: "Who decides who decides?"

By awarding 40,000, twice the value of the Turner prize, for the "worst" body of work, they are also questioning the whole notion of best and worst in relation to something as subjective as art. Reducing art to a series of pay-offs and "good doggy" rewards is hardly going to foster radical new ideas.

While cloaked in scam and artfulness, they do have a message for artists themselves. As we approach the end of the millennium, it's time to reevaluate art, to scrape contemporary British art out of its cosy rut and, in their own words, "for artists to fulfil their responsibility to produce work worthy of the late twentieth century".

If there is any overriding theme to all this unfathomable rhetoric, it's that money has become the root of all art. The questions posed in the K Foundation's first catalogue all hint at this idea: "How beautiful is money?" "Why do we try and make money measure the immeasurable?" "Have you ever shagged somebody who works in a bank?" In short, "What is money?"

To add further weight to this theory, they also pull off a neat conceptual punchline. Their art is made out of cash. The face value of that cash is obvious. The artistic value, until somebody buys it and gives it artistic status, is zero. The K Foundation have put a price on these works precisely halfway between their current monetary value and their artistic value. The joke being that if you were to buy the piece called 10,000 (four piles of mint fifties nailed to a plank of salvaged skirting board) for the asking price of 5,000 (ono), you stand to pocket five grand if you destroy the art and spend the money. Alternatively, hang it on your wall and see the cash value eroded by inflation while the artistic value soars. It's the sale of the century!

Nailed To A Wall will, they claim, go under the auctioneer's hammer with a reserve price of 500,000, while the collector of more modest means can opt for 100, made up of ten used tenners tied to a brick. (Before you wonder if all this is just another hoax, these pieces of art genuinely are for sale. I have bid for the piece called 10, two fivers nailed to two short planks, very rea- sonably priced at 5.)

Exposing the "what value art?" angle isn't new. Artist William Boggs draws $100 bills and now lives off his creations. Kieler Hardy photocopies dollar bills as art and raised the same questions. No one has yet done it on this scale. It may seem a ludicrous joke destined to see the Foundation go bankrupt inside a month but the point is simple. Money, the obscene power of cash, has reduced art to a speculative currency.

For want of a can of lighter fuel, the grand face-off between the art establishment and the self-styled Kings of Anti-Culture nearly went down with all the impact of a damp indoor firework. Gimpo, the masked K operative who delivered the final ultimatum to artist Rachel Whiteread five minutes earlier, is fumbling in his combat jacket for the vital can of lighter fuel. Staring at his balaclava-clad accomplice, his eyes wired with panic, he whispers under his breath, "Shit! I've lost the can!"

It's a strange primal scene to round off a bewildering evening. The crowd gathered on the Embankment, some still wearing their K helmets, start to hoot and jeer. Will she accept or will we see the cash burn? It's weird, but in our hearts we all want to see the cash burn, to thrill at the mindless waste.

In the dying moments of the eleventh hour, just as Gimpo, having found the can, is about to torch the first bundle, Rachel Whiteread appears from inside the Tate looking nervous and flustered. "I'm honoured," she mumbles before her two burly minders hoist the frame and the cash over the railings. A cheer goes up as her people announce that the 40,000 will be distributed amongst ten needy artists, with the rest going to to the Shelter charity.

It had been an emotional night for Whiteread. Not only had she won the Turner award of 20,000 and the K Foundation award of 40,000, but she also learned that one of her winning art pieces, House - the concrete cast of an entire terraced dwelling in Bow - was to be demolished by the council. The K Foundation had at one point attempted to buy House with her prize money after she refused to accept. A day on, Rachel still hadn't quite figured out what it was all about. "They blackmailed me. I told them they were sick people and what would be the point of burning the money? I can see the point they're trying to make, but to spend thousands of pounds and then burn another 40,000. Well, call me moral, but I think that's wrong. "

(A last word on this money mania. Nat West, which loaned the cash for Nailed To The Wall with a reputed 20,000 insurance premium attached, intends to fine the K Foundation, in accordance with Bank Of England rules, for defacing the currency with nails. The million quid used had to be destroyed and the K Foundation will have to pay for its reprinting. Had they carried out their threat to burn the 40,000, they would have faced criminal prosecution as well. At least the banks and the police seem to believe in the intrinsic value of money.)

As with many K-related activities, this evening was blessed by good karma. Struggling artists got the money, the K Foundation made their point and, more importantly, they transcended their own past. No longer the KLF that was, but the K Foundation that is. Yes, the money could have been spent better. No, the point of it all isn't very clear, but who needs clarity? The success of the various K-related activities over the years is down to the innate understanding Drummond, Cauty and their publicist have that in an age where everyone is wised up, secrecy is sexy. They have maintained their enigma by refusing to make things clear, by refusing to come clean. Was it all a big joke, or were they making a serious point? They probably don't even know themselves. Tonight's activities ensured there are more questions than answers, and that was their intention. At the very least they got people talking. Whether that's worth 200,000 is another matter.

The dynamic duo's most pressing concern now is the staging of the first of those promised exhibitions. If they get fined for defacing the currency each time they exhibit, it is unlikely they will be able to go ahead. In the meantime, Drummond and Cauty are incommunicado, wisely avoiding all attempts at an explanation.

The K Foundation may appear marginal now, but all great art rebels from the Dadaists to the Surrealists suffered this ignominy at first. If the K Foundation (the Doshists, anyone?) manage to bring us more art, more challenging questions, more media blarney, they will have justified their self-awarded position in the Amended History of Art. If not, well it was a bloody good wheeze and a top night out.

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