Unsolicited Proposals
Catalogue essay for (tape runs out) by David Burrows
Transcripts of seven recordings found on a disc marked ‘Unsolicited Proposals’

First Recording

Hi… if you’re listening to this… then you’re most probably my boss and I’m already dead… or you’ll be ordering my elimination shortly… if you’re a journalist, then I’m about to get snuffed, or it has already happened, but I trust I have chosen well and you’ll know what to do… and if, by chance, you’re a member of the public… whatever that might be… then you’d better listen with both ears because there is something you should know… I work for cultural security… never knew we existed, right? But we’re everywhere… anyway… a report came in a year ago, ‘unsanctioned information in the public domain’- public, there’s that word again… anyway, Johnny Jones called it in… I asked him whether it was political. ‘Hard to tell’, was his reply. ‘Well how big an area is contaminated?’ ‘One street in East London’, he said, ‘and maybe a building, a gallery, that’s why I called you’… well fuck you too! I asked for more information. ‘What do you mean one street, how many broadcasts are we talking about?’ ‘One,’ he said, ‘It’s a poster on a wall, and maybe another in the gallery, but the building is private not public property, boss wants you to investigate’… you see, I work undercover, no one knows about my security work… I was recruited at university and I’ve lived a double life ever since as an artist and writer and as an Arts Council agent… you might wonder why money’s so tight at the Arts Council, it’s because we’re hidden in the budget, an order of pencils here, a consultancy there, we’re the black ops unit of the A.C. but we’re so deep that not even Whitehall knows about us… no one can figure out why I’m awarded so many grants or make any sales at all… it’s kind of funny… I’m paid well for my services… but in all the years I’ve worked for cultural security at A.C. I’ve never been asked to investigate such small scale activity… it was just a poster for fuck’s sake… should have known there and then that I was being set up… the posters- there were two of them- seemed simple enough, one text about the exhibition, Everything must go, that Hutchinson was showing in, and another in the street, extending the gallery, or rather… and this is what has unnerved my boss, Director Guyton… the second poster tells you that the street, as a site for art, is not free of the limitations of the gallery… and that, in the context of presenting art, the street is continuous with the gallery and not as others claim- as many artists supported by the Arts Council are trying to claim- some kind of readymade democratic or radical space where art can enlighten the public… or, reading between the lines, improve the lives of the public and regenerate urban environments… I spoke with my controller, agent Searle, he gave me another text by Hutchinson, On Writing… told me to study the text… work out how it works… there was one slice of text that really disturbed him… To act is always to do the impossible: to bring about a situation that was inconceivable beforehand. For an act to be genuine, its outcome cannot be known… he read it out and grunted, ‘that’s against Arts Council policy for a start, what’s his game? ‘But I have the guys name,’ I said, ‘Mark Hutchinson, why don’t we just bring him in, ask him what he’s up to?’ Agent Searle was adamant, ‘We’re not after him, it’s the reader, the man or woman he wrote the text for that we want, now go and do what I fucking pay you to do, find them and eliminate them’… I had never been asked to kill anyone before… lose an artist’s grant application, yes, place bad reviews in the press, bribe judges and curators, sure, after all everyone’s at it… destroy works, firebomb galleries and collections, that too, but snuff someone, never… that kind of thing is normally arranged by the regional arts officers… this is why I’ve made this recording, things are going to end badly…

Second Recording

Twenty four hour surveillance of the poster in the street produced no positive identification of Hutchinson’s target audience, we’re probably too late… should’ve been at the opening the day before… but to tell you the truth, I was relieved, don’t want to catch anyone anyway… the thought of actually killing someone makes me a little queasy, I don’t think I could… but if I don’t do it, then some one will and I would be next on their list… everyone’s talking about increased security, get them before they get us, everyone’s gone nuts… there’s paranoia sweeping through every art organisation in the country… everyone’s feeling it, and the constant pressure from the government and… anyway, twenty subjects read Hutchinson’s poster today… we pulled them all in, put them behind the one way glass and grilled them… not much point… a woman walking her dog… three painting lecturers from Slade School of Art… all thought the poster wasn’t art… hated it in fact … pulled in nine local kids on the way to a mosque in Whitechapel… said they didn’t think it was meant for them… one said that the person we’re looking for is probably one in ten thousand people… that’s exactly what agent Searle said, ‘and one in a ten thousand can do a lot of damage, that’s why they’ve got to be terminated’…

Third Recording

I’ve found something… dug deep… Hutchinson’s texts have all these funny numbers down one side, some kind of code, each slice of text has its own number… turns out that this system of numbered sentences was employed by a philosopher, man named Wittgenstein… and Wittgenstein is a kind of hero for some hard-core conceptual artists and radicals active around 68-72… this has got to be a signal… to others… to someone that, like Hutchinson, has read Wittgenstein and understands the code… other like-minded individuals… people who write like Hutchinson, that, to quote the man himself, think there are times when analysis seems to be the only possible course: the only way of keeping alive the possibility of action in the future… the kind of people the A.C. despise the most…


