|Zeitschrift Umělec 2001/2 >> The b.k.s.||Übersicht aller Ausgaben|
The b.k.s.Zeitschrift Umělec 2001/2
Tomáš Pospiszyl | reportage | en cs
on the trail of the 3rd assembly in London / an existential report
In January 2001, the secret society B.K.S. (Bude Konec Světa – the End of the World is Coming) convened their third official assembly in London’s Bermondsley neighborhood. Almost no information about this covert meeting leaked out to the general public. What had the results of the meeting been? Might a visit to the venue itself provide some clues? But where would a now cooling lead take us anyway? Would we find any living delegates? Would they even be willing to break the silence?
During a recent visit to a supermarket, I realized something that completely changed my understanding of the world. It may seem sad, yet it’s pretty standard for our time that so many remarkable and significant things occur to us in the air-conditioned halls of supermarkets and department stores. A careful search is all that’s needed to find many answers to the meaning of life among the stocked shelves. So I was standing there, almost at the cash registers, when I remembered that I had squeezed out my last bit of toothpaste that morning. I had spent all day trying to remember to buy more but had almost forgotten anyway. If I hadn’t been skirting past the toothpaste shelf just then, the next day I would have been lathering my teeth with soap, as I’d done so many other times. Relieved that tomorrow’s moment of crisis had been avoided, I tossed a box of Odol toothpaste into my cart. While rejoicing in my fortune, a thought suddenly flashed through my head: If I bought two tubes instead of just one, I could go longer without worrying about the problem. Three or four tubes would put off my potential morning misfortunes for many weeks to come. I reached out into the shelf again but, to my horror, I realized that I couldn’t. I was unable to take more than one tube. It wasn’t that I was afraid the toothpaste would go bad. Financial concerns were not an issue either as I had just been paid that day. I realized that the reason I couldn’t stock my bathroom with toothpaste had a much more profound source, disturbing the very center of my relationship to the world.
Simply put, I didn’t believe in the future. I didn’t have enough faith in the fact that the world would exist for longer than one tube. Although I would never fully admit this to myself, I was anticipating an approaching
catastrophe that would make the purchase of a lot of toothpaste completely useless. I do go to work everyday, I do make plans for summer holidays, I do go out with my friends, but the inability to buy two tubes at the same time spoke to me clearly: For many years now I’ve been anticipating the end of the world, within the following two weeks.
I was utterly shaken by this discovery. I grew up during the final years of the Cold War, when nuclear annihilation seemed inevitable. There was little hope for the future, what with all the war training, kids wearing tight gas masks, the general social marasmus, the transparent totalitarian propaganda, songs by the band Arakain and the detestable architecture of the housing projects. In this atmosphere of approaching apocalypse, cynicism seemed the only possible outlet and, at the same time, the only source of some indefinable pleasure. Scenes from my childhood started popping up: neat and well-maintained bird graves, which from today’s viewpoint showed a perverse fascination with state funerals; the strange lethargy, almost satisfaction, inspired by a favorite toy soldier, forever imprisoned in an inaccessible and stench-ridden sewer drainage canal.
More than ten years, however, have passed since then. And as my revelation in the supermarket hinted, I was unable to shake off the fundamental insecurity I had for my own future. Every moment I expected the end to come; I’m still ready for it and would even welcome it as liberation from this everlasting insecurity. That’s when I started to look around, and I noticed that I wasn’t the only one who felt this way.
The secret society, B.K.S., has been around since 1974. Their program is a nod to both life and death, but by all appearances they seem far more interested in the latter. Rules of secrecy make it impossible to get in direct contact with B.K.S. members, understandable given the significance of their activity. A shield of regulations protects the group, and to an outside observer the society’s huge agenda would appear to be their main product. Complex rituals, titles, uniforms, honors — these are the rich ornamentation that conceals rather than clarifies the goals of the group. The first time the public may have heard of B.K.S. was during the chaotic months after November 1989 when it seemed as if all established social principles were going down along with the Berlin Wall and the Iron Curtain. It was then that B.K.S. allowed outsiders a peek into their organization, through a number of exhibitions and several publications. We can only suppose that the liberal faction within B.K.S. responsible for such acts was soon sent packing to make room for the conservative hard-liners who once again dug deep trenches between the group and society. Like the Red Brigades and the Central Circus School in Moscow, one can only speculate on the current structure of B.K.S.
The group has not had positive experiences with their public appearances. We know the aftermath of their first assembly in 1980 at the Hořkovec Mine. Police investigation, detention, interrogation, threats and dismissals. Of the second assembly, we know nothing. This fact might indicate that it took place after any liberal attitudes towards the public had been taken care of and secrecy had been reestablished in the second half of the 1990s. This is why it came as such a surprise last year when I heard that B.K.S. was prepping up for their third assembly in London.
