The Albury Wodonga Superfiction 1993
Collaboration Peter Hill and J.J. Voss (Photographer)
The Sorbonne Conference, 2006
"The Sorbonne Conference took place in Paris on the 24th and 25th of November.
“Visual Arts, the Web and Fiction” was organised by Bernard Guelton
Other items and images will be added later
True Lies and Superfictions
Dr Peter Hill
Numbers correspond to slides (diapositifs)
- In August 1989, I created a fictional museum in New York called The
Museum of Contemporary Ideas. Initially, it existed only through its
press office. Rather than exhibit this work in a gallery I sent out fictive
press releases around the world to news agencies like Reuters and Associated
Press, to galleries, museum directors, magazine editors, and artist
friends, describing the pioneering work of what was supposedly the world’s
biggest contemporary space for exploring art and ideas. It had its billionaire
benefactors called Alice and Abner “Bucky” Cameron who
had supposedly made their fortune in the Cameron oil fields of Alaska.
- The Camerons were loosely modelled on the Gettys and Armand Hammers
of this world. Why did I do this? I was not trying to create a hoax, rather
to reflect a mirror image of the art world. My press releases were “testing” the
art world’s ability to tell truth from fiction. If my work has any
theoretical underpinning it comes from the philosophy of science and the
- Thomas Kuhn and his notion of the paradigm change
- Sir Karl Popper and his device of “sophisticated methodological falsificationism”
- and Paul Feyerabend and his anarchistic description of how science works
as proposed in his book Against Method. Feyarabend was one of the
catalogue essayists in the paradigm changing Zeitgeist exhibition in Berlin
- But the Superfiction has other uses. In the same way that a young architect
may never be able to build the great buildings that they imagine, they can live
out their fantasies through their architectural plans. Since 1992 I have
called this type of fantasy a “Superfiction”. In this case – in
1989 - it allowed me to create and structure a huge museum exactly as I wanted
it. So the Superfiction is also a device for releasing fantasies.
- So this first press release reflects and critiques what was happening in
the art world in 1989. At that time exhibitions such as Magiciens de
la Terre in Paris and Bilderstreit in Cologne were being mounted
after years and years of planning. By contrast, I introduced a gallery space
in the Museum of Contemporary Ideas called “The Changing Room” which
would respond immediately to political and cultural events through a think-tank
of curators, journalists, economists and philosophers, thus bringing the
tensions of the news room and the pressures of the press office to
the presentation of art and ideas.
exhibition in this fictive space was on the subject of
government propaganda, and
was a quick response to the recent massacres in Tienanmien Square. It title – “To
Get Rich is
taken from a statement by Deng Xiaoping. By
his June 9th speech which melded economic liberalism
orthodoxy, and made five days after the Tienanmien
spoke of “Plain Living” and set out a seventy
to promote the new philosophy.’
- I deliberately put many bad puns into these press releases in English,
but understandably they tended to go unnoticed in Germany, Italy, France,
Japan and other countries. The first press release was sent out in August
of 1989, and in November of that year, the weekend when the Berlin Wall was
being demolished, I went to the Cologne Art Fair. There, I met Dr Wolfgang
Max Faust, respected editor of Wolkenkratzer magazine and I asked
him if he had received my fictive press release. He said that he had, but
did not realise it was a fiction, and had asked his writer Gabriella Von
Knapstein to write an article about it, proclaiming it to be the most exciting
new museum in the world. When I told him that this was my artwork he went
white and said “For God’s sake please don’t tell anyone
until after next week. I have been asked to chair a meeting of German industrialists
and curators to see if Frankfurt could build an even bigger museum based
on New York’s Museum of Contemporary Ideas.
- Again, I say this was not a hoax, but as an artist it gave me an umbrella
under which to work. I could create fictional artists, curators, editors,
collectors, and auctioneers and through them create an alternative art world.
As an art student in the early 1970s I took a summer job as a lighthouse
keeper on three uninhabited islands off the west coast of Scotland. From
this period I wrote a book called Stargazing which has been published
all round the world but not yet in France. I was 20 years old and it gave
me a chance to step off the world and view it from a distance. Many of my
Superfictions stem from this period of reflection. On the lighthouse we watched,
on our black and white television sets, the Watergate hearings beamed lied
by satellite from Washington, and we watched the horrible climax to the war
- In the early days my Superfictions were “mail art” projects
with press releases sent out through the post.
