know your enemy




Work from Common Knowledge, Roundhouse Gallery, London 1982



As we arrived for the opening of our very first exhibition Popular Front in 1981 we found a note taped on the door of the space. It was from Guardian art journalist Waldemar Januszczak saying “Go back to your studio for three years … and then give me a ring.”

Instead, we embarked on a series of self-organised collaborative exhibitions 1“hit-and-run demonstrations of the politics of positive interference” as we called it at the time.

Although we were well aware that, on the level of village gossip the London art scene was well aware of our activities, publically there was a “stunned silence.” One day someone suggested that we try writing about what we were doing.

We quickly realised that if we wrote about what we thought we were doing, it would probably only get published once. 2 On the other hand, if we wrote about what other people were doing we could talk indirectly about ourselves again and again. 3


Try Another World, Battersea Art Centre, London 1984

“As the hero of George Romero’s (low budget) horror film Zombies – Dawn of the Dead warns us: ‘When there is no room left in hell, the dead will rise up and walk the earth.’ A grim reminder, when authority ceases to be representative, to beware the dispossessed lest they rise up in revolt against everything held sacred to the prevailing order and inherit the ruins of a shattered ideology.”
Writing in a recent European art magazine one commentator noted that: ‘England, with its wealth of talent both in painting and sculpture, could have had new waves of both painters and sculptors flooding the world for years – like its pop music and fashion – but England’s not noted for its generosity with artists, releasing a trickle rather than a flood of talent into the mainstream.’
Undoubtedly the group who Work from Common Knowledge are an art world phenomenon. Formed as an optimistic alternative to the prevailing climate …

Excerpt from press release for Try Another World
Battersea Art Centre, London 1984


Eventually, by the time of Try Another World some three years later 4 a ‘critical mass’ had been built up which was impossible to ignore any longer. So, one evening, following the ‘breakthrough’ opening of the show we received a phone call from a young writer who informed us that she had been asked to write a review of the exhibition for Artscribe magazine.

She went on to say that she was ringing to ask us why the editor, Matthew Collings, had told her he wanted a negative review of the show.
“Why would the editor of a magazine that aims to be International commission a dismissive review of an exhibition at an Arts Centre?” she wanted to know.
We asked what she thought of the exhibition. She replied that she quite liked it but had a dilemma because she needed both the opportunity to get published and the money. Probably, we would then have suggested to her that ‘doing what you are told never gets you anywhere.’

Two months later, Artscribe appeared, containing a negative review of Try Another World. 5
Matthew Collings got his pound of flesh …
The young ‘critic’ got her fee of £10 … and was never heard from again.
We got a review in a mainstream art magazine … which we used as the press release for our next exhibition.


In the beginning, Artscribe was the epitome of the provincialism of the art scene of the seventies. Best ignored, we rarely looked at it; although we do recall a review which was symptomatic. It was of an exhibition of ‘conceptual art’ at Lisson Gallery which the reviewer dismissed by raising the question as to how many coats of white paint the gallery used on the walls between shows.

The magazine began to change under the enlightened direction of Matthew Collings who recognised that interesting things were happening abroad and worked hard to drag the magazine into the ‘contemporary’ present. With this growing internationalism came an increase in advertising resulting in its re-launch in full-colour as Artscribe International.

Gimpel Fils gallery decided to advertise its forthcoming series of exhibitions in the new magazine. There was a full-page advert for Astrid Klein; half a page for Terry Atkinson; and a quarter page for Art in Ruins.
As a result, the work of Astrid Klein received a four- or five-page feature length article in full-colour. This was followed in the next issue with a two- or three-page review with black and white photos of the exhibition by Terry Atkinson. So, we were sure that our show at the gallery would get … a short review.

Sure enough, a couple of days after our exhibition New Realism opened, the gallery rang.
“Michael Archer’s here … he’s doing a review of the show for Artscribe.” said Caryn Faure Walker.
“Does he want to talk to us?” we enquired.
“No,” she replied “he just needs a photograph.”
“What does he think of the show?” we asked.
“Oh, he hates it …” she said
“Well, he can get his own photograph.”
A few days later we sent Michael Archer a note telling him not to bother.

About a month later, Artscribe International came out. There was no a review of our exhibition but instead Matthew Collings printed the letter that we had written to Michel Archer.

Michael Archer 'Review' Artscribe International 1987

As we were under the impression that publishing private correspondence without permission constituted libel we decided to approach a renowned art world lawyer for advice, and sent him the magazine. As we sat in his office, he paced the room, magazine in hand, studying the ‘review.’

He looked up and said that we were quite right in that the unauthorised publication did indeed constitute libel, particularly as it was clearly intended to damage our reputation. Then, looking at us with distaste he went on: “that is, if you have a reputation … which can be defended, however.” 6

A short time after, we went to an opening at Chisenhale Gallery. Matthew Collings was there, standing with a couple of friends looking pleased with himself. After a brief discussion, we decided on a course of action. Glyn walked over to the bar and (rather than wasting good beer) bought a glass of Perrier water. He went over and joined the group and as Matthew laughingly said “Hi there” Glyn threw the water in his face.

