The Beautiful Dystopian Hell of a Post-Riot Britain
The founder of the KLF imagines nothing but police and firebombed Chicken Cottages.
All photos are different scenes from Jimmy Cauty's "The Aftermath Dislocation Principle Part One" project.
Jimmy Cauty has had quite the life. As one half of late 1980s stadium house duo The KLF, he and his partner Bill Drummond scored two number one records, wrote a book about doing so, toasted their success by unloading a machine gun filled with blanks over the heads of the assembled music industry at the 1992 Brit Awards and ended up burning £1 million in cash – nearly all their earnings – on the remote Scottish island of Jura.
For all it’s been talked about since, this stunt probably would have been worth ten times that fortune in publicity, but instead Cauty has kept a low profile, working on his own personal art projects. His latest work is "The Aftermath Dislocation Principle Part One: A Small World Re-Enactment". It’s the hangover of a riot, built in 1:87 scale miniature (but still covering 448-square feet) – a bleak urban cityscape of rubble-strewn flyovers, burned-out cars and razed Chicken Cottages almost entirely devoid of life, save for a swarm of policemen in high-vis jackets who seem to be wondering where all the rioters have gone.
Before Aftermath, he worked on a series of smaller self-contained pieces called "A Riot in a Jam Jar", built with actual jam jars and customised model railway figurines. Cauty explained that the inspiration for the series came while stood in Tesco, watching a supine line of people queuing for automated checkouts. “I remember thinking, if I was 20 years younger, I’d be there grabbing stuff, smashing things up and running out. But everyone was very passive," he said. "People just want to go buy their instant meal, eat it, go to bed, go back to work. No one seemed interested in rioting."
And then the riots happened. First, unrest around the student protests of 2010, then the spontaneous looting that swept the UK following the police shooting of Mark Duggan in 2011. Real-life events fed directly into Cauty’s miniature creations, which he called things like "Off Wiv Their Heads" (Charles and Camilla being hauled from their car by protesters, ready for execution), "Edward Woollard Thinking" (the fire-extinguisher hurling student in a balaclava sat alone on top of a tower block) and "The Ritual Hanging Of Nick Clegg" (self-explanatory).
I met with Jimmy at the L-13 Gallery in Hoxton, where "The Aftermath Dislocation Principle Part One" stood until this Sunday just gone before moving to Piet Hein Eek Gallery in Eindhoven for a four-month run.
VICE: Your "Riot in a Jam Jar" pieces often seem pretty comedic, but there’s something quite overwhelming about the scale of "The Aftermath Dislocation Principle". It’s oppressive.
Jimmy Cauty: Well, there are gags in there – I can’t help doing the gags. But yeah, the jam jars were slightly more amusing. This one is different because there’s no violence going on. There has obviously been some violence, but you don’t know what exactly, or why it happened in the first place.
What's it like to build on such a miniature scale?
Maddening. Absolutely maddening. I mean, I’m too old – I can barely see. I had two trained model makers, young guys with degrees in model-making. A girl called Sophie painted all the police. We were doing the pylon cables the other day, and I’m going like this [mimes holding a thread], "Can you take it off me?" because I couldn’t see it. And she was like, "You’re not even holding anything, Jimmy."
What attracts you to the theme of civil insurrection?
I’ve always thought of myself as being anti-establishment, even though I’ve never been in a riot myself. I’ve always been the sort to avoid them. But I’ve always liked the idea of dissent. Of just saying no to The Man. Maybe I should have grown out of it, because there isn’t a Man.
There’s several Men.
Well, exactly. But I still like the idea of dissent, and this is a way of doing it and not getting beaten up or arrested. I’m not really an activist – I’m a sort of an armchair activist, in 1:87 scale.
I noticed that the fast food establishments really get it – there's a wrecked McDonald's, a Burger King, a Chicken Cottage…
[Laughs] I don’t know why. Easy targets, I suppose. But there’s something satisfying about it, especially destroying Chicken Cottage. They very rarely get a dig, do they? And I always see them everywhere. They barely look like a chain, but they’re probably all owned by Tate & Lyle or Coca-Cola.
Where did the title come from?
Steve [Lowe, owner of L-13] came up with it. I couldn’t remember it for ages, I’ve had to learn it off by heart. It’s strange – for the longest time it didn’t have a name because it didn’t have a narrative. I spent most of the nine months building a landscape, and the narrative only came right at the end, when I started putting people in. It turned out that all the rioters had disappeared – we don’t know why – and all the police were there towards the outside of the table, looking over the edge.
They’re aware, for the first time, that there’s an end to their world. They’ve broken the fourth wall. In the jam jar pieces, the world is contained, they’re not interested in this dimension. But in the aftermath of the rioting, they’re suddenly aware of the reality they’re in. It's possible to get into a place where all dissent has been crushed. So they find themselves living in a perfect police state. But it’s actually quite boring; there’s nothing to do.
You almost feel sorry for them.
Yes, there’s a certain pathos there… well, they are people after all. I’ve got nothing against the police, really – they’re aware of their predicament.
Is that the Queen in there, too?
Well, it was going to be the Queen, but I’m saying it’s Kate Middleton. She’s being evacuated by helicopter. She’s trying to get out, but there’s no hope. Because the helicopter is just a toy one – it doesn’t work. But you can imagine a riot scenario where the royal family are being flown off to a base somewhere for evacuation.
It’s a purgatory, really, isn’t it?
Exactly. No escape. She’s never going to be evacuated. She’s going to be in that car park forever, waiting.
The stuff happening on the streets these days seems to have lost its utopian edge a little.
Yes. My daughter-in-law was at Occupy. She left home to live in St Paul’s, but it very quickly deteriorated and, within six weeks, it was all over. The thing – the exciting point of what they were doing – had moved away, gone elsewhere. But it was quite amazing. She stuck around right until the bitter end, when they were moved out of St Paul’s and off to that other square. It was horrible up there, just a muddy mess, and there was all sorts of infighting between different factions – the young ones, the older ones. A shame, but that’s what happens.
Is there room for optimism?
Oh yeah, there’s lots of hope. That very bright, amazing thing can pop up anywhere. In the 60s it went on for a long time. Something will emerge from the wreckage of Occupy, something good. [My daughter-in-law] got an awful lot out of it. It was all about the ideas – talking to people, getting things happening. But you have to move on, always.
So what happens with "The Aftermath Dislocation Principle"? It’s not something you can easily sell, I don’t imagine.
Do you want to buy it?
Well, I don’t know! When it comes back from Holland, I want to find somewhere great for it to go. I don’t want it to go straight into a storage garage – I want it to go round a bit, do a few things. Go to some other galleries. We talked about setting it up as an actual model village somewhere. You know, with a turnstile – people come, five quid each, anybody can come at any time. I’m just thinking out loud. What do you do with something like this? It’s a bit of a monster, really.
Yeah. And how much for a jam jar?
They’re 250 quid. Some people – people from the art world, or people who know how much work I put into them – go that is fucking cheap. But my sister came down the other day and asked how much I expect people to pay for them. I said that they’re between 250 and 400 quid. And she burst out laughing: "You expect someone to pay that for a jam jar?"
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