How to solve a 23 year old riddle – the K Foundation way…

It is still one of the most divisive and most talked about artistic works of modern times. In fact, it is possibly one of the most important cultural, economic and artistic works of ALL time – yes, I really believe that. Am I biased because I love the various works across a host of fields by Cauty and Drummond? Possibly – but let me be clear, my statement regarding the importance of the work does not mean that I necessarily agree with the act itself. However, when you see how the burning of a million quid affects people, it is always a valuable insight. Why? Because the extremity of what the K Foundation did elicits deep values within all of us. The way we think about money shapes our lives and decisions everyday – and therefore, you cannot help but have a strong opinion on this topic. So when I saw that Day 1 of this extravaganza would feature a public hearing, exactly 23 years after the contract of silence was taken and the moratorium had thus expired, to finally discover why exactly the K Foundation removed paper currency from circulation with the aide of a match, I had to attend.

black e - peter guy get into this

The venue for this eagerly anticipated (yes – a genuine usage of that term) debate-of-sorts is The Black-E on George St, Liverpool – a fantastically grand building and an ideal setting for this lavish concept. As we arrive, the entrance has something familiar within it, the T-shaped speaker stack that had appeared at News From Nowhere for the book launch earlier. Premium photo opportunity material right there.

As we ascend the stairs, each entrant is given a £1 coin by the venue staff. Initially, I thought this was a kind gesture for me to purchase a light refreshment from the bar. However, upon enquiry, the response I received was that they did not know why we were all given one hundred pence. The theme of incomplete information is rife during this ‘situation’. However, most attendees seem happy to not have a fuller picture and some attribute this to their trust of the artists. But is there also a deeper message to all this? Control appears to be surrendered to The JAMs but tonight the audience are apparently going to be the final judges. As I explore this further, it seems increasingly fascinating to me that in our normal everyday lives, due to inevitable routine, we believe that we have sufficient information to be in control of certain aspects of our destiny. But the real reality is that we never have all the information as the variable of time is always adding and changing that information and our singular existence cannot allow us to access the full spectrum of data inputs. This whole experience feels like a descent into challenging our perceptions…

brick - peter robinson - pop justice

klf-why - @mikefjames

Writer and artist, Tom James is the host for the evening. From what he describes, the whole concept is rather abstract. Five experts from varying fields will present their reasons as to why they believe The K Foundation burned a million pounds. Then, in chronological order of events, a number of eye witnesses will give their accounts around the famed day and related activities. Bill and Jimmy will not contribute testimony as neither have anything left to say on the matter. Not only do they have no words to add, they claim to not know why they did what they did and they want us to tell them why. The whole thing seems invalid. But is it? Look at recent events on our planet – especially in the world of politics and voting…

Furthermore, this event was described as a public hearing. But surely, if all attendees had to pay to attend then this was actually a private hearing. Not only that, it is exceptionally likely that these private attendees are fans of the artists (and therefore have a strong correlating bias). In some ways that may not be an issue, considering the question at hand, but surely a more rounded answer would be derived from a more open crowd…

The five panellists give short presentations with their reasoning.

Jeremy Deller (artist): Seemed to initially see the act as an artistic statement whilst also exploring how The KLF may have got to a point of wanting to disassociate with what dance music had become (a slide showing Norman Cook was used to exemplify this point).

Anebella Pollen (art historian, author of ‘The Kindred of the Kibbo Kift: Intellectual Barbarians’): Anebella drew hefty comparisons and found many similarities between our artists and the English camping and hiking organisation known as the Kibbo Kift. This was very much based around mythology and instantly won support in the audience.

Tom Hodgkinson (editor, Idler ): Tom spoke extensively of his friendship of Bill over the years and reagaled us with tales of their past and informed on what he saw in the character of Drummond that caused them to make the decision.

Ann Pettifor (economist): This was quite a different approach to all the other panellists as Ann interestingly explained an economic viewpoint on money that led to her conclusion that The K Foundation wanted to relieve The Bank Of England of the responsibility of having to honour their commitment to the sum of money.

Clive Martin (journalist, Vice): Clive believed that our protagonists foresaw that money would become of less value in society and hence preempted it via the burning ritual.

I knew who would win at this point. Before any witness statements had been given, it was clear, and I was not proven wrong…

Witnesses were up next and with the people participating, it was likely to be entertaining and potentially informative…

Gimpo (roadie, present at the burning): Here we had an account that explored the state of mind of the men at the time, how it affected Gimpo himself and the general course of events. Stunningly, it turns out that when The K Foundation nailed £1M to wood for ‘Money: A Major Body Of Cash’ – the Bank Of England had to destroy it as it was no longer valid legal tender. Subsequently, Cauty and Drummond were billed around £600 to replace the notes. That is quite an insight…

Jim Reid (journalist, present at the burning): Jim discussed the characters of the pair in part and had the hall in stitches when he described them as ‘geniuses with a Dad’s Army sense’. Similarly to Gimpo, the event did not distress him too much. However, he was shocked at how little press the story got in the days after and he felt that many believed it to be a hoax.

Mick Houghton (publicist): As somebody close to the duo, he had intriguing stories as to what it was like to work with them and commented that they made his job easy as they always had interesting stuff going on. Interestingly, he did observe “They were both having breakdowns. They wanted to eclipse their history.”

