Monday, 27 October 2014

A Comprehensive Account of Neoliberalism’s Impact on Everyday Life

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I’m not usually one for recommending books on my blog. However, this book has moved me to do that, due to the sheer weight gathered behind its conclusion that the main problem affecting us in our times is neoliberalism. I first read about Paul Verhaeghe’s What About Me? via an incredibly powerful article by George Monbiot in the Guardian. Maybe I’m wrong, but I sensed I could almost taste the relief of millions of people on their daily cyberspace-commute when their eyes landed on the heading of Monbiot’s Guardian article Sick of This Market-Driven World? Well You Should be – because I think it’s becoming clear that an increasing amount of us feel exactly this way. Monbiot was driven to write this article in response to reading Paul Verhaege’s book and being captivated by its conclusion. (In fact I think it is more than likely that it also has inspired his more recent article http://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2014/oct/14/age-of-loneliness-killing-us).

George Monbiot is very good at dividing opinion, even amidst those who share his general belief that the powerful forces in the world are trashing the planet. But his two Verhaeghe-inspired articles have likely brought people together more than anything (in fact the comments criticising the articles, seemed like people feeling they needed to be seen as a disagreeing-knowledgeable individual, which in itself reinforced the ideas of the saturation of individual experience with market-competition that Monbiot was writing about, as in “I’m more knowledgeable that you”).

Verhaeghe’s book is basically a conclusion on absolutely everything ‘under the neoliberal sun’. It is a comprehensive account of the totalising nature of the neoliberal ideology.  Verhaeghe largely writes from experience in both in the psychiatry and education professions, yet only really needs to keep his eyes open outside his jobs to see the same ‘neoliberalising’ processes spreading like a social cancer. Verhaeghe writes that “…what started out as a meritocracy…turned into a neoliberal evaluation system. [Calling it] neoliberal because the emphasis is entirely on quantitative production”, and it ends up being based as much on the distortion of truth that is Social Darwinism as the ideology of Nazism was; yes the book really does come as close as it can to describing the horrific logic of neoliberalism.

The ideal human being (as in the individual we are all implicitly pushed towards being) is a rational, attractive, but most of all (extremely) successful player within the capitalist world – he/she who can accumulate most success is the winner. Anybody who fails to be successful is overcome with a sense of individual failure, even though he points out that the chances of success were both rigged and slim from the onset. Both Verhaeghe and Monbiot speak of how the most common derogatory term in the age of loneliness is Loser. Success is seen to be all. I think most of us today in the post-austerity age spend nearly half our energy fighting off feelings of failure, daily. Verhaeghe calls this society the Enron Society after the notorious system of the US-based Enron company, who placed all staff in an each against all quantitative evaluation system, where those with most points are lauded whilst those who get least points are made redundant, not before being publicly humiliated. You don’t have to look far in contemporary culture to see forms of this playing out.

The weight of Verhaeghe’s indictment makes it startlingly clear what I’ve felt for years, but somehow been unable to article without it coming across as an extremist opinion. But what is so important about this book is that Verhaeghe comes from the clinical profession of psychiatry - he has no poltical axe to grind. He’s come to his conclusion seemingly by accident, over years of watching the social cancer (my own words) of neoliberalism grow. Surely this makes his conclusions all the more harder to dispute; he can’t be dismissed as “just some loony lefty”.

It also felt so important to me because it has helped me arrive at a conclusion that I’ve been feeling for years, but now feel I can articulate confidently. After years wrangling over what the biggest issue facing us is, within my work and within my head, I am convinced that the most crucial task of our age is to overcome, or pull apart the social reality built by the neoliberal system. Until neoliberalism is defeated one can forget about challenging the looming grave issues such as climate change, and the spiraling violence and exploitation around the world; which is why all the major parties in the UK, except the Greens (who the mainstream media wish to dismiss as being mainstream anyway) are utterly useless to us until they start talking about neoliberalism.