- By 1992 I had put the whole project through a détournement and distributed
them through the Internet.
- I was already building fictional Art Fair installations in museums, such
as the Art Gallery of New South Wales project space in Sydney, and the Auckland
City Gallery in New Zealand.
- Through brooding about these installations I decided to put The Museum
of Contemporary Ideas through a complete “détournement” and
have it emerge as a novel, art installation, and website, called The
Art Fair Murders. The narrative of this speculated on what would happen
if a serial killer was loose in the art world killing a different person
in art fair cities in the great year of revolutions, 1989: January, Miami;
February, ARCO in Madrid; March, London; April, Frankfurt; May, Chicago;
and so on through to June, Basil and November, Cologne.
- Narrative has long been a part ofboth figurative and abstract painting.
I wanted to introduce “plot” into the art making process.
- By the mid 1990s I had met a number of artists around the world who created
different fictional worlds. The first was
- Res Ingold in 1989 at the Cologne Art Fair with his fictional airline Ingold
Airlines. He then went on to introduce me to
- the late Servaas in Holland with his fictional world of deep see fishing.
- Servaas led me to Torch Gallery and Adriaan the director introduced me
to the Seymour Likely Group who ran their own bar as an artwork near the
red light district
- And so it went on. In 1989 I came across
- Joan Fontcuberta and the fictional creatures he had made through taxidermy,
and David Wilson’s Museum of Jurrassic Technology in Los Angeles.
- Many others followed. Rodney Glick in Australia with his Klausian
- His student Eve Anne O’Reagon with her fictional cosmetics company
- The Leeds 13 in England and the group DAMP in Australia with their
- More recently Alexa Wright in London and her Phantom Limb Projects. I have
curated on exhibition for the Sydney Festival in 2002 on the subject of photo-fictions.
Next, I would like to curate a large show on the whole topic of Superfictions.
- So going back to the first Press Release. Many of the fictional artists
and artists groups that I invented for that first press release to The Museum
of Contemporary Ideas back in 1989 now became characters in The Art Fair
Murders. These include the art teams: Nouvelle Kunst Faction from Paris;
AAA (Art Against Astrology); Made in Palestine – Made in Israel; Elvi
and Jack; Aloha, a group from Queensland in Australia, The ArtTsars from
Leningrad, and Film Pilgrims from New York. This is a still from “The
After SexCigarette “ by Film Pilgrims. It is a filmed ballet about
gender issues. What they do is return the concept of the art pilgrimage to
film. Their movies are only shown in one cinema in a remote location in the
world. So, I the same way as you have to travel to Paris, if you live in
Glasgow, Sydney, or Chicago to see the “real” Mona Lisa, so with
the work of Film Pilgrims you have to travel to
- disused cinemas in Auckland, New Dehli, or Nova Scotia to see their work.
You have to make a pilgrimage.
- There are also individual artists in The Art Fair Murders such
as the young conceptual artist from Holland called Milco Zeemann and two
painters from Texas who are rivals in love and art – Herb Sherman and
Hal Jones. When I started this project I was living and teaching in Tasmania,
Australia, having moved there from my home city on the other side of the
world, Glasgow, Scotland. The first thing I did was I prepared two advertisements
for one of my favourite journals The London Review of Books.
- The first one appeared on December 14th 1995, on page 27, and looked like
this. Over the next two months there was, as I had predicted, zero response
to this advertisement.
- The second advertisement appeared in the March 7th edition, 1996, page
23. It was identical to the first one except for the following additions:
Internet auction from $500,000. Fax Peter Hill in Tasmania on – followed
by the number. Responses to the second advertisement came from all over the
world – Rome, New York, Tokyo, London – from literary agents,
publishers, and the media. This strategy of running two similar but crucially
different advertisements was deliberate. From its inception The Art Fair
Murders was intended to critique both the world of contemporary art
and the world of literary fiction. As a visual artist (and what I call a ‘heroic
amateur’ a term I named after artists such as Jorg Immendorff, Sandro
Chia, and Stephen Campbell, all artists who moved from performance or conceptual
art into painting, with little early talent but huge ambition) I examined
the world of literary fiction around this time, in search of controversy.
