Notes on a Festival of Plagiarism
Excerpted from The Last Word:
Art Strike, Word Strike, Plagiarism
The Last Word: Art Strike, Word Strike, Plagiarism and Originality was a text I published in 1990 after I returned from Stewart Home's either second or fifth Festival of Plagiarism in Glasgow, Scotland. Despite its convenient title, The Last Word was never intended to be my last stand in mail art or anything else. Still, it kind of turned out that way. The following months I was swept away to cyberspace via the online Echo Communcations teleconferencing BBS and my performance space made out of pure ascii text- Panscan, never to return. So the period following the writing of the words that follow did turn out to be a kind of art strike or moratorium on my "physical" art production that lasted for twenty years. However, before that, having received, from all over the world, so many fine, even important, responses to these writings, I quickly put together another issue of my zine Panmag to share them all and create a dialogue. But, as fate would have it, somehow that project ended up in a box, fully photocopied and ready to publish–where it still sits, unseen by all but myself, to this day. So if it might have led somewhere, I am guilty of single-handedly cutting off what might have been a wonderful community dialogue at a time when it might have been useful. Five years later, in 1995, the inventor of mail art, Ray Johnson, was dead, the Internet was coming to life, an "art strike" that no one remembered to particpate in was over and some say mail art was breathing its last breaths, thankfully, all points to be debated elsewhere. Still, I will always wonder what might have happened had I published the responses to this little magazine of mine.
In The Last Word, in addition to stating my ideas on The Word Strike, my own response to the Art Strike that was proposed at the time, as well as on originality, I gave a full report on the 1989 Festival of Plagiarism and that is what I have isolated here as a document in itself. While my networking abilities took new directions in early cyberspace, with the old ones trapped in a cardboard box screaming to get out, Stewart Home, a master of sometimes self-serving propaganda and cogent polemical rhetoric from whom I still had much to learn, published reams of press on himself and his Plagiarist ideas and even managed to get others to add even more on top of that. But alas, my contribution to events was almost nowhere to be seen. It seems in retrospect that I had been written out of history–perhaps by chance, perhaps because my ideas and understanding of the whole thing stunk, or perhaps just because I dared to critique Stewart and he does not like that sort of thing and knows how to deal with it most effectively- ignore ignore ignore.
In 1993, in a piece called Assessing The Art Strike, Home wrote this: "Other individuals - such as Mark Bloch with his Last Word pamphlet - tried and failed to bait me into print by publishing blatant lies about certain of my activities during the eighties."
At any rate, the cyber-experiment I embarked upon back then has since come to fruition as a little thing called the World Wide Web where any man is free to publish his own version of history and others are even freer to plagiarize it. Some of these concepts were tackled by us in Glasgow that summer, most were not. But I do take pride in two things: 1) that I was among the first to knock around what Stewart was doing back then by writing down my thoughts on his provocations and getting them out in print form, albeit humbly. He remains a person who knows how to do such things on a much bigger stage. And by the way, even though what you are about to read comes across as a big criticism, I hope my appreciation for what Stewart was trying to do comes through. I admire him and many of his ideas--both the original ones and the stolen ones--were good ones; and 2) I was also among the first to see the cyber-tide turning. That's why I ditched mail art and concepts like Neoism and Plagiarism: I knew the computer modem was going to change all of our lives and that it would be so much better for the world of self-publishing than mail art or "little magazines" ever would be.
So now we come full circle. In spite of being left out of the incoherent re-writings of Neoism, Plagiarism and Stewart Home-ism, I now get to publish–again–for the first time since 1989–these Notes on a Festival of Plagiarism. As I re-read them I see that much of this is worthy of being bandied about again. While eveything has changed, nothing has, too. Since no one documented what happened in Scotland during that week as thoroughly as I did, you will now have a chance to re-live it as I just did. If you have something to add, please contact me. Maybe someday I will publish that zine in a box that I have been storing up and I can add you to the dozens who bothered to let me know their opinions on what you are about to read.
Despite his fantacies, it was never my intention or style to lie about Stewart anything else. In fact the opposite is true. Upon re-reading this, I seem to be guilty of a painful earnestness that borders on mawkishness. While I am horrified by much of what is said here, I think it deserves to be read as an interesting footnote during interesting times. –Mark Bloch, 2008.
Notes on a Festival of Plagiarism
I have decided to write my own biased report on the Festival of Plagiarism in Glasgow. Stewart Home tells me in a recent letter "I couldn't face doing anything as exhaustive about the Glasgow Festival as I did about the London one" and after reading Photostatic's objective report (Lloyd Dunn writes that it "offers no critical appraisal of what took place.") on the whole thing, I am appalled. Someone needs to tell what really happened and I guess that will have to be me. In the process of telling what happened in Glasgow, I will also work in my alternatives to some of the ideas circulated there. While I think some kind of action is necessary, I favor "originality" over "Plagiarism" (recognizing that total originality may not be possible) and I propose a Word Strike instead of an Art Strike.
There is no easy way to write about something as complex as the Art Strike and the Festival of Plagiarism. So many people, so many events, so many ideas circulated there. Please try and bear with me. Maybe after you have read all of it, some cohesiveness will come out of it.
Background Information For The Uninitiated
Consider yourself initiated. The Festival of Plagiarism took place From August 4-11, 1989 in Glasgow, Scotland at Transmission Gallery. There was another Festival of Plagiarism in London last year and while there is information printed on that elsewhere, it will occasionally be cited here. I decided to attend this years festival because (1)1 would be travelling in Europe and (2) because I was interested in some of the issues as I understood them then. I had met Stewart Home during his trip to New York City earlier in 1989 and I read his flawed but intelligent book (The Assault on Culture. Aporia Press and Unpopular Books) about some of the art movements since Lettrisme. He invited me to attend the Festival. Thus, from Paris (via The English Channel and then Wiltshire) I travelled to London with my friend Wendy Lanxner, an American musician and actress. There we unexpectedly met the publisher of Photostatic Magazine, Lloyd Dunn of Iowa City, Iowa at the Hackney home of Mark Pawson- our mutual friend through the mail art network. On August 4 the four of us travelled to Glasgow together on a bus. (The British call it a "coach.")