The reason as to why it has become so invasive is also the reason why it is so uncomfortable to properly challenge. Verhaeghe uncomfortably points out that the problem isn’t somebody else. Although in this brutally unequal system it has created obviously others have it far better than others – with no agency for genuine justice from within the system – neoliberalism is so insipid and hard to spot as a social construct largely because it has internalised itself within us, we have become neoliberalised. In a blog I wrote about myself a few weeks ago I openly admit I am Entombed in Self-Centredness – I’ve always accepted that I am diseased with the social reality which we so obviously need to transcend. It is sometimes easy to mistake isolated sentences of Verhaege’s as being Thatcherite themselves (Thatcher, who along with her transatlantic friend Ronald Reagan, was so crucial to beginning the neoliberal social reality), but when he talks about the youngsters who expect life on a plate, without putting the work in, he incitefully tells us “these youngsters [who he called The Lack] are not the product of the welfare state [the easy target for reactionary response to our social crisis]. They are the waste product of a consumer society that is well on its way to finishing off the welfare state”. It is clear that we are responsible, but no more responsible than we are victims.

To some extent I think it’s fair to say that reality probably hasn’t altered that much for the richest of the rich (only in the ease in which they accumulate further wealth now); you could certainly argue that all way through history the rich have been lonely beings in lonely rooms. They had wealth/power, material security, whilst the rest (generally speaking) had poverty/no power, a grim long-view, but yet they had community. It seems to me that neoliberalism has changed things so that we are all as lonely as the richest of the rich now. They have imposed their existential reality onto us, so we are all lonely now, but whilst still in poverty, with a grim long-view.

Perhaps this final point leads me towards what somebody who isn’t coming from a particular political standpoint such as Verhaeghe can tell us more than anyone. That quality of life can be better for all of us if we left behind the social reality construction of neoliberalism. Verhaeghe certainly doesn’t believe in the opposite to chronic inequality, total equality. And if I’m honest I for one dispute this, as I believe, even though total inequality isn’t possible, a perpetual searching for it would be the ideal (after all, as somebody historically belonging to the English proletarians, I will never truly be able to accept the English ruling class). But what is important about Verhaeghe’s proposals is that a non neoliberal life, where the pursuit of other things once again usurp the pursuit of purely financial gain, is shown to benefit us all. Right now, all of us, rich or poor, ‘success’ or ‘loser’, lauded or humiliated appear to be far more likely to be lonely and unhappy that we could be. Verhaeghe’s book compels us not to let our discontent with the world wane; because this isn’t how reality has to be.

Anyway, Ill go back to making art now, as I know my book review skills are still sorely lacking – I just hope I encourage more people to read this book. My next large scale drawing is on its way to completion; The drawing is called Feverish, but don’t expect it to be about Ebola; the fever is neoliberalism.


Sunday, 26 October 2014

Recent Mapmaking (2014 so far) part 5

This is the 5th post in a series that I still call psychogeographical maps (or cognitive mapping). Quoting certain sections and using a selection of photographs to widen the project, which at its core still has the intention to be a Cognitive Mapping of Now – aiming to be useful for locating the current socio-political mood, and the psychological impacts of it.

The 1st post can be found here.

The 2nd here

The 3rd here

  
The 4th here
 
A collection of the 2014 maps can be found here.

3 October 2014

London St Pancras to Westferry on foot, DLR to Greenwich, Bus to Deptford, on foot to New Cross Gate, Train/tube to Willesden Green.

Maps got destroyed. Little clear memory that remains.

“Find my mood caught out by the city this time around. Not tall enough today to stand up to city of tall asks. Strangely comforted by Greenwich. Always destined to head to once-to-be-familiar pubs in Deptford/New Cross. Hauntological hysteria intensified by 1990’s dance music. Lost in an intoxicated mood. Listen to slowed-down dance track in New Cross Sainsbury’s  – it doesn’t feel real, I feel like the ghost this time. Too far gone.”
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 4 October 2014

Willesden Green to Southbank on foot, then on to London Bridge. Tube to Moorgate. On foot to St Pancras via Barbican.

