Cult Classic

The Fine Art Of The Cult

The exhibition _Cult Classic_ surveys an international collection of artworks that expose the aesthetics, practices and philosophies of Cults in search of their ultimate secrets. From pop culture to divine spirituality, the exhibition reveals the way that cults inspire and ignite our collective consciousness.

Art Exhibition previously on in Fitzroy-Collingwood precinct, Victoria, Australia.
From Friday 07 May 2004 to Saturday 29 May 2004

Cult Classic Icon image

Published by Rebecca Gabrielle Cannon on Thursday 03 May 2007.
Contact the publisher.

The term Cult denotes a broad definition, from systems of religious worship and ritual, to religions and sects, to obsessive devotion to a person or principle, and to the actual objects of such devotion. Through these definitions we see behaviours, thoughts, objects, ideologies and groups of people all falling within the scope of Cult. Cult has also been defined as the mystical aura attributable to authentic artifacts, and within pop culture we see cult defining a cultural genre, making the word Cult an adjective, noun and verb.

Although Cults are generally understood to be bad, particularly in the case of extremist religions, negative interpretations of the word Cult limit our comprehension of its meaning. Cult religions are often thought of as those that affect dysfunctional behaviours in their followers, causing individuals emotional, financial or social damage. However, as Joseph Szimhart has pointed out in his sociological writings on Cults, “Cult activity refers to any devotional or ritualistic attention to a person, doctrine or object. Most religions have cult activity, or a cult, that is central to devotional activity.” Szimhart continues:

Christianity in its various forms has the cult of devotion to Jesus Christ. (Szimhart is a practicing Catholic). Catholics have the cult of the Eucharist during which they receive the “body and blood” of Jesus. In ancient Judaism they had the cult of the Ark of the Covenant. Some Asian religions have the cult of ancestor worship. Vampires of legend practice the cult of drinking blood. Northwest Native Americans have the cult of totem animals. I have many books with cult in the title that do not focus on destructive groups, for example, The Japanese Cult of Tranquility by Karlfried Durckheim (1991), The Plato Cult by David Stove (1991), and Cult of the Cat by Patricia Dale-Green (1980). Labeling something a cult tells us little or nothing about the morality or ethics of the person or group that supports such cult activity.1

Spirituality is similarly (and inaccurately) perceived as being a prerequisite of Cult; as the cultural genre of Cult films (and other media) illustrates. Cult films are loosely defined as those that inspire a devoted following, but other qualities unite films which have earnt Cult status.

Qualities of Cult films range, in varying combination through;

  • Films with the capacity to arouse extreme emotions in their audience, particularly fear and disgust, and particularly through the use of excessive gore and/or violence;
  • Films that authentically capture the underlying emotional qualities of an era, generation or subculture;
  • Films which exist in or emerged from an underground niche, especially where legal reasons exist for the film to remain underground. Pasolini’s Salo, for example, which has twice been banned in Australia;
  • Films that are relatively unknown, despite their distinctive qualities;
  • And in contrast, films that succeed in finding distribution or screening despite their notable lack of quality;
  • Films that are so experimental as to suggest symbolic resonances beyond the usual scope of acceptable filmic narrative, (perhaps hinting at a hidden agenda).

Characteristics of religious Cult phenomena are most pronounced when considered in light of fundamentalist religions, where the techniques are employed to the most manipulative effect. In addition to ritual, worship and mystical experiences, various thought control techniques ensure the follower’s satisfaction (through lack of questioning) with the ideals of the group. Methods of thought control consist of:

