Bill Drummond Said
I'm now the proud owner of 1/20,000th of a Richard Long artwork. It's a part of The Smell of Sulphur in The Wind, and it cost me a dollar. I bought it from Bill Drummond.
Actually I'm wondering now if I have bought a part of Richard Long artwork, or if it's actually part of a Bill Drummond artwork that just happens to incorporate a part of a photograph that Richard Long took. Although even that's not strictly accurate, because I have a part of the white border to the photograph. It has a sliver of one of the blue grid lines that Bill Drummond drew on the artwork one night, and a tiny black dot made by a pen as Drummond and I pinpointed the exact section that I was going to buy. I don't know if the pen mark makes it less, or more valuable. As part of a Bill Drummond, or as a part of a Richard Long.
Bill Drummond has been planning to sell his Richard Long piece for some time now. At the tail end of the 20th Century he drove the length of the UK, from Southampton to Doonray, carrying Long's photograph and a pile of specially made 'For Sale' signs. He placed these 'For Sale' signs in various positions along his route and photographed them. He also stopped off at a variety of other places along the way and gave a sales pitch to an assortment of friends, fans and alcoholic single mothers. The latter may also have been friends and/or fans. That much is unclear. Oh yeah. And he had a big 'For Sale' carpet square that became his stage, from which he would make his pitch.
Or so he says.
Bill Drummond is a great storyteller. Anyone who doubts this should buy the recently reprinted edition of his 45 book. Even better, if such things as aesthetics matter to you (and why wouldn't they?) try and track down a copy of the 7" format printing. There are all kinds of great stories in 45. Some of them are about Drummond's time as a manager of Pop groups like Echo and The Bunnymen and The Teardrop Explodes, and others about his own experiences as a Pop Star with the KLF. Yet more are simply about the processes of living and thinking and documenting a life lived under the cloak of the Pop disease. It's these stories that, personally, I find most interesting.
This is probably why I loved watching and listening to Bill Drummond tell his story of why he has drawn grid lines all over his Richard Long artwork; why he is selling the 20,000 individual pieces for a dollar a throw; why, when it's all sold, he is going to take the 20,000 dollars on a walk across Iceland (possibly with his sister), pausing to bury the aforementioned money (locked inside a wooden chest) in the centre of the stone circle that may, or may not, make up the artwork that is, or isn't, or might or might not be, The Smell Of Sulphur In The Wind. He's not going to burn the money because, as he says himself he's 'been there and done that'.
There are other reasons I feel drawn to Drummond (not that he - or indeed you or anyone - would, or should care). I'm drawn to what seems to be a kind of hard-wired need to observe/record/document the very process of living. I feel a great affinity when he talks about the chance of someone stumbling upon one of his 'For Sale' signs and delighting in the strangeness of it all - the possibility that it might spark off some kind of personal search or voyage of discovery. I feel a similar way about the scraps of paper I've been leaving around the place for someone, anyone to find and to look at and, hopefully, just think... just wonder... wander.
Then there's Penkiln Burn. Bill Drummond says that the first love of his life was Penkiln Burn, which is in the Galloway hills of Scotland. I remember myself growing up as a kid and loving a burn too. I don't know what my burn was called, but it was on the outskirts of Troon. It was just The Burn. We built dams on The Burn and searched for eels in the dried up bed downstream. We then put the eels in buckets and took them back upstream to be stored in the waters behind the dam. Eventually we would open holes in the dam, and watch for the eels to wriggle through the gaps. Sometimes too we found Sticklebacks.
Bill Drummond, by his own admission, suffers from the Pop Disease. It's a fairly common contemporary condition, although it's probably fair to say that few suffer as acutely as Drummond, or indeed any number of my own dear friends. Personally, I think this is why he has decided to slice up his Richard Long piece into 20,000 sections. I think it's to do with the ideas of ownership in a Popist world, wherein there is a strange contradiction set up whenever Pop sells, or maybe I mean whenever someone cursed by the Pop disease buys. Specifically, I'm thinking about the Pop single. I'm thinking about how when you buy a Pop single you are buying into the multiple by default, except, and here's the interesting bit (well, it's interesting if you're a bit sad and maybe bitten by that disease): the relationship you have with the multiple is singularly personal. Your copy of the multiple becomes invested with meaning. The meaning lies in emotions, memories, flashes of perfume and shivers of light. It lies in the way the sound of an organ dips and rises, the way a voice cracks and creaks. They way the vinyl crackles on the old Marconiphone record player.
And I think this is why Bill Drummond felt driven to slice up his Richard Long. Not that Richard Long is Pop (he clearly isn't - or IS he?), but rather that Bill Drummond clearly IS, and cannot help but be. He cannot help but turn his ownership of Art (or of anything - I mean, he can't just open a pub, it has to be a kind of Art statement with manifesto - and that's a GOOD thing!) into a playful Pop experience. It all has to be recorded and given a catalogue number. Which I think is great. Of course I do. I've been doing the same kind of thing all my life as well.
And of course I'm probably talking shite. Not that it really matters. Because I'm now the proud owner of 1/20,000th of a Richard Long artwork. It's a part of The Smell of Sulphur in The Wind, and it cost me a dollar. I bought it from Bill Drummond.
© Alistair Fitchett 2002