‘Cultural Hijack’ is a term that cropped up in conversation with Ben Parry, in a bar in Glasgow some time ago. I was referring to that moment of being taken unawares by an experience – by something that stops you in your tracks, that redirects your thoughts, actions, attitude; something uninvited, unannounced, perhaps unnamed. The work I reference here relates to the context of the city– so, like the Situationist strategies of dérive and détournement, perhaps the target is really city living. The examples of work that follow are not tactically consistent. Not all completely subscribe to the terms laid out here. This is because they have not been constructed with this description in mind. ‘Cultural Hijack’, as a term, is retrospective.
Tin Man / Polebender
I spot a traffic light popped out of its holder, I lie underneath it
Peter McCaughey, Tin Man, lying down under fallen traffic light, Glasgow, 2005 (photograph: unknown passer-by)
I never think of myself as a performance artist, just me intervening in my own life. One of the gifts that facilitates such actions is undoubtedly a zero embarrassment threshold. Wherever I am in the world I keep an eye out for bent poles and damaged signs. When I find one, I deliver the pole-bender pose – inserting myself into the narrative of the fucked-up city as the vengeful destroyer of urban signage.
Peter McCaughey, Polebender, Lisbon, 2011 (photograph: Lizzy O’Brien)
Some time ago I travelled to Helsinki for five days to give a workshop on the tactics of the Situationists. My holdall got lost in transit. I am smelly and unshaven for four days. The bag arrives on the day that I am to leave. I list its contents meticulously and distribute them to people I have met. On the way to the airport I ask the taxi to stop and fill the empty bag with snow. The bag of snow and I travel from Helsinki via Heathrow to Glasgow. The security team who scan the bag get a shock when I am asked to open it. No obvious rule has been broken and I get to take my snow home. I travel around friends’ homes inviting them to remove their shoes and socks and stand on Helsinki. The snow finally disappears after five days.
Peter McCaughey, Window-Chess, Trongate 103, Glasgow, photography Harald Turek 2011
One idea I have happily lied into existence for years is ‘the halfing’. ‘The halfing’ is introduced as that ancient Irish tradition – a very particular rite of passage, centred on the moment a child becomes half their parent’s age. The calculation is simple enough, The moment is unique and the lie seeks to embed an idea that I believe has value to a society that needs to take more time to address the passage of time, entropy and death. ‘The halfing’ has been introduced to many people, who engage with it believing it to be rooted in an ancient tradition. It is one of the unspoken and obvious truths of the ‘art world’ that the primary contextualizer of most work is the name of the person who made the work, particularly if the name is a name. In reversing this with ‘the halfing’, I wish the source of the idea to be lost in the traces of time, to move power from the author to the receiver, or perhaps from the individuals to the idea itself.
Peter McCaughey, the halfing of Peter and Fionntán, Liverpool, 2004, photograph of drawing