“I’m gonna get the Royal Air Force to helicopter it into Glastonbury. I’m going to get a Chinook and the photo of it being brought in will be on the front cover of The Times.” That’s the slightly bold offer that a representative from Glastonbury Festival made to artist Jimmy Cauty to get his amazing Aftermath Dislocation Principle (ADP) installation to the world-renowned festival.
Evolving from a selection of small models of rioters in jam jars, the ADP spawned into an enormous replica of a suburban town saturated with only police and TV crews in the moments after a large-scale riot, and was one of the stand out pieces at Banksy’s Dismaland last year.
It’s now evolved again. Now in three parts, each 1:87 scale models that make up the town of Old Bedford, a monolithic new structure of ‘New Bedford Rising’ and the bridge that connects the two. Each are housed in different-sized shipping containers. One went to the Royal Academy, one visited Glastonbury Festival (taken by lorry most likely) and the largest; all 40 foot of it, containing the entire town went on a 38-date tour of the country, visiting towns and areas that have seen civil unrest in their history.
We meet in a dank railway arch on America Street, London, just south of the River Thames, that Jimmy’s been using to prepare for the tour. Cauty – who also co-founded the wildly popular rave pioneers The KLF with Bill Drummond – has a mischievous glint in his eye, is softly spoken and affable but isn’t entirely convinced the RAF would be up for delivering his work to Glastonbury. He tells us he actually has previous experience with the festival and helicopters.
“Years ago, Glastonbury asked The KLF to play and I said that we would but only from a Chinook, with a sound system underneath. They agreed to it but the Civil Aviation Authority were just like, ‘forget it. You are not doing anything like that, ever. Especially over thousands of kids.”
Aren’t you contractually obliged not to talk about The KLF?
No, it’s actually The K Foundation – specifically the money [Cauty and Drummond’s K Foundation famously burned £1m cash in an art action]. We signed a contract with ourselves that we wouldn’t talk about it. It’s a 23-year moratorium, which actually ends next year. All that stuff is pre-internet so is pre-history as far as I’m concerned. It’s almost as if it never happened.
So if you talk about it do you have to sue yourself?
Nobody gets sued. I’d get a look from Bill saying, “I told you not to mention it.” I feel bad even saying this because you’re recording it. There’s a guy making a documentary about The KLF, which is unsanctioned and he keeps trying to get people to come down to the ADP tour to get photos and footage and stuff and it’s making me really jumpy at the moment. I don’t like having lots of photos of me out there. It’s really weird – we’ve had meetings with him over the previous three or four years and we’ve always said look, we don’t want to do it – it’s like an archeological dig through the past. It’s not interesting for us. It’s not really interesting for anybody actually because he doesn’t really have much of an idea of what to do. So what he’s done is got actors to play me and Bill.
Is he just taking YouTube footage?
Fuck knows! He’s called Chris Atkins – I think he’s recreating some of it. Because it’s a documentary he’s allowed to use any news footage and is allowed to use the music. Obviously only clips of it, but that’s all he needs anyway.
That must be very annoying for you as you guys deleted all your music and have very definitely moved on from that time?
Yeah we’re doing other things that we think are much more interesting. It’s of no interest whatsoever to us. He said he was going to go ahead and do it anyway if we didn’t want to be involved. When we had the ADP model in this space we had a film maker come in to do some filming and did a little interview. They showed it to me and I told them that they’d made the model look like a model because it was just raw and all in focus – it just looked silly. I go to a lot of trouble to make sure all the footage looks real. So I asked if we could change it and could show them how to make the model look real and decline saying it was their film and they liked it like that. So basically, ‘Fuck you. We’re going to do this anyway. It’s a silly way to work because it makes me cross and I wouldn’t want to do anything else with them. All they needed to do was a couple of camera tricks and filters to make it look right.
When ADP was at Dismaland, people could walk around the whole thing, yet for the tour it got put in a shipping container.
It was always meant to be seen just out in a room. At Dismaland they walked around and stole stuff off it! Afterwards we showed it in these arches in London, put boards around the whole thing and drilled holes to look through. I think that was the best it’s been. I had to cut quite a lot off to get it in the container. The model was 8-foot wide and the container is 7-foot, 6-inches wide.
Did you ever slip into the crowd at Dismaland and listen to what they had to say about it?
I’ve overheard people talking about it and it seems to be universally liked. I haven’t had many dissenters – obviously there are some but I don’t think I’ve ever made anything that’s been liked by so many people. I guess with the band, everybody liked the music. It’s weird when you do something popular because you think you could never, ever follow it up with anything again. At the moment I’m not even trying to think of anything.