People turned to look, as Matthew puffed himself up into gorilla-mode and screamed:
“I’ll tear your fucking arms off!”
At which point, a gallery attendant came over, asked him to leave and escorted the magazine editor out of the gallery.


A few months later, we were in a very crowded bar in Basel having spent the day at the art fair, when much to our surprise we suddenly found ourselves face to face with Matthew Collings. He looked disorientated.
“Hi there,” he said, with a nervous smile. He wiped the perspiration from his brow and looked around, agitatedly, “do you want a drink?”
Wary, we reminded him of the last time that we ‘shared’ a drink. He seemed not to be aware what we were referring to, and simply repeated “Let me get you a drink.”

When he returned. Glyn instinctively took a step back as he handed us a beer, but Matthew continued frantically looking round and wiping his brow he raved:
“I don’t know what I’m doing here … I shouldn’t be here … I don’t know why I’ve come …”
“What do you mean?” we asked, politely.
“That bastard Stuart Morgan … while I was in Cologne, he went and talked to the new owners of the magazine … I’ve got no job … what am I doing here.”
Confused, we repeated “What do you mean?”
“Stuart Morgan is the new editor of Artscribe … let me get you another drink …” he said, as he wandered off into the crowd. 7
Later that evening Rene Gimpel commented:
“Well, it goes to show that you are not afraid of someone when they have power, but won’t kick them when they are down.”
A few weeks later in a review of a group exhibition of photographic work, Matthew Collings described Art in Ruins as “ghoulish.” 8



Art in Ruins never had much to do with the Museum of Installation but one day we went to visit their large exhibition space in Clerkenwell. We went into the gallery office to pick up a press release and signed the visitors’ book. We looked around the show and, as we were about to leave someone came out of the office and said:
“So you are Art in Ruins … we finally get to meet” and went on to say something like: “we are in the process of producing a book on installation art. There’s going to be a historical section together with examples of recent work. Your practice throughout the 80s is really important as it pioneered a link between work of the sixties and seventies and the contemporary revival of installation … so we’re going to have Art in Ruins on the cover.” 9
Taken aback we replied:
“Maybe you should put us on your mailing list.”

Despite being annoyed that we had not been consulted and only informed by chance; we decided that at least they should use good quality photographs. So a few days later, we took some round to the gallery and were told “We are in discussion with Thames and Hudson at the moment and also we need an Editor.”

We then more or less forgot about the matter until one day we came across a new publication on Installation Art. Art in Ruins was not on the cover. In fact, Art in Ruins is not mentioned at all anywhere in the book, which is published by Thames and Hudson and edited by the Museum of Installation in collaboration with . . . . . . . . . . . . Michael Archer. 10

Some sixteen years later, Ed Baxter was interviewed on Resonance radio about his early collaboration with Art in Ruins (Our Wonderful Culture, Ruins of Glamour, etc.) In passing, he vehemently castigates the Thames and Hudson ‘survey’ of Installation Art.
We sent him a note telling this story, which ends “at least we have not been written into history … as merely installation artists.”


1 From the beginning, we designed and produced the invitation card / poster / press release and any catalogue.
2 In Defence of Common Knowledge Polemics. Art Monthly No 63 Feb 1983
3 Within a very short period of time we had all contributed to both art and architecture magazines, including Studio International, Art Monthly, Building Design, Architectural Review, Performance Magazine, Alba, Art Press, Real Life, Kunstforum, Third Text, ANYP, Canadian Journal of Political and Social Theory, Art & Text, City Limits, ArtLine, The Face, Marxism Today and Flash Art.
4 … and eight self-organised exhibitions as Work from Common Knowledge (with John Coleman 1981-84).
Art in Ruins then emerged in 1985 from the ruins of Common Knowledge

5 Review by Jill Nunn, Try Another World, Artscribe No 50, Jan/Feb 1985
6 When Ute Meta Bauer introduced us to German critic and curator Thomas Wulffen he said that the only thing he knew about Art in Ruins was the ‘review’ in Artscribe International.
7 Stuart Morgan did indeed become the editor of Artscribe International for a short time until the new financial backers pulled out and the magazine disappeared altogether; he then went on and attached himself to the newly launched magazine frieze which however, managed to survive.
8 Sign of the Times Review by Matthew Collings. City Limits 18-25 July 1991. Collings, of course, achieved fame on television and through popular publications as the ‘public face’ of contemporary art in the 90s
9 See Interview with de Oliviera, Oxley and Petry.
10 Installation Art edited by Nicolas de Oliviera, Nicola Oxley, Michael Petry, and Michael Archer, Thames and Hudson Ltd., London, 1994



Michael Archer 'Review' Artscribe International 1987