  • Milieu Control: The control of information and communication within both the environment and the individual, resulting in isolation from society.
  • Mystical Manipulation: Experiences that appear spontaneous are orchestrated by the group to demonstrate divine authority.
  • Demand for Purity: Dualist ethics induce members of the group to constantly strive for a perfection that is in line with the ideals of the group, or otherwise live with guilt and shame.
  • Confession: Sins defined by the group are to be confessed without confidentiality, thus a member’s shame and weaknesses can be exploited by group leaders.
  • Sacred Science: The group’s doctrine or ideology is considered to be the ultimate Truth, beyond all questioning or dispute. Truth is not to be found outside the group.
  • Revelation Knowledge: Emotions, intuitions, revelations and mystical insights are promoted over the objective word.
  • Loaded Language: Usage of words and phrases in new ways so that the outside world does not understand. This jargon consists of thought-terminating clichés that serve to conform thought processes.
  • Doctrine over person: Member’s personal experiences are subordinated to the sacred science and any contrary experiences must be denied or reinterpreted to fit the ideology of the group.
  • Dispensing of Existence: The group has the prerogative to decide who has the right to exist and who does not. This is often not literal but means that those in the outside world are not saved, unenlightened, unconscious and they must be converted to the group’s ideology, or else be rejected.
  • Conversion Techniques: Followers actively strive to convert others, thus reiterating their own faith.
  • Secrecy: Secrets of the group must not be shared with outsiders, or with members who have not yet become spiritually enlightened enough to understand the secret. This protects group ideals from being questioned by outsiders, and also supports the mechanisms of hidden agendas.
  • Hidden Agendas: Techniques employed by leaders over members without the members’ knowledge.
  • End World Revelation: Special insights into the end of the world are claimed, re-inforcing the fear of death.
  • Motivational Teaching: Techniques designed to stimulate emotions, usually employing loud speaking or music with group participation; group dynamics are used to influence responses.2

Although at first there may appear to be little in common with these two descriptions of Cult, similarities begin to emerge when we consider the broader relationship between art (whether ‘pop culture’ or the ‘fine arts’) and religion. Religion and art simultaneously emerged with the evolution of the human mind, and are conditions specific to humanity alone. The earliest works of art originated in the services of ritual and religion. Religion was initially a surrogate for science, providing insight into an otherwise unknowable, mysterious, thus mystical universe. Although science has since replaced many of the primitive needs for religion, the vast majority of the world’s population still seek spiritual sustenance in the belief of religious ideals. Despite the ethical contributions religions make to a culture, the core attraction resides within our deep-rooted need for religious experience. These religious experiences have been reported by every religious tradition and include feelings of completeness, absence of self, oneness with the universe, feelings of peace, freedom from fear, ecstatic joy, and/or visions of a Supreme Being.

“…for the first time in world history, mechanical reproduction emancipates the work of art from its parasitical dependence on ritual. To an ever greater degree the work of art reproduced becomes the work of art designed for reproducibility.”
- Walter Benjamin

Penguin: Masters and Slaves
Chris Bond
Australia 2004

Mixed media installation. (See Colour Plates 9 & 10).

Penguin: Masters and Slaves presents abstract paintings and classic Penguin paperback book covers in a mock historical set-up. At the heart of the installation sit the book covers, torn and stained relics of 1960’s graphic design. Each book cover comes with its own ‘master’ painting, an original 1950’s abstract painting that prefigures the design of the book cover, as well as a contemporary ‘drone’, a cracked and stained painting by the artist that exactly mimics the design of the book cover, but strips it of title, author, logo and blurb. The mock historical presentation of the three objects sheds new light on ideas of artistic influence and precedence, while revealing the narcissistic classicism that lies at the heart of modern abstract painting.
- Chris Bond.

Chris Bond is fascinated by the minutiae of large events and objects, mimicking authenticity and historical artifacts to construct false identities and author enlightening, mythical histories. Bond completed a Bachelor of Fine Arts (Honours) at RMIT University in 1997 and has since held solo exhibitions at Gertrude CAS; idspace Contemporary Art Gallery; 1st Floor, Latrobe Street Gallery, and TCB Inc. Art (all in Melbourne). His work has been shown in many group shows including …I heard it on the grapevine at Heidi MOMA, and was toured nationally in the group show Glacier organized by RMIT Gallery.

“The conformity of dead matter to the idea of science is substituted by most materialists for a religious relation, established earlier in history, between the divine maker and its creations, the one being the idea of the other.
- George Bataille.

Miranda Williams
Australia 2004

Oil on glass. (See Colour Plate 8).

