Sophie Kitson (a fan)
It started off so innocently on the day the exhibition Power to the People: ContemporaryConceptualism and the Object in Art opened at ACCA. I looked at the teal wall in the back gallery, the series of documents laid under glass, numbered chapters that broke down and ordered some kind of narrative. Each element provided clues; convincing propositions linking a Bahamas-based company called Headless Ltd to philosopher Georges Bataille’s 1930s Parisian secret society Acephale (also meaning, ‘headless’). Conceived by Swedish artists, Goldin+Senneby, this reading room-style presentation, Looking for Headless was constructed like contemporary conceptual art: neat, standardized text-based works dispersed between photos of characters and places; striking images of decapitation; and a curious image of a headless man running along a beach. This man was an enigma wrapped in a mystery wrapped in a tautological narrative of global finance and Bataille.
There had to be numerous characters involved in Goldin+Senneby’s tale. At first glance I realised there may be over a hundred, located all around the world. An author, a detective, a film crew, a large offshore financing company, some actors… all outsourced and instructed by the anonymous artistic duo to play a specific role. Was it true? Was it fiction? I couldn’t work it out. Did Goldin+Senneby even exist? This was Bataille’s Story of the Eye (1928) and The Accursed Share (1946-49) mixed with a little bit of the Da Vinci Code and set within a contemporary backdrop of business, art and money.
I met Goldin+Senneby’s emissary, Angus Cameron, at the first of a series of performance lectures he conducted as part of the exhibition’s program. He was a chameleon: a performer in a game of confirmation and denial. He presented himself as a professor but alluded to having many other professions. He also looked uncannily like Dicko from Australian Idol. He has been working with G+S for a few years now, travelling the world at their request to attend different incarnations of Looking for Headless (so far: Stockholm, Toronto, Istanbul, Paris, London, Oslo and Sao Paolo). When Cameron spoke I was simultaneously intrigued and confused; irresistibly drawn into performing the role that he wanted.
Cameron’s first lecture was conducted in front of Goldin+Senneby’s reading room in the ACCA galleries. As part of his presentation, Cameron introduced a neat mind-map of every person involved in the Headless project since 2008. The presentation was deceptively good at rehashing the narrative whilst using a wide range of conceptual apparatus to set up more questions than answers. The tug of war between fact and fiction continued in Cameron’s second lecture presented a few days later at the Regus Boardroom in Melbourne’s Rialto Tower. Here, through the scope of information and the physical setting of the boardroom, the role of the art world, the artist and the art object were interrogated by Cameron. It became clear that by questioning the institutions of money and economy, we were also reflecting on the institutions of the art world – the corruptions, the mysteries, the object as commodification and more interestingly, as no fixed state (the reason why Looking for Headless was a perfect including in ACCA’s Contemporary Conceptualism and the Object in Art exhibition).
After much time spent with G+S’s reading room and two talks by Cameron later I remained skeptical. I asked the exhibition curator, Hannah Mathews, and Cameron himself if Goldin+Senneby really did exist. Each time I was assured yes, but I couldn’t believe it – or deny the possibility. I was trapped. It was becoming apparent that Looking for Headless could and should stay headless if it was to maintain its air of mystery. I spent hours trawling through the blogs, diaries and websites of the related characters, reading the journal by Catherine Banks and novella by K.D, and Googling reviews on previous versions of the show. Completely entertained but by no means convinced, I began to realize how Goldin+Senneby had created interweaving structures to allow their work to exist. Each character, place, exchange or incident inevitably linked into another (my personal favourite involving ‘real life’ character Catherine Banks becoming aware that she was being followed by a private detective hired by Goldin+Senneby in the Bahamas and slightly freaking out).
The final piece of the pie was a documentary screening held later in the exhibition’s program which brought the audience back to the Regus Boardroom at the Rialto Tower. A woman handed out chapters five to nine of an unfinished novella that rehashed, in detail, my recent experience of Angus Cameron’s lecture. An example of strategy and planned deception, the thirty minute documentary provided a filmic visual component to the ongoing quest of Looking for Headless: a company that it seems, since I became involved in this wild goose chase, no longer exists (at least not in the same form it began…) The permanent displacement of Headless is what reaffirms the economics of exchange. Engagement in an object and idea need not be tangible to be nonetheless thoroughly enjoyable. So for your pleasure, for those who may have missed out on the Headless experience in Melbourne, here is a list of some of the main websites linked to the Looking for Headless quest: