The Mystery of Al Capone’s Vaults or contemporary studio practice

The Mystery of Al Capone’s Vaults was a two hour live pay-per-view American television special broadcast in 1986. Hosted by a then unknown young presenter, Geraldo Rivera, the programme promised to open a recently discovered vault belonging to infamous prohibition era Chicago gangster Al Capone’s live on television. Promotions for the programme highlighted the potential for revealing mounds of cash, skeletal remains, weapons and bootleg alcohol. The Mystery of Al Capone’s Vaults is famous for ultimately revealing nothing but rubble and a few empty bottles to the millions who had paid to witness. It went on to become a byword for unfulfilled hype, though has since largely faded from popular memory.

This project imagines The Mystery of Al Capone’s Vaults as an analogue for contemporary studio practice. It provides an aesthetic and thematic node around which I explore my failure to establish a viable studio practice and my response to the semi-derelict, frigid, dark, often deserted glorified storage units in which we locate contemporary art practice.

What do we tell ourselves and others about the nature of studios and the types of practice(s) they engender? And how can an analysis of their formal operations and geo-cultural localities inform a counter-narrative of the place of contemporary art in society and/or culture?

In the liminal, no-man’s space and time created by litigious real estate development processes and stalled entrepreneurial ambition,  a fleeting spring of seemingly uninhibited artistic endeavour sprouts like flora in abandoned car parks. Next comes the Miami-style apartment blocks, growth and progress – or so the story goes.

The regenerative effect of the colonisation of vacant sites of commercial activity by artists has become a key point in discourses of urban transformation and gentrification. The genesis of the urban regenerative process is strongly linked to the presence of artist(s) groups/run spaces and the perceived array of intangible benefits bestowed on impoverished and disenfranchised urban communities and environments. However, the apparent open nature of such spaces and their attendant activities is often undermined by closed-coded references and community engagement activities whose function is primarily immunitary – taking in just enough otherness to protect itself from threat.

Proposal extract, 2013.









%d bloggers like this: