Published1 day ago
The Turner Prize-nominated artist David Shrigley has pulped 6,000 copies of Dan Brown’s best-seller The Da Vinci Code and republished them as George Orwell’s novel 1984.
He hatched the plan back in 2017 when he heard that an Oxfam shop in Swansea had stopped accepting any more copies of the conspiracy thriller.
On Saturday 1,250 copies of Shrigley’s 1984 edition will go on sale in the same Oxfam. Each is unique, costs £495 and comes complete with a signed and numbered print.
Phil Broadhurst is the manager of the shop and remembers well what happened in 2017: “Around that time there was one particular donation that we were getting a little more than we could use, which was The Da Vinci Code, because it was such a massive best seller and then a few years after, everyone is clearing their shelves.”
What he did next started a chain of events.
“We made this pile of Da Vinci Codes by the counter with a sign which said: ‘Yeah you could give us another Da Vinci Code, but we would rather have your vinyl.'”
Standing in the Swansea Oxfam in front of shelving containing nothing but copy after copy of his 1984 edition, the artist explains: “I read the story in the Telegraph and that sparked my imagination in the sense that I was like ‘I want those. I don’t know why, but I want them.’ So, I set about acquiring as many Da Vinci Codes as I could.”
At first, he targeted charity shops. However, trips often produced only a single copy, so a different tactic was adopted.
“We made inquiries and there is a recycling place where all the unwanted books go. They had almost an unlimited number.” He is talking about Wrap Distribution in Oxfordshire – a 100,000 sq ft (30,480 sq m) destination for Da Vinci Codes, a true boneyard for best sellers.
With their help Shrigley acquired more than 6,000 copies. Now what to do with them?
“I had reread 1984 again recently and realised that George Orwell had died in 1950, so it was coming up for 70 years [in 2020} since his death. Which means that all his works are in the public domain, so it means that anyone can publish one of George Orwell’s books.”
Indeed, next month there are the 70th anniversaries of the deaths of both Dylan Thomas and Eugene O’Neill, meaning that from the end of the year anyone in the UK has the right to publish their own versions of Under Milk Wood or The Iceman Cometh.
Shrigley realised he had the opportunity to turn his Da Vinci Codes into 1984s. “It’s not literary criticism,” he is keen to stress. “It’s almost as if the decision to use The Da Vinci Code was made for me. It was made by Phil (who put up the sign) and the Oxfam shop. It was my decision to make 1984, as I still think it’s a really important book for people to read.
“It’s interesting to take one book and make it into one specific other book. It’s quite a collaborative thing. I feel like we have collaborated with Dan Brown’s success.”
Big Brother is watching you
The novel 1984 tells the story of Winston Smith, a man questioning the system of a dystopian society. It introduced the phrases Big Brother and Room 101 and is regarded as one of the best books ever, making Time Magazine’s list of the all-time 100 novels.
Shrigley spent what he describes as “a six-figure sum” publishing his edition of 1984s. This is his justification for each book going on sale at £495, a price as eye-opening as a rat in Room 101, to use 1984 parlance.
A portion of the profits will be donated to Oxfam, who have also been paid for the hire of the venue and will receive the proceeds of specially designed tote bags merchandise.
“Four hundred and ninety five pounds seems like a kind of crazy price,” admits Shrigley, “However I have made an artwork, a signed print to go in it, which is based on a lot of the themes of 1984. So people are perhaps willing to pay that price for an original artwork of mine, where they might not be for the book, so I’ve sort of hedged my bets.”
This is actually billed as an “exclusive price” for the first 250 customers in Swansea. After that the remaining 1000 copies will be sold on his website for the “tier 2 price” of £795.
However, according to myartbroker.com, earlier this year Shrigley’s Memorial sold for a hammer price of $165,100 (£135,557), a record for the artist and an indication that the book might be rather good value after all.
One thing that surprises me is that Shrigley has not actually devoured The Da Vinci Code from cover to cover, saying that he’s “read most of it” and “dipped into it”, while trying to find a quote he could use from it for the foreword of his 1984, but he gave up as he was failing to find any relationship at all between the two books.
The BBC asked Dan Brown for his reaction to news that his 80 million-seller had been turned into 1984, but we received word that he was “in transit” so could not comment.
As for the Oxfam shop, manager Phil says they have almost reached the stage of having to ask for no more donations of another book: “At the moment it is the Richard Osman series, you know, the Thursday Murder Club.”
Shrigley promises me outright that he will not be collecting those.
Pulped Fiction takes place at Oxfam Books & Music, 34 Castle Street, Swansea, 10:00 -17:00 BST 28 October and 29 October.