Devil in the detail: James Cauty's dystopia in miniature


With the help of 5,000 police officers and a clutch of journalists, artist James Cauty has created the aftermath of riot and mayhem, complete with a burning church, collapsed overpass and, er, a cow in a block of flats... All the figures are miniatures but, far from the rural idyll of old model villages, Cauty’s diorama makes a political statement about societal freedom and state control. After opening under the arches at Hoxton Station, Aftermath Dislocation Principle Parts I & II can are on show at Piet Hein Eek, Eindhoven until 15 March


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Words and photography: Johnny Tucker

Thousands of police swarm over a scorched landscape tattered and torn by rioting and looting, every window in every building is smashed, vehicles are overturned, bridges and roads destroyed, power pylons are down, a burned-out church still smoulders. Above this post-mayhem scene of destruction, helicopters shine their searchlights on the battered landscape. Above the helicopters, a train rumbles past...

James Cauty peers through the tower blocks, which contain a cow and prancing horses among other things Photo credit: Johnny Tucker

James Cauty peers through the tower blocks, which contain a cow and prancing horses among other things Photo credit: Johnny Tucker

This huge-scale devastation has been carried out at a very small scale indeed, 1:87 to be precise -- it's an installation by James Cauty, artist, musician (KLF, The Orb) agent provocateur, prankster and general poker of the establishment. Cauty is well known for the big gestures. This, after all, is the man who, with his K-foundation partner, Bill Drummond, burned a million quid on the Isle of Jura in 1994, amid much publicity and public anguish. Of late, though, he's been living his life in miniature.

At the entrance to the diorama, the scene is rural, transiting beyond into the grimly urban Photo credit: Johnny Tucker

At the entrance to the diorama, the scene is rural, transiting beyond into the grimly urban Photo credit: Johnny Tucker

The Aftermath Dislocation Principle is a diorama of a post-riot landscape. The rioters have all disappeared and the only people left are milling hoards of police and a handful of waiting journalists. The police sit and stand around in groups, wondering what has happened and what will happen next.

Adjusting the scene outside the burning church at the start of the show Photo credit: Johnny Tucker

Adjusting the scene outside the burning church at the start of the show Photo credit: Johnny Tucker

This is a model world about as far removed from the perfect, bucolic idylls of yesteryear's model villages, where old people dressed in perfect whites played bowls on greens, cricketers cricketed and postmen on bikes waved at ladies in long coats walking pairs of Pekingese.

The artist’s ‘points of interest’ notice Photo credit: Johnny Tucker

The artist's 'points of interest' notice Photo credit: Johnny Tucker

Perhaps it's not a model world at all: 'We don't know. We were going to have a turnstile at the entrance and do it like a model village, taking it out of the fine art department and putting it into the family entertainment one,' says Cauty, when I catch up with him still gluing down figures a week before the London show is due to open. 'It might be just a model village, but I've never really been a fan of those. We still don't know.'

Part II of the show, the ‘exit through the gift shop’ area, includes a series of jam jars containing scenes related to the diorama Photo credit: Johnny Tucker

Part II of the show, the 'exit through the gift shop' area, includes a series of jam jars containing scenes related to the diorama Photo credit: Johnny Tucker

What is certain is that there has been a man-made cataclysmic event and we are witnessing the aftermath. The narrative is still evolving as Cauty populates the landscape, and this installation may even be the starting point for the narrative. His head is clearly boiling with anarchic scenarios but, in questioning Cauty, you find yourself talking to an engaging and disarmingly genial individual -- even as he wreaks god-like, Old Testament havoc over his domain.

Someone has taken the drive-thru sign quite literally Photo credit: Johnny Tucker

Someone has taken the drive-thru sign quite literally Photo credit: Johnny Tucker

'What it looks like it's about is -- at the moment, we've still got a few days to go -- there has been massive looting, rioting, civil unrest, everything is smashed, but there are no people to be seen. We don't know where they are or why they rioted in the first place. There are only the police and journalists left. The police got to the riots too late, and they have done something with the people, or maybe the people have just escaped. Maybe they are hiding in those tower blocks. It doesn't matter.

Two architectural modellers (not pictured) were part of the team making pieces such as the road flyover Photo credit: Johnny Tucker

Two architectural modellers were part of the team making pieces such as the road flyover Photo credit: Johnny Tucker

'Everybody is just standing around waiting. Nobody is actually doing anything. What is also happening is that they are beginning to be aware of the edge. They are moving towards the edge and are having a bit of an existential moment. They are aware of themselves in this finite landscape. This is the perfect police state in a way, because there is no dissent now.' And that perfect police state also turns out to be Bedfordshire, as the welcoming road sign at the very front of the diorama states. Cauty can't rationalise that, it just feels right and could easily have been Surrey, 'where War of the Worlds is set'.

Looking across from the ‘start’ — the burning church Photo credit: Johnny Tucker

Looking across from the 'start' -- the burning church Photo credit: Johnny Tucker

The massive diorama is under a railway arch in east London -- hence the trains rumbling over the helicopters. It is long and ragged and made up of '4ft x 4ft' panels, which have been placed together here for the very first time. Scaled up, it represents one square mile of landscape: 'It just seemed the right size, one square mile, the square mile -- 1.3 square miles doesn't work,' Cauty giggles in a low-level stream of consciousness explanation, which feels as if he's trying out the rationale on you and honing parts of it for the next conversation. By the time opening night comes, it should be fully post-rationalised at this rate.