“Come to realise why I could have never lived here. All thought liquidated by city. Round in circles in City zone. No reason to communicate anymore. A Meloncholic walking drone – no desire to be anything else. Just keep Walking, Walking, Walking.”
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21 October 2014
 
“Arriving in Calder Grove, The Red Kite car park. The Red kite is pure simulcra, before it is anything [else]. Built to look like an ‘Olde Worlde’ pub. Even though it is no more than 12 years old, the self-advertised ‘vintage’ look fooled a friend into thinking it was much older. Yet it isn’t even a locally-orientated simulation [of an old building]. These pubs (like the one at the Dodworth junction) evoke a style of  building that historically belonged [only in] South and Eastern England [not Northern England].”

“[Driving from the east into Leeds] The landscape changes abruptly from the early 20th century suburbia dream to the mid-20th century social housing reality. The dark red brick houses, typical of Northern England, tower-blocks appearing as we get closer to the centre. Yet [this] tower-block skyline is almost hidden from view [from within] the seemingly unbroken consumer/business-man landscape pf the centre. In many ways such [a] blotting of the central landscape brings to mind the ‘cleansing out’ of undesirable features in the 18th century designing of country estates”.
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24 October 2014

“Something strangely reassuring about the [reasonably[ tightly-packed sprawl of Manchester proper. A would-be [more desirable] capital city? Quintessential red brick [housing] blocks, overlooked by supermodern complexes – like a safe metropolis compound? As if I could momentarily imagine this (that almost feels like a parallel world to Yorkshire over the Pennines) is free of the anxieties dealt by neoliberalism. Imaginary, yes. The reassuring feeling can only be felt in urban spaces I don’t spend much time in. I wish to be a citizen, a true city person; not a peasant or consumer (which, in reality, I am a mix of).”

“As the taxi approaches the chain pub complex at the roundabout (Redbrook/Barugh Green) the taxi driver says he’ll be voting UKIP at the next general election. I think we got to this point of topic due to talking about trying to survive on low-pay. He [tells me] UKIP have announced they [would] bring in an £8 per hour minimum wage. I find it hard to imagine how a party of right wing (largely well-off) reactionaries would ever truly action such a policy. yet, harder still is trying to explain to people how [I believe] UKIP aren’t really in their interest. Yet they’ve [UKIP] seeped into many peoples’ fears and desires. I exit the day with a sense of foreboding for the near future, feeling there’s very little I can do to alter this path”.
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Sunday, 12 October 2014

The Mary Celeste Project (The Scene of The Crash)



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This video work takes my previous video-work The West Riding of Yorkshire: A Psychogeographical Account and makes it more concise whilst taking certain aspects of the video further.

Using (overly) familiar places, components in an eclectic and discontinuous urban area spanning the old West Riding county.

Using this landscape to examine near pasts, lost futures and dead dreams to understand the wider contemporary social condition.

The work focus’s on two lost futures and the un-locatable present, the condition of the which is largely caused by the loss of the previous, and their haunting presence. The first lost future is that of popular modernism, which died in the latter quarter of the 20th century. The second lost future being the naively optimistic early to mid 1990’s, and its utopianist gaze at the (then) coming new millennium. The un-locatable present, here refers to a specific intensification of life under digital capitalism, looking at the severe disorientation of the passing of time since the 2008 financial crisis.

The video-work and wider, ongoing project has been inspired by the beautifully calm,yet highly politicised films of Patrick Keiller; Mark Fisher’s writings on Hauntology, and Fredric Jameson’s essay on Cognitive mapping. They have also be inspired by my own feelings of loss of narrative and of being out of time, amidst a feverishly neoliberal reality. Indeed the growing weight of this sense of being ‘out of time’ is what differs the original West Riding-based video-work with The Mary Celeste Project (The Scene of The Crime).

The title of this video refers to an iconic ‘blip’ on the skyline of Barnsley town centre: a building that was abandoned half-way through completion due to the 2008 financial crash, as if the constructors had simply been zapped out of existence, and now exists as a ghost ship upon the inner ring road – haunting us with faded the utopianism of the 1989-2008 exuberant new capitalism. But the title refers to the entire subject of the film; that of a sense of a future that has vanished, leaving an empty shell of itself.

Tuesday, 7 October 2014

Electric Picture House Open (upcoming exhibition)

I will be exhibiting two of my works in the upcoming exhibition, Electric Open 2014, at the Electric Picture House, Congleton, Cheshire.

