by Stewart Home
AK press 1991
“There many ways in which I could begin but perhaps it’s best to start by explaining how I became Karen Eliot. The name Karen Eliot is a collective name. It is a name anyone can use – and many people do indeed use it. The purpose of having a number of people using the same name is to examine practically the philosophical question of individuality. It was interest in such philosophical questions and their solution which led me to adopt the collective pseudonym Karen Eliot.”
“Of course, I am interested in many philosophical issues besides that of individuality, for instance, I am interested in notions of truth. To practically examine the question of truth, I spread ideas that consider fallacious and carefully watch other peoples’ reaction to them”
– Stewart Home (writing as Karen Eliot) Nihilism, Philosophy Without Meaning included in Smile No. 8, London November 1985.
2pp HISTORY LINE, EXAMPLE,
My current activity developed from my exposure to punk rock as a teenager living in the London suburbs. From punk I developed interest in dada and futurism – and by 1982, I’d decided to apply my ‘knowledge’ of the historical avant-garde to my activities as a ‘rock musician’.
At this time I was working with Mike Kemp who, like myself, was interested in the anti-art tradition. I wrote some manifestos for our group, White Colours, and Mike got them duplicated. These manifestos were heavily influenced by dada. Among other things, they declared that we are an ‘art movement’ called the Generation Positive, that all art was based on plagiarism, and that all rock bands should be called White Colours. Pleased by the reaction of disbelief we received from the rest of our band and people in general, Mike and I were inspired to write and self-publish several more manifestos. By the end of 1983, the group had fallen apart and Mike preoccupied with his studies as a philosophy student. I’d spent much of the summer putting together leaflets advertising myself as an ‘avant-garde artist’ . Since I’d learnt from punk that I could be a musician without knowing anything about art. At about the same time I discovered General Idea, whose work bore a conceptual similarity to my own, and this convinced me I was heading in the right direction.
In February 1984 I published the first edition Smile, the official organ of the Generation Positive, a ‘movement’ which was so avant-garde that it consisted solely of myself. By the time I published the second issue of Smile, at the beginning of April ’84, I’d applied the White Colours concept to the magazine and was demanding that all magazines should be called Smile.
Towards the end of April, I came into contact with Pete Horobin, the Scottish Neoist. He told me about the Monty Cantsin ‘open pop-star’ concept. An American called David Zack invented the name in 1977. A Latvian musician, Maris Kudzin assumed this identity – and he and Zack mailed out post-cards asking other artists to adopt the Cantsin persona. As I tied with my White Colours and Smile projects, I decided to adopt the Catsin identity – and do my best to encourage other people to take on the persona.
At the same time, I decided that the Generation positive and Neoism should join forces because the post-dada lunacy of Neoism seemed conceptually close to my Generation Positive campaign. Consequently, I worked under the aegis of these twin movements from May ’84 till April ’85. During this time I coined the phrase ‘multiple names’ to describe the Smile, White Colours and Monty Catsin concepts.
My enthusiasm proved to be infectious and these projects became truly collective. Mark Pawson and Erica Smith issued the first Smile related magazines during the summer of ’84 – Smile was a joint production, while Limes was Erica’s baby. Joki Mail Art issued the first ‘second generation’ Smile towards the end of ’84. Meanwhile, Pete Horobin and Arthur Berkoff had become enthusiastic about the Monty Cantsin concept and were both using the name. By 1985, additions of Smile were coming thick and fastt – and I’d lost count of the number of people using the Catsin identity.
As the multiple use name concept developed, I became more critical about its use. This attitude was fueled by an increased interest in Situationist theory and Fluxus. I was engaged in a lively correspondence with numerous individuals about multiple names, of which the theoretical elaborations of tENTATIVELY a cONVENIENCE – in particular – were crucial to my developing understanding of the project. As a result, I became somewhat frustrated when the self-styled ‘founder of Neoism’ claimed to be the real Monty Catsin. I also disliked the use various Neoists made of fascist imagery and decided to dissociate myself from the movement…
A NEW IDENTITY
By July ’85, I’d abandoned the Generation Positive as a framework for my activities and begun to use the word PRAXIS to promote the concepts of plagiarism, multiple names and refusal of creativity. Simultaneously, I decided to launch the name ‘Karen Eliot’ as a new collective pseudonym.
In 1986, I shifted from doing performance to ‘straight’ gallery work (mainly installations) and started getting respectable reviews. As a consequence, a number of individuals active in the London art would began to treat the name Karen Eliot a being synonymous with me. I counteracted this tendency by using a variety of different names, as well as my legal and birth names – and more or less abandoned using the Karen Eliot identity. Such strategies are essential if multiple names are to remain ‘open’ and function for collective use.
New editions of Smile appeared under the aegis of PRAXIS and various other groups such as Schiz-Flux and the Pregopatavistic movement.
The success of these collective projects inspired me to organize more ambitious events, such as the Festival of Plagiarism (London January\February 1988). This provided both a critic of ‘serious culture’ and a platform for alternatives to the elitism of ruling class art…
We are the White Colours, Slaves of Freedom, Second Coming, Babes On Acid, Flame Thrower Boys, Hip Troop, Jack Off Club, Flat Cap Conspiracy…
We reject the notion of jennies. Artists are the same as everyone else. Individuality is the last and most dangerous myth of the West…
We affirm that plagiarism is the truly artistic method. Plagiarism is the artistic crime against property. It is theft and in Western Society theft is a political act…
…We combat the plague of innovation…
We seek enlightenment through confusion…
We will strive towards nothing because nothing is the truly stable state…