Where does figurative painting stand after George Bataille’s notion of informe? If we accept Bataille’s understanding of materiality as truly formless can figurative painting remain a site in which to explore spatial possibilities of the body and perception? Intersection dissects and expands the figurative image. The image fractured across three p(l)anes of intersecting glass is at once two and three dimensional. Between the three spaces created by the illusional representation of the third-dimension in the second, the two-dimensional torso cross-section and the actual space occupied by the work’s installation, there results a disorientation of perception, requiring the conscious repositing of the figurative image within only one of these dimensions. This momentary confusion prompts an acknowledgment of projected subjective space and its effort to structure an object/image from within, denying its autonomy. This partial return of the object/image to its informe state is further encouraged by the horrific nature of the figure represented. Alive and dead, undead, it resists any formative structure of acceptable real.
- Miranda Williams.

Williams’ self-portraits describe the inner condition of the body on its exterior surface. Through the process of translating her invisible psyche into a visible language, the horror genre takes form. Behind and attached to our psyche are Blood and Guts – words which evoke years of parentally-unsupervised media digestion. Using light as a penetrating medium, Williams’ illuminates and shares our common horrors. Born in New Zealand, Miranda Williams has lived in Australia since she was five. In 2001 she graduated from the Queensland College of Art with a BA in Fine Art – Painting. Williams has held several solo exhibitions in Brisbane at Loft, Soapbox, Metro Arts and Pestorius Sweeney House.

“Free Nations do not develop weapons of mass destruction.”
- George W. Bush

The Weapons of Deception
Princess Paulie
Australia 2003

A collection of ceramic sculptures. The series consists of 3 large gas cylinders, one small gas cylinder, a rocket launcher, a flamethrower, and two grenades. (See Colour Plates 1 & 2).

The Weapons of Deception is a stunningly life-like collection of some of the world’s most powerful weaponry. Inspired by the recent insurgence of international terrorism, the work seeks to address the mechanisms by which these objects are used to propagate the ideologies of their perpetrators. Weapons of mass destruction are worshipped by Nationalists and Terrorists alike. The manner in which they are serviced as utilities for Conversion Techniques, Dispensing of Existence, and the enforcement of Doctrine Over Person, evidences the Cultish behaviour of groups behind their deployment. As an excuse for the United States of America to invade Iraq, weapons of mass destruction have also profited the execution of hidden agendas.

The sculptural process involved in the creation of the objects mimics the incendiary nature of the devices themselves. The ceramics’ fragility symbolizes that of the weapons’ assailants and victims – although intended for peace, ultimately they service the needs of deception and destruction.

Paul Scott, aka Princess Paulie, lives and works on the Northern New South Wales Coast. In 2002 he graduated from Lismore Tafe with a Diploma in Ceramics. His works have since been exhibited in group shows around the region, including the 22nd International Ceramic Art Award at the Gold Coast City Art Gallery, at Fusions Gallery in Brisane, Piece Gallery in Mullimbimby and the Lismore Regional Gallery. Scott is currently represented by the Byron Fine Art Gallery.

“When a myth is shared by large numbers of people it becomes a reality.”
- Circlemakers

Crop Formations: 1998 – 2001
Rod Dickinson (The Circlemakers)
United Kingdom, 1999 – 2004

Noticeboard with diagrams, photographs and press cuttings taken from crop circle researchers and enthusiast Magazines. (See Colour Plates 6 & 7).

The crop circle project is an ongoing series of interactions with the diverse community that invests belief in the inhuman [paranormal] origins of crop circles. The project has involved the covert creation of large-scale crop formations in the landscape of Wiltshire, England, where they are received and researched by international believers. The formations culminate in a gallery-based collation of the consequential photographs, speculative theories and interpretations created by believers. The installations are a meditation on contemporary myth and belief. Dickinson’s complete installation and performative practice highlights the paradoxes and fallibility of the paranormal ideas that sustain these communities. The modes of presentation, both within the gallery and as a permanent online archive, replicate and refer to the mediated methods employed by believer communities to reinforce their own Revelation Knowledge. Rather than denounce the groups, Crop Formations celebrate the irrationality of human experience and fallibility of perception as intrinsic elements of contemporary legend. At the same time, the circle-makers recognize that although these circles have been made by humans for the past three decades, the world’s first crop circle appeared in Queensland in 1968, and is still of unknown origins.