We arrived safely in Glasgow and learned at the Opening that we'd stay at Pierre Kraitsowitz's, a member of the community and a friend of Transmission. Other out of town guests found similar housing situations. Staying at Pierre's turned out to be a lucky accident He's a fascinating person and a great host. We all had a fun and thought-provoking time and I take this opportunity now to thank Pierre and also everyone at Transmission Gallery for their hospitality. I also say hello and thank you to all of you Glaswegians whose names are not mentioned here and whose addresses I don't have. If you write to me I will gladly send you a copy of this and would welcome any correspondence. I also want to thank Stewart Home who had the idea of recycling Gustav Metzger's Art Strike idea (from the Destruction In Art Symposium) and who organized this Festival with Billy Clark of Glasgow. They did a great job. It was one of the most inspiring weeks I spent in my four months in Europe and it's taken me another four months to get my thoughts down in print about it. Though I think the Festival in general was a great experience of which I'm appreciative, what you are about to read is me examining it with a magnifying glass. I hope no one gets burned in the process. I come down pretty hard on Stewart in these pages (the boot went in- hard!), though Stewart probably will probably consider it mere child's play. Same with Lloyd Dunn. They both have managed to get my goat (no Pan intended) with some of their ideas. But I respect them both and consider them friends. That's why I think it would be unfair to pull any punches. In fact it shows more disrespect and less friendship to mask the truth. They are both big boys and I know they can take it. And for those of you that want to tear this to pieces, either literally or figuratively, please do so. In fact, I'd be disappointed if you didn't.
Stewart said in the final discussion on August 11, that the festival was designed to "pissoff the people who believe what they do is universally valid," to which someone added, "There will always be more people to piss off." Another yelled, "No one has the answers, life is not a static problem. Distrust anyone who thinks they have all the answers." I wrote in my notes: "Why are we here? To remind ourselves that we don't have the answers."
Transmission Gallery offers a new alternative to Glasgow's old alternative The Third Eye Centre. Transmission provides an atmosphere for still looser activities. In the case of the Festival of Plagiarism, the people at Transmission showed infinite patience, endurance, and stamina in an exhaustive display of Glaswegian hospitality. Their copy machine was pillaged, their coffee drunk, their phone abused, their office filled to the point of bursting with rucksacks and guitar amps. Still I always felt welcomed there and I presume the other participants did as well. They did an incredible job.
The people who ran the gallery, like the participants, were low on energy by the end of the ordeal. I guess that's one of the dangers in having a open event in an open space with undefined parameters, etc. Perhaps those of us who participated assumed too much personal interest on the part of the gallery workers. Were they simply there to assist logisdcally or were they personally invloved? Many of them had work on the walls and at least one- Billy Clark- gave a performance.
After the first festival Stewart admitted: "Before holding the fest I naively imagined that it was possible to use platforms of privilidge to make a critique of privilidge.'* (From The Festival of Plagiarism. Sabotage Editions. ISBN 0-9514417-0-1) Did he do it again by holding it in a gallery?
Was Transmission a gallery or not during the week of the festival? I'd have to say yes, but it is just a matter of semantics. Mark Pawson suggested that the distinction between gallery and non- gallery is arbitrary. "Draw a line between them and feel free to move back and forth."
Finally, I asked about Norman Rae, the engineer. He's the guy that wandered in and ended up attending many of the events, from the performances to the Temple of Psychic Youth videos. Would he call it a gallery? Billy Clark immediatley ended that discussion. He didn't want to talk about the gallery's relationship to the working class community of Glasgow. I'm not sure why. Perhaps to him it is a question that he must confront everyday as a member of the gallery committee. To me it is interesting that a guy like Norman chose to participate. He was the only person I know of who came in by chance and then stayed. To me his answers to questions like What is a gallery? are relevant. For an even more objective view of the fest, maybe you should write Norman.
Personal Differences, Bickering Get In the Way of Constructive Dialogue
Pete Horobin. who is rumored to be living in a tent, was noticeably absent from this years proceedings. He figured prominently in last year's recap. I'm sorry I missed him.
In Stewart Home's pamphlet on the first Plagiarist Festival, he blamed lot of the problems on in-fighting between the participants. This year's fest had its share of in-fighting but I don't think it was as bad as previous years. Stewart did his best to avoid all of that with careful planning, inviting the right people you might say, and this could be perceived as a problem in itself. But whatever happened at this year's fest the fighting was held to a minimum. However, at the final discussion, Stewart couldn't keep the peace with one of his closest mates. Mark Pawson and I wasn't sure what was behind it until Mark came to visit New York in January 1990. "I accused Stewart of abdication of responsibilities and of hiding behind the guise of an open festival." I consider both Mark and Stewart to be friends of mine. I know they used to be friends of each other. I like to think that there is room for disagreement in this world without shattering friendships. Still, their bickering was indicative of the petty squabbles that are an inevitable part of a festival like this that hopes to wrap up the opinions of some 3 dozen participants into neat theoretical packages in a week. There are limits to what is possible when all points of view arc welcomed and nerves become frayed by week's end.
I personally spent the entire week in heated discussions with Lloyd Dunn about various points that often bordered on personal differences in our ways of percieving the worid. But I think they helped to clarify our respective positions. I hope I still have Lloyd's respect in spite of the fact that he chastised me for suggesting that I choose to copyright some of my creative output and not others. I still respect him even though he tells me how he will not participate in the Art Strike but his magazine will.
I also had differences with Stewart but I always found him willing to talk. My differences with the content as well as the style of Stewart's rheotoric were expressed in my Panmag 27. I also rebutted his ideas in my performance on Sunday night (see Performances section of this booklet, below) but, much to my dismay, he didn't see it; a pity because it was directed mainly at his ideas. His reason for not seeing the piece was that the room was too filled with cigarette smoke. He didn't ask people to quit smoking, didn't ask me to tell them, and so he missed the piece and I found that annoying. How are we supposed to have a dialogue if Stewart misses my response because of something as stupid as the fact that there is smoke in the air? I totally agree with the fact that there was too much smoke. The problem was Stewart* s failure to say something about it until after the fact. Was that just an excuse? Later he told me my Panmag was "liberal" and "American." I'm sure my performance was even moreso. That's one of the most severe put downs a Yank can get from a British lefty like Stewart, but he'd probably like the liberal new smoking laws in the USA.
