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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).

Part I
Part II
Part III
Part IV
Further Information

Festival of Plagiarism by Stewart Home cover

Plagiarism: Art as commodity and strategies for its negation edited by Stewart Home


The Festival Of Plagiarism grew out of a series of earlier collaborations. Obviously, the outline which follows is schematic and excludes a number of important elements (i.e. it is focussed upon exhibitions, festivals and performances and largely ignores the input of various publications such as Variant, Smile, Edinburgh Review &c.).

In the case of this essay, the 'Eighth International Neoist Apartment Festival' (London May 21st to 26th 1984 becomes a 'fictional' starting point. In the run up to - and during the course of - this festival, Pete Horobin, Stefan Szczelkun, Mark Pawson and myself (amongst others) met each other. The Apartment Festival consisted mainly of performances strongly influenced by futurism and fluxus. As a result of this Festival, the Neoist 'movement' underwent a change of direction. This was (at least partially) due to my subsequent involvement with the group. The 'movement' (or at least parts of it) took up my (highly unoriginal) ideas about plagiarism as a 'positive creative technique'. Simultaneously, Pete Horobin, tentatively a convenience and I helped lay stress upon the development of Monty Cantsin as a multiple identity to be adopted by all members of the Neoist Network.

At the time it was held (May '85) the show 'Iconoclasm' - a rudimentary installation by Malcolm Dickson, Gordon Muir and Peter Thomson (Transmission Gallery, Glasgow) - had no obvious connection with the London Neoist Festival. Although the exhibition consisted primarily of paintings and drawings, these were not simply hung at roughly even spaces along the wall. Rather, they were installed in such a way so as to draw attention to the fact that any arrangement of pictures is culturally loaded (and not - as the bourgeois art establishment would have us believe - an inconsequential means by which a series of objects can be displayed in a neutral space).

Among those exhibiting in 'Our Wonderful Culture' (the Crypt, London December '85) were Stefan Szczelkun, Hannah Vowles, Tom McGlynn, Glyn Banks, Ed Baxter and Simon Dickason. At performances which took place during the course of the exhibition, I met and became friendly with Baxter, Dickason, Vowles and Banks. Shortly afterwards, Baxter, Vowles, Banks, Szczelkun and myself, began to discuss the possibilities of organising a group show together.

Back in Glasgow, Dickson, Thomson and Simon Brown were busy organising "War Of Images". The exhibition - when it took place in January '86 - was split between Glasgow School of Art and Transmission Gallery. This show presented the visual polemics of dozens of young Scots (among them Muir and William Clark), whose work was theoretically and practically opposed to both the successful painterly style of New Image Glasgow and the dominant culture in general. Dickson, having seen a magazine I edited and published at the time, sent me promotional material for this show and added my name to the Transmission mailing list. Contact between London and Glasgow was thus established! Meanwhile, Baxter, Szczelkun and myself (my work was attributed to 'Karen Eliot') exhibited in "The Business Of Desire", held at the DIY Gallery, London May '86. My work consisted of three statements 'against desire': 'Desire is the space between repression and freedom through which capital first entered its colonised subjects'; 'The separation induced between desiring "subject" and desired "object" is capitalist ideology materialised'; and 'The destruction of desire is the first task of those seeking a return to the pleasures of the unitary'. These statements had been mounted beneath a drawing of an arm which I'd cut into three sections; the contents of a syringe (visible across all three panels of the triptych) were in the process of being discharged into the lower part of the limb. Constituting a part of Baxter and Szczelkun's contribution was a text in newspaper format entitled "Bypass Control": "Glamour interprets the desires of all our senses as image. Sexuality ceases to exist as tactile pleasure and becomes an analogue of Power. Sex becomes a scene of power, a struggle for power that doesn't exist: a struggle to produce power relations. The machinery of oppression casts an invisible strain on all our human functioning..."

