K Foundation musician, DJ, and producer Jimmy Cauty needs no introduction for anyone who came of age in the 1990s.
Alongside Bill Drummond, he formed The JAMs, later to evolve into hitmakers The KLF. The duo were often reductively deemed by the music press of the time to be arch acid house pranksters, with notorious acts like sampling ABBA and Whitney Houston without permission, burning one million pounds on the Isle of Jura, and delivering a dead sheep to the Brit Awards.
But their legacy now, with the benefit of hindsight, is that they were and still remain hugely influential. They were truly prophetic, bringing genuine anarchy to the mainstream, and had a deep understanding of the malleability of pop music, creating mash-ups before they were a thing, and wildly inventive visuals and slogans in a pre-meme culture.
Now Cauty, an acclaimed visual artist in his own right, brings his latest creation, ESTATE, across the country. Conceptually, ESTATE comes across like a post-JG Ballard landscape on steroids and smart drugs.
A dystopian model village, featuring four abandoned concrete tower blocks at 1:24 scale, housed in a 40 foot shipping container, these incredible constructions are not only massively ambitious, but, as ever, feature his typically playful thematic provocation. We had to find out more.
You have always taken a wonderfully idiosyncratic approach to making art. What can visitors expect from ESTATE?
I like to spend a ridiculous amount of time working on the detail of things, way more time than anyone else would ever attempt. It’s an obsession I’ve had since doing The Lord Of The Rings posters in the 1970s, and this obsession is evident in ESTATE.
I’m happy to embark on projects that require huge amounts of time to complete. The Lord Of The Rings poster took twelve months, The KLF five years, Smiley Riot Shield painting is four years and counting. I didn’t attend an art college, and left school at fifteen with no qualifications, so I guess no-one told me there was a much easier way of making art. I’ve had to invent my own method of working over the years, and this can sometimes look idiosyncratic.
Visitors to ESTATE can expect upsetting architecture and authoritarian announcements, but also amusing scenes of mass social environmental devastation. Plus, military-grade levels of smoke, strobes and noise – a bit like a very right-wing three-minute acid house rave in a shipping container. We like to say it’s suitable for those who have been brutally desensitised by the system…and children.
Is ESTATE a real labour of love for you?
If you mean was I paid to do the work, then the answer is no. I make these things just for the hell of it, because I’m inspired to make things happen even if it makes no sense. Luckily I have the L-13 to back me up on projects like this. It’s more a labour of love/hate.
I spent over 5,000 hours building the interiors of these tower blocks, mostly during the various lockdowns. A lot of the time that kind of work is very repetitive and boring, but it’s interspersed with the odd moment of joy. To give you an example, there was a fault on one of the 391 LED lights on Tower Block 2. This meant the other LEDs were heating up and would eventually blow. Most of the wiring is hidden in the walls, and I had to unpick the wiring and test each LED light individually to identify the faulty one. The fault was behind the fridge in the canteen on the top floor. Evidence of all this strife and joy is contained in the Instagram build page @towerblock1.
Is ESTATE a deliberate reaction against the homogenisation/gentrification of the UK?
Homogenisation and gentrification are all part of the natural life cycle of cities: without these things, cities will not be able to function. It’s been going on since the first upwardly mobile Stone Age inhabitants started refurbishing their basic caves by installing doors and garden fences, or upgrading to a super-modern hut circle dwelling. It’s how we got from caves to skyscrapers… so, no, it’s not a reaction against that.
The tower blocks are showing early signs of entropy; like most man-made structures, their primary function is to disintegrate over time and return back to the earth, or in the case of concrete, plastic and expanded foam, to gradually destroy the earth.
ESTATE is more like a stage set where people can come up with their own stories. One of my stories and the ESTATE Netflix mini-series synopsis goes something like this…
The ESTATE is a housing estate situated in the garden of England region called North Kent. The estate was taken over and run by a group of crisp-eating children called The Iceni Tribe. Their leader was an older girl called Brenda. They escaped from the local high security children’s prison (Camp Delta-Zulu) and ran riot across the estate, destroying everything and driving out the tenants. They painted themselves blue, and built a stone circle on the top floor of Tower Block 4. The Iceni Tribe were pursued by law enforcement officer and disgraced former British home secretary Amber Rudd and her squadron of sonic weapons-enabled Chinook helicopters. The battle continues every week…
Okay, it’s not a very good story, but we are working on it.
Are there any artists that you currently have an affinity with?
Harry Adams, Miss Pokeno (Alannah Currie), and Cold War Steve.
Jimmy Cauty’s ESTATE tours the UK throughout 2021
North Edinburgh Arts
28th May till 26th June
28th Jun till 30th July
SPECTACLE, a programme for ESTATE Edinburgh, is available at societyofspectacles.com