Artists in Non-Residence

By Peter Carty, 12 January 2004


‘OK. You can have the television and the video for fifteen quid.’ The haggling is speeding up as this dwelling in London’s East End is stripped of everything that has made it home. The house is Dickensian: a one-up, one-down in an alleyway. Its artist occupant is being thrown out so the owner can cash in on rising property prices. And in inimitable fashion, the art collective C6 is turning the eviction into an event. The makeshift bar is busy, and djs are flipping discs frenetically. There’s a bonfire in the garden releasing aromatic wood smoke into the air. All the while humanity spills from the front door, clutching clothing, books, ornaments, carpets and sex toys, everything exchanged for derisory amounts of money.

The event was called Everything Must Go (EMG), and it was mounted by C6 in conjunction with in.sect.corp. C6 has documented it at [ ]. EMG is the latest example of divestment art. In contrast to Michael Landy’s Oxford Street shred-fest, nihilism was not on offer. Instead, the public was encouraged to play with an identity it was more than familiar with: the consumer. Perhaps the temporariness of the event meant that it had more in common with Rachel Whiteread’s House than Landy’s Breakdown. Like EMG, House emphasised the strong emotional resonances of East End dwellings for the urban poor. But the closest conceptual resemblance is to the work of Michael Mandiberg who, on New Year’s Day 2001, sold all his possessions online with more than a nod to theorist Frederic Jameson. ‘In this Post-Modern era,’ said Mandiberg, ‘art and commerce are often indistinguishable.’ Mandiberg attempted to make their indistinctness distinct: his ability to do so differentiates him from the likes of Landy or Whiteread whose works’ critical edge was blunted by their acquiescence in the fine art game. C6 refuses to play the game too, remaining resolutely anonymous and non-commercial. A recent mobile action/installation, On the Fly, involved spraying 1,260 stencilled flies on the windows of a London Underground central line train. Its aim? ‘To fight against ugliness using the wildlife of the everyday’. Fuck You enabled the public to vent anger and abuse down a phone line at the time of the second Gulf War. Lately, commentators have attempted to pindown C6 with the tactical art tag; a label the collective has not dismissed. In the meantime ‘sold’ stickers are rapidly appearing on the artists’ remaining possessions. One of the last items to go is the cooker, and soon a human dung beetle is proudly staggering up the alleyway under an unwieldy consumer durable. EMG has obviously not stopped gentrification in the East End, but it has thrown the issues into stark relief. And it was fun, too.

Peter CartyC6 []