An Artist’s Talk for The Butler’s Cough
Simon Morse, September 2010

As I’m sure you’re all aware, normally in an artist’s talk the artist takes an easily bored audience on a long-winded and quite unintelligible – and certainly un-illuminating – wander, through the less interesting parts of his or her practice…

[We say ‘practice’ now, don’t we, because it sounds more professional than ‘work’… ‘my work’, ‘my practice’… sounds cleaner, less dirty … it’s the rush away from manual labour, you see]

…and to put it into some kind of historical context [It’s a tricky balancing act because they have to provide this historical context while avoiding as far as possible mentioning any of their contemporaries – or ‘rivals’ as they’re known in all other fields – because the one thing they don’t want is the audience going home thinking ‘Jesus Christ, that guy was lame – but who’s the other guy he mentioned, the one who did that project with the poodles in the Atacama Desert – he sounds great, I must Google him].

Well tonight I’m going to do exactly that. But I’m not going to do that exactly. Because I’m going to put this show into the context not of the history that it sits in, that has come before it, but in the history that it will become part of, the future.

How will I do this? It’s quite simple. Technology.

You can see from several of the works in this show I’ve dabbled in electronics. Dabbled is maybe crediting me with more expertise than is strictly the case because basically I’ve read one and a half chapters of Electronics for Dummies. And not even the most up-to-date edition either, this was the very first edition, from 1991, it was the second book in the immensely popular For Dummies line after DOS for Dummies.

So I wanted to put some lights that actually lit up on these pieces because, you know, you come to a point in your work and you go ‘this work is perfect, but how can I make it even perfecter?’ I know, I’ll put some real lights on them. So I go to the local library, which has only about 10 books left in it – because who needs a physical book when you can just sit at one of their 300 aged PCs and Google some illiterate American’s snarky opinion on the book you’re after instead?

[We are of course transitioning from a work-based economy, through an ideas-based economy, to an opinion-based economy. At least that’s what I think. LOL.]

I got Electronics for Dummies out and I said to myself, ‘Okay, I’m going to be professional about this because my knowledge of electronics is somewhere between zero and 0.5. I’m going to read the whole book, and by the end of it I’ll know what the hell I’m doing… more. Chapter 1, basic concepts, the project at the end of the chapter is to wire up a bulb with a switch to demonstrate the flow of electricity round a circuit. Perfect, that’s exactly what I want. So I go through, follow the instructions and in an hour or so I’m wiring up the little LEDs I bought from Maplin and suddenly my practice has expanded. Amazing. And then the boredom set in.

I thought, I don’t need this book any more, I’ve got what I wanted out of it… okay maybe just the next chapter, or part of the next chapter, in case it tells me how to make sounds, or laser display boards, or a 64-inch flatscreen TV for under £10. Well, it didn’t. But chapter 2 of the 1991 edition of Electronics for Dummies (I think they’ve changed it since) is all about time travel.

Now, like I say, I didn’t read the whole chapter because I’m a busy man and time is money. But I did read enough to be able to build my own mini time machine – crucially for under £10. It’s only a partial time machine, it’s one-way, receive-only, and it only has one possible destination – ‘henceforth’. I had options of course, but I thought if I just make a send-only time machine, I’m going to send myself, and if it’s henceforth-only, and the future sucks, I’m going to be stuck there. As it turns out, that was a wise move, because the future does suck. Badly. I mean, really badly.

Anyway, what I’ve done is the equivalent of a Google ego-search. We all do it. I’ve had sent back from the future reviews, write-ups, news snippets and other mentions of this show – because I was curious to see how it would go down, obviously. I mean, you don’t put all this effort into a show and not want a substantial return on your investment. I’m very pleased to say that it turns out that you should all pat yourselves on the back because you will be able to say you were here, at the most important exhibition in the history of the human race. So, you know [clap]… congratulations.

That said, it all turns out very bad for you, so… best not get too cocky about it.