Rod Dickinson is a British artist fascinated by the interweaving forces of social control and belief systems. He re-enacts events, reconstructs objects and intervenes into situations to meditate on the social mechanisms of belief- and behaviour- patterns generated by social control. Other projects include The Milgram Reenactment, which involved the recreation of one of the most famous experiments in the history of psychology. A number of volunteers were instructed to administer a series of increasingly severe electric shocks to an unseen pupil. Two-thirds of the volunteers were fully obedient, continually administering the maximum 450-volt shocks, even after the pupils’ screams were replaced by an ominous silence. Dickinson’s works have been shown at major galleries and film festivals around the world.

“They would sacrifice everything to be with this person and to have some part in the fulfilment of this eternal plan.”
- David Thibodeau, Waco survivor.

Waco Resurrection
United States of America 2003

Video documentation of gameplay from the multiplayer TPS (Third person Shooter) computer game.

As predicted by his Branch Davidian followers, Vernon Howell (aka David Koresh) has returned to Mt. Carmel for final battle. Revisiting the 1993 Waco, Texas episode, gamers enter the mind and form of a resurrected David Koresh through custom headgear, a voice-activated, hard-plastic 3D skin. Each player enters the network as a Koresh and must defend the Branch Davidian compound against internal intrigue, skeptical civilians, rival Koresh and the inexorable advance of government agents. Ensnared in the custom “Koresh skin”, players are bombarded with a soundstream of government “psy-ops”, FBI negotiators, the voice of God and the persistent clamor of battle. Players voice messianic texts drawn from the book of revelation, wield a variety of weapons from the Mount Carmel cache and influence the behavior of both followers and opponents by radiating a charismatic aura.

Waco Resurrection re-examines the clash of worldviews inherent in the 1993 conflict by asking players to assume the role of a resurrected “cult” leader, in order to do divine battle against a crusading government. While the voices of far-off decision-makers seem resolute and determined, the “grunts” who physically assault the compound appear conflicted and naive in their roles. The game commemorates the tenth anniversary of the siege, at a unique cultural moment in which holy war has become embedded in official government policy. In 2003, the spirit of Koresh has become a paradoxical embodiment of the current political landscape – he is both the besieged religious other and the logical extension of the neo-conservative millennial vision. Waco is a primal scene of American fear: the apocalyptic visionary – an American tradition stretching back to Jonathan Edwards – confronts the heathen "other.” In Waco Resurrection, the roles are anything but fixed.

The Endgames series, of which Waco Resurrection is a part, incorporates elements of subjective documentary and speculative fiction with new interactive technologies, to create a visceral gaming experience focused on extreme psycho-social phenomena. The series hopes to present both player and viewer with immersive apocalyptic experiences that prompt reconsideration of the phenomenal possibilities inherent in ideological conflict.
- C-Level

C-level is a cooperative public and private lab formed to share physical, social and technological resources. Its members are artists,programmers, writers, designers, agit-propers, filmmakers and reverse-engineers. Part studio, part club, part stage and part screen; C-Level islocated in a basement in Chinatown Los Angeles and plays host to various media events such as screenings, performances, classes, lectures, debates, dances, readings and tournaments.

“She who dies with the most toys wins.”
- Yumi-Co

Australia / Canada 2004

Interactive computer game modification running on Unreal Tournament 2003.

CuteXdoom is a game mod installation that explores modern cultures’ addiction to cuteness and fabricated entities. The player’s mission is to become a member of the toy worshipping Yumi-Co cult, thereby gaining access to the exclusive temple-quarters. To accomplish this, players must collect enough toys to make an offering and please the robotic panda guru who, in return, will offer a special gift.

Anita Johnston: Lead artist and design.
Michael Pelletier: Programming.
Luke Ilett: Sounds and concept designs.
Geoff Lillemon: Additional art and textures.

Anita Johnston is an artist and designer from Australia, now based in Canada at the Banff Centre. With a background in graffiti, illustration, video and photography she integrates formal and vandal art styles into interactive videogame technologies. Curious about faerytales, modern life, technology and street culture, her works seek to recontextualize familiar fragments of daily life into combined pop-culture nightmare / wonderland utopias.

Canadian media artist Michael Pelletier resides in Banff, Alberta, where he works at the Banff Centre’s Creative Electronic Environment. Pelletier studied Media Arts and Digital Technologies at the Alberta College of Art And Design. His previous creative projects have involved the development of tools for real-time generative visual composition.