Do you prefer the way people interact with the piece in a container?
I really miss some things about the old version, quite badly; like being able to see the edge. In a way it was all about the edge and the little people coming up and looking over but now that edge is right up against the piece of metal so you lose all that and you lose the spectacle of walking into the room and seeing all the flashing blue police lights. On the whole I’m happier with it – people seem to love looking through the holes. They make up their own narrative. It was very tricky to work out where to put the holes in the container; the container was half a mile away from the workshop so we’d have to measure the distances from interesting things very precisely and then run to the container and try and remember if it was to the left or right of the thing we were drilling by. There are a few instances where you look through the hole and there’s absolutely nothing there; you’ll be looking at a brick wall. There are other little things, though that have occurred, which I would never have predicted. There’s one view where you’re looking through a forest and you can see a couple of policemen in the distance and you could never have known that you’d get that in advance. There’s a lot of luck involved.
You’ve just let this evolve – it started off with riot in a jam jar and now look at it.
I’m just running along behind trying to keep up with it! It does have a life of its own, I’m sort of in charge but also, not really. I might go up behind a policeman and put a big jam jar over him, photograph him and run away. There’s still life in the concept yet; people can say you’re flogging or milking it but if you’re a painter people don’t have a go at you for doing another painting do you? They don’t think you’re a one-trick pony for painting in a style, so there’s mileage to be had with this. Also, on a positive note, when you start going down the same road further and further you can discover more interesting things.
Is that how you work with everything?
You have to let ideas run wild and follow them, I think. I definitely don’t chase after the money, that’s for sure. We still haven’t really figured that one out. It’s free to view and it’s mostly in community centres in places where they don’t have any funding so we’re paying all the haulage to do the tour. It’s something like £65,000 worth of haulage, which we’re trying to pay for by selling T-shirts, postcards, posters and rioter jam jars. They’re nice but I’m not sure how that’s going to go! It’s hard to get people to part with their money, especially when they’re in a poorer area.
You bought all the figures from a German model-maker – have you bought him out yet?
They won’t play ball, these German people. I don’t know how many times we’ve tried contacting them – I’ve even written letters to them in German saying, “I’m buying thousands of these people through a normal shop, why can’t I buy them directly through you?” and they won’t reply to me. It’s this little family-run, Bavarian business and it’s all very weird. They’re also discontinuing the policeman model whose heads I use so there’s going to be a black market on them! I’ll be trying to buy back the models that got stolen from Dismaland on eBay!
How did you select the places to visit for the tour?
We literally just had a map on the wall and some pins and a meeting. We started looking at towns and choosing the ones that we liked. There’s 35 of them on the tour and all of the places have had some kind of unrest in them – pretty much everywhere in the UK has some kind of history, so it wasn’t hard to find them! I said we could go back 1000 years and there was no need to go back that far. 100 years was plenty.
Not all of them are towns though are they?
I wanted to make sure to do the Battle of the Beanfield, which isn’t really a town but was a famous hippy riot with the police near Stonehenge. We managed to secure this place called the Dinky Diner, which is at the entrance to the Beanfield and is an abandoned roadside American Diner– it’s amazing. It’s 10 miles from Stonehenge but is next to the entrance to the field where the riot was.
What’s the history of the Beanfield?
It was the Peace Convoy who were a load of New Age Travellers. Every summer they would try to go to Stonehenge, nobody knew why; they were just attracted by some spiritual reason. I was the same, I used to go when I was a teenager. Every year the police would say we weren’t allowed to go. This one particular time in 1985 the police got them to all drive down this country road and then they stopped them and started beating everybody up, including the women and the children. The convoy drove into a bean field and the police followed them in – there’s some horrible footage of it online – and they’re just driving around in circles because as soon as they stopped the police just beat the shit out of them. It was a really bad bit of brutality. I’ve seen quite a few bits of rioting but this is a really shocking bit of footage. It was really horrible.
After the Beanfield you’re coming to London – you’ve got a lot of places to choose from…
We’re doing Tottenham and Brixton, as well as Hackney and Croydon right down in the south of the city – I’d like to get it on the site of all the burnt out shops from the 2011 riots, which are still there just with fences round them. You can drive right past it. We’ll be in each place for a week or so.
And the tour ends on Christmas Day?