"The Italians" (as they came to be called) Gomma Guameri, Raf Volvola, Monica Fritz and the beautiful Miss X who didn't speak English, made an interesting contribution whenever they were at the festival but chose to leave and then come back at the end of the week due to personal reasons (or perhaps out of frustration.) They argued with Stewart the night before they left about some of the theory behind the festival. Stewart and the Italians clearly disagreed on the tactics that arc necessary to effect the kind of change they both seemed to be after. It's a pity the Italians didn't stick around long enough to sort out the differences. Had they done so, their ideas may have had more clout in the big picture. But I must add that during the final discussion, for which the Italians returned to Glasgow, their views suffered no lack of interest on the part of the other participants. Most of the participants seemed pretty riveted by their comments about "direct action" and what should be done and how to do it. Everyone was in agreement about the fact that action, not theory, was needed now. But because the Italians disappeared for the middle 3 or 4 days of the week long fest, they weren't respected as full members of the group. A real shame for all concerned.
Stewart's role was to be the leader of the festival in theory but he failed in terms of logistics. It often seemed too much for him. If he was the liaison between the participants and the gallery, he often shirked this responsibility in lieu of an opportunity to speak with the publishers of one magazine or another. For instance, on one occasion he suddenly gave me the controls of the video, telling me to turn it off "when people get bored" while he went down to the pub to talk with the publisher of some magazine who was leaving. This was his responsibility but he gave it up at the expense of the rest of us who had to sit and watch a boring video clip while Stewart promoted the ideas of his "open" festival. He clearly values media coverage. Sometimes it seemed as though the entire festival was just a creation for Stewart to talk about in an interview.
There was a shortage of women at this year's festival and that seems worth noting. Only a handful of women attended. Wendy Lanxner was present as an active member of the Festival despite the fact that Lloyd Dunn dismissed her in Photostatic as "travelling with Bloch". Her opinions were her own and they were welcomed by the group. Indeed we travelled together but she was by no means an appendage to me and it seems she was treated accordingly until Lloyd's review.
Jayne Taylor's participation was also welcomed by the group. Her foot washing performance on the Fluxus day and the performance of her "all-girl" group (called We Are The Men!) on the final night were both much more than simply refreshing. They illustrated what is possible when women as well as men are included in an event such as this. The air was often thick with theory and anger and Jayne provided a sense of the enjoyment of life that ultimately, I hope, we are all seeking. Yeah how 'bout time off from talking about how rotten and bourgoise life is and just get your foot washed? (I think that was all there was to it. There was no ironic gender or exploitation message here.) Or listen to 4 or 5 women play some fun songs like These Boots Are Made For Walking or their own amusing creations. They cut right through the pretentious shouting and ami raising of Stewards pastiche-punk band. It was also Jayne who put out the bowls of sprouts that grew during the fest I was hesitant to eat them for fear they were someone's sacred art statement. But when Jayne was washing my feet she explained they were there to eat. Nothing more nothing less. Yeah, at the risk of using a non-intellectual term, the festival could have used some more yin energy.
There were other women present. Unfortunately I don't know their names or didn't speak with them. I do remember it was Meg McLucas who cut hair during the gallery opening. Again, I don't think there was an ironic gender or exploitation message in her choice of action. It was just the kind of fun performance that is at least as enjoyable as listening to anarchistic, intellectual banter by a bunch of Plagiarists.
Lorna Waite was present on the first night and then toward the end but I believe she lives in Edinburgh and other commitments prevented her from being in Glasgow during most of the week. It was a shame. Her writings in the magazine Variant make engaging reading from a feminist perspective. We could have benefitted from more of such a perspective at the festival.
Finally in light of the shortage of women it is ironic that Smile quoted some interesting comments from Ralph Rumney of the Situationists: "Alot of the theory, particularly the political theory, I think originated with Michele (Bernstein) rather than Debord, he just took it over and put his name to it" "Women were there to type, cook supper and so on ."
Women could have mixed things up a bit and when they were present they did. I don't even want to get into what contributions could have been made by "people of color" had they been present at this festival. But let's just say the talk at this fest was largely white male bullshit: cerebral fantasies of a (art?) college-educated mentality. Sure, Mail Art was absent from the fest but, sadly, the White male spirit that pervades that genre was in full force. Was it Henry Flynt that mentioned in Smile that black American music was a new language? At any rate. Blacks and Whites have been "plagiarizing" each other for years, twisting each innovation around in new and interesting ways. When American Blacks combined the hymns of the Baptist church with the emotions and rhythms of Africa to create Gospel, Jazz and Blues, whole new art forms were born (art forms that continue to thrive in spite off, or even because of, the existence of a "ruling elite.") Perhaps the festival could have more interesting results if there had been a more interesting mix of people. There were the aforementioned Italians and Americans and our resident Beriiner, Florian Cramer helped spice things up a bit. Future festivals should pursue a more international mix.
An anonymously published A4 broadsheet with Oliver North on the cover tided Openmindedness against parties from the section "The Unique Spirit" said, "I see this festival as an open minded discussion and I intend to accept everything. My message to you is to accept nothing for what it is." Apparently no one did. "The general mix of events and the crossover between sensibilities was healthy," said Florian Cramer at the final discussion. I agree. The TapeBeatles. Temple of Psychic Youth, the Decoder film, the necrophilia film, Stewart's Smile, Panmag, the Fluxus performances, the xeroxing workshop, for better or worse, it's good that they coexisted. Organizers Stewart and Billy deserve praise for rising in scope above the limited schools of neoism and Mail art.
Should the festival have been more concentrated? People were tired (the British say "knackered") by week's end. Mark Pawson said in the final discussion: "If you want to come to a 3 day festival, you do so. People can decide how long to stay for themselves." Pierre Kraitsowitz had an interesting view which he expressed to me privately mid-week (paraphrasing) "Let's let the fest run its course with the theory and all that and then those that want to hang around longer can do some actual work, get down to the action." Unfortunatley, everyone was too exhausted by the end to stick around.