To the Island Empire
Britain is a liberal country. Anarchists have been freely settling down here for more than 150 years and people drive on the left side of the road. The history of London makes up a chapter of its own: It’s a place of distillation, where for decades the choleric Marx worked in a trance on his Capital, and where the Beatles recorded their legendary album, Revolver. It’s hard to imagine a more appropriate place for B.K.S. to assemble. Screened by financial requirements and immigration officers, the remaining delegates proceeded with the assembly undisturbed, using a language that native Londoners had trouble understanding. Thanks to this, greater London was essentially ignorant of the event.
With the exception of an elite guest list, the rest of the Czech nation only found out about the assembly a few days later. The members of the Czech Social Democratic Party had opted for similar tactics of territorial distance at the infamous pub U Kaštanu. Before the police force could make it to Břevnov in Prague to break up the meeting, the Socialists had been established. With such historical precedents in mind, I knew that I had to get to London, even if it was days later, if only to get a feeling from their fading tracks. What was the B.K.S. meeting about? Is the end once again at hand? What to do about it? Questions were racing through my mind as the Czech Airlines flight landed in Heathrow.
The entrance process seemed endless.
“What is the purpose of your visit to Great Britain, sir?” asked the distant immigration officer behind the counter.
“The secret society, The End of the World Is Coming, held a meeting in London. I want to find out as much as possible about the meeting and, despite the delay, inform mankind.”
The officer gave me a firm look: “Welcome, young man, welcome to Great Britain! I wish you the best of luck in your hazardous mission.” He handed my passport back over and gave me a manly handshake. Moved, I stumbled out of the airport and stepped into London’s shadowy streets. It was all up to me now.
Into the Center of the Web
After spending the night in the cozy housing of the Czech embassy, I set off to Bermondsley early in the morning to find the venue of the assembly. I tried to phone the manager of the assembly hall but only managed to get a nervous voice on an answering machine.
Bermondsley is a quiet neighborhood with unweeded gardens, closed pubs and homes for the elderly. I tried to imagine what the atmosphere must have been like just a few months ago. Delegates from exotic countries clambering into this halfhearted place. Whole villages had to contribute the funds necessary to support their candidate’s trip. In the end, most of the candidates misappropriated the hard-earned money and blew it on alcohol in Erfurt. Only the strongest and the most confused made it to London.
There was no easy way to orient yourself in this part of the city. I knew the address of the assembly hall, but I didn’t have a clue what to expect. A large park blocked my path, surrounded by a tall fence with a warning sign forbidding entrance. Dogs barked somewhere in the distance. So I climbed over the fence. I easily traversed the grass section in front of me, but soon found out that the lawn was a sophisticated labyrinth of barriers and trenches that wound its way through the park. I sought cover behind some clay mounds and continued ahead by ducking and running. Nearby a group of youngsters was playing football — they didn’t seem to be paying me any attention. A dark building spray-painted with satanic symbols stood on the other side of the park. I decided to circle it and continue in my search for the congress hall. Then I realized the building’s former purpose and its address. How artful! Nobody would ever expect the B.K.S. to assemble in a church.
To my surprise, the heavy metal door wasn’t locked. I pushed it and it creakingly opened. I stepped into the cold air inside. A young woman stood alone in the nave, looking straight into my eyes.
The Victim’s Testimony
The woman’s name was Jenny. I offered her something to eat and through persistent caresses I managed to win her respect and she began to tell me her story. She was a simple girl who had lived in this part of town all her miserable life.
A few years ago, an opportunist named Ron noticed the feeble-minded girl. Ron ran a gallery and concert hall in the local abandoned church. Jenny helped with the cleaning, guarded the paintings or just looked over Ron’s shoulder in the office. Then one day everything changed.
“They came here one afternoon. There were four of them, all wearing black. Ron talked to them for a long time about something I couldn’t hear. Ron resisted, he tried to reason with them but they weren’t listening. They mocked him, and finally they just moved in and brought all these audio-visual aids with them.”
Jenny’s voice began to falter as she remembered the day that was, more than likely, the climax of the congress:
“It was disgusting. First we had to sign some papers and kiss a piece of metal. They had this decaying gook in dirty displays. It smelled foul. They gave us something to drink. Then they started dragging the coffins out of the crypt. They also put on a striptease behind a curtain but you could still see them. They intentionally let the performance drag on. We tried to escape, but the door was locked. And then they started exercising and smashing everything with clubs. There was so much dust in the air! I fell ill, but so did they. And then they finally let us go.”
Jenny took me to Ron’s half-empty office, which contained a simple, neat bunk. Ron had disappeared the night after the assembly and nobody had seen him since. We looked through some photographs that documented the interior of the assembly hall in great detail. The decorations suggested that a military faction within B.K.S. had seized power. This looked like real preparation for Armageddon: tools sheathed in natural materials, daily objects transformed by simple alterations into lethal weapons.
I observed for a long time the interior of what had once been a church. This was the site of the assembly, now empty and abandoned. From the photographs I could see the scars where the coat of arms had been hanging, where the podium had been positioned, where the delegates had seated themselves. Our slow footsteps were the only sounds disturbing the silence.