Luke Ilett is an Australian digital artist, currently working at the Banff Centre Canada, creating content for educational games. Previous projects include independent games, Nintendo console modifications, graffiti, sound design and music projects Ghost Hype and Collapsicon.

Geoff Lillemon is the artist behind Oculart, a consistently beautiful, hallucinatory website. Paradoxically it’s also neurotic, twitching and flickering, with the music constantly falling out of tune.

“I had the fantasy, and in the end I fulfilled it”.
- Armin Meiwes


Gnutella network. Search for filename “snuff130104-130204”.

Remotely available video art collection of snuff films downloaded from the gnutella p2p filesharing network.

Snuff films are the most controversial and inflammatory of film genres, and urban myths. The most strict definition of snuff is a filmed commercial entertainment in which a real death occurs, on screen, as a deliberate attempt to alleviate the audience’s need for suspension of disbelief. It seems that murder remains the one performative boundary amongst all artists. People will shoot themselves, remove limbs, tattoo, scar, laser, prostheticize, commit suicide and even re-gender the human body all in the name of aesthetics, yet no-one, to date, has committed murder on-screen in the name of commercial, filmic art.

Despite regular claims of the real existence of snuff films, thorough research has not as yet uncovered a single, genuine article. How, then, could we exhibit a collection of the most horrifying, gut-renching, undeniably real snuff videos? Peer-to-peer online networks, such as gnutella, provide an abundance of files in response to the search term ‘snuff’. Over a period of one month, nearly one hundred different clips were collected which each depicted real, on-screen deaths. Although these clips may not at first appear to be made to the strictest criteria of ‘snuff’, many of the original film sources are in fact commercial, and do depict on-screen deaths, for example news coverage of fatal accidents, political executions, and other massacres like the World Trade Centre attack. Our relative desensitization to these real murders is only weakly contrasted by obviously faux constructions of ‘snuff’ extracted from commercial films.

In this collection, both real and faux commercial extracts sit seamlessly beside raw examples of very real murders caught on tape. These chilling, quick glimpses into underworld justice obscure their original source, location and participants. Although not commercial, they still arouse fear and repugnance with a degree of efficacy filmmakers can only dream of emulating. The aesthetic affects of these fragments are stronger than any other audio-visual content. They draw on our fears of death, of psychosis, of a world without conscious rationality. Through underground channels we can know, and thus re-sensitize ourselves to the very real existence of rape and violence which we encounter in the media, but rarely feel a deep response to.

“A cult is like abusive relationships… You are trapped, like a caged animal”.
- Deborah Layton, Jonestown survivor.

Wasted Consumer Ritual
Sean Cordeiro and Claire Healy.
Australia, 2004.

Mixed media installation.

Exploring the innate, destructive force within cults and collectives, Wasted Consumer Ritual recreates an urban convenience store in the aftermath of ritualistic fervour. Encapsulated in the remnants of the violent revelries is a social tension specifically born of intimate group dynamics. The conflicting desires for independence and acceptance result in a chaotically emotional and mystical outpouring. In the end, the group must choose to dissipate by going down in a blaze or glory, or going up into eternal light and salvation. Contextualized within the sacred site of urban consumption, the items upon which our modern lifestyles are dependent are here employed for the deeper spiritual outcomes usually lacking in our disposable attitude towards them.

After a decade or so of investigative solo practice, Cordeiro and Healy joined forces to perpetrate anti-realty installations in Sydney. The pair is part of the artist collective known as Imperial Slacks. Their first collaborative project also involved fourteen other members of the collective coming together to complete the project “Scuff Stuff” at Grey Matter. The pair have continued to show at spaces such as Kudos Gallery, Artspace and Sculpture by the Sea. Their most noteworthy works so far have included The Cordial Home Project; a project that saw the destruction of a suburban house and its stacked reconfigurated relocation into the gallery space, Location To Die For; the convergence of an architect’s plan to renovate a warehouse and an urban military conflict, and Package Tour; an installation in which a forty-tonne army-tank was transformed into a seaside shanty caravan.

“Cheapjack horror thriller … Nothing but shocks and gore, but the beginning of the wave of such deplorable movies which flooded the world’s screens towards the end of the decade.”