On the subject of the first fest Stewart Home said in March' 88, "Looking back on the the Festival of Plagiarism my feelings are chiefly negative. No serious debate emerged from the festival itself." Did one emerge this time? I think so. Some participants, including myself, expressed regrets that there weren't more planned discussions but informal talks filled the gap. The pub Blackfriar's on Albion St. near the gallery was the scene of many a debate. In addition, each night when Lloyd Dunn, Pierre Kraitsowitz, Tony Credland, Wendy Lanxner and I returned to Pierre*s apartment where we slept, the debates would continue en route and late into the night Then we'd wake up and continue discussing the issues over coffee. I assume others did the same. In '88 Stewart continued, "the social element of the festival forms an important aspect of its ideological orientation. In terms of theoretical developments we do not expect to make any great advances in the space of a week." Any advances that were made occured in those private discussions. It was a shame in my opinion that all the private discussions weren't integrated into one large discussion. This booklet is an attempt to do just that. however; I encourage other people to share what their experience was.
Censorship and Unnatural Selection
The exhibition at Transmission was already hung when I arrived for the Opening. I don't want to get into describing it It looked like any other art show, I guess; at least like any other mail art show. The Opening was like any other Opening. After that, people were encouraged to add to or paste over the exhibition. I don't know what criteria was used for the original hanging of the show but it set the stage for the rest of the week.
The problem with this kind of open show is that there is no objective criteria for judgement. Can one "select things on a basis of non-selection" as Stewart asks? "What is the role of taste? Is it possible to build a culture without values? Is it possible to balance between selection and unselection?" Stewart says it is impossible, a contradiction. He admitted putting on certain videos when no one was around and hanging works he didn't like closer to the floor. "Should we agree to differ or should we have a collective vision?" he asks. Stewart and perhaps others who believe that we all have an "equal gift of vision" seem to have a problem with such questions. To me, assuming that everyone is somehow "equal" is absurd. Sure we are created equal but are we equally creative? Stewart admits we're not equal but that the division of wealth and priviledge should be "need oriented." What "objective" being is going to decide who "needs" too much? I say Stewart organized this fest so he got to choose whose work got hung where. He chose to play his own video at a prime time in the festival. That's his perogative. People who don't like it should organize their own festival. But to make these decisions and then present the idea that this is somehow an "open" festival is a lie. Unlike Mark Pawson, I give Stewart credit for at least admitting the precarious position he was in when making such decisions.
Meanwhile, the changing exhibition was good. There was some removal of work, some pasting over. Should there have been more? In retrospect I think just to get a reaction out of all these "open"-minded people I should have removed everything, put it in a big pile, burned it and hung up Gainsboroughs all over the place.
In the final discussion Tony Credland asked, "Is it censorship? What if I just went upstairs and ripped down all your work? Would you be pissed off? Why?" He also suggested the Gallery opening was stupid and traditional. Stewart disagreed: "People showed up from the Glasgow art world who never came again." Does this make it good? Stewart obviously thinks attention from the media and power people is important. There are many rationalizations for a fetish like that but we must each ask ourselves the real reasons.
The Photocopy "Workshop"
On Saturday there was to be a photocopy "workshop" hosted by Jamie Reid (who did graphics for the Sex Pistols.) Jamie was available to talk to anyone with comments or questions but he chose not to "lead" a workshop. The Transmission Gallery copier was simply made available for anyone who wanted to use it. When I arrived at the gallery, about 2 hours late, all hell had already broken loose. The floor was covered with trash, discarded copies and collage materials. The Plagiarists had gone nuts. It was a creative atmosphere that continued throughout the week. Without permission, the participants continued to use the gallery copier until a sign appeared mid-week asking that people pay for their copies. Paid for or not. that workshop set the stage for the changing face of the gallery exhibition, which was an important aspect of the festival.
This "workshop" brought up some interesting questions, at least for me. First, some participants argued that "it was a facility not a workshop." What the hell does that mean? Somehow this difference in semantics vindicated them from holding the entire festival in a gallery. As if because there was a copier now the gallery had been turned into a copy shop or something and was now not a tool of the "ruling elite". Rubbish.
Speaking of rubbish, to me the most important issue for us to discuss was that this event produced too much waste. When I brought this up at the final discussion no one even wanted to talk about it. I find this position most enlightening. Obviously these "cultural workers" found themselves beyond reproach when it came to questions of efficiency and ecology. I am not exagerating when I say the floor of the gallery was literally covered from one end to the other by "bad" copies. But by bringing this up I become some sort of bitchy authority figure in the eyes of the anarchist "cultural workers." I hate to be self-righteous about this but I made an entire issue of my magazine Panmag out of materials I found strewn on the floor. No one else seemed interested in even talking about such concepts.
Lloyd Dunn makes a plagiarist joke saying "That which appears is good; that which is good appears." Can this apply to us as well? Is his or anyone' s flyer only good by virtue of the fact that it appeared at a Festival of Plagiarism?
Later in the week I had an interesting idea that introduced similarly challenging questions: There were large xeroxed mug shots of the Baader Meinhoff group in the exhibition. I decided it would be clever to enlarge photos of myself and Wendy to paste over a couple of the mug shots. OK, so I started to enlarge them on the copier (after asking for permission.) After making 3 or 4 enlargements at 200% I realized I had a ways to go before I got them up to size. I decided the waste of paper wasn't worth it so I plastered the copies over two of the Baader Meinhoff pies as they were. So what if they weren't big enough to cover the entire pie underneath? The concept was clear. Florian Cramer loved the gesture when I showed him so he copied my idea. But he did it better. He enlarged his picture the extra times to make it fit just right It looked perfect- there he was- the same sized head as the rest of the Baader Meinhoffs. Mine and Wendy's images were effective but smaller than the rest Florian' s "execution" (no pun intended) of the piece was better but wasted more paper. In addition he "stole" the idea from me. I thought this all brought up some interesting questions about just what is ethical. Stealing the idea at a Festival of Plagiarism doesn't bug me as much as the paper wasting question. I propose that, given our current environmental crisis, artists question whether their work is really deserving of the paper it is printed on.
