K Foundation Burn a Million Quid


K Foundation Burn a Million Quid

Infobox Film
name = Watch the K Foundation Burn a Million Quid


caption = A still of the film from the book "K Foundation Burn a Million Quid"
director = Gimpo
starring = The K Foundation
released = 1995
runtime = ~67 minutes
country = United Kingdom
awards =
language =
budget = One million pounds
amg_id =
imdb_id =
"K Foundation Burn a Million Quid" was a publicity stunt on 23 August 1994, in which the K Foundation (an art duo consisting of Bill Drummond and Jimmy Cauty) burnt one million pounds sterling in cash on the Scottish island of Jura. This money represented the bulk of the K Foundation's funds, earned by Drummond and Cauty as The KLF, one of the United Kingdom's most successful pop groups of the early 1990s. The duo have never fully explained their motivations for the burning.

The incineration was recorded on a Hi-8 video camera by K Foundation collaborator Gimpo. In August 1995, the film—"Watch the K Foundation Burn a Million Quid" ["" is a widely used British slang word meaning pounds sterling (singular or plural: "a quid", "a million quid"). The naming of this article follows the naming convention of the event, film and book, hence "quid" rather than "pounds".] —was toured around the UK, with Drummond and Cauty engaging each audience in debate about the burning and its meaning. In November 1995, the duo pledged to dissolve the K Foundation and to refrain from public discussion of the burning for a period of 23 years.

A book—"K Foundation Burn A Million Quid", edited and compiled by collaborator Chris Brook—was published by ellipsis Books in 1997, compiling stills from the film, accounts of events and viewer reactions. The book also contains an image of a single house brick that was manufactured from the fire's ashes.

The burning in context

As The KLF, Bill Drummond and Jimmy Cauty were the biggest selling singles act in the world for 1991.Bush, J., KLF biography, "Allmusic" ( [http://www.allmusic.com/cg/amg.dll?p=amg&sql=11:2tkku3y5anok~T1 link] )] They had also enjoyed considerable success with their album "The White Room" and a number one hit single - "Doctorin' the Tardis" - as The Timelords. In May 1992, The KLF staged an incendiary performance at the BRIT Awards, [McCormick, N., "The Arts: My name is Bill, and I'm a popaholic", "The Daily Telegraph" (London), 2 March 2000, p27.] "Baa-nned!! KLF sheep chopped by BBC", "New Musical Express", 22 February 1992 ( [http://www.libraryofmu.org/display-resource.php?id=292 link] )] and shortly after this they retired from the music industry in a typically enigmatic fashion."Who Killed The KLF?", "Select", July 1992 ( [http://www.libraryofmu.org/display-resource.php?id=315 link] ).] ["Timelords gentlemen, please!", "New Musical Express", 16 May 1992 ( [http://www.libraryofmu.org/display-resource.php?id=309 link] )]

By their own account, neither Drummond nor Cauty kept any of the money that they made as The KLF; it was all ploughed back into their extravagant productions. Cauty told an Australian "Big Issue" writer in 2003 that all the money they made as The KLF was spent, and that the royalties they accrued post-retirement amounted to approximately one million pounds:cquote|I think we made about £6m. We paid nearly half that in tax and spent the rest on production costs. When we stopped, the production costs stopped too, so over the next few months we amassed a surplus of cash still coming in from record sales; this amounted to about £1.8m. After tax we were left with about £1m. This was the money that later became the K Foundation fund for the 'advancement of kreation.' [Butler, B., interview with Jimmy Cauty for "The Big Issue Australia", 18 June 2003 ( [http://www.libraryofmu.org/display-resource.php?id=538 link] )]

Initially The KLF's earnings were to be distributed by way of a fund for struggling artists managed by the K Foundation, Drummond and Cauty's new post-KLF art project, but, said Drummond, "We realised that struggling artists are meant to struggle, that's the whole point."Dower, John, and Greer, Dave, "The K Foundation: Why we burnt a million pounds", "Thee Data Base" fanzine, 1 March 1996; based on an interview with Drummond and Cauty on Subcity Radio, Glasgow, 3 November 1995 ( [http://www.libraryofmu.org/display-resource.php?id=416 link 1] , [http://www.geocities.com/ResearchTriangle/7535/KFound.htm link 2] )] Instead the duo decided to create art "with" the money. "Nailed to the Wall" was the first piece of art produced by the Foundation, and the major piece in their planned art exhibition, "Money: A Major Body Of Cash". Consisting of one million pounds in cash nailed to a pine frame, the piece was presented to the press on 23 November 1993 during the build up to the Foundation's announcement of the "winner" of their "worst artist of the year award", the K Foundation art award.Kelly, D., "Million Dollar Bash", "Q Magazine", February 1994 ( [http://www.libraryofmu.org/display-resource.php?id=377 link] )] Dawson Scott, Robert, "K Foundation tries to turn the art world on its head", "Scotland on Sunday", 28 November 1993 ( [http://www.libraryofmu.org/display-resource.php?id=364 link] )]

