I remember Bruce McLean telling me of an artist that he met in the Paris Bar in Berlin. As the two got talking, Bruce's new friend explained how he was king of a country that was not generally known by people. This was hardly surprising, as the country had a land area of only one square metre. The artist was not only king, but prime minister, head of police, minister of culture and head of the treasury. The bill was settled with a large and very beautiful banknote. Not only did the bar accept these notes but it also gave change (there was an agreed exchange rate with the Deutschmark).
There are many examples of people claiming independent states of ridiculously small areas.
In Austria there is a large sphere next to the REISERAD in PRATER HAUPTALEE, called Kuglmugl , created by an artist who originally built it on a field outside Vienna. He mounted a sphere on a meteor so that the ball did not touch the earth. When the farmer ordered him to move it, the artist claimed it as an independent extraterrestrial state outside all planetary laws. The Austrian law did not agree:
the publicity surrounding the case created some sympathy for his cause and it was granted a permanent location in the Prater in Vienna.
Both of these artworks raise issues about property ownership laws. The Austrian's 'state' was conquered by the Austrian army in a bloodless battle and today it is part of Austria.
This official invasion gave further credibility to the artwork. When a group of Frenchmen decided a few years ago to raise their flag on one of the small, unoccupied Channel Islands, the British government took it very seriously and sent a small gunboat to repatriate the lost part of the nation. Little resistance was experienced and today the Union Jack flies proudly over the island.
One of the more extraordinary kingdoms is Landonia in southern Sweden. It is one square kilometre in size, with its own flag and president, but its subjects are 5,000-strong and reside in the land on the Web (www. aim. se).
This virtual state had to fight for its existence.
Eventually, in 1999, it was granted independence. Even so, the buildings have more than once been vandalised by (normally) law-abiding citizens who do not like the idea that people can express themselves freely, as presumably it represents a threat to their own sense of stability. In Landonia, we see a primitive version of animosity towards built structures.
In a more formal context, the planning committee is similar to the vandals. They, of course, do not use violence but they often look to guard the public against the unusual, the innovative, the interesting and the creative. As a result we are denied and separated from a wealth of existing talent.
I have never quite understood why buildings animate people so vigorously. Why are they so political? Why are dictators so interested in architecture? No building has ever been half the threat to our well-being as the contamination caused by international companies, the persistent vandalism of the neglect of our schools and teachers, and huge assaults on individualism wreaked by the constant desire for standardisation.
Whom do the planning committees think they are protecting? In my experience, many people want objects which make their part of the world more special. If any of you know of pieces of land as artworks, I would love to hear from you. By artwork I do not mean land-art;
I refer to land as taking on and inventing a political system. Art as a defiance. Landonia has a national anthem - it is simply the sound of a thrown stone hitting the water - 'PLOP!'
WA, from seat 5c, BA flight number 572, London to Milan