Leslie Halliwell (Halliwell’s Films Guide, sixth edition)

Vengeance is Mine
Video directed and conceived by Cassandra Tytler
Sound composed and recorded by Phillip Pietruschka
Australia, 2004

Video installation with stereo audio. (See Colour Plate 3).

Vengeance is Mine is a hybrid interpretation of the horror genre. It is a representation of the Slasher film’s Final Girl hero, decontextualised and placed in the surrounds of the Italian art film mise-en-scene, with bright red blood against (what would otherwise be) a clean white wall. Beyond the look of the piece is the character of the Final Girl who screams, fights, falls, gets up, is wounded but ultimately wins her way to the conclusion of the Slasher film. Hers is abject terror personified. She has witnessed the horror forced upon her through the mutilated bodies of her friends and has been forced to look death in the face. She alone must find the strength to kill the monstrous psychopath. The Final Girl is usually the last one left from both sides, as she has killed her attacker, and potential rescuers have been murdered long before the film’s end. Intelligent and resourceful, the Final Girl fights to save her life with courage, skill and anger.
The Texas Chainsaw Massacre directly influences the soundtrack in this piece, as do the experimental techniques and methods used in Horror and Spaghetti Western films. The sounds are at once terrifying and sublime, bringing the viewer to a place where beauty and horror are one.

Cassandra Tytler has been producing and directing films and videos since 1994. Her work focuses on glamour, alienation, and the distance between reality and longing. Fascinated by the symbolism of popular clichés, her works employ experimental script writing processes that pastiche isolated, fragmented conventions into compelling, revealing stories. Her films have screened internationally at the Raindance Film Festival in London, Microcinema in Alaska, and at Independent Exposure in the United States of America. She has recently completed her Masters degree in Media Arts at RMIT.

Phillip Pietruschka studies and practices sound design and composition. His refined practice draws on the electro-acoustic, rock & roll, avant-classical and film scores. Whether he is digitally working an abstracted palette of processed field recordings, or cutting electric guitars on analogue tape, Pietruschka’s music is subtle, rich and complex. He recently completed an Honours degree in Media Arts at RMIT.

Video Credits:
Starring – Carla Yamine
Camera – Lucia Di Mauro
Gaffer – Zane Lovitt
Make-up and blood application – Gabi Barton

Thanks to Engelbert Schmidl, Kristen Tytler and Phillip Brophy. Sound Credits:
Percussion – Will Guthrie
Electro-Accoustic – David Brown
Electric Guitar – Kryz Derwinski

“We are entering the age when the secrets of creation are not in the hands of god, nor are they at the mercy of blind nature.”
- Critical Art Ensemble

CONE- Cult Of The New Eve
Critical Art Ensemble with Paul Vanouse & Faith Wilding.
United States of America, 1996 – 2001

Remotely exhibited, online interactive website.

Cult Of the New Eve was a tactical media project that encouraged conversion of the masses to a new religion of genetic engineering worship. The project originated as a performance-art series where members donned religious cloaks and offered gallery audiences the chance to sign up to the cult, receive their new, ideal DNA, and consume sacraments of transgenic beer and wafers. Their website is a documentation of the performances, ideology and techniques of the group – and still offers the opportunity to sign up and receive a cult name using the Genetic Code Name Generator.

Cult Of the New Eve is a response to fears that science, as the new popular religion, will disguise its eugenic rhetoric to further the aims of bio-engineering, without raising concerns in the public for the coming of a second holocaust. Cult Of the New Eve warns that using the rhetoric and symbology of Christianity as a comforting guise, science may succeed in enacting a rebirth of eugenics, along with an irreversible assault on biodiversity, and potentially, ultimate claims to our individuality through the privatization of genetics. Real life examples of scientific discoveries and the co-opting of Christian rhetoric into scientific milieu (such as the renaming of one of the ealiest human remains, Lucy, to Eve), couple the website in an unnerving display of the extent to which science is following the Critical Art Ensemble’s predictions.

Critical Art Ensemble is a collective of five artists of various specializations dedicated to exploring the intersections between art, technology, radical politics and critical theory. CAE have made a series of six bio-technology projects that explore our changing relationship to the boundaries of the human body as it intersects with technology. The group’s Tactical Media model is situationist, ephemeral, and self-terminating. It encourages the use of any media that will engage a particular socio-political context in order to create molecular interventions and semiotic shocks, that contribute to the negation of the rising intensity of authoritarian culture.