And I should say here that in describing and planning my work I have devised
certain phrases which include: “Superfictions”; “Aesthetic
Vandalism”; “Logical Extremism”; and “Splitting
- When I looked at the literary world I found that there was a huge fuss
being made over the English writer Martin Amis receiving an advance of £500,000
for his book The Information. Yet at the same time there was nothing
but praise for Nicholas Evans who was awarded almost six times that amount
for his first novel (with film rights) The Horse Whisperers.
The latter was seen by many as pure entertainment, not literary fiction,
so high fees were accepted as part of the deal.I chose the sum of $500,000
in order to ‘mirror’ the world of publishing within one of its
leading journals – The London Review of Books, and to test
the hypothesis that the mention of money and an internet auction would create
a difference in response. In fact, it created a very big difference. Between
the time of placing the first advertisement and its appearance, I began to
write the novel. I also scanned the first few chapters on to my web-site.
Again, using a ‘heroic amateur’ strategy, I decided to write
the novel backwards, starting with the sort of ‘blurb’ one finds
on the back of an airport novel and never written by an author but by someone
in the marketing department of the publishing house. This became the template
for the book and the art installation. When the second advertisement appeared
many of the responses came from the media, particularly in London, and several
interviews by phone, fax, and email followed, particularly from The Times in
London and The Independent.
- The fictional part of The Art Fair Murders – the novel Thirteen
Months in 1989 – is supposedly been written by a taxi driver
called Jacko in Aberdeen, Scotland. He had trained as a sculptor at Goldsmiths
College a year or so behind the so-called Young British Artists. For a
while he worked as an art transporter and developed his own form of Cockney
Rhyming Slang known in the books as Art Transporters’ Rhyming
Gretchen Bender Return
Tony Cragg Shag
Rolf Harris Paris
Cindy Sherman German
And so on – but perhaps it loses a little in translation
- The accompanying web-site was developed under the umbrella of The Museum
of Contemporary Ideas and can be found at www.superfictions.com.When
the visitor reaches the home page they are faced with a museum elevator
which has fourteen floors. On each floor there is a separate project. When
the visitor clicks on The Art Fair Murders they are faced with
five choices. By clicking on The Making of the Art Fair Murders one
can see all the information, advertisements, correspondence, and scribbled
notes that marked the early days of the project and its subsequent development.
All of these background notes to all of my Superfictions are known as “The
- When I create a new Superfiction I always mark its arrival with a pen.
In these dangerous times – especially with the stupidity of the US,
Britain, and Australia - I still like to feel that “the pen is
mightier than the sword”. These pens are mailed out around the world
along with press releases and other documentation. I do like
the conventional postal system – the idea that objects, letters
and postcards (Made in Palestine) can be placed in a box anywhere on the
planet and a few days later end up in someone’s house in Paris, New
York, or Tasmania. I also think Superfictions work best when the
Internet works in tandem with the postal system.
- I would now like to finish by talking about two strategies I have been
developing recently. The first relates to the Cameron Oil pens that
I have had manufactured. A few years ago I did a project in England
at the Museum of Modern Art. Before leaving Australia I went to the State
Library in Melbourne and located a copy of the Oxford phone book. In it I
discovered that there were seventy-two people with the surname “Cameron” who
lived in Oxford. From Australia, I sent them all a Cameron Oil pen and invited
them to come to a lecture at the Museum of Modern Art. I enjoy using chance
elements like this in my work and in a sense it relates back to the Surrealist
game of “Exquisite Corpse”. I also enjoy failing at things. Over
the years I have learned more from many failures than I have from the occasional
success. As Samuel Beckett said, “Fail. Fail again. Fail better.” My
lecture to the Oxford Camerons ended in exquisite failure. Unknown to the
audience I had hidden three first year art students, dressed as terrorists,
in a large cupboard behind the podium. At the prearranged signal of me turning
on a video recording they burst out of hiding, dragged me from the room,
bundled me into a car and drove me to Heathrow Airport from where I flew
to Stockholm with my curator. There, to my surprise, I discovered there were
seven Camerons in the Stockholm phone directory. The reason my kidnapping
failed visually of course is because we all had silly grins on our faces.
