The artists formerly known as the KLF are back, writes Richard Fitzpatrick. And it’s not to make music.
The chart-topping duo caused a sensation in 1994 when they burned £1 million on a remote Scottish island as an artistic exercise (and filmed the process).
The public reaction to the stunt was so fierce that the pair, Bill Drummond and Jimmy Cauty signed a moratorium, vowing not to work together as KLF for 23 years. Now that time is up. For their latest project, they’re tackling death and remembrance.
Operating under the name The Justified Ancients of Mu Mu, the duo have invited people to send their own ashes – each sealed in a brick that’s carved with a hole large enough to hold 23 grams of cremated remains. They’ll use the ashes to make a ‘People’s Pyramid’. They’ve set a deadline of 2023 to find a permanent venue for the 23-foot-high pyramid, which will contain 34,952 bricks and could take over 200 years to complete.
The pyramid’s first brick holds the ashes of Cauty’s brother, Simon, who died from suicide in 2016. It was laid in a foundation stone at a ceremony in Toxteth, Liverpool in November 2018, which Irish documentary-maker Paul Duane filmed as part of a documentary about the making of the People’s Pyramid entitled What Time is Death?
“It’s interesting to me to see how much everything tinkers on the brink of chaos with them all the time,” says Duane. “It’s not like there’s a master plan. They have powerful, visionary ideas about what they want but how they get there is constantly changing.”
Drummond and Cauty had the idea of a pyramid for many years, but the death of Cauty’s brother crystallised their thoughts. They agreed he would be the first brick to be laid in the pyramid.
“There’s a very personal and deeply felt thing at the centre of it,” says Duane.
There is a diverse cast of characters in What Time is Death? As well as Drummond and Cauty, they include Paul Sullivan, a conceptual architect who first worked with Drummond in 2011 on Terminal Connection, a temporary exhibition on the site of the old Cork airport terminal; Gimpo, the band’s roadie and the guy who filmed the notorious film Watch the K Foundation Burn a Million Quid; and Claire and Rupert Callendar, a pair of undertakers from the firm, Green Funeral Company.
“Claire worked in the music business back in the twentieth century,” says Duane. “About 20 years ago, they decided to make a career change and went into the funeral business in an unconventional way for people who wanted to have funerals. They do bio-degradable coffins, funeral pyres. They do all these things with great commitment and seriousness.
“The clue is in the name. They’re very into the idea of things being done in a green way. They have a lot of connections in the music business still and that’s how they came into contact with Bill and Jimmy. They did Simon Cauty’s funeral.
“When Bill and Jimmy decided they wanted to move into the area of working with death they were the obvious people to work with. It’s on a legal basis. They’re actually in business together. It’s a serious thing for Claire and Rupert to do because they’ve built up a reputation. It helps to ground the seriousness of what Bill and Jimmy are doing — that they’re working with two people who would have a lot to lose if it was seen to be a silly rock star’s prank.”
What Time is Death? is screened as part of the Dublin International Film Festival, today at the IFI