It ends in Bedford on Christmas Day. Have I told you about the Panacea Society? They believe that Bedford is the original Garden of Eden. Seriously. I originally said that the ADP was based in Bedford, and I chose that purely randomly. This guy came to see it, wrote about it on his blog and mentioned the Panacea Society. In the end he put us in touch with them and, although they don’t really exist anymore as a religious group, but they’ve still got a charity. They do the utopian thing and we’re doing the dystopian thing and they’re going to host us. The weirdest thing is that when Jesus comes back, they’ve bought him a house to move into. It’s on Albany Road and is furnished and ready for him.
I haven’t seen it, but I’d imagine it’s your usual suburban house. There’s no one living in it – it’s got a museum in it and is only open on certain dates during the year. It’s all a bit weird; it’s great. So we’ve hooked up with these people and all three containers will converge there on the 23rd December.
Do you have a favourite riot?
I’m not a fan of riots. I’ve been on the periphery of them but I’ve never got involved. I’m an observer of things like that. What I’ve observed with rioting situations is that there’s obviously a group of kids who like fighting but there’s also a group of police who like fighting as well. Once those two groups meet then I don’t really want to be around. I haven’t actually been involved with a running battle with the police. Actually I say that, when I owned armored personnel carriers there was a stand off with the police, twice. But it never got to a point where I was in a fight with them, usually because I was inside and was safe. That was then; now I’m an armchair revolutionist. I quite like all the looting for the hell of it as a spectacle. To see kids running off with trainers and colour televisions – kids with so many colour televisions that they just have to dump some beside the road because they can’t carry all of them. I that find quite amusing. It’s completely senseless but I kind of like that in a way. You can understand why people would want to do that, especially the younger people. We’ve created a world where they can’t have any of the things they’re supposed to want. I got a lot of ideas for work from the 2011 riots in London. I know that I’m kind of the go to artist now for anything riot-based but I’m not really that into it. I’m not really that into model making either!
I had all these questions about if you drew inspiration from conflict between people and shit like that.
No! Not really! It’s funny how you can get into these areas quite by accident.
There goes all those questions then…
I had a worse problem when I did that Lord of the Rings poster back in the 70s [a 17-year-old Cauty was the artist behind an incredible Lord Of The Rings poster sold through UK chain store Athena]. As soon as I’d done it, punk rock happened and I had to deny any knowledge of my work. People would ask if I was that hippy that had made that wildly successful poster and I’d say no. It was the second most sold poster in its history behind the girl playing tennis with no knickers on.
Ahead of the topless guy holding a baby?
Oh way ahead of that; I was right out there with the tennis girl. It was just me and her, right the way through the end part of the 70s and into the early 80s. It’s only now that I can even admit that I did that. When you’re younger you’re more tribal and those things matter.
Do you consider yourself an artist?
Yeah, I might as well be. I’ve tried calling it other things but it didn’t work; I tried to call it something else, like ‘maker’. I didn’t like artist because it sounded a bit pretentious but it was always on my passport that I was an artist. I’ve got something in the Royal Academy now, which is quite amazing. I know Richard Wilson, the guy who did the oil slick at the Saatchi Gallery and invited him down to see the ADP, which he thought was fantastic. He’s curating the summer exhibition at the Royal Academy and asked if I would show one of my riot jam jars. When the form came through I had to fill out a bit describing what the work is and I just put in ‘Shipping Container’ instead of jam jar. As Richard’s got an engineering background I think he was glad I’d done that. It is a bit out of my realm though, to have a show in an institution like that, I don’t have any art training or anything. It was interesting delivering the work there, because normally you get told to stick it in a corner and they’ll deal with it later. At the Royal Academy there must have been at least 30 people, with gloves on, involved in getting the container off the lorry and into the building. It was interesting to see that level of care that ‘proper’ art people give to art. I hadn’t really experienced that level before. It had to go into a freight elevator and there was an hour-long risk assessment meeting between 20 people to make sure the container was going to be safe on the lift.
That sounds like a boring meeting – were you in it?
No, I was just sitting on a wall, watching.
Is recognition from the art world something you’ve aspired to?
No, not really… It turns out that even if you say you don’t want that, you actually do. Your stance could always be that you’re an outsider and that you don’t care about it, but you secretly do.
Did you? Was it at the back of your mind?
You don’t want to know what’s at the back of my mind! You do it for yourself but you want your peers to acknowledge that they get something off what you do. You want people to say what you did is cool or that they got something off it and it made them do something else. You do want that recognition that what you do is relevant or is affecting things. I don’t really understand how it all works.