The hoardings are a key part of Cauty’s numerous digs at popular culture Photo credit: Johnny Tucker

The hoardings are a key part of Cauty's numerous digs at popular culture Photo credit: Johnny Tucker

Cauty had a couple of starting points, including the burned-out church at the front, and a destroyed petrol station near the middle, but says he had the landscape worked out internally: 'I could always see this in my mind as the outskirts of a city, and I know what they look like as a I've been driving through them for 50 years. It was going to be a full-scale riot going on. But I started to think why aren't the people moving around or the cars moving around? So I thought it would be better to have everybody just standing around. It's a snapshot or three seconds in time looped to infinity. They are just standing there; there's nothing going on.'

Next, we embark on one of the most bizarre city walking tours of recent times. We start at the 'Welcome to Bedfordshire' sign and the burned-out church and take in the sights as we walk around chatting amicably.

A vignette around a dead dog. In Part II there is a jar containing a scene where a policeman may or may not have been responsible Photo credit: Johnny Tucker

A vignette around a dead dog. In Part II there is a jar containing a scene where a policeman may or may not have been responsible Photo credit: Johnny Tucker

Here is an abattoir, slap bang next to the Burger King, where hundreds of police have gathered to feed and play on the mini playground in the car park. There is a children's labour camp, complete with a few youngsters below ground tunnelling out. At the other end is a road bridge that comes to a dramatic, mid-air stop of broken concrete and reinforcing rods. It's home to another mass of police and a press conference is about to take place ('I don't know what they are talking about, probably nothing'). Peering through the window of a low-rise tower block estate, you see a Friesian cow ('I don't know how that go in there'). Near the middle sits an X-Factor execution stage ('Those seats are where the judges will sit'). To one edge, an NCP car park has become a makeshift spotting platform for the police, not that there's really anything to spot any more.

Sophie Polyviou painting out the Araldite used to glue the figures down Photo credit: Johnny Tucker

Sophie Polyviou painting out the Araldite used to glue the figures down Photo credit: Johnny Tucker

Everywhere you look, groups of police are standing around in various vignettes so lifelike that you can virtually hear their low-level conversations. They are horribly convincing in their banality and impotence. Then you start to look deeper and you notice that things are already beginning to move on. Some officers are starting to make the most of having nothing to do by practicing their golf swing, while others have moved to a more sinister place. In a culvert, one officer attacks another with a pitchfork, while colleagues look on, some interested, some distracted, but none about to intervene. Still others have moved on to the next level and realise they are merely players on a stage and that the edges are clearly visible and seem to be made of plywood.

It's a little like a modern version of the third panel of Hieronymus Bosch's Garden of Earthly Delights, just before the next session of mayhem kicks off. It's ominous and brooding and also shot through with humorous moments, mostly quip-like digs at contemporary culture, from the X-Factor, through Wonga to Apple.

The view from the far end, looking back towards the burning church Photo credit: Johnny Tucker

The view from the far end, looking back towards the burning church Photo credit: Johnny Tucker

This has been a massive labour for Cauty and not necessarily one of love. It's been nine months in the making. He's worked on dioramas before, most notably KLF's Last Train to Trancentral video. His last show for the L-13 Gallery, which preceded this installation, was Riot in a Jam Jar, where these 1:87-scale people inhabited jam jars -- the people's bell jar -- as exhibits. They were exhibiting media-friendly, rioting-assoundbite behaviour. Some were purely fictitious, while others took specific incidents -- such as Camilla and Charles's car being surrounded during the 2011 riots -- to their YouTube cameraclip conclusions. Charles is summarily beheaded.

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Cauty putting the finishing touches to his artwork. It has taken nine months to complete Photo credit: Johnny Tucker

This time around, the action has broken free of the jars to inhabit this square mile of landscape: 'The build of the landscape is very, very boring,' says Cauty but still with a smile playing across his lips. 'The hills were very complex. I had to design them in Photoshop, find the contours, print those out and copy them on to the foam. Then you cut them out and sand them and then there's the flocking [grass effect] -- flocking, fucking flocking.'

The buildings and vehicles were mostly German model railway kits with special English decals. The police are all German railway workers, with their heads removed and replaced with those of Sixties' policemen. It's a thankless task that took his assistant Sophie Polyviou three months -- there are thousands of them. Cauty also had a couple of architectural modellers in his team, but he has been intimately involved in every physical aspect of the creation, scoffing at the idea of being the figurehead of some Renaissance-like art factory.

HM the Queen pays a visit to the scene of devastation Photo credit: Johnny Tucker

HM the Queen pays a visit to the scene of devastation Photo credit: Johnny Tucker

He adds: 'As we went along, everything was smashed as it was built. The windows are very carefully smashed. In fact, more time and care has been spent smashing than actually building the kits, because it really has to be smashed in a certain way and I'm the only one who can really do that -- I'm getting good at it!' He also baulks at doing anything at this scale ever again: 'It drives you crazy... next time I might do 10 times life-style!'

Cauty spent longer smashing the windows convincingly than actually building the models Photo credit: Johnny Tucker

Cauty spent longer smashing the windows convincingly than actually building the models Photo credit: Johnny Tucker

The diorama, which has now moved from this arch to a gallery in Eidhoven, is a real spectacle. It's a none-too-subtle political statement about societal freedom and state control. It also has a wonderful life of its own and, for all its utterly static nature, or perhaps because of it, you're desperate to know what happens next. Putting it into words, Cauty's landscape has a message for the Daily Mail reader: 'Be careful what you wish for,' he cackles. 'If you get rid of all the dissenters you're just going to be really bored, because you've got nothing to do.'

The policemen have a mounting awareness that they are in a finite landscape Photo credit: Johnny Tucker

The policemen have a mounting awareness that they are in a finite landscape Photo credit: Johnny Tucker

Looking at his diminutive policemen, he continues: 'They're going to get depressed and start fighting among themselves. By the end, there'll be one person left and then they'll just jump off the side... Then again, I don't know. There's still a few days to go until it opens. Anything could happen!'





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