Films and Videos
Consensus at the final discussion was that the heavy use of videos at the festival was stupid. "Nothing at all would have been better." The anarchist videos were the best, though Some Call It Sleep was stupid due to the fact that its soundtrack was incomprehensible because of technical problems. Stewart said "I read the text. I'm not sympathetic- it was a caricature of Debord' s ideas. All the videos were authoritarian in nature but I didn 't feel like talking about it afterward becasue I was too tired," Later on in this booklet you hear Stewart call "sleeping in" a "Bohemian event." Couldn't the same be said of his exhaustion? Either way, the videos were stupid and if Stewart read the transcript before hand and didn't like it, why did we have to sit through them?
The Temple of Psychic Youth event was one of the best examples of textbook "Plagiarism" at the festival and also one of the most boring events, in my opinion. Because of Psychic TV's cult status, though, it managed to attract the biggest crowd of the week. This would have been a great opportunity to reach the kids of Glasgow but that opportunity went untapped. Instead they left immediatley after the Psychic TV house music and cut-up mass communication. This was MTV on three screens instead of one, nothing more nothing less. This wouldn't bother me except it contradicted what was on the sheet they distributed. Lots of big ideas but this was just another bunch of hypnotized kids. Should there have been dancing? They wanted people to watch the videos. A fine example illustrating Debord's concepts- this was the Spectacle! The people who organized the event disagree: "We didn't encourage people to worship the cross we constructed. We put it on the floor so people could walk over it as they left." Does it matter? This was clearly a vehicle for the mystification of art, and the worship of a few geniuses like Genesis P. Orridge and William Burroughs, whether the worshippers realize it or not. All in the name of Plagiarism.
Klaus Maeck's German cult film Decoder had its UK premier at the fest. This film also exploited meaningless appearances by Orridge and Burroughs but had the saving grace of exploring questions of subliminal mind control through muzak. The discussion after was informal. Was that good? Again, is any informal discussion at an event like this good or should a group consciousness evolve through group discussions? I was baffled by the film (it was not translated into English, for one) until I spoke with Maeck afterwards about his intentions. Once he explained it, I liked it. Ben Alien didn't hear our discussion and I found it interesting that he still hated the film an hour later. I think the group could have benefitted from a more organized discussion.
A few videos were shown at last year's festival as well as this year's: Franz John copier videos and Flux events by Simon Anderson. Why? The F. Johns stuff was interesting in the context of Plagiarism but had no political relevance. I think someone should have decided just what was meant by "Plagiarism." The meaning seemed to change according to what was convenient. Some fire pieces were shown and accused of being fascistic and reminiscent of burning ghettos. A ridiculous piece about necrophilia was screened one of the first nights with the rationalization being that it was a "pastiche." According to Stewart's definitions of "Plagiarism" couldn't everything be considered a pastiche of something else? Words cause the problems.
I can*t review every video that was shown at the fest- there were dozens. How was it decided what videos were shown? (1) Stewart's interest. (2) Invitations were sent out, published, whoever responded got shown. Stewart decided when. One thing was sure- there were too many. Someone suggested, after the fact, putting the videos facing the sidewalk out the window. Good idea. That would have immediatley answered alot of the questions of who the videos were for, and for that matter, also who the show, the festival, the ideas were for.
Generally, the group agreed the performances were well done. (Mark Pawson objects to my use of the term "The Group." I am usually referring to the general consensus during the final discussion.)
An entity called the Mudguards conducted the only organized (?) discussion of the entire festival (with t
he exception of the final wrap-up). It is good that a discussion took place but it was poorly orchestrated and the content was stupid. Discussion rambled freely between the participants while the Mudguards served tea. They talked about the "power of theft" as they ripped off electricity from the gallery with their inefficient space-heater-tumed-water-boilers. Conversations ensued about what people are willing to do and what they are not. Prompted by a disgruntled attendee who shouted that no one in the room had ever done an honest days work, I asked who was willing to work for a living and many raised their hand. Next I inquired who is not and many of the same people raised their hand. Gee whiz, the trouble with anarchists! The conversation went round and round until we were stymied by the question of who would willingly dean the toilets.
In the final discussion Stewart explained the history of the Mudguards and their unpredictability. He called them "unprofessional." A curious phrase by our fearless leader against the oppressive powers of the ruling elite.
August 9 Fluxus Day- there could have been more performances. Mark Pawson's film-objects were interesting and amusing, too. As mentioned above Jayne Taylor's 5-hour foot-washing piece was good. Each participant was welcome to have a personal conversation with Jayne while she washed their feet in warm water. "Nothing is perfect. Perfect is nothing." said her flyer.
Klaus Maeck's riot soundtrack tape to be played in public was potentially a good idea but apparently no one showed up. If they had, there weren't enough tape recorders. People complained that it was all too early in the day- it was supposed to be early in the morning. They said lunchtime would have been better. Stewart said "sleeping in is a bohemian event." As much as I like Stewart, sometimes I think he would make a great Stalin-type with all his judgements about how people should behave in his free society of the future. But you've got to get up pretty early in the morning to convince Stewart of that.
Being a Beatle fan, I looked forward to Lloyd Dunn's Tape Beatles "performance" piece. Unfortunatley I found it a little boring and too intellectual. It didn't seem to speak to people. He only played a tape and then talked afterwards. The "music" has the same cut-up elements as Psychic TV's music but you can't dance to it Perhaps it would be more interesting if it wasn't billed as a "performance.** As for the Tape Beatles concept, others have already done it- better. In the late 70* s Vittore Baroni (aka L.L. Murnau) selected at random a one second cut from each Beatles song and spliced them together in chronological order. Intellectual, yes, but today, it still has more humor than Lloyd's "band" and none of the pretention. Negativeland is another band that "recycles" other people's music in new ways (including the Beatles- Their latest is called Helter Stupid) But I still think Tape Beatles is a great name. Lloyd really does have all the right ideas about the limited number of voices in contemporary culture. Hopefully he will find a more effective way of exercizing his.