We looked stupid, or certainly I did. But it is something I might try again.
- I am currently working towards an exhibition at a large commercial gallery
in Sydney called Boutwell Draper. The exhibition will be called “The
Myth of the Frame” in tribute to Sir Karl Popper’s paper “The
Myth of the Framework”. In it I am examining the rivalry between two
of the painters who are characters in The Art Fair Murders. I
should say at this point that under the umbrella title of The Art Fair
Murders there is the novel, the installations, and the web-site. The
novel itself is called Thirteen Months in 1989. There are twelve art
fairs, twelve cities, twelve months, and twelve murders – but there
are thirteen chapters since one of them represents an alternative ending.
- This project, from the start, has deliberately examined three clichés
and tried to turn them into something fresh. These three clichés are:
If I had to reduce the questions that The Art Fair Murders is
asking down to just a few, they would be: What happens when the painting
escapes from the picture frame? And what happens when the novel escapes from
the pages of the book? What happens when they go out onto the street or when
they infiltrate the Internet? So I am questioning how we frame things, and
I will finish with one final example, the works of Herb Sherman and Hal Jones
from Texas. There is a fierce rivalry between these two painters, made worse
by the fact that Hal Jones sells his large canvases to museums around the
world while Herb Sherman has never been collected by a museum but his work
is bought by multi-national hotels and casinos. Back in the 1960s, Hal Jones
was a student of Herb Sherman’s and also worked as his studio assistant.
Hal’s girlfriend, Lisa, was also an art student and after a particularly
wild studio party Herb seduced her and thus began a short but passionate
affair. Hal went crazy and trashed Sherman’s studio. But he did not
do it in a wild and unconsidered way. He employed what the judge, in his
summing up, described as “aesthetic vandalism”. Hal waited until
Herb went to Las Vegas for a week for the unveiling of his “Poker Suite” of
canvases at Caeser’s Palace. During that time he cut into a series
of already-framed canvases with saws, spilled paint down other almost completed
canvases, and blocked out large sections of other works with monochrome rectangles
allowing Herb’s multi-coloured signature style to show through only
at the edges.
Hal Jones was sentenced to a month on a prison farm where by day he spent
his time with the other inmates painting the perimeter fence first one colour,
and then when it was finished, another, and spent the nights locked up in
his prison cell with three other felons. Out of this period of incarceration
came what he calls his “Fence” series of large monochromes the
dimensions of which relate to the size of his prison cell. He spent much
of his time in prison measuring things with a cloth tape measure Lisa smuggled
in when visiting him. Other canvases relate to the size of his food tray,
the cell window, the exercise yard, his mattress, and the overall dimensions
of the double bunk bed.
- The use of the serial killer in pulp fiction and literary fiction
- The overuse of the mannequin in installation art
- The extreme overuse of the colour orange in contemporary advertising
framing device is a traditional heavy – and expensive – frame,
a gold slip. His casino paintings are all named after card games –
Chemin de Fer; Sweepstake
Hearts; Razzle-Dazzle Cinch; The Wild Widow;
Rouge et Noir; American Skat; Chinese Fan Tan; and
His hotel paintings reference oceans, ports, bays, and beaches –
Double Bay; Bay
of Islands; Indian-Pacific; Corio Bay; Seventy Mile Beach; and
The Port of Amsterdam – the
latter taken from one of his favourite Dave Van
Ronk songs that
has playing in his studio while he is working.
framing devices is a simple piece of timber placed along the top of his
with objects attached which reference his time on the prison farm:
broken glass, bolts and screws, mice and rats.
- And I will finish at this point by showing a final image, one of the most
collected during the research for my PhD into Superfictions. What do you
is? It looks a little like a Mark Rothko painting reproduced in black and
with a diagonal horizon. It is in fact a painting of Degas’ ballerinas.
it has been
prepared for publication in an Iranian school text book so all of the
have been air-brushed out. Except if you look closely at the
shadows you see
the thought police have left the shadows of the little girls on the
floor. If we are
to become experts at deciding what is true or false in any given
we must become expert at looking into the shadows. That is where
the most interesting
Superfictions hide. Thank you.