Anyway, it will all start at the end of this year, when Charlotte Higgins in The Guardian lists the show as one of her highlights of 2010 – confusing, because I though they had a strict nepotism-based positive-review policy there. That said, Higgins does write the name of the gallery as ‘Gary Area’, so… maintaining the usual high standards. Stranger still is that just over a year later, Christmas 2012, The Guardian’s chief art blogger Jonathan Jones makes the exhibition one of his top 10 shows of the year. Two years too late, but that’s normal for him. I did actually have a feeling that he might have just been championing the show – which is by, I guess, a relatively unknown artist – to be controversial, because more controversy on his blog means more comments from swivel-eyed readers, more readers means more online ad revenue, and more online ad revenue means more reasons to keep Jonathan Jones in a job at The Guardian instead of sweeping the streets which is where he should be. So you can see we really are transitioning into a comment-based economy.

Anyway Jones, in his 2012 list, says:
Morse’s show at Gary Area is a real one-in-the-eye for those who think that art cannot be intelligent, spectacular and challenge the very basis of our contemporary society without being Arts Council funded. To all those who opposed the Arts Council’s abolition in 2011, I say – where’s your argument now? Ha ha, ha ha, ha ha ha … ha.

Now, even though the Arts Council is abolished next year the British Council isn’t – because it’s a non-departmental public body with, crucially, a royal charter, and the Conservatives and Lib Dems can’t be seen to abolish anything to do with the monarchy. The head of the British Council, who in 2012 will be Sally Gunnell – because in the lead-up to the London Olympics the government sacks all the heads of every public body and replace them with Conservative-supporting former Olympians – Sally Gunnell misreads Jonathan Jones’ mad chunter as an attack on the British Council, and promptly buys all of the work in this exhibition for the Council’s collection (so if nothing sells here it’s going to work out all right for me in a couple of years time).

Where things start to go very badly is 20 January 2013. Inauguration Day of the new US president, the Republican Tea Party candidate Sarah Palin. Palin gets in, her loony-right people, all of whom have as much political experience as her or even less, to the extent that they make the 22 year olds that George W Bush sent out to run Iraq look like JK Galbraith – Palin’s people take over the government and abolish it within the week. No more US government, no more taxes, no more anything. The takeover of America is complete by the end of January 2013 and the Tea Party succeeds in turning the whole country into a big chimp’s tea party, with barely literate idiots screeching and running riot, throwing their faeces at each other. And shooting each other, of course, because it’s their inalienable right. There’s a report I read from the BBC News website in February 2013 (actually by that time the BBC has been entirely rebranded BBC Three and the news website is called Two Pints of Lager And A Packet of News)… a report of a BA pilot landing at Dulles Airport in Washington, taking the plane up to the terminal building, seeing the madness going on inside, the piles of dead French… and just turning the plane around and heading straight back to Heathrow. He says ‘It was chaos, it was worse than Croydon on a Saturday night’. From which we can conclude that by about 3 years time Croydon will have improved significantly.

Summer 2013, and the world economy is about to finally give up the ghost. There’s no more money to give to the banks, who every few months since the end of 2010 have been holding their fingers over the self-destruct button, saying ‘bail us out again or the puppy gets it’. But now there’s no more money, everyone with an income of £150,000 a year and below has been forced to sell everything they have to raise the necessary funds. It used to be that 7% of the population owned 83% of the wealth. How quaint. Now it’s 70 people owning 99%. In a desperate attempt to kickstart the economy yet again, countries around the world send cultural delegations to the cultural ground zero that is now America, because a cultural delegation is really a trade delegation, and idiots will buy anything, right? The Spanish send them paella-burgers and treasures from the Prado, Goya’s finest works, in the hope of selling t-shirts and fridge magnets. The Tea Partiers eat the burgers, shit them out, throw the shit at the Goyas and then shoot the Goyas. The Italians send them scooters and Silvio Berlusconi. The scooters they throw into the water at the docks because they’re the vehicle of choice for the preppie, Vampire Weekend-style little mini-old-guard-Republican kids, and they’re having a Pol Pot style Year Zero where anyone who can even pronounce the words Vampire Weekend are shot. So they dump the intellectual-mobiles. And as for Berlusconi – if anyone can speak the language of idiots, he can – Berlusconi they worship as some kind of god. For a couple of weeks. Then they shoot him.

Sally Gunnell, back at the British Council, sees how badly this is going down, sees this could be the only chance to kick-start the world economy, it’s her shot, it’s all or nothing, do or die. She puts together a cultural package of the absolute best that Britain has to offer. Jedward, Kate Moss, and the works in this show.

Kate Moss is sent over. We never see her again, but apparently she’s happy about that. Jedward, because inexplicably they’re still around even in 2013, are sent over. We never see them again. We’re happy about that.

These works arrive at JFK, they’re taken off the plane ready to be transported around he country on their tour… New York, San Francisco, Badiddlyboingdilly Idaho … They unpack them to make sure the packages don’t contain turrrists. Or tourists. They look at the works, and they see they have words on them. Lots of words. And even though they’re the kind of made-up, nonsense words the artist intended as a satirical joke about the way that language can get mangled, overwrought, rendered virtually meaningless by people who only really want to speak to themselves because the world is too big and the problems they really should solve are too enormous and scary to solve … and you’d think the Tea Partiers would find an echo in that of their own predicament … it sends the monkeys into a rage, a serious, full-on shit-fight. They throw the works back onto the plane, the pilot takes off in fear for his life and leaves behind him a place convulsing in crazed, omni-directional, stupidity-fuelled anger, and his is the last plane out of America before the place explodes in a gigantic nuclear fireball, obliterating the country, causing instant and cataclysmic environmental change for the rest of the planet. Ash rains down everywhere, it’s a nuclear winter, populations perish by the millions, civilisations descend into anarchy. It’s just like Cormac McCarthy’s book ‘The Road’, except in Britain without the cannibalism because… eat you? I can’t even stand the sight of you.

Now, reports vary, but one snippet I read, taken from Wikipedia, added in 2015 by a journalist from The Independent (because they’d merged with Wikipedia a few years earlier to give their stories more credibility), said that along the lines of an infinite number of monkeys eventually coming up with the works of Shakespeare, an almost infinite number of Tea Partiers had eventually come up with the launch codes for America’s nuclear missiles. But the one who’d typed it in thought he was ordering lunch, not launch, and when the next question came up ‘Please select your target’ he chose ‘Well, here of course, I want my lunch here. Now.’ And thus, as if to shit on their fellow countryman and intellectual TS Eliot, the world ends not with a whimper but a bang.

It sort of ends there, anyway. I searched for mentions of my work as far in the future as I could get. And furthest I could find was from Modern Painters, a post from July 2017. It was difficult to find because I didn’t realise that Modern Painters had actually itself merged with The Sun’s online presence, in order to give its criticism more integrity. And The Sun in the future is still doggedly behind Rupert Murdoch’s shitty paywall, despite nobody having bought a subscription since 2010. But eventually I found it. And it appears that this post is the last of any made anywhere in the world. So, pretty much the end of civilisation. It says this:

Yo. Morse works good. Best. Start Brighton, few see, Gary Area, now ash. LOL. Confusing. Boxes. What for? Is art? Who say? Question correct. Much asking, Morse works, status of art work in society – but status of society in art work too. Clever. Is Morse say same thing? Art work ultimately merely decorative, surely? No say Morse. Art work entirely functional. Prove same by causing end of world with art work. Morse now famous. Old time say ‘infamous’, but mean same. Morse like old master. Like Goya. Since end of world Morse become most famous artist in Britain. Amass vast wealth through sale of t-shirts and fridge magnets. Except, no more fridges, and t-shirts not come in ‘emaciated’ size, so not vast wealth, but huge relatively. Now ash-based economy. Morse have lot of ash. Morse have piles. Interview Morse at pile:
MP: Yo Morse.
M: Yo.
MP: How Morse?
M: Dying.
MP: Me too! Morse, your work, Gary Area, seem both symptom and agent of existential collapse in culture and civilisation – agree?
M: Agree.
MP: Thanks!
Interview end. Article end. Follow me on Twitter, Friend me on Facebook, now Ashbook.

And there, accompanying the interview, is a small jpeg photograph, possibly the last photograph ever taken, very pixellated, but I could just make out what it was. Against the greyest of grey skies, in an endless, virtually featureless landscape, there I was, me, in 2017, trousers made out of rags, an oversized t-shirt that I couldn’t sell hanging from my bones, sitting on a small pile of ash that has been swept neatly together for me by former Guardian arts blogger Jonathan Jones, who has finally found his calling.

Thank you for your time.