Florian Cramer's piece was interesting, he left people wanting more. He played recordings by Duchamp, Cage and several others: A general history ot Plagiarism and the avant garde. Good for those who haven't done their Modernist homework. His 3-dimensional "magazine" continued the idea in the gallery. He was able to discuss things further. Very few took the opportunity to talk with Florian, though. Norman The Engineer did, I did, Wendy did. I don't know who else did but those who din't missed an opportunity to share in a wealth of information. Florian's journey from Berlin was a wonderful addition to the festival.
Billy dark banging on a file cabinet with a hammer in the dark and shining a slide projector into the faces of the audience was successful in clearing the room. I'm not sure what it had to do with Plagiarism, but I liked it alot.
That brings us to my performance. I will recreate it now so Stewart will know what he missed.
Act 1, you might call a "pastiche** of the ancient myth of Pan and Syrinx. I was assisted by Wendy Lanxner who rendered "The Impossible Dream** on her silver flute from the quixotic play Man of La Mancha. (That choice of song was a message to those who would seek to create a Utopia.) Pan, the untamed beast, and the disciplined but less passionate Syrinx, learn something from each other. The middle way is shown to be superior.
In Act 2, Wendy gave everyone in the room a pebble taken from the grave of Marcel Duchamp in Rouen, north of Paris. I then read this text: "I can't help it I believe in originality. I don't want to believe in it but I'm such a genius I have to. I have so many heroes, so many people that inspire me. I believe in history. Sure, it's not complete but thank God we have something to observe, something that prevents us/rom making the same mistakes over and over. Sure the world is all fucked up but we have made some progress haven't we? Yeah I know the earth is in wretched shape but there are still people to believe in. I am inspired by John Lennon, by Gandhi, by Lao Tse by Buddah. Heraclitus said nothing is new under the sun and then Hegel said it again. In 1911 Marcel Duchamp coined the term 'ready made.'He took an object that wasn't art and said it was because he chose it. So he turned everything into a potential artwork and everyone into an artist while sealing his reputation as a superstar. That was clever. There are heroic acts done by people who aren't famous every day. We never hear about them on TV but still they create, they excel, they shine. Sly Stone said 'everybody is a star' and I think he was right. I guess in spite of all its shortcomings I enjoy pop culture. I enjoy culture. Whether you admit it or not we are all participating now in a cultural event. To me the enemy is not heroes. No, I think we need to find people from the past and the present that inspire us. The stones you are holding in your hand I collected from the grave of Marcel Duchamp, in Rouen a couple of weeks ago. I'd like to ask you now, if you haven't done so already to consider this stone and what its about. Think for a moment cfyow own death. Think for a moment of the mysterious gift of life you've been given. Blood is pulsing through your veins. Speaking of vain, I still believe in the myth of the artist, the artist who is the medicine man of the tribe. Artists must reclaim this ancient healing/unction of art. If you believe in originality then please covet your stone. If you are a plagiarist throw your stone at me now." In his account of my performance Lloyd said that immediatley following this statement I was pelted by the stones, but the truth of the matter is there was a momentary pause while each of the stone-holders thought about their true allegiance. In that second there was an eternity that made it all worthwhile. A couple people told me afterwards that that split second of contemplation was what the festival was really all about
In Act 3 I invited everyone to come up and step on my toes. I finished the performance with an Elvis mutation and a rendering of "Blue Suede Shoes" from my tape Ten Zen Men. It features snippets about shoes from the songs of some of my pop heroes.
Smile 11 set the stage for the discussions that ensued, organized or otherwise. As usual, Stewart's writing here is intelligent but so thick you can cut it with a sickle. Besides the schedule, it contains various editorials, an interview with Henry Hint, an interview with Rumney, articles on Situationism, aesthetics, the art movements of the 60s art among other things. In a piece called "Pataphysics"by Alain Resnais, we are told, "artistic expression falls short of true self expression, the realization of one's life." This was the only interesting thing said in the name of Pataphysics, The rest was pure crap and it would have made Alfred Jarry puke had he been around to read it. Speaking of puke, in an article on neoism, Stewart does hit the nail on the head when he says, "The millionth apartment festival in NYC was a complete failure." Disappointed participants have confirmed that. In a review of Griel Marcus* book Lipstick Traces Stewart says "He has turned what would have made 2 or 3 interesting essays into a richly bloated book." The same could be said of Stewarts Smile. I guess he did us a service by making his views known but what's the relevance of a review of a book by Trocchi and Sigma Anarchy and Ecstacv- Visions of Halycon Days a 44 page pamphlet. Trocchi was a member of the Lettriste International and Sigma ("begun a long time ago") was a mathmatical symbol meaning "All" or "The Sum Of."
Pan means "all" too. I tried to counter Stewart' s rhetoric in the 27th issue of my magazine Panmag- an A3 broadsheet published copyright-free in an edition of 100 (thanks to the photocopy "workshop" at Transmission Gallery.) I cut up Stewart' s Smile 11 in an attempt to apply detournrnent to Stewarts intellectual, polemical ravings. Substituting the word "Plagiarism" for "Serious Culture", I threw his ideas back in his face in an attempt to create a dialogue, making diatribes in favor of emotionalism over intellectualism. I recycled Smile using out-of-context borrowings from the Flynt and Rumney interviews and hyped my own performance, denying others an equal gift of vision.
Lloyd Dunn made a comic book by recycling art strike rhetoric. What he did is very funny, so I forgive him for stealing Billy Clark's idea. Confession In Support of the Art Strike was translated since into French and German. He reprints it again in English in his newsletter Yawn. Mark Pawson wanted me to mention that he gave his Glasgow copy away when he was approached on the streets of Glasgow by a drunk beggar.
As mentioned above, Florian Cramer also created a magazine at the festival, his being (at least) 3-dimensional, spewing out several yards onto the floor of the gallery from the wall. Unknown additional dimensions could then be conquered in conversation with Florian who supplemented the conversation by pulling out copies of articles about everything from Deconstruction to Thomas Pynchon out of little cardboard boxes on strings to discuss the past, present, and future of culture. I think he called the magazine File in honor of the '70's mail art classic.
Tom Vague's anarcho-hep Vague was available at the fest. Its British perspective on issues like Baader Meinhoff and the Situationsists were very helpful for me in providing background information necessary to hold an informed conversation at the Festival. Tom wasn't quite as animated as Florian in talking you through the articles, but he was present and interesting to talk to. I recommend Vague as required reading for the various controversies you see presented here. Especially for Americans. It's a refreshing change from TV Guide.