During the first half of 1994, the K Foundation attempted to interest galleries in staging "Money: A Major Body Of Cash". However, even old friend Jayne Casey, director of the Liverpool Festival Trust, was unable to persuade a major gallery to participate. "'The Tate, in Liverpool, wanted to be part of the 21st Century Festival I'm involved with,' says Casey. 'I suggested they put on the K Foundation exhibition; at first they were encouraging, but they seemed nervous about the personalities involved.' A curt fax from... the gallery curator, informed Casey that the K Foundation's exhibition of money had been done before and more interestingly",Reid, J., "Money to burn", "The Observer", 25 September 1994, "passim" ( [http://www.libraryofmu.org/display-resource.php?id=387 link] )] leaving Drummond and Cauty obliged to pursue other options. The duo considered taking the exhibition across the former Soviet Union by train and on to the USA, but no insurer would touch the project. Then an exhibition at Dublin's Kilmainham Jail was considered. No sooner had a provisional date of August been set for the exhibition, however, when the duo changed their minds yet again. "Jimmy said: 'Why don't we just burn it?' remembers Drummond. 'He said it in a light-hearted way, I suppose, hoping I'd say: 'No, we can't do that, let's do this...' But it seemed the most powerful thing to do." Cauty: "We were just sitting in a cafe talking about what we were going to spend the money on and then we decided it would be better if we burned it. That was about six weeks before we did it. It was too long, it was a bit of a nightmare.""We didn't set out to make a film, we set out to burn 1m", "New Musical Express", 16 September 1995 ( [http://www.libraryofmu.org/display-resource.php?id=463 link] )]

Indeed, the journey from deciding to burn the money to deciding "how" to burn the money to actually "burning" the money was a long one. Jim Reid, a freelance journalist and the only independent witness to the burning, reported the various schemes the K Foundation considered. The first was offering "Nailed To The Wall" to the Tate Gallery as the "1995 K Foundation Bequest To The Nation." The caveat for the gallery was that they must agree to display the piece for at least 10 years. If they refused, the money would be burnt. A second idea was to hire Bankside power station, "the future site of the Tate Gallery extension and an imposing building downstream from the South Bank", as a bonfire venue. In typical KLF 'guerrilla communication' style, "posters were to appear on 15 August bearing the legend 'The 1995 K Foundation Bequest To The Nation', under which would have been an image of Nailed To The Wall on an easel and two flame-throwers lying on the floor. On 24 August a new poster would go up, exactly the same as the first except that this time the work would be burnt."

The K Foundation's final solution for their one million pound "problem" was rather less showbiz but dramatic nonetheless, the Foundation having decided that making a public spectacle of the event would lessen its impact. On 22 August, Reid, Drummond, Cauty and Gimpo touched down at Islay Airport in the Inner Hebrides and took a ferry to the island of Jura, previously the scene of a wicker man burning ceremony by The KLF . Early in the morning of 23 August 1994, in an abandoned boathouse on Jura, Drummond and Cauty incinerated one million pounds of their own money. The burning was witnessed by Reid, who subsequently wrote an article about the act for "The Observer", and was filmed on a Hi-8 video camera by collaborator Gimpo. As the burning began Reid said he felt guilt and shock. These feelings, he admitted, quickly turned to boredom.

The money took well over an hour to burn as Drummond and Cauty fed £50 notes into the fire. According to Drummond, only about £900,000 of the money was actually burnt, with the remainder flying straight up the chimney. [Simpson, D., "It's not haute cuisine", "The Guardian", 20 May 2004 ( [http://www.guardian.co.uk/g2/story/0,,1220512,00.html link] )]

Two days later, according to Reid, Jimmy Cauty destroyed all film and photographic evidence of the burning. Ten months later, Gimpo revealed to them that he had secretly kept a copy.Fact|date=February 2007

Burning as a theme

Ritualistic burnings were already a recurring aspect of Drummond and Cauty's work. In 1987, the duo disposed of copies of their copyright-breaching debut album - The Justified Ancients of Mu Mu's "1987 (What the Fuck Is Going On?)" - by burning them in a Swedish field. ["Thank You For The Music", "New Musical Express", 17 October 1987.] This event was pictured on the back sleeve of their second album, "Who Killed The JAMs?", and celebrated in the song "Burn the Bastards". ["Who Killed The JAMs?" review, "Sounds" Magazine, 13 February 1988.] During the 1991 summer solstice, they burnt a 60 ft wicker man. This was chronicled in The KLF movie, "The Rites of Mu".