“We did it to avenge the Paxtons”.
- Emma Goldman.

Dole Army
Australia 2003

The Dole Army are a collective of Melbourne street artists, performance artists and political propagandists who will long be remembered for the concurrent media hoaxes they pulled on the television shows A Current Affair and Today Tonight. The group successfully convinced the nation they were a gang of jobless militants inhabiting Melbourne’s drains, surfacing only to scavenge food from bins and to organize through the internet. Their website was designed as a close approximation of the Australian social security organization, Centrelink to further support their ideology of attempting to “extract as much money from tax payers” as they could. The website was so successful the Minister for Employment, Tony Abbot, was quoted as saying “If these people put as much energy into finding work and into building a career as they’ve put into building a website, I think that they’d go a long way”. The media attention focused primarily on their lack of a desire to work, illustrating a belief amongst the majority of Australians that there is not a lack of jobs, only a population of dole bludgers who are too lazy to find work. The hoax was specifically designed to provide the stations with the kind of story they loved, simultaneously exposing their sensationalist weakness to promote false information.

Transcripts from

Cave Clan
Australia 1986 – Ongoing

Street-propaganda installation.

The Cave Clan was formed by three Melbournians in 1986. They now have branches in Brisbane, Hobart, Sydney, Canberra, Perth and Adelaide as well as associates in Canada, America and France. The Cave Clan have explored every type of artificial tunnel or chamber there is: bridge rooms, gas pipeline tunnels, purification tanks, sewerage discharge tunnels (disused), optic fibre tunnels, train tunnels, and many unnameable tunnels and cavities under the City.

The Cave Clan are a fully organized, self-sufficient, (to a degree) hierarchical, autonomous unit with communication networks, awards, and strict rules. Due to the illegal nature of their activities, and their relative anonymity, they are extremely marginalized. To most people, they are a mythical clan only known from their infrequent publicity stints via DIY stickers stuck in public places. The Cave Clan has a foundational ideology based on exploration, safety, respect for architectural heritage, shared information and the right to freedom from social control.

Whilst some members explore whenever possible, others explore just a few tunnels a year. Some members only subscribe to receive their magazine (Il Draino) and never venture into tunnels. People who are interested in joining the Clan can participate in an initiation expedition.

Clan rules state that no members may be under 18 years of age. Drains are never to be explored alone, only ever with the recommended safety equipment, and only after a period of several days without rain. Weather forecasts are to be regularly consulted, and techniques for reading weather patterns, such as signs of an impending downpour, are shared amongst members. Whilst specified areas are designated for graffiti, it is generally recommended that graffiti and any alteration to the underground environments be refrained from. Due to strict rules such as these, the Clan can proudly boast that in their 18 year history they have never had a death of a Clan member result from draining. A well publicized death of fourteen year old boy in Melbourne in 1991 was not, contrary to many reports, associate with the Clan. One member on a bulletin board reported that they knew the boy and had recommended that he not drain due to his youth.

The Cave Clan Annual Clannie Awards are held once a year towards the end of the drain season (some time in Autumn). It’s the one time of the year where most of the Cave Clan gets together and lets their hair down. There are about twenty awards given including “Best Drain”, “Best First year Explorer” and “Goes Further Up Drains”. The night always concludes with “The Gold Clannie”, an award that goes to the member who put in the biggest year.

The Cave Clan’s “Location Sheets” include hundreds of drains and artificial structures that, as a rule, are all over 1.8m high. The exception is when the cavity has a special feature. Drains are made out of concrete, redbrick, bluestone and more rarely corrugated steel, plastic and sand stone. Some of the features to be found include stairways, slides, waterfalls, rooms, chambers, shafts, old graffiti, as well as shapes of the drain such as Horseshoe (Mummy), arch, bowl, mushroom, egg, pear, square, rectangular, square with pointed top (open envelope) as well as many other unnameable shapes.


Gertrude Contemporary Art Space
200 Gertrude Street Fitzroy
Victoria 3065 Australia
T: +61 3 9419 3406
F: +61 3 9419 2519