PRINT April 2006


Olivia Plender

Olivia Plender is a London-based artist and coeditor of Untitled magazine. Her work was recently featured in “Le Voyage Intérieur: Paris-London” at Espace EDF Electra in Paris and currently appears in the Tate Triennial at Tate Britain in London. She has been short-listed for the Beck’s Futures 2006 award, and her book, A Stellar Key to the Summerland, will be published by Book Works later this year.

  1. NICK LAESSING’s “FREE ENERGY” RESEARCH Berlin- and London- based artist Nick Laessing is currently searching for that holy grail of science: the perpetual motion machine. The quest has led him to Switzerland (where a religious cult claimed success), to scientific conferences, and finally to his own studio—where he constructed a model on an existing patent. Chronically underfunded, research into free energy is the preserve of autodidacts and scientists on the margins, recalling the ideological endeavors of “cranks” like Buckminster Fuller and nineteenth-century amateur scientists, who made significant discoveries (like electricity) before the scientific community closed ranks against outsiders.

  2. KLAUS WEBER, UNFOLDING CUL-DE-SAC, 2004 I saw this wry work, a wooden hut on a large patch of Tarmac, at London’s Cubitt gallery in 2004. The shed housed research material about an unlikely tool for subversion called the “sidewalk mushroom”—an edible fungus strong enough to grow through concrete, as proved by this exhibition, which saw a new crop push through the rock-solid Tarmac daily.

    Klaus Weber, Unfolding Cul-De-Sac, 2004. Installation view, Cubitt, London. Klaus Weber, Unfolding Cul-De-Sac, 2004. Installation view, Cubitt, London.
  3. EL BASILISCO, BUENOS AIRES Last year I participated in this remarkable residency program, established just after the economic crisis in Argentina by three exceptional artists: Esteban Alvarez, Cristina Schiavi, and Tamara Stuby. Though small in scale and located in Alvarez’s and Stuby’s unfashionable suburb Avellaneda, El Basilisco has had an impact worldwide as a successful artist-run space functioning outside established channels.

    Jan Adriaans, Lifted, 2005. Installation view, El Basilisco, Buenos Aires. Jan Adriaans, Lifted, 2005. Installation view, El Basilisco, Buenos Aires.
  4. PUBLISH AND BE DAMNED In the 1960s Öyvind Fahlström envisaged a network through which artworks could be made and bought inexpensively as multiples, much like records or comics. The Publish and Be Damned fair in London—started two years ago by curators Kit Hammonds and Emily Pethick, and now run by Sarah McCrory—would make Fahlström proud. Providing a means to exchange independently produced material, the fair has featured everything from Pablo Bronstein’s photocopied reprint of Horace Walpole’s Castle of Otranto to records from the label Difficult Fun.

  5. MONITOR Many important British film directors—like John Schlesinger, Karel Reisz, and the notorious Ken Russell—started their careers making documentaries for Monitor, the BBC’s original arts program that ran through the mid-’60s. Russell pushed the boundaries of the documentary form with his biopics of artists, writers, and composers—including The Debussy Film (1965), about a director making a film on the French Impressionist composer.

  6. I AM CURIOUS (YELLOW), 1967 This film, made with its companion, I Am Curious (Blue) (1968), by Swedish director Vilgot Sjöman, combines real interviews, newsreel footage, and fantasy sequences to form a reflexive work that, like Russell’s BBC films, switches between documentary and fiction. The young heroine Lena divides her time between sexual experimentation and political fact-finding, interviewing people on the streets of Stockholm about class, gender, and the validity of nonviolent protest. The narrative frame, however, is frequently shattered when we see the “real” Lena along with director and crew.

    Vilgot Sjöman, I Am Curious (Yellow), 1967, still from a black-and-white film in 35 mm, 121 minutes. Lena Nyman. Vilgot Sjöman, I Am Curious (Yellow), 1967, still from a black-and-white film in 35 mm, 121 minutes. Lena Nyman.
  7. KIBBO KIFT FOUNDATION The Kibbo Kift was a youth movement­–cum–British cult started by an artist named John Hargrave—a onetime Boy Scout Commissioner who found Scouts leader Robert Baden-Powell too right-wing. In the 1920s the troupe elevated camping to a spiritual activity involving elaborate costumes—one part futurist to two parts Robin Hood—and even had an exhibition at London’s Whitechapel Gallery. After evolving into a paramilitary group (the Green Shirts) and a political party in the 1930s, however, the movement’s popularity dwindled and the group dissolved. Established by Hargrave in 1977, the foundation preserves the extensive regalia and documentation from this (sometimes unpalatable) episode in British history.

    A gathering of the Kibbo Kift tribes near High Wycombe, UK, ca. 1922. A gathering of the Kibbo Kift tribes near High Wycombe, UK, ca. 1922.
  8. WWW.SOCIETYOFCONTROL.COM Stephan Dillemuth’s great website contains detailed information on his projects, essays, and collaborations, including a large photographic archive from his research into many nineteenth- and early twentieth-century living experiments, like Germany’s New Age Lebensreform movement, the long-lasting utopian Oneida Community in the United States, and the Monte Verità commune in Switzerland.

    Archival image from Archival image from
  9. THE WATTS CHAPEL, COMPTON, SURREY, UK Towering on a hill above a cemetery in the English countryside, this peculiar, cylindrical redbrick chapel, completed in 1904, is a strange relic from the Victorian age. Designed by amateur architect Mary Watts, wife of the Symbolist painter George Frederic Watts, it is an unusual mix of Arts and Crafts, Celtic, and Romanesque styles, with an interior completely covered in handpainted murals that border on the psychedelic.

  10. SPIRITUALIST ASSOCIATION OF GREAT BRITAIN Modern Spiritualism started in 1848 in the United States, but spread to British shores shortly afterward. Because many early Spiritualists were from Quaker backgrounds, the movement, which focuses on contacting the dead, aligned itself with Protestant nonconformism and social causes like the cooperative movement and antislavery. At SAGB services today (6:00 PM every Sunday in London’s Belgrave Square), you can have your own session with a Spiritualist medium—most likely to hear your dead grandmother tell you it’s time to buy new curtains.