Jenny’s eyes were growing dimmer. Yes, the police are looking for Ron but they’ve found no traces yet. Four men in black with their audio-visual aids disappeared from here as quickly and inconspicuously as they’d popped up. Sometimes mysterious people arrive here, kiss the floor in the church and crawl around in the dust. Then with a howl, they vanish at the bus stop.
Scotland Yard officer Harry Pitts had a sour grin on his face. He admitted that his office had underestimated the entire event. Undercover officers had managed to infiltrate only the semi-public concluding evening, which could potentially have been a cover-up for something bigger. Furthermore, all the participants were made to swear to silence in writing. Those who spoke always vanished for good. This meant that all the information was scattered. The only documentation the spies were able to provide was a sound recording of poor quality — the only sounds being the grunting of animals.
“Experts confirmed that the grunting was of the hippo variety,” explained Pitts. I couldn’t see any connection between hippos and the end of the world but Pitts only shrugged. He was obviously being careful and did not want to indulge in speculation. But, in the end, he talked:
“Something like this can only come about in Central Europe. Who else can be bothered? Take the English; we’re a nation of travelers. Something’s always pulling us towards the ocean, to foreign countries. But those lads,” he pointed at a blurred photograph, “they’re aiming at something else entirely. What I see here is an attempt to cross the boundary between the past and the future, which, in essence, represents the end, non-existence, and death. Before life there’s the void, and it’s there after life too. In actuality they are two ends that join to form one circle, and between the ends the muddled stretch of our lives unfolds. And these lads here are fighting the void with great venom and a humor too ponderous for my taste.”
Pitts started whispering excitedly:
“We now know that they were also exercising during the conference. Did they want to stretch a little? No. Gymnastics and physical self-control is only a metaphor for world domination!”
The office went silent. We sent each other inquisitive looks. Pitts resignedly proceeded:
“I understood it as an expression of the crisis the world finds itself in but conceived sort of joyously. They are, in fact, mocking everything, including things that are not that funny. B.K.S. is based on solid and incorruptible friendships, and the members tried to put it to the test by playing with the absolute end. So far they have endured. And although this may sound unbelievable to us, they actually enjoy it.”
I spent the rest of the afternoon walking in Bermondsley. Cold wind blew through the soulless streets. The trees in the park murmured and the shouting of the boys playing football was occasionally punctuated by crazy Jenny’s singing. I knew now that Ron would never come back.
Who are B.K.S. anyway? A group of friends who have devoted part of their public image to creating grimy, spectral figures that wander through blooming spring landscapes in heavy black raincoats. They voluntarily tie up their lives with thousands of ridiculous regulations that they wouldn’t forfeit for anything. They have somehow, inversely, taken reality by the throat, honoring ugliness with the highest medal of beauty, completely disabling it. They want to delete themselves from the present, using radical processes from the fields of architecture and collage. Everything they do is connected into one great and pre-defined story. It is the tactic of ridiculing everything, creating parallel worlds, a bubble for their own principles and esthetic categories. The group naturally corrupts — weakens — when in contact with the outside world.
My last meeting took place in the evening, in a snobby downtown cafe. The curator, Andrée Cooke, said confidently that the B.K.S. assembly was clearly the event of the year among critics in London. Still, there was not a word about it in the local press. Obviously, people were afraid. The fear was such that nobody, officially, breached the general silence. “What’s your story?” I asked Cooke directly. She only flashed me a sardonic smile and referred me to a website. If she was following orders, she wasn’t telling.
My journey was coming to an end. Though the results of my investigation turned out to be insignificant, I felt the trip hadn’t been a waste. A few weeks later not a word had been uttered about the B.K.S. congress. As if it had never happened. Still, there are those who were forever marked by the experience, who will forever divide their lives into before and after. Our duty today is to remember the event, to explore it and interpret it. We must not forget! The assembly’s message is clear: The end of the world is nigh! When and under what circumstances it will happen is still up in the air. Only friendship and fierce discipline will help us endure all the waiting and uncertainty.
Translated by Vladan Šír
Photographs courtesy of BKS
Letošní 50. ročník Art Basel přilákal celkem 93 000 návštěvníků a sběratelů z 80 zemí světa. 290 prémiových galerií představilo umělecká díla od počátku 20. století až po současnost. Hlavní sektor přehlídky, tradičně v prvním patře výstavního prostoru, představil 232 předních galerií z celého světa nabízející umění nejvyšší kvality. Veletrh ukázal vzestupný trend prodeje prostřednictvím galerií jak soukromým sbírkám, tak i institucím. Kromě hlavního veletrhu stály za návštěvu i ty přidružené: Volta, Liste a Photo Basel, k tomu doprovodné programy a výstavy v místních institucích, které kvalitou daleko přesahují hranice města tj. Kunsthalle Basel, Kunstmuseum, Tinguely muzeum nebo Fondation Beyeler.