On July 14th 1998 artists' group Blast Theory made Kidnap, where members of the public could enter into a lottery for the chance to be kidnapped for two days.

Drawn from a shortlist of ten, which Blast Theory put under surveillance for two weeks before sending them the photos in the post, Russell Ward and Debra Burgess were the two lucky winners. They were kidnapped from outside their house in Southend and from inside a pub in London, and driven off in a scout van to the safe house.

Once inside their experience was streamed live to the web, where visitors could pan and tilt the camera inside their cell and talk to the kidnappers in a chat room. The incarceration was overseen by a psychiatrist and they were released into a press conference at the Institute of Contemporary Art, two days later. Devised in close consultation with a lawyer, promoted by the PR company Mark Borkowski and funded by Firetrap clothing, Kidnap was the work Blast Theory were prepared to be their last. This work is the first piece the group made using the internet, pushing the meaning of audience or audiences role in an artwork to an extreme and playing with the placement of art across cultural boundaries. Kidnap is for Blast Theory a lottery, a performance, an installation and a live event.

Kidnap a work about control and consent, was inspired by the notorious Spanner Trial in which consenting sadomasochists were convicted by the UK court and sent to prison. The case was later upheld by the European Court of Human Rights– what the case established was that a person does not have the legal ability to consent to receive an act which will cause serious bodily harm, such as extreme activities of a sadomasochistic nature.

The National Lottery was new to the UK in 1994 and we were just on the verge of UK version of Big Brother which premiered in July, 2000 on national television.

Prior to Kidnap, in 1997, Blast Theory released a 45 second advert/Blipvert in cinemas across Europe, launching the project and a free phone line for people to express their interest – this film appeared between the regular commercials. And the same year, Blast Theory made Safehouse, an installation about the culture of kidnapping at Kunstlerhaus Bethanienin Berlin.

Kidnap@20 The Art of Incarceration was a one-day symposium in July 2018 at the Martin Harris Centre for Music and Drama, University of Manchester marking the piece's 20th anniversary, which looked back at where we were then, and asked where we are now. What has changed in the realms of digital art and technology, participatory performance, and the politics of consent? When, how and why did surveillance, imprisonment, and power games become art or entertainment?

The event included a screening of the film document of Kidnap (30 mins) and reflections on other relevant work, including Rideout's Cell Project (2016) and Ali Matthews' What the Money Meant (2014).

Categories: Report

Date Posted: 23 August 2018