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the Complete Review
the complete review - art

K Foundation Burn
a Million Quid

Chris Brook

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To purchase K Foundation Burn a Million Quid

Title: K Foundation Burn a Million Quid
Editor: Chris Brook
Genre: Art History
Written: 1997
Length: 251 pages
Availability: K Foundation Burn a Million Quid
K Foundation Burn a Million Quid - UK
  • Compiled and edited, and with an introduction by Chris Brook
  • Images by Gimpo (Alan Goodrick)
  • Some of the events surrounding the screening of the film are also described in Bill Drummond's memoir, 45 (see our review)

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Our Assessment:

A : a fascinating document of the times

See our review for fuller assessment.

Review Summaries
Source Rating Date Reviewer
The Spectator . 14/3/1998 John McEwen

  From the Reviews:
  • "A reader's every response is anticipated by the quotes, and extended by general observations on money by Karl Marx and others. The text is presented in narratives, essays, question-and-answer transcripts and typographically enhanced single quotes. It does not take long to read." - John McEwen, The Spectator

Please note that these ratings solely represent the complete review's biased interpretation and subjective opinion of the actual reviews and do not claim to accurately reflect or represent the views of the reviewers. Similarly the illustrative quotes chosen here are merely those the complete review subjectively believes represent the tenor and judgment of the review as a whole. We acknowledge (and remind and warn you) that they may, in fact, be entirely unrepresentative of the actual reviews by any other measure.

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The complete review's Review:

       Bill Drummond and Jimmy Cauty -- a.k.a. The KLF, The Timelords, The JAMs -- made buckets of money with their greatest musical triumphs, notably the number one single, "Doctorin' the Tardis". More money than they knew what to do with, some might argue. One thing their K Foundation did with these riches was sponsor an Anti-Turner Prize for worst British artist, awarding it to Rachel Whiteread (who also won the actual Turner Prize in the same year) and giving her £ 40,000 for the honour. Then they set their sights higher, deciding that they had a million quid to burn -- and burn it they did.
       With charming (and typical) indecisiveness they considered a number of different options as to how to go about burning a million pounds sterling: in an art gallery, in secret, before the press, behind the backs of the press, etc. etc. Finally they collected the cash from their bank (apparently not the simplest of withdrawals to make), flew up to the island of Jura with Alan Goodrick (a roadie called Gimpo), and, early on August 23rd, 1994, burned £ 1,000,000.00 (more or less -- apparently not quite all of it really went up in flames). Gimpo captured the event on film, and in 1995 and 1996 Drummond and Cauty went on tour with the 63 minute flick, showing it and then discussing the event with the audience.
        This book, edited by Chris Brook and with stills by Gimpo, is a record of the event and the tour. Beyond merely describing the events (including Gimpo's view of the actual burning), it also includes transcripts from the post-screening discussions, comments from the press and others (including a longer piece by Alan Moore), and quotes from everyone from Karl Marx to Iain Sinclair to Edward Bulwer-Lytton. An attractive book, it neatly presents the whole cause célèbre. Particularly effective is the layout, with practically each page of print facing an eerily coloured still from the movie.
       The tour began a year after the actual burning, back in Jura, making for perhaps the least receptive crowd. Other stops included Belgrade (in Republic Square, no less -- with electricity provided by a hot dog stand and the screen made of two large sheets), the Royal College of Art, and Alan Moore's house. Reaction varied greatly -- from profound bafflement to bizarre justifications -- and the book offers up pretty much all the imaginable responses.
       Cauty and Drummond themselves are sympathetic characters, in that they quite freely admit that they do not know what they were trying to do, what they have accomplished, and what it means -- and expressing some reservations about blowing so much money. They are also aware of all the ironies that go into such a film-tour -- that it often looks simply like a publicity stunt, that they might wind up making more than they burnt, and similar odd consequences that arise so easily in this pop-culture world. The poster announcing the screenings asks the right questions about the act of burning the million quid:

Was it a crime ?
Was it a burnt offering ?
Was it madness ?
Was it an investment ?
Was it rock 'n' roll ?
Was it an obscenity ?
Was it art ?
Was it a political statement ?
Was it bollocks ?
       The film itself -- 63 silent minutes of money being burnt -- casts the whole event in a slightly different perspective, framing it more as a work of art, a statement, a happening or what you will, the burning of the money captured and used to create something else. (In addition a brick was fashioned out of the ashes of the money, but it does not have the same immediate impact as the film does.) By taking the film on tour and asking questions Cauty and Drummond present the whole event in a new and different light, and much of the audience reaction is as much to the film as to the simple burning of the money. To their credit, Cauty and Drummond seem to have felt fairly ambivalent about filming the event at the time, and it is recorded almost as an afterthought -- though, of course, this (pseudo-?)amateurish approach is also suspect.
       And what of the burning of the million quid ? A curious, controversial, perversely fascinating act. People are free to do with their money what they wish. The wilful destruction of cold hard cash is not what people generally do with money, hard-earned or not, but it is not quite as far-fetched an idea as it initially seems. The money could be used to "better" effect, possibly -- feeding the poor and the like. The K Foundation's act, however, does serve as a reminder of what an unusual thing money is, and what an odd role we allow it to play in our lives. By simply withdrawing it permanently from circulation the K Foundation calls many of our basic assumptions into question -- a point that can be (and often is) made in theoretical fashion, but does take on a very different feel when someone actually puts it into practise.
       The wide spectrum of reactions to the film and the burning of the money do cover almost all the possible reactions and interpretations. Perhaps the only facet not sufficiently explained (though Alan Moore makes some mention of it) is what it means to withdraw currency from circulation in this manner. While a million quid is a drop in the bucket it does have an effect on national money supply. Getting rid of it is, in effect, a gift to the state, which, in essence, will never have to repay the debt it took to issue that money. So at least the Treasury should be happy.
       What to make of it all ? Or should one make anything of it ? Yes, it is an act that leads to questions, and this book leads to more of them. Questions are, we believe, a good thing, and we wholeheartedly endorse the whole shebang. Possibly obscene, possibly upsetting, possibly a hoax it is still an interesting affair, and K Foundation Burn a Million Quid excellently documents it.
       Drummond and Cauty challenged the decade with the obscene success of "Doctorin' the Tardis", the inspired Manual (see our review), their KLF successes and K Foundation endeavours. Flighty and constantly undermining their own achievements (mostly by pushing them to excess), they have still provided a valuable mirror for a strange decade. Publicity stunt, social commentary, or art-act their burning of a million quid will go down as one of the defining statements of this brief era.

       K Foundation Burn a Million Quid is a beautiful book, and a fascinating one. It is also a significant document of the times. We recommend it very highly.

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K Foundation Burn a Million Quid: Reviews: Other books under review that might be of interest:
  • The Timelord's classic guide to making it to number 1, The Manual
  • Bill Drummond's memoir, 45
  • Bill Drummond's memoir, 17
  • Bill Drummond's Annual Report for 1998
  • The trilogy by The Justified Ancients of Mu Mu, 2023
  • Iain Sinclair's Lights out for the Territory, in which the affair (and the Whiteread debacle) are covered.
Bill Drummond:
  • Interview, with useful overview of his career.

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