The full text of "Bypass Control" is reproduced in the book "Collaborations" edited by Stefan Szczelkun (Working Press, London 1987) Denise Hawrysio also exhibited in 'The Business Of Desire' where she met Szczelkun. A further six months passed before I became acquainted with her and it was some time after this that I introduced her to Baxter.

An application for a group show at BookWorks (London) - featuring Baxter, Szczelkun, Vowles, Banks and myself -was put together; but due to the gallery's precarious financial situation the exhibition didn't take place. This show was to have been a further exploration of the ideas with which Baxter, Szczelkun and I had been dealing in 'The Business Of Desire'. Among the proposed exhibits was a bookwork of mine entitled "Destruction Of Glamour/Glamour Of Destruction".

Many of the ideas for the BookWorks show were subsequently put to use in a group installation held at Chisenhale Studios (London) and entitled "Ruins of Glamour/Glamour of Ruins". This exhibition was organised by Stefan Szczelkun and took place in December '86. In addition to those who worked on the abortive BookWorks project, the exhibition also featured work by Gabriel (Gabrielle Quinn), Andy Hopton, Simon Dickason and Tom McGlynn. Two key ideas shaped the ultimate form of this installation. The first was that the work should grow from an organic collaboration between the exhibitors; the second that the audience should be made to respond to the gallery as an architectural space and site of power. A somewhat bureaucratic procedure was adopted to achieve these ends; with the exception of Tom McGlynn (who flew in from New York immediately prior to the work being installed), the participants held regular meetings at which they thrashed out their ideas. A description of the "Glamour" show was included in the catalogue which accompanied a follow-up exhibition (Desire In Ruins, Transmission, Glasgow May '87): "Spectators entering Chisenhale Studios, London, during the 'Glamour' show, found themselves blinded by a spotlight. Since there was a wall to their left, they were forced to veer right. They thus found themselves entering a spiral of heaped coal. Any progression beyond the outer ring of the spiral was impeded by sharpened wood spikes. Similarly, it was not possible to step over the spiral at the point where the spotlight was hung. Spectators were thus forced to step over the spiral at a point just in front of the spotlight. By turning their backs to the light, they would find themselves at the best vantage point for viewing both the exhibition and any other spectators (particularly those entering the gallery)."

The 'Glamour' exhibition was destroyed after it had been up for less than a week. Fierce debate ensued over whether it should be kept open. Szczelkun, in particular, felt - despite the graffiti and destruction of works - that the public should still be allowed to view what remained of the show. However, after much discussion, it was decided to close the exhibition. Had the gallery been kept open the insurance claim we'd lodged against 'damage' of works would have been jeopardised. Vowles and Banks were particularly intransigent on this point and insisted that nothing should be removed from the gallery (including an electrical extension lead which Szczelkun wished to use) until after the insurance company had said that it was permissible to do so. It should be noted in relation to this, that the gallery encouraged/pressurised us into accepting that the exhibition should be closed. Apart from anything else, this early closure greatly assisted them in scheduling the installation of their new track lighting system. Chisenhale eventually waived their right to a 25% cut of our insurance claim (collectable as commission!) but still collected a substantial sum for the redecoration of their premises.1 Following the 'destruction' of the "Glamour" installation, Graham Harwood and I (we had met through Szczelkun) began organising the Festival Of Plagiarism (London). Three months later, a group show entitled "Our Wonderful Culture II - Voyage" was hurriedly put together by Hercules Fisherman at Fisherman Studios, London. The exhibition ran for two and a half weeks in March and April '87. Szczelkun, Baxter, Hopton, Gabriel, Dickason, Harwood, Karen Strang, Graham Tansley and myself (working as Karen Eliot) were among those exhibiting. Like the first 'Our Wonderful Culture', this show was overhung with an eclectic variety of work. However, because little attention was paid to organising an effective system of lighting, aesthetically considered hanging or ensuring that the gallery was open at the times advertised to the public, the exhibition did not meet with the same critical acclaim as its predecessor in the Crypt. Simultaneously, Malcolm Dickson and Gordon Muir held another installation entitled 'Iconoclasm' at the Transmission Gallery in Glasgow. Dickson's work was focussed around a transmutation of a May '68 slogan (which substituted the word 'Sewer' for 'Beach' and thus ran 'Beneath The Cobble Stones The Sewer'). The slogan simultaneously referred to the fact that a sewer ran beneath the cobbled floor of the gallery and the failure of the sixties youth revolt. The gallery space utilised by Dickson was lit by a single naked bulb which illuminated a uniform series of black, rectangular, plaster reliefs (entombed inside these were nuts, bolts, combs, broken records and other discarded objects). Muir's work consisted largely of paintings and drawings - many of which included quotations from (or other references to) the song lyrics of punk and post punk bands (in relation to this see Muir's text 'Iconoclasm' presented during the course of the show and included in Edinburgh Review No. 77).

