My friends and I who run Poets’ Corner Folkestone put on an event called The Poetry of Money this week. This is the piece I wrote for it. It is called The Artists Who Burned A Million Quid. It speaks for itself, but it is worth knowing that Nailed to a Wall was the name of an artwork which was a million pounds in £50 notes nailed to a framed board.
The Artists Who Burned A Million Quid
In the early hours of the morning
Of August 23rd, 1994 –
Bill Drummond and Jimmy Cauty, burning
A million quid in fifty pound notes- more
Money than most artists ever see.
They had flirted with the idea before
That money has become the root of art
(How beautiful is money? was the core) –
Why paint Sunflowers, Nativities, nude sweethearts?
No artist needs to hear the Muse’s call
To understand that the activity
Is just like nailing money to a wall.
Therefore, what kind of art could be purer
Than burning a million quid on the Isle of Jura?
More than news of murders and poverty
Corruption in the corridors of power
New crime waves – stabbings and armed robbery –
The photograph of three men around a fire
Drinking whiskey from the bottle, poking
Bundles of fifty pound notes with a stick
To catch a flame, and, it appears, not joking-
No, they look more as though they’re feeling sick;
More than news of footballers and of sex
Columnists explaining what these events mean
The extinction of species, plane crash wrecks
The disgrace of someone who once met the Queen
More than all the bad news in the world
This was the baddest news that could be heard
There should, I think, have been an audience
And I don’t mean the kind of audience
Made up of those who already have the key
Or have at least sometime have touched the key
People who are always in the audience
Who use words such as ‘horizontality’.
No, I mean an audience of families
Fathers carrying children on their backs
Saying ‘You’ll Never See The Like Of This Again’
Mothers, grandparents, widows, families
Who’ve done nothing like this since ‘who-knows-when?’
There’s nothing like a fire in the outback
In the dark to attract an audience,
Who talk of life, of art and of mortality
The population of Jura, give or take,
Is two hundred, few of them millionaires.
A million quid- the difference that could make –
Five thousand each – would relieve a few cares;
But would that be creative, thought-provoking,
Controversial, challenging, satirical?
Five thousand quid is neither here nor there
But burning a million quid can really change things
It can change your life, like a miracle
It can ruin it, have you waking in the glare
Of day thinking What have I done?
If love of money’s the root of all sin
What of this hatred of money they slung
In the fire with their yan and their yin?
How much they preferred their lost memories-
Of sunflowers, nativities, naked flesh,
With their attendant ghosts of shame and regret-
To this piece of work that cannot be lost-
There are photographs, a journalist’s account…
They lose their hands in the ashes of the fire.
Ars longa vita brevis– but the amount?
Is art too long, life too short for
All the forgetting and spending that must be done?
Van Gogh and Rembrandt died broke, their money gone
And now their works sell for two hundred million.
Is life too short to spend two hundred million?
Where would you find the time for the lost memories
With their attendant ghosts of regret and shame?
On August 23rd 1994
In the early hours of the morning
In an abandoned boathouse on Jura
Drummond and Cauty sat there burning
A million in fifty pound notes in the fire.
On the second day they created light
On the third divided the waters from the sky
On the fourth they created day and night
And then the sun and moon to light the earth
The plants and living creatures and then Man
And then created money and its worth
And said to man Do with it what you can-
You only live one life there’s nothing surer
So come and join in the fun on the Isle of Jura