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Central Space, London February-March 1988

Humanity In Ruins was held between February 11th and March 3rd 1988 at Central Space in Shepherd's Bush, London. 'I' ('Stewart Home') mounted the show using the name 'Karen Eliot'. The two page press release for this installation was enlarged to 36 times its original A4 size and pasted to the walls at either end of this long and narrow gallery. Apart from the exhibition details (times, dates, gallery address &c.), this consisted of the following message/description (and other than this the space was completely emptied of cultural artefacts):

"Humanity In Ruins" is designed to bring into question the role art and anti-art play in the maintenance of ruling class culture. Although the installation is situated in an art space, the incorporation of auto-destructive elements prevent its immediate recuperation as a commodity.

The floor of the gallery will be covered with enlarged xeroxes of a ten pound note. These will be destroyed, during the course of the exhibition, by visitors walking over them. Potential patrons will be lulled into a sense of false security by a tape loop of Abba's 'Money, Money, Money', interspersed with silence.

All the doors leading off the gallery and into artists studios will be marked as Room 101. A blackboard will stand against the far wall of the gallery, across which the following message will have been scrawled:

"ART STRIKE 1990 - 1993.

Art is defined by a self-perpetuating elite and marketed as an international commodity, a safe investment for the rich who have everything. To call one person an artist is to deny another the equal gift of vision: - and thus the myth of 'genius' becomes an ideological justification for inequality, repression and famine.

We have been living at a masqued ball; what an artist considers to be his or her identity is a schooled set of notions, preconceptions which imprison humanity in history. It is the roles derived from these identities, as much as the art products mined from reification, which we must reject.

Art is a particular, evolving, mental set of the ruling class. Romanticism, Modernism, Post Modernism - it makes no difference: - UNTIL WE DESTROY EVERYTHING THERE WILL ONLY BE RUINS!" To reinforce this point, and really emphasise that "Humanity In Ruins" is propaganda rather than conceptual - or perhaps anti - art, no photo-documentation will be made of the show. The Artists' Strike will commence on January 1st 1990. Unlike Gustav Metzger's Art Strike of 1977 to 1980, the purpose is not to destroy those institutions which might be perceived as having a negative effect on artistic production. Instead, we hope to bring the role of the artist, itself, into question.

Tea, rather than wine, will be served at the private view - since alcohol tends to promote escapism. The invitation card has a part of the exhibition agreement collaged onto it; bringing into discussion the means by which this, and all other, work comes to be shown.

"Humanity In Ruins" forms part of the London-wide Festival Of Plagiarism. The aim of the Festival is to draw attention to the privileged position held by ruling class culture and the various devices through which its ideological content is mystified in current art practice.

Simultaneously, the Festival offers a platform for alternatives to these alienated modes of expression."

Several visitors to the show enquired where the exhibition was to be found (these bourgeois hacks were obviously determined not to grasp their mutually productive role in relation to the work and its 'creator').

"Humanity In Ruins" had originally been conceived as an audio installation which re-worked Marlowe's "Doctor Faustus" into a riot-torn vision of contemporary Britain. This work was censored because the gallery's controlling committee felt the proposed installation (which they had initially approved) would have given the 'right-wing' press ammunition with which to attack the 'left-wing' bodies who funded their activities. The work that was eventually exhibited was thus, in part, a reaction to this act of censorship; it was, to a degree, an attempt to radicalise the censors by offering a 'left' critique of creativity and a linked project for the abolition of 'self-expression'. This seemed an eminently more sensible position than simply adopting (as the gallery had done) a bourgeois formula which while appearing to 'suppress' the work in question, actually lent the 'censored' product an aura of 'radicality'. Any act of censorship (and those anti-censorship campaigns which are related to it) must ultimately serve to reinforce the mental set of 'self-expression' and via this assist in the right's projected (but ultimately unrealisable) reduction of the role of the consumer to that of a passive spectator whose cultural intake is to be directed by a 'higher' power (in theory the market, in practice a coercive political force).

It must be stressed that rather than trying to oppose censorship with 'anti-censorship' (which reproduces an identical mental set to the very thing it claims to combat), this entire mode of thought must be outflanked with strategies such as 'the refusal of creativity'. The ideological positions of both the 'pro' and 'anti' censorship lobbies, reveal them as rival groups within the ruling class; each of which wishes to exercise cultural power over a passive body of consumers. While 'anti-censorship' attempts to rally support around an abstract 'right' to 'free expression' (and thus obscures the productive role of the audience in relation to cultural artefacts), the refusal of creativity acts as a mechanism to shift discourse away from those mental activities which play a central role in the construction of the bourgeois 'self'.

This is extracted from: Festival of Plagiarism by Stewart Home
Other follow on:

Refuse (collaborative installation Malmo, Sweden, 1988)

Anon (collaborative installation 33 Arts Centre Luton 1989)

Vermeer II (next Stewart Home one man show London 1996)

Ruins of Glamour at Chisenhale Gallery

Becoming (M)other at T1/2 Artspace

2010 Gallery Work by Stewart Home


Stewart Home installling Humanity In Ruins Central Space, London, 1988 photo by Graham Harwood

I wasn't going to photo document my show "Humanity In Ruins", but Graham Harwood sneaked a picture of me installing it. The two sided press release was installed at either end of the long and narrow gallery with a red border around each blown up page. I used red tape for the border, and this was trimmed at the corners once I'd got it into position.