How To Be An Artist – part II

The performance of Bill Drummond’s “Seventeen” went flawlessly last night. Although Kumi and Axel couldn’t stay for my actual performance (way past bedtime), the place was standing room only as we mooed and whooped our way through the “score.” Mercifully, it was only a few minutes this time, although I could see one woman’s toes visibly curling as we sang.

The Seventeen sang about an hour and a half into Drummond’s thing, and I’d almost forgotten we were going to be called to the front to do ours. He’s a pretty fascinating man. Obsessed with numbers and in particular the value of money and artistic works, yet wonderfully dismissive of the wealth he made in the 1980’s with the KLF and other pop music projects. At one point he described his various projects since then as being plans to get rid of money, “some being more successful than others.”

And so it is with his latest project – to dispose of the $20,000 he paid for Richard Long’s “A Smell of Sulphur in the Wind” by cutting it up into tiny pieces, selling each for $1, then taking the money made to the place in Iceland depicted in the work, and burying it. He will then take a similar picture to the one Long took for the original work, and call it “A Smell of Money Underground.”

All this is intertwined with his guilt at accepting a lift from a passing Icelandic vehicle while attempting to walk across the island with his sister in 1972 (while Long completed the same walk 20 years later); his general obsession with maps; love of places (like the M62), and his love/hate relationship with the work of Richard Long, the music business and the value of money. He’s a man with a lot going on in his head, and that’s for sure.

So – I ended up buy a piece of the Richard Long picture. The proceedings took on a somewhat ritualistic tone as we stood in line in the first stage of the purchase (rather drunk by that time on the free beer and wine he provided – “The prices at the bar are fucking ridiculous so we brought our own supply”).

Choosing two numbers at random from a “down” and “across” bag, we handed over 75p, and got a “warrantee” and a dollar bill to take to Drummond, who duly stood over the picture with a Stanley knife.

Once he had handed over the piece, signed and sealed the warrantee (with his Penkiln Burn stamp), shaken our hands (with genuine affection), and sent us on our way, we then lined up by another large canvass to paint in a square according to the co-ordinates of the piece we had just bought. When finished, the canvass will read “sold” in large yellow letters on a black background.

It was at that point that a glitch appeared in the plan: either Bill had given me a piece from the wrong part of the picture, or somebody had filled in the wrong part of the canvass before me. Either way, my allotted slot had been filled in already. After some consultation, he agreed to amend the warrantee to read “this may not be correct.” I was satisfied, and we arranged to paint my square on the side the of canvass as a “rounding error.”

After signing the registry with my name and email address, I went on my way into the night and back into the real world.