As the K Foundation, Drummond and Cauty threatened to burn the K Foundation art award prize money (Gimpo was fumbling with matches and lighter fluid when, at the last moment, Rachel Whiteread accepted the prize). [Shaw, W., "Special K", "GQ" magazine, April 1995 ( [http://www.libraryofmu.org/display-resource.php?id=397 link] ).] In the seventh K Foundation press advert they asked "What would you do with a million pounds? Burn it?" [K Foundation advert ("Artist We Love You"), "Independent on Sunday", 7 November 1993 ( [http://www.libraryofmu.org/display-resource.php?id=355 link] )]

The Film - "Watch the K Foundation Burn a Million Quid"

"Watch the K Foundation Burn a Million Quid" starts with a short description of the event, and then consists of Drummond and Cauty throwing £50 notes onto the fire. Burning the entire one million pounds takes around 67 minutes. "NME" wrote:cquote|At the start, Cauty is agitated and says he doesn't think the money will burn because it is too wet. The camera shows 20 thick bundles of £50 notes, each bundle containing £50,000 in new bank notes and sealed in cellophane. When the money ignites, Drummond starts to laugh as he and Cauty stand above a small fireplace throwing £50 notes on to the fire. Cauty constantly stokes the blaze with a large wooden plank and at one stage burns his hand on a flaming note. As the fire starts to dim, he scuttles around the floor sweeping stray notes into the flames. The cameraman shows a view from outside the building with charred £50 notes billowing out of the chimney.

In November 1995, the BBC aired an edition of the "Omnibus" documentary series about The K Foundation entitled "A Foundation Course in Art". Amongst the footage broadcast were scenes from "Watch the K Foundation Burn a Million Quid". Thomas Sutcliffe, reviewing the programme in "The Independent", wrote:cquote|The Omnibus film about this intriguing pair was in part a rear-guard action in their continuing battle for recognition (and a victory - for some people, after all, art is what appears on Omnibus). It was also a peculiarly modern fable about what constitutes an artist - will the artist's say-so do, or do you need the validation of the galleries? "You can't simply decide you're going to become an artist," said one gallery owner haughtily, which left you wondering how else the vocation might operate. A lottery system? Secret-ballot election?

For my money (meagre though it is), the video which recorded the laborious process of immolation was a decidedly intriguing work - rather more provoking than some contemporary work I've seen. For established galleries, the medium used (video, bank-notes, fire) is obviously an embarrassment, but if poverty of material is not to disqualify artworks (bricks or lard, say) why should the expense of material? [Sutcliffe, Thomas, "The Independent" (London) ISSN 0951-9467 , 7 November 1995, TV section p24.]

creening tour

The first public screening of "Watch the K Foundation Burn a Million Quid" was on Jura on 23 August 1995 - exactly one year after the burning. "We feel we should face them and answer their questions" said one of the duo. [Banks-Smith, Nancy, "From cash to ash", "The Guardian" (Manchester), 30 August 1995, page T.009. The words are attributed to the duo in general and not specifically attributed to Drummond or Cauty.] Two weeks later an advert appeared in "The Guardian" (pictured right), announcing a world tour of the film over the next 12 months at "relevent [sic] locations". [K Foundation advertisement ("Why Did The K Foundation Burn A Million Quid?"), "The Guardian (G2)", 4 September 1995 ( [http://www.libraryofmu.org/display-resource.php?id=398 link] )] The second screening was at Manchester's In The City music industry convention on 5 September. After the film was shown, Drummond and Cauty held a question-and-answer session with the theme "Is It Rock'n'Roll?". [Harris, John, "Who wants to be a millionaire?", "Q Magazine", November 1995 ( [http://www.libraryofmu.org/display-resource.php?id=400 link] )] Sandall, Robert, "Money to burn", "The Times" (London) ISSN 0140-0460 , 5 November 1995, Features p1.] A week later the pair travelled to Belgrade in Serbia as guests of alternative radio station B92 where the post-screening discussion was titled "Is it a crime against humanity?"Fact|date=February 2007 An unauthorised screening at the BBC Television Centre was curtailed and Drummond and Cauty were escorted from the building.