A "self portrait" mail art form was lying around on the tables. It was the only mail art thing I saw for a week. That and a wall of Ryosuke Cohen Brain Cells.
There were other publications laying around, many already mentioned above. Smile 11. Panmag. 27. the anonymously published A4 Broadsheet with Ollie North on the cover, of course the important Scottish art magazine Variant. Vague, a piece by "the Italians" -an excerpt from their Decoder magazine called TV Assassins California (which unfortunatley wasn't true!), Matthew Fuller's Leisure mag from Wales, various propaganda pieces from Lloyd Dunn, badges and badge advertisements by Mark Pawson and others. Damian Abbot's City Walk piece which I discuss elsewhere. Many things were for sale but some got ripped off. Most things were for free. All this was on 2 tables that changed as the week wore on. There was also a guest book that not many seemed interested in. It's a pity because there was no way of getting people's addresses.
This Essay and Other Media
The question about the media after the festival is Is The Way the Media Portrays This Festival Important? It's true as it was said in the discussion that those who agree with our opinions will praise us and those who don't will put us down. Somebody asked Stewart if he will collate the reviews of the festival. I suggested why don't we write our own review and get it published? I was disappointed by the lack of a response to this proposal. Anyone who doesn't like this report can blame themselves for not responding to my suggestion that we write the recap collectively or for not writing their own review.
It is clear, however, that the small group of people who were at the Festival was only a means to an end. To have reached only these people was clearly NOT the goal- it needs to go further. Does it need to go further than just artists? Yes. But we exist in the realm of the artists. At least I do. So we must reach our comrades first. Then we must reach out further to the rest of the people. A Scottish woman who worked for the the local Sunday paper was at the Opening but became angry about all the class struggle and and class consciousness rhetoric. She wrote nothing. A guy who did a news radio magazine on BBC Scotland interviewed Stewart and I for a good 20 minutes. The piece he finally did was less than one minute long. He shrgged us off by saying that Stewart's rhetoric sounded like the pretensions rubbish you read in gallery guides. He completely misrepresented the festival to the public and himself to us. I guess the only thing worse than a Plagiarist is a Journalist. They are unoriginal and rude to boot.
Can we ignore the media? No. The information that reaches the public, whether Underground or "above ground," will shape the future of these ideas. What kind of information should reach the public? How large an audience should it reach?
Tony Credland says in a self-published book I received since the festival: "Today...the contents of... politics... religion... education... and anything else... that influences public awareness... must be... restyled... in terms that... are most suitable to... television." We don't have their money and resources though. So we'll really have to be clever to make an impact.
"Not just TV; it's the way you hold your fork too" said Stewart. It's all part of it. Culture is effected by economics. Period. We agree on that. Are we powerless? No. If not we must act in the right ways. What are those ways? Why did people come to this fest? "To fight the culture of the ruling elite." Many people agreed that that a more effective agenda for the week would have included a discussion of what direct action could be taken. What does that mean- direct action? What can be done? How to do it? We could have shared techniques and connections to make our job a little easier. Instead we wasted valuable time talking about irrelevant details like how many hours a day do we want to work and what will we do in those hours and whether sleeping in is a bohemian activity and who will clean the toilets. Many people criticized the festival for being too preoccupied with the personal perceptions of the participants. Meanwhile the world is decaying with alarming speed and and more messages seep into the brains of The Television Watchers. How long can we afford to talk about the same old shit in new disguises?
Words are the cause of alot of problems. Changing the words can solve alot of the problems.
I propose an era of Post-art, I propose a word strike. An art strike is not needed. We need to do more work, not less; Less words more action. But what kind of action?
Stewart says the Festival was "to aim for theoretical orientation leading to and based upon action (that is to say whatever is effacious.)" Let us now examine what, if any, theoretical orientation came out of the Festival of Plagiarism. And what action might come as a result of that.
Politics and Action
Everyone agrees the best political conversations took place after the Anarchist videos. But there was not enough discussion of "Why Plagiarism?" Actually, there were no formal discussions of anything. Informal discussions in the pub were best. Stewart deserves credit for stimulating a vast range of opinions but his claim that a major theortical breakthru is impossible seems to me a self- fulfilling prophecy. I suppose outside of making seemingly outrageous statements, action is impossible at an event like this. I don't know what Stewart really advocates in terms of political action- during or after such a Festival. Perhaps getting accounts of the festival published are the kind of action he's looking for. It's alot more than most people do. And perhaps this is wise, given the "failure" of the previous Festival of Plagiarism and the well-known ineffectiveness of the various neoist events. Florian Cramer pointed out that neoism and Mail Art weren't discussed at all at this Festival, certainly not as much as Situationism and ways of getting around the culture of the "ruling elite."
A pamphet circulated anonymously at the fest (A4 broadsheet with Oliver North on the cover) under the heading "Openmindeness against parties" stated that "this festival denies that there ever was a working class, or at least ignores it" What part does politics play in all of this? The working class? Glasgow is a working class town. Was it an accident that the festival was held here? Variant gives an interesting history of Glasgow and its working class background in an editorial in Variant (Summer Autumn 88), edited and produced in Glasgow by Malcom Dickson.
In that same A4 broadsheet under the heading "A Question Of Law:" "We have lost and my wrath is distributed evenly to all political parties." Similarly Stewart states in his editorial A Short Reflection on the (1988) Festival of Plagiarism: "Despite the failure of this particular event I still feel that the conditions for progressive social (cultural political economic) change are riper than they've been for 20 years. The Tory vision of the future... will not long sustain its dominance in the face of serious challenge." Is it all a failure and if so if we have to make "a challenge" what form should it take?
