It's only mock 'n' roll but we like it

An exhibition about the cult German rockers Lustfaust left many people puzzled. That's because the band never existed. Alice Jones meets the man behind the myth

Tomorrow night, the winner of Beck's Futures 2006 will be announced, and Jamie Shovlin is widely tipped to walk away with the £20,000 prize. The 27-year-old artist's Lustfaust: A Folk Anthology 1976-1981, a lovingly assembled collection of memorabilia relating to a Krautrock band, stands out in a motley shortlist that includes the text of Joyce's Ulysses re-ordered alphabetically and a rack of size-13 shoes. Along with crackly recordings, badges and fanzines, Shovlin appears to have reunited former Lustfaust fans, recording their memories and displaying the covers they designed for their cassette recordings - Lustfaust encouraged fans to send them blank tapes on to which the band would record their latest release, before posting them back.

And yet Lustfaust, the band so exhaustively documented here, never existed. The whole exhibit is a fake. While Duncan Macmillan in The Scotsman dismissed the piece as "futile", Waldemar Januszczak in The Sunday Times was particularly taken by Shovlin's "creepy and fascinating" spectacle, declaring: "I'd go for Shovlin's tribute to the noisy Lustfaust, on the grounds that winning a pile of money with a piece about a band that gave away their stuff for free has a nice conceptual twist to it."

But Januszczak and others who have been taken in by this bogus tribute shouldn't be too hard on themselves - Shovlin has created a masterful, elaborate piece of fakery. A thorough researcher need only Google the name, and an entire page of web-links pops up, from Lustfaust's Myspace profile, complete with mp3, to an entry on Wikipedia and even a very rare recording of Lustfaust's album Uberblicken/ Uberzeugen on eBay (sadly no longer for sale), not to mention www.lustfaust.com.

At the ICA, Shovlin has filled three vitrines with a meticulously detailed history of the band and its discography. The story is backed up by yellowed newspaper clippings, the odd black-and-white photograph of on-stage guitar thrashing, a video testimonial from a surviving member and the ephemera of fandom including a pair of battered trainers with "Lust" and "Faust" tattooed across the front in biro. And all the time, in the background, rasps and grinds the metallic sound of Lustfaust - though only in one-minute samples, as a result of supposed acrimonious legal wrangling.

The fictional fans are given plausible back-stories and distinctive styles. There is the groupie who slept with the band's drummer to get back at her "idiot" boyfriend, the rebellious teenager who hates his father ("They [the tapes] have become the only connection that remains with the old bastard. Burn them if you like") and the embarrassed middle-aged man who prefers to forget the foibles of youth. "The stories are generic enough that people can identify with them and understand that they may have happened," Shovlin explains. Their "home-made artwork" incorporates myriad influences, from Bridget Riley and pop art to pornography and Spirograph doodles.

"I don't think that the ultimate aim of the work is to trick someone into thinking that Lustfaust existed," Shovlin says. "It's just slightly humorous when that happens." While fooling visitors affirms Shovlin's skill (he admits to finding it "satisfying"), he believes that the artifice needs to be uncovered for the piece to function fully. So he leaves the odd clue along the way, including the notes of the "curator", which describe the band as veering "dangerously close to Spinal Tap-isms" and label them "an obscurantist's dream".

This is not the first time that Shovlin has toyed with the boundaries between fact and fiction. In 2004, he sold a collection of sketches by the 13-year-old schoolgirl Naomi V Jelish, who had gone missing with her mother and siblings in 1991, to Charles Saatchi for £25,000. At the exhibition, Jelish's drawings were accompanied by newspaper articles relating to her disappearance and personal effects gathered from the abandoned family home by her science teacher, John Ivesmail. Neither Jelish nor Ivesmail existed - both are anagrams of the artist's name - and newspapers gleefully seized on the idea that Saatchi had been hoaxed. But that "was not the case", Shovlin sighs. "He fully knew what was going on. But the more I think about it, the more it adds another layer to the piece."

It would be unfair to write off Shovlin's works as a mere jape. "My original goal was to draw attention to the fact that what you see in a museum or gallery is being mediated by whoever is presenting it," he says. "What interests me are stories which can be divulged and extrapolated from a collection of material. Whether that story is real or false doesn't make too much of a difference to me."

Shovlin is thrilled to see the fruits of his labour take on a life of their own. "Now Lustfaust have everything a band would have - music, fans, websites. At the beginning I asked, 'What generates the identity of the band? What substantiates it physically?' All those elements, we now have. Regardless of beginning fictionally, they are now a band." Just don't expect to see them on Top of the Pops any time soon.

To 14 May, ICA, London SW1 (020-7930 3647; www.ica.org.uk)

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