Michael Blackburn's ART ZERO


In the mid 1980s Edward Aylesbury, an unsuccessful car salesman in Britain's West Country, set up his own small religious cult. Its philosophy comprised an undigested mish-mash of extraterrestrials, Tolkien, Zen and pseudo-scientific Californian self-help psychobabble. Aylesbury changed his name to Cybernon Galvanix and put it about that he was an alien from beyond the galaxy, come to save the world from its own stupidity and destructiveness.

He was surprised at the success of his venture. Within a short time he had gathered about him a dozen devoted students. Within two years he had given up his job and moved, with his followers, to Exeter. By by now he was working full-time on his mission, supported entirely by his followers and money derived from his pamphlets and videos. More people joined his flock.

But then he was involved in a car crash. Although he was not seriously injured, he spent a year recuperating. During this time his confidence crumbled and his interest in all things extraterrestrial vanished. He let the cult run by itself. Then he decided to close it all down. He called together his main disciples and told them to disband and return to their ordinary lives and to forget everything he had taught them. Some, distraught or or simply confused, left the group. The others, however, remained, refusing to leave him. He tried many things, including verbal and physical abuse. Galvanix is dead, he would say, his memory is filth. You have been deluded. Go home. Nothing worked. The more he tried to repel them, the closer they stuck to him.

Eventually, he gave up trying to get rid of them. He removed himself to a large house in the country, communicating with them by irregular newsletters of increasing obscurity. Sometimes he sent them videos of himself on his many holidays abroad. Keep up the good work, he would say to them, you are saving me from myself. His followers set up branches all over the world. No one seemed to care that he frequently changed the tenets of the religion, one moment being eco-friendly and vegetarian, the next minute investing in logging firms and nuclear power. The money kept coming in. Aylesbury began collecting vintage cars. He stopped reading books. And at weekends he played golf.