BY Carl Freedman in Opinion | 06 JAN 94
Featured in
Issue 14

Took the Money and Ran

The K Foundation

BY Carl Freedman in Opinion | 06 JAN 94

The Turner Prize has always attracted criticism, but the attention surrounding last year's event was surely unprecedented. Jimmy Cauty and Bill Drummond, already notorious in the music world, formed the K Foundation with the apparent intention of highlighting the elitism and absurdity of contemporary art. Such accusations are nothing new to the art establishment in Britain, but Cauty and Drummond's methods, while well-known as techniques for promoting pop records, were novel in this more genteel environment.

Two months prior to the Turner Prize the K Foundation announced their own art award: of £40 000 (double the sum of the Turner Prize) for the worst artist of the year, which would be awarded on the same night as its rival. The four Turner Prize nominees made up the shortlist, and the award was publicised through a series of full page ads in the national press. The ads invited the public to be the jury, using the ballot paper and P.O. box provided. The winner would be revealed in a commercial break during the live TV broadcast of the Turner Prize ceremony.

A look at Cauty and Drummond's past activities reveals a history of anarchic, if amusing trouble-making. Their first record, 1987 - What the F*** is going on? [sic] included unauthorised sampling of Abba's Dancing Queen, for which they were successfully sued, and required to destroy all unsold copies. With their next project, 'The Timelords', they successfully contrived a number one record, Doctorin' the Tardis, following up with a book: The Manual (How to Have a Number One the Easy Way) which revealed their methods and promised a refund for failures. In their third incarnation, the KLF, they released a series of best-selling albums and hit singles, including the influential first ambient house LP Chill Out, and the massive rave anthems What Time is Love? and 3am Eternal.

The duo's output has always involved the idea of a counter-culture: in later work the emphasis was on the familiar themes of conspiracy theory, psychedelic revelation, pagan mysticism and a search for spiritual enlightenment. Eventually their growing distaste for the mercenary world of pop music led them to quit the industry altogether. They vowed never to release another record until there was world peace and then, in a final act of apparent financial suicide, deleted their entire back catalogue.

New vinly may not have been cut, but it seems that Cauty and Drummond couldn't bear to be out of the public eye for long. On the night of the Turner Prize ceremony, 25 journalists, myself included, were invited to the private view of the Foundation's début exhibition, 'The Amending of Art History'. We were picked up by a convoy of seven outsized stretch limos from a West London hotel, and were each handed an enevelope containing £1600 in cash. After an hour's drive, we arrived at our destination: a deserted car-park in the middle of dense woodland somewhere near Woking. We were ordered out of the cars and marched across the car-park to see the Foundation's first work of art. Titled 1,000,000 it consisted of a million pounds in mint 50-pound notes nailed to a piece of board. Ridiculous, dumb, but obviously worth a few bob.

We were then instructed to take the cash we'd been given earlier and nail it to another board. To my surprise the other journalists obeyed, kneeling down on the frosty ground, busily banging 6-inch nails through the money. Photographers jostled with a TV crew to document the madness, while loud sirens began to blare in the distance. Personally, I thought the correct anarchic response would be to keep the cash, so I did. It was noticed that money was missing, but there was no time to find the culprits. A K Foundation associate announced that, based on the 3500 returned ballot papers, Rachel Whiteread was this year's winner of their award; that the money just nailed to the board was her prize; and that we were to drive to the Tate for its presentation. Whiteread was unwilling to accept the insult at first, but when told that the cash would be burnt if she refused it, she accepted, later issuing a statement that the money would go to artists in need.

Exactly what the K Foundation were trying to achieve is difficult to evaluate. They are clearly intent on attacking what they see as bourgeois art world self-righteousness, for which there is an obvious historical precedent from Dada onwards. But their own intervention, in artistic terms, lacked any real effectiveness as aresult of Cauty and Drummond's transparent naivété in terms of the current art situation. The contemporary art world is now virtually unshockable and has developed almost complete immunity to outside criticism. Perhaps their actions would have provoked anger and outrage in the past, but last November they were passiely consumed as lightweight entertainment. Any possible potency was further dissipated by a reliance upon hype (or paid advertising as opposed to 'objective' journalism) to communicate their message. This strategy underestimated the normative capabilities of the media which neutralised all the potentially subversive and transgressive elements of their activities and reduced them to a banal amoal media spectacle.

There has already been an exhaustive investigation into the complex relationship between capital and art, carried out by both theorists and artists, and it seems unlikely that Cauty and Drummond are capable of providing any serious contribution to the debate. Yet this criticism is unlikely to dter them from holding their forthcoming exhibition - 'Money, a Major Body of Cash'. The planned artworks consist of more money nailed to boards, with amounts ranging from £1,000,000 to £10. All this nonsense does raise questions, but ultimately those that are most instructive are focused on the state of Cauty and Drummond's mental health. Sure, the Turner Prize has its problems - but the K Foundation hadn't quite worked out what they are.