Chris Brook (author, The K Foundation Burn A Million Quid): Before I get started, if you have not read Chris’ book around this event, you should check it out – it is a fantastic read. Having Chris in attendance was of real intrigue for myself and someone with a lot of value. His account gave insight into the tour of the filming of the burning and the reactions that the screenings brought about.

Angie Sammons (attendee, Liverpool screening / writer, Daily Post, Liverpool + 3 associates): Basically, it turns out that this screening was perceived as antagonistic, and as it was screened late to a ‘merry’ crowd, it was not received well.

At this point, some interesting points arose about how The K Foundation were never fully accepted within the art world as they were not part of the in-crowd. Ann Pettifor also described a shift in the art world and referenced Damon Hirst’s ‘For the Love of God’ (Diamond Skull) as a creation for the sole purpose of being used as collateral rather than art being created for art’s sake. This resonated hugely with the attendees.

Craig McClane (reporter): This was quite a crazy account from the opening disastrous day of the tour to the point that Bill and Jimmy signed the infamous moratorium contract (car pushed over a cliff).

John Higgs (author, The KLF: Chaos, Magic and the Band who Burned a Million Pounds): If you haven’t read this book, open a second browser window right now and do yourself a favour and grab it – essential (just like Chris’ book). John has become a highly respected figure in The KLF community in recent years. He actually put forward the notion that the ‘Why?’ question is not the one of interest anymore. Of real significance was John’s allusion to Reality Tunnels (a term coined by Timothy Leary and then further expanded on by Robert Anton Wilson) – and this event is the type that throws such a spanner into ours that we have to explore it. Furthermore, he used a Robert Anton Wilson reference regarding how their can be combinations of truths and falsehoods in parallel at the same time. Questioning the significance of ‘Why?’ was quite revelatory as this was not the aim of this forum. At what was verging on a three hour session, John’s closing remarks changed the mood (he was finding agreement) of what was starting to become a restless atmosphere.

This is where events started to lean towards farce…

Each of the initial five panellists were asked to sum up their reason in one brief sentence. Sounds simple enough yet some of the accounts not only seemed to differ from before, three of them appeared to overlap and verge on similarity. This just brought confusion to matters…

Tom James then explained the voting process. Buckets would be used to represent each case by number, and in order to vote, you needed to place your £1 coin that you had been given on entry in the bucket of your choice. £367 had been given out. In order for a winner to be found there had to be a majority of 23% (£85) or more otherwise we would embark on another 23 year moratorium.

The voting was a joke. There was no proper or efficient system in place and people were almost sprawling over each other to get to buckets as clearly there was not going to be a pass around of each bucket across every volunteer.

Amidst all this chaos, something interesting happened. People started putting in extra cash (out of their own pockets) in order to sway the vote. Why had real money been used as a voting tool? And look what happened when it was – the system got corrupted. The JAMs had shown that whether it be £1 or £1,000,000 – they will get a reaction out of you…

The coins were counted, a clear winner – Bucket 2, Annebella Pollen who summised that The K Foundation burnt a million quid due to a ‘deep historical tradition of weirdness’.

The winning total was £140.60 (clearly the system was abused). However, we were not informed of the amounts for the other four competitors. Feasibly, there could have been another bucket with even more than that amount and also above 23%…

The JAMs were then called in and presented with their reason.

Their response: ‘Whatever!’

It was clear that Annebella would win. Personally, I am not sure that her argument was the closest reason, if anything Jeremy Deller’s inital opener felt more inline for me. However, part of the reason she won was because she was so well prepared (most significant visual slide deck) and she tapped into something the fans will find attractive – the mythological aspect. In comparison, the other panellists did vary in quality of delivery and possibly their preparation too. And when some of the closing reasons did not then correlate with their opening statements, it only confused matters further.

This may have all just been a bit of fun. But this was a significant artistic act no matter what your moral take on the subject matter. To conclude that it was just weirdness is not satisfactory, accurate or doing justice to the work.

Also, from a basic psychological perspective, to seek a binary answer to such a complex question is not realistic and will never give you a full story. We do not make decisions just based on one factor, we are far more complex than that. And also, there were two people involved, they may have had very differing reasons too. One person did request an ‘all of the above’ option when voting. It was not made available – but would probably have been a more accurate outcome. Other voting systems in recent times for far more serious things have called for a binary answer and have resulted in poor outcomes. Was this a reflection on a broken and outdated system? In addition, the system left people who did not commit the act having to explain that of others who did. Seems slightly illogical, but then look at the legal system…

Ultimately, the work is bigger than the ‘Why?’ The K Foundation have achieved legendary status with the act. It will be discussed for many years to come and will continue to divide many. There was no mention as to the number. One. Million. Pounds. It has been covered before. But it was not present on this occasion. That was a shame as it does have a baring on the argument…

It looks like the wise duo had the last laugh tonight. We started with £1,000,000 and by the end we were all giving them back £1 each – and even that was corrupted. It is not the sum of the money that is the powerful entity, but the value we place on it is the real power…


Black-E Photo courtesy of: Peter Guy‏ @Getintothis

Brick Photo courtesy of: P. Robinson / Pop Justice

WHY? Photo courtesy of: @mikefjames

Bill Drummond and Jimmy Cauty Photo courtesy of: Peter Guy‏ @Getintothis


  1. Smells like badger piss.
    I know why. but remember the central catma. All affirmations are true in some sense, false in some sense, meaningless in some sense, true and false in some sense, true and meaningless in some sense, false and meaningless in some sense, and true and false and meaningless in some sense. there are 23 clues. zonkey is one.

Comments are closed.