On the August 25th 2017, we graduated from The Dark Ages and have certificates to prove it.
The purpose of The JAMs five day situation in Liverpool is still being debated. A book launch. An artistic statement. An exercise in historical weirdness. A new band. A funeral business. A new paradigm.
I accept all of these, but their merit lies in their ability to explain the whole five days, and to do that you have to take a step back and then step forward.
Although enabled by the profits of their time in the music business, the majority of Bill and Jimmy’s output has its roots in The K Foundation. It was The K Foundation who burnt a million quid, although the general public – and Tom James, several times, on the evening of the debate – will always attribute the act to The KLF. But when The KLF had money to burn they spent it music videos which ultimately made them even more. But when The K Foundation had money to burn, they nailed it to a canvas, tried to sell it as art and then they burnt it. But they did something else. They gave some to Rachel Whiteread. Because that’s what Art Foundations are for. Yes, from the Blenheim Art Foundation in the U.K. to China’s K-11 Art Foundation, all Art foundations exist as non-commercial, non-profit organisations that are often the result of philanthropic donations from wealthy benefactors to support and encourage new artists. But, outside of Bill and Jimmy’s ‘A Major Body Of Cash’ and the K Cera Cera single, no Art was funded. No Artists were supported.
The media framed the events in Liverpool as ‘the return of The KLF’, but Bill and Jimmy acted under the guises of firstly The JAMs and then The Undertakers To The Underworld. But who exactly were returning after 23 years? Well The KLF has retired 25 years ago. It was The K Foundation that signed this contract on the Nissan Bluebird and vowed to return after 23 years and it was as The K Foundation that Bill and Jimmy climbed into the back of the Ice Kream Van and began to work.
It was the The K Foundation that returned at 23 seconds past midnight on August 23rd 2017 and it was The K Foundation who oversaw our graduation from The Dark Ages. But why?
Well, The Dark Ages is the name given to the period in Middle Ages(5th to 15th Century) that saw a demographic, cultural and economic deterioration occur in Western Europe following the decline of the Roman Empire. More significantly, it was followed by the Renaissance, the Age Of Discovery and an explosion in human artistic expression.
In the 2023 novel, The Dark Ages return with the temporary loss of the internet after the destruction of the FUUKUP satellite. Mankind’s journey through these Dark Ages is mostly undocumented and occurs after the events of Book 3.
The K Foundation’s self-imposed moratorium and 23 year absence saw a similar decline across Western Europe in the form of recession, terrorism and the re-emerge of the far right. Alongside this we saw the explosion of the internet and the birth of new nations from the ashes of the former Soviet Union. It also began at the end of the so-called Short 20th Century
During this time, the work of Bill and Jimmy continued, albeit on a much smaller scale (ADP pun absolutely intended), independent of each other, often deeply personal and always with a workmanlike quality.
Meanwhile, mainstream artists and their art became increasingly about the money involved. Contrast Damien Hirst’s art on demand with BANKSY’s not for profit street art. The headline for any article is always about the money. The value of art has become what is it worth.
I propose that ‘Welcome To The Dark Ages’ was a reaction by The K Foundation to the current cultural-political status quo and its unstated aim was the creation of not Art but Artists.
Day 0 – Enrolment
During the afternoon of Tuesday 22nd, Volunteers were invited to consider what they were good at and given orientation instructions.
Student expectations were made clear.
Set texts were issued and your application to the course was given the stamp(s) of approval.
Required pre-course reading
Day 1 – Instruction/Inspiration
There were two distinct aspects to Day 1: The issuing of jobs to the volunteers and the discussion of The K Foundations art.
At Constellations we were split into groups in an arbitrary and almost random fashion, with particular groups created around shared skills, personalities and heights. The brief for each role was deliberately open, but deadlines were set and outcomes made clear. Before we were dismissed, a register was taken.
Make no mistake this was a homework assignment, but where was the lecture?
The presentations and arguments that we had at The Black-E were designed to offer suggested approaches to our assignments. As first day students, our judgement on The K Foundation’s work was dismissed with supreme economy.
After all, what did we know?
And that was it. We had our role. We had our inspiration. Where we took it was up to us.
Day 2 – Book Review
The dissection of 2023 was a literal passing of the book (sic). If we were going to graduate this course, we had to start putting some effort in. The K Foundation wouldn’t do it for us. Yes, we know you’ve been set homework already, but this is some more. Book reviews to be presented to the class this evening. If you need any help, speak to Oliver and Daisy, the hip new lecturers, just don’t bother us. We have work to do.
Plagiarism will not be tolerated.
We want to be impressed.
And we’ll collect all your work in for marking.
There will be no special treatment, except, maybe, for one of you.
And don’t forget your class photo.
Now, early to bed for all of you. There will be a test tomorrow.
Day 3 – How about this Tate Liverpool?
After submitting our first artistic endeavours to The K Foundation, it was time for them to show us what they’d be working on. The scope of the project and the canvas it would be presented on was too grand for just the two of them to have managed. They needed our help. The help of 400 newly initiated artists.
To begin at The Florrie where art plays an important part in reviving the community was a fitting first lesson. We then allowed our faces to become a canvas for our transformation into The Dead. The Triptych showed us to be economic with our art. Why make a 69 minute film when you can just project three 23 minutes films side by side. By involving the volunteers in The Rites, they demonstrated the importance of engaging your audience. The Great Pull North showed how art can be a struggle and a journey, but ultimately if you make the audience do the hard work, their buy-in is assured.
As we approached the Albert Dock and the Tate Liverpool it crossed my mind that the plan may be to deliver themselves or the Ice Kream Van To the doors of the gallery. The one that refused their donation of ‘A Major Body Of Cash.’ But then that seemed a little too self-centred or needy for them. Maybe they were delivering us, The 400. 400 new artists in lieu of the funding the Tate would have got for young artists if they would have taken the donation and auctioned it according to the plan.
But no we carried on via a reminder from the Merseyside Police that sometimes artists have to break the law.
Onto The Funeral Pyre where I now believe The K Foundation were put to rest in two coffins. The JAMs are now full-time undertakers with a sideline in scaring crows and with our graduation, it is now for The 400 to carry on their work.
After all, our first piece was amazing.