Tuesday, January 29, 2008


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
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
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
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
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
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
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'
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
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
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
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
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
"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
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
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
"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
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
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
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
'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
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
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
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
"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: -
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
"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
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
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
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
œ1500 each, while Baxter was earning œ2000 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
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
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

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,
"A New Look...", photo-story, Streatham & Lambeth Comet,
"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.
Examiner, 5/2/88.
"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
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

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

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

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


Al Ackerman
Alessandro Aiello
Larry Angelo
Ade Barradell
Keith Bates
Ed Baxter
E. Lynne Beal
John Berndt
Nenad Bogdanovic
Gerd Borner
Cerebral Discourse
Clyde Action
Ryosuke Cohen
Neil G. Combs
Crippled Hippo
Robin Crozier
Indra Dewan
Luc Fierens
Julia Gash
David George
Brian Gentry
Duscan Grobovsek
Pedro Juan Gutierrez
Graham Harwood
John Held Jr.
Stewart Home
Nick Hopkins
Pete Horobin
David Jarvis
Joki Mail Art
Hazel Jones
Ulrich Kattenstroth
Jurgen Kierspel
Scott Larson
Pascal Lenoir
Mike Liegh
Ruggero Maggi
Simoni Mariarosa
Pierre Marquer
Paul Matusic
Emilo Morandi
Georg Mubloch
Kenny Murphy-Roud
Kum Nambaik
Rea Nikonova
Jurgen O. Olbrich
Open World
Clemente Padin
Mark Pawson
Steve Perkins
Barry Edgar Pilcher
Carlo Pittore
Private World
Radio Free Dada
C. Schmeck
Serge Segay
Shozo Shimamoto
Mariarosa Simoni
Ivan Sladek
Biasin Stefano
Graham Tansley
Tape Beatles
Ulrich Tarlatt
Jayne Taylor
Chris Thomas
Chris Winkler
Xexoxial Endarchy

Additional Note

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'ÿcreated slogan REALISE YOUR
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

The British Library Cataloguing in Publications Data for
the printed version of this text is as follows:

ISBN 0-9514417-0-1

can be contacted c/o Sabotage Editions.

Text of the pamphlet of the same name, documenting the history of the
Festivals of Plagiarism organised in the late 1980s.

above copied from: http://www.spunk.org/texts/writers/shome/sp000458.txt

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