Fourth Recording

I’ve been reading Hutchinson’s texts, trying to think about the voice of the text… if a text can have a voice… perhaps it is better to say tone rather than voice… the tone is deadpan, functional, down to earth, without pleasure or pain… objective… of the mind, not the body… sensations and perceptions are of no consequence in the text… his words are without any psychological inflection… and seems knowing, or rather the text states what can be known or agreed upon… the kind of thoughts that are seldom discussed or raised by artists these days but once might have been called something like critique, or institutional critique even… we thought we’d buried that one… we built Tate Modern, funded Frieze, put art on the TV, made art glamorous… but there’s always someone who wants to spoil the party, there’s always pockets of resistance- like rats, these fuckers will survive a nuclear war… Hutchinson’s text doesn’t ask me any questions or invite dialogue… it tells me things, carefully, so as not to make any grand statements… he doesn’t offer any opinions… and actually they’re not statements at all, and there’s nothing humorous or self-consciously performative about them either… they’re pure… they’re propositions… If I find myself disagreeing with the text I begin to think about what is being proposed… I find myself thinking… being critical too… so that’s his game… nothing incendiary about these texts… Hutchinson’s file states that he is soft-spoken, thoughtful, well mannered… we can’t get him on incitement… his psycho-profile says he’s not the type for romantic gestures or idealism… just the goal of sparking a thought, a critical thought in the mind of someone else… but who? Got to be careful… it’s like an infection… once you start reading his texts you read through to the end… better stop reading…

Fifth Recording

Hello again… still here… there’s been another ‘contamination’ called in… this time by A.C. vice… seems Hutchinson put up a poster on a toilet door… as the poster itself explains, the toilet is a classic public/private space where illicit contact and exchange can take place… and like other posters, it’s straight forward… a lot of stuff about Duchamp and the Readymade… strictly speaking, I don’t know whether the poster is art, and if I could convince agent Searle that it isn’t, it would no longer be in my jurisdiction… it’s probably anti-art though, which would make it art anyway… but it’s not a can of worms I want to open… as long ago as the 70s, when my predecessor was called in by the head of Coventry Art School to flush out a group known as Art and Language, that particular issue has been verboten… a philosopher was called in to report on whether the group and their students were producing philosophy or art, as more words than objects were being produced. The philosopher said he couldn’t tell but was enthusiastic about what they were up to and didn’t care whether it was art, the words were important… so that particular ruse went pear-shaped… other means had to be found to remove the group… but it is a good example of how an operation can go wrong if you get ensnared by that question, the ‘is it art?’ question… the group just became martyrs, telling the story of the philosopher over and over… Art and Language came up in a conversation Hutchinson had the other day… I have it on tape, a phone tap recording... Hutchinson said that he was influenced by the group’s ideas… as if any further proof were needed… it’s there in black and white, I quote Hutchinson’s text On Toilets… Any art that is not aligned towards the collective will misrepresent its own condition… he also said he was interested in what collaborators might be out there, that might be engaged through the posters… I listened to that recording a hundred times, he sounded sincere but… I don’t get it… I mean, doesn’t he know who he’s communicating with? There must be someone else directing him… a controller… and another thing… Hutchinson said that he’s interested in the negation of the negation, marking or revealing that which is absent in a discourse or structure… the gaps he called it… marking the gaps… I called in the TEU… that’s Terminology Explanation Unit… they said that I had a ‘critical realist’ on my hands… and they seldom work alone…

Sixth Recording

I knew it... I fucking knew it… shit, the Hutchinson case has just turned inside out and I’m being squeezed both sides… ten forty five, yesterday morning… got a call from the man himself… Hutchinson… did I get the e-mail he sent me and would I write a catalogue essay for his autumn show? I nearly pissed my pants… my first thought was, ‘this is how it happens, he knows who I am, must be A.C. assassin’… this is some kind of sick fucking joke, I’m investigating the guy who’s going to snuff me out… or if he isn’t A.C. he knows who I am anyway and he’s just playing with me… SHIT! …well I hadn’t received his mail… he apologised… ‘Why me?’, I asked… as cool as a cucumber he replied, ‘Paul O’Neill, the curator of my show, he told me to ask you, you see his role is to stipulate the form and limits of the exhibition and the work I will make, he tells me what to do, up to a point’… I was silent for few seconds… ‘What, is he… like your controller or something?’ ‘Yes’, he said… YES! Just like that… I knew it, I fucking knew it… I just put a trace on O’Neill, fully expecting him to come up as Arts Council on the system… he didn’t but that doesn’t prove shit… I’ve said yes to writing the essay… what else could I do… now I’m not sure if I’m working against Hutchinson or for him… or O’Neill… Just got to think, better read the new text he sent… get to the bottom of all this…

Seventh Recording

Hi… this is probably the last time you’ll hear my voice… I feel the assassins are closing in… darkness is closing in just as everything is becoming clearer… I feel like the punch line of a joke that is no longer funny… it’s all there in Hutchinson’s text, Propositions on art and the public…I understand why the A.C. put him under surveillance, the text spells it out… The public does not exist... You get that? You don’t exist! All these years I’ve been making art for you, writing for you, working for the Arts Council, living a duplicitous life for your benefit, working for you, just to please you and entertain you and enlighten you… AND YOU DON’T EVEN FUCKING EXIST! YOU’RE A LIE! A FUCKING SICK JOKE! An idea dreamed up by educated men and woman so that they could feel important and fill their pockets and stomachs whilst working for the public good… The fucking public, the best con trick since Jake the peg with his extra fucking leg… Hutchinson is right… you are far too diverse, multiple, contradictory, fractured, fragmented, inconsistent, changeable and perverse to be anything but a myth… and he’s on the money when he writes that art must do without the public… and if the public does not exist, then why the fuck should the A.C. It’s organisations who conjure up the public, its their little trick, with their questionnaires and reports… their endless fucking bureaucracy… I put that in my last report… I should call it my suicide note, but I am beyond caring… fuck ’em, fuck all those pompous guardians of the public good and FUCK THE PUBLIC… you may have gathered that I’m a little fired up, a little pissed… that’s right… I’ve been drinking… I’ve been drimking to celebrate one of Hutchinson’s propositions in particular… I hope you’ll join me, whoever the fuck you are, in raising a glass for a toast - raise your glass for art, as the search for collaborators rather than as the search for a public!

David Burrows