I would say that the festival had little to do with art, less to do with Plagiarism and was mostly about politics. Pierre Kraitsowitz was, for me, a symbol of the practical when he gave me his dole card when I asked for a contribution to my Panmag. What speaks louder about the real issues? Many people attending the festival are living on the dole either because they can't find work or because they choose not to. Things are different in the UK but for how long? In the USA this type of "freeloading" off of society has been all but wiped out thanks to Ronald Reagan. Meanwhile Scotland was an interesting place to have the festival because this is the testing ground for Maggie Thatcher's poll tax. (Rumor has it that even though the tax was initiated months ago, over a million people have refused to pay the tax.) These issues were discussed more often than paint and glue, even more than detournment and propaganda. The biggest theoretical orientation I saw coming out of the festival was peoples need for a direction. People are ready to work but they don't know what to work for. Many seem to have attended simply for that reason. Did the festival provide them with that direction? Not in my opinion. And that's a shame. People are pissed off about the political situation and ready to act. I propose the first step for artists is to take a stand against art being treated as a commodity.
What was said about "art" at the festival?
In his pamphlet The Festival of Plagiarism Stewart laughs at a press statement by Billy Clark, writing he "suggested that 'spiritual values' played a primary role within the realm of the arts!" Stewart's exclamation point implies that this is somehow an extraordinary notion. I'm tired of smug attacks on anything passionate and spiritual. Stewart's wordy diatribes, admittedly entertaining when taken with a grain of salt, often seem designed for masses of robots or tractors, not human beings. Is it naive or politically incorrect to believe that human beings are motivated by something that can't be measured?
Incidently, the following exchange took place at the final discussion:
Mark Bloch: Why not use Situationist theory if you believe it?
Mark Pawson: It's in vogue
Tony Credland: Don't run away from it just because it's in vogue.
The Mudguards, in a pamplet called Theft. The Culture Of The Eighties say "The Situationist International were a bunch of middle class elitists who produced nothing but reams of unreadable text. Definitely not for the uninitiated or the Proletariat" The same could be said of some of Stewart's cerebral bunk. "Aestheticizing daily life" is fun but I do agree with Stewart that it's not the answer to the world's problems (this process has already been operable for some 50 years to no avail) and that the "mystical quests" and "theoretical poverty" of Breton and Debord need to be improved upon. Of course this has always been the case with the dialectical method (if you prefer, call it Plagiarism) in which thesis and antithesis combine to form synthesis, in short we need to continue to do what we are already doing, countering the status quo, but we must do it in a better way. It is the quality of our antitheses which must improve. Stewart recommends coming to grips with the "primacy of immediate experence" but I hold that that includes some of the things he dismisses as mystical. In fact, isn't the success of the capitalist propaganda machine attributable to their mastery of the human psyche? That is: getting into people's subconscious, activating their lower instincts and directing them to the task of consuming to solve their deep-rooted (often unsolveable) problems? To ignore this is to miss the point of how effective detournment could be.
The Mudguards remind us that "looking at the possible future it is interesting to speculate as to what will constitute *art' or 'culture' in a time when the majority of western capitalist population cannot afford to consume on any level." I propose that it could lead to an era of chaos and confusion. I feel that it's an artist's job to create an unconfusing vision of the future that can be understood by the entire population. They continue, "Most 'artists' come from a class of people fortunate enough to choose the field in which they wish to be successful in. They have contact with both the ruling and oppressed classes. The so-called priviledge or elitism of the "artist" is due to the fact that these 'artists' imagine themselves to be classless (observers only) and assume therefore that normal rules of society need not apply directly to them." Stewart's uses the word "cultural worker" in place of "artist". It is an example of spoiled children applying rules of society to themselves- but only when it is convenient. Yeah, it makes them feel adequate enough to stand up with the other communists when the red flag is unfurled.
Art Strike, Word Strike and Other Mything Links
In the Art Strike Handbook 1989 Sabotage editions from "The Festival of Plagiarism" Stewart says "Through the dissemination of suitably disguised 'propaganda' (of which the Festival of Plagiarism is an example) it will hopefully be possible (at some time in the future) to achieve a discursive shift away from the general passivity (and senseless worship of a few priviledged individuals) encouraged by the mental sets which presently dominate society." The Al Waste Paper Company, a pair of mail artists in London, have mockingly created a "Pretentious Drivel Strike." As I've already stated, I don't like alot of the Art Stike rhetoric but I don't think it all needs to be discarded as pretentious drivel. Meanwhile, in response to the Art Strike, Miekel And and Liz Was of Madison Wisconsin. USA, propose an "Art Glut." They call 1990 to 2000 "the years with too much art."
The Art Strike proposes that all our present values need to be destroyed. Lloyd Dunn tells a reader of Yawn that the destruction of the ozone is a media invention and that we needn't concern ourselves with it. I'm not so sure we can afford to be so self-confident in our complete rejection of "society." Maybe I'm gullible but I personally believe reports that 60% of the ozone over the polar region has depleted. While Lloyd pats himself on the back for creating neat little radical protests against "serious culture," things continue getting worse. Don't we simply value the wrong things, the wrong individuals? It's as simple as that. Nothing seems to have value because certain words and concepts have no meaning. Our superstars have nothing of value to say. So the thing to do is to re-order our agenda to fit our priorities. We supposedly value "art" but we don't know what it means. So let's change the definition of art, not stick our heads in the sand.
Let's take a look at a booklet The Avant Garde Collapses Here by the Tape Beatles. Lloyd proudly explained that he got all the copy (no pun inteneded) from other sources. I assume this meets his vision of how effective Plagiarism can be. "A subtle bouyancy of pulse ...ideas have consequences... pioneering in Hypermedia." Just because these phrases are recycled from a Radio Shack brochure does that make them relevant? Jargon like that is not "suitably disguised propaganda." It's simply regurgitating the hooey. I see that type of "plagiarism" as just another meaningless ism. It is recreating things that had a questionable right to exist in the first place. In its new context, it is destined to be either co-opted or discarded. (Which one is worse?) In a piece called "a hunger for newness" Lloyd (and/or the Tape Beatles) does get to the heart of the matter:
"In recent years the process by which popular culture has subsumed the avant garde's artistic achievements has accelerated. By the 1980s the time it took for a new artistic form (to enter) into the vernacular was being measured in terms of days or even minutes. 1987 (?) is a banner year in this respect as the lag has now decreased to to the level of the infinitly small."
This could easily be applied to the use of "Plagiarism" as yet another very "now" artistic trend.
August 1989-February 1990