Immediately afterwards another group installation, "Desire In Ruins", ran at Transmission Gallery as part of the Glasgow May Festival. This show was organised between Ed Baxter, Malcolm Dickson, Carole Rhodes and myself. It featured the work of Baxter, Banks, Dickason, Hopton, Vowles, Szczelkun and myself (working as Karen Eliot) and was in many ways a further exploration of the themes dealt with in the DIY and Chisenhale exhibitions. Alan Robertson and David O'Vary (in an unpublished review) give the following description of the show: "Looking through the heavy grilles which protect Transmission's windows, one sees a surface covered with earth, upon which lies a rubber chicken and several other found objects, including a toy piano with its keys violently nailed down. On entering you find yourself amidst an Aladdin's cave of images and objects, lit only by a single spotlight. One's presence was immediately made known by the noise created from stepping on the discarded beer cans strewn across the entrance (a reflection on a drinking culture in ruins perhaps?). Stepping in front of the light in order to enter the space, shut off all illumination and brought a sinister peep-show squalor to the surroundings. The space was cluttered with objects, reminiscent of the stalls in Paddy's market. Pictures of a Pope in ornate plastic frames, bottles of 'Liquid Sky', paintings from a hair- loss advert, sheets of writing stuck on the walls, plastic baby dolls, condoms filled with some white substance, a bottle of ketchup on a plinth. All of these trash objects stand as icons to a culture of commodity, image and desire. Occupying a great deal of the first gallery space was an installation made up of bamboo canes, boards, wires, switches and the like. Impaled and stretched on these canes was a nylon leopard skin, through which the canes poked at strategic points..." The rear gallery was largely devoted to a visual investigation of those links between sexuality and childhood which had been outlined in the catalogue to the 'Glamour' show ('the glamorous adult is modelled on an idealised vision of children'). Two works dealt most explicitly with this theme. Ultra-violet light illuminated a stereo-typed image of a cowboy (which was neither adult nor child and approached in appearance a gay 'clone') taken from a children's colouring book and reproduced life-size on the gallery wall. This piece was entitled 'Kind Pride' ('kind' has been adopted by certain paedophiles as a term of positive self-description). Another wall painting featured two naked children holding hands (the image was taken from a commercially available post card). Balloons filled with white paint were placed on and around this picture (to be shot at with an air gun, thus obliterating the image of the two children). The same image was used on posters for the show and resulted in threats of police prosecution.

In September '87, Dickson exhibited a video installation entitled "XS" as part of the Smith Biennale at the Smith Art Gallery, Stirling. A less ambitious version of this installation (without television monitors) served as Dickson's contribution to the Festival Of Plagiarism; the film which had been put together for multi-screen use as a part of 'XS' was shown on a single monitor during one of the Festival video evenings. In November '87, Dickson exhibited another video installation - "Arrival/Departure" - as part of AVA (Audio Visual Experimental) at Arnhem in Holland.

Part II: Festival of Plagiarism