On the weekend of 3 November 1995, the film was screened at several locations in Glasgow, including at football matches involving Celtic and Rangers; a planned screening at Barlinnie prison was cancelled after the Scottish Prison Service withdrew permission.Gibb, Eddie and Sandground, Peter, "K-why?", "The Times" (London) ISSN 0140-0460 , 5 November 1995, Features p1.] Cochrane, Lynn, "Fans to watch £1m go up in smoke", "The Scotsman", 4 November 1995 ( [http://www.libraryofmu.org/display-resource.php?id=402 link] )] Glasgow's artistic community seemed broadly to welcome the screenings. [Martin, Iain, "Barlinnie may get eyeful of Scotland's hottest million", "The Times" (London) ISSN 0140-0460 , 29 October 1995, Home News p1] A further public screening on Glasgow Green on 5 November was announced by various newspapers,"Torch Songs", "The List", 3 November 1995 ( [http://www.libraryofmu.org/display-resource.php?id=401 link] )] but there is no record of the showing having ever occurred. The K Foundation disappeared from Glasgow; they later issued a statement that on 5 November 1995 they had signed a "contract" at Cape Wrath in northern Scotland agreeing to wind up the K Foundation and not to speak about the money burning for a period of 23 years. [K Foundation advertisement ("Cape Wrath"), "The Guardian (G2)", 8 December 1995 ( [http://www.libraryofmu.org/display-resource.php?id=519 link] ).]

Despite the K Foundation's reported moratorium, further screenings of the film took place as planned. At each screening, Drummond and Cauty announced they wouldn't answer questions after the film; instead, they would ask questions of the audience. These screenings were held in Bradford, Hull, Liverpool, Bristol, Aberystwyth and Brick Lane, London.Fact|date=February 2007

The Brick Lane screening - on 8 December 1995 - was previewed in "NME", so it was incredibly busy; indeed, the police arrived and asked them to stop.Fact|date=February 2007 In the "NME" it was claimed that after the screening the film would be cut up and individual frames sold off to the public. [News item, "New Musical Express", 25 November 1995 ( [http://www.libraryofmu.org/display-resource.php?id=410 link] )] Gimpo, the owner of the film, had no intention of doing so, but after the screening was nearly overwhelmed by a mob of people wanting to take home a piece of the film.Fact|date=February 2007

Gimpo has continued to show the film at events such as literary festivals and underground film evenings over the years since the initial tour. On 23 August 2007, after a screening in Berlin, Germany, the DVD of the film briefly disappeared. A few hours later, the film was released on several BitTorrent trackers. [Majica, Marin, "Länger leben ohne Chef", Berliner Zeitung, 25 August 2007, p27 ( [http://www.berlinonline.de/berliner-zeitung/archiv/.bin/dump.fcgi/2007/0825/feuilleton/0017/index.html link] )]

Reaction and analysis

Jim Reid's piece appeared in "The Observer" on 25 September 1994. This is "one of the most peculiar stories of the year", he cautioned readers. "Peculiar because pretty much everyone who comes across this magazine is going to have trouble believing a word of it. Peculiar because every last dot and comma of what is to come is the truth." "It took about two hours for that cash to go up in flames", he added. "I looked at it closely, it was real. It came from a bona fide security firm and was not swapped at any time on our journey. More importantly, perhaps, after working with the K Foundation I know they are capable of this."

The "Daily Express" ran the story on 1 October 1994. They reported that charred £50 notes were being found by islanders, who believed the one million pound burning story to be true. Drummond and Cauty had been seen eating in a hotel bar on Jura before leaving with two suitcases, the newspaper reported. [McKerron, I., "Duo Burn £1M In Midnight Madness", "Daily Express", 1 October 1994 ( [http://www.libraryofmu.org/display-resource.php?id=388 link] ).]

"The Times" followed with essentially the same story on 4 October 1994, adding that the burning " [had] left many on the island bewildered, incredulous and angry". £1500 had been handed in by a local fisherman to Islay police: "Sergeant Lachlan Maclean checked the money with both banks on Islay and with Customs and Excise, who pronounced it genuine. 'I telephoned Mr Drummond in London and told him the money had been found. I asked him if it was his. He said he would get in touch with his partner, Mr Cauty. So far he has not telephoned back'". [Bowditch, G., "Duo with £1m to burn leave island guessing", "The Times", 4 October 1994 ( [http://www.libraryofmu.org/display-resource.php?id=389 link] ).]

The media returned to the story in earnest in October and November 1995, previewing and then reviewing "Foundation Course In Art", and reporting on the K Foundation's tour screening "Watch the K Foundation Burn a Million Quid".

An October 1995 feature quoted Kevin Hull, the BBC documentary maker responsible for the "Omnibus" item. He had found "the boys rather depressed, and almost in a state of shock". "Every day I wake up and I think 'Oh God, I've burnt a million quid and everyone thinks it's wrong'," Cauty told him.

A piece in "The Times" on 5 November 1995, coinciding with the Glasgow screenings, reported that the K Foundation had no solid answers about why they had burnt the money and what, if anything, the act represented, but concluded "The K Foundation may not have changed or challenged much but they have certainly provoked thousands to question and analyse the power of money and the responsibilities of those who possess it. And what could be more artistic than that?" In the same issue, the newspaper's K Foundation art award witness, Robert Sandall, wrote that the Foundation's award, million pounds artwork and the burning were all "entertaining, and satirically quite sharp", but "the art world has chosen not to think [of it as art] .... The general view remains that the K Foundation's preoccupation with money, though undoubtedly sincere, simply isn't very original. Although they didn't blow their entire life's savings along the way, other artists, notably Yves Klein and Chris Burden, have been here before."

"The Guardian"'s TV reviewer was sceptical. "Snag is, the K men have always dealt in myth and sown a trail of confusion, so nobody quite believes they really burned the money. And if they did, they must be nuts. Confucius says: Aston Martin dealer will not accept suitcase full of ash as down payment." [Sweeting, A., "Money to burn, anyone?", "The Guardian (G2)", 7 November 1995 ( [http://www.libraryofmu.org/display-resource.php?id=407 link] )]

Post-1995 reaction

In future years, the burning would be mentioned regularly in the press, with Drummond and Cauty often relegated to a cultural status of "the men who burnt a million quid".

A February 2000 article in "The Observer" newspaper again insisted that the duo really had burnt one million pounds. "It wasn't a stunt. They really did it. If you want to rile Bill Drummond, you call him a hoaxer. 'I knew it was real,' a long-time friend and associate of his group The KLF tells me, 'because afterwards, Jimmy and Bill looked so harrowed and haunted. And to be honest, they've never really been the same since'"."Burning Question", "The Observer", 13 February 2000 ( [http://www.guardian.co.uk/Archive/Article/0,4273,3962686,00.html link] ).]

A 2004 listener poll by BBC 6 Music saw The KLF/K Foundation placed second in a list of "rock excesses" (after The Who); this was reportedly largely attributable to the burning. [Barnes, Anthony, "The Who top rock's hall of shame", "The Independent on Sunday" (London), 20 June 2004, p5.]

Drummond's former protege Julian Cope was unimpressed, claiming that Drummond still owed him money. "He burned a million pounds which was not all his, and some of it was mine. People should pay off their creditors before they pull intellectual dry-wank stunts like that." [Cope, Julian, "Julian Cope Presents Head Heritage | Drudical Q&A | Cope Musicians & Cohorts" (official website), ( [http://www.headheritage.co.uk/drude/qa/musicians.php link] ).]

The burning revisited

On September 17, 1997, a new film, "This Brick", was premiered. The film consisted of one 3-minute shot of a brick made from the ashes of the money burnt at Jura. It was shown at the Barbican Centre prior to Drummond and Cauty's performance as 2K. ["K Foundation Burn a Million Quid" review, "Big Issue", 3 November 1997 ( [http://www.libraryofmu.org/display-resource.php?id=456 link] ).]

On September 27, 1997 a book written by Chris Brook and Gimpo entitled "K Foundation Burn A Million Quid" (ISBN 0-9541656-5-9, ISBN 1-899858-37-7 paperback) was published. The book contains stills from the film and transcriptions of various Q&A sessions from the tour. Publisher Ellipsis promoted the book with an advert modelled on those of the K Foundation - "Why did Ellipsis publish K Foundation Burn A Million Quid?" they asked. [ [http://www.ellipsis.com/k/index.html Ellipsis website] Retrieved on February 26, 2007]

Initially, Drummond was unrepentant, telling "The Observer" in 2000 that he couldn't imagine ever feeling regret unless his child was ill and only "an expensive clinic" could cure him. By 2004, however, he had admitted to the BBC that he now regretted burning the money. [McKevitt, G. "What Drummond did next", "BBC Online", 30 April 2004 ( [http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/uk_news/northern_ireland/3667901.stm link] )] "It's a hard one to explain to your kids and it doesn't get any easier. I wish I could explain why I did it so people would understand." ["KLF Bill: I regret burning £1m", "Sunday Mail" (Glasgow), 25 July 2004, p27.]

Notes & references


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