The exhibition opening times:

10th October – 1st November

10-5pm, Monday to Saturday

Preview Friday 10th Oct 7PM

I will be Exhibiting these works:

The Planet’s Mental Illness (2012)

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Mind Camp (2013)

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Wednesday, 1 October 2014

Recent Mapmaking (2014 so far) part 4

This is the 4th post in a series that I still call psychogeographical maps (or cognitive mapping). Quoting certain sections and using a selection of photographs to widen the project, which at its core still has the intention to be a Cognitive Mapping of Now – aiming to be useful for locating the current socio-political mood, and the psychological impacts of it.
The 1st post can be found here.

The 2nd here

The 3rd here

A collection of the 2014 maps can be found here.

17 September 2014

“[The] train now grinds to an halt of the middle of nowhere [between Sheffield and Meadowhall]. Just sits. Cramped, and overpriced. Old, rickety, late trains – and the ticket conductor has the cheek to ask to inspect everyone’s tickets. Cheated is the feeling; for living outside London; for living in the UK; for living in a privatised world. One thing I do hope is that Scotland vote for independence, and show us how a rail system should be run.”

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20 September 2014

Wakefield to Leeds to Bradford to Halifax to Huddersfield to Leeds to Wakefield

Too tired to make notes…..

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24 September 2014

“Sat outside the flimsy, skeletal, Mary Celeste [as in, never-completed] structure. Talking about the gangsterism prevalent in a lot of small (and large) businesses, [makes] this entire area, much of it urban wasteland, take on an incredibly sinister feel. Bleak, dark, ominous – often a reflection on how the world feels on a whole right now. Men parked in flash cars, [dressed] in suits, suddenly [feel] threatening; like wraiths – guards of this injustice-drenched landscape.”

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29 September 2014

 [In London] Approaching the Brutalist success story ‘The Barbican’. New development (aiming at being incorporated under the Barbican success logo) has hoardings covered in grass imagery. As I look at the Brutalist skyscrapers, perhaps due to this age of incoming third world [level] poverty they conjure that that ‘deep Asian dystopia’ of dark towers hitting a smog-filled sky. The hoarding writing says ["creating Britain's future"]. Yet this (the Barbican) was another era’s future! It feels stolen now – a future only for a very few.”

“Navigating the ‘tributary roads’, hoping they’ll take me to the torrent, over-capacitated, coastal river …The Old Kent Road (the new River Thames, making its way to Dover’s Europort).”

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29 September 2014

“[In New Cross] Feel like if I sat in this once-temporary old haunt for much longer I wouldn’t be able to go up again [as if it was some sort of final resting place – the very strange sensation I got when I temporarily moved down here in the first place]. Trapped in a time bubble like the final episode of Sapphire and Steel.”

[Central London] “Everybody is exercising! [Everybody jogging!] Super Professionals – wired-up to capital. In these places capital has achieved its utopia. Bike shops (designer of course). [Even] exercise shops; toned bodies parading [like window mannequins].”


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Sunday, 28 September 2014

Entombed in Self-Centredness

Being entombed in your own self-centeredness is not at all pleasurable, believe me. It’s a lonely prison cell, where the pass-code for exit is constantly altered, vapourising escape plans.

But the likelihood is, if you’re a decade or so younger than I, you know exactly what I mean already. I can’t be sure I’m right here, but scrolling the Tumblr and Pinterest profiles, it seems that society has produced a 18-24 age group, who a large proportion of seem locked in these aspiration-cum-desperation cells. Poor bastards – that’s how I feel about most of those ten year younger than me.
The cell is like a snow-globe, settled, shook up, settled, and shook up again; as the rebounded echoes of one’s hopes and desires are energised in a tightly sealed space, only for inevitable exhaustion by the inability for this energy to escape and materialise into anything (except art – “everyone’s an artist nowadays!”), and everything settles down into the same inert, cold, dead space; enducing the wasteland of depression.

But I feel wrong even ascribing a wider-social context to this condition. Maybe it feels wrong because at the times I find myself aware of my self-entombment, I am usually feeling at my most alone, alienated, and possessing a freakish, weirdo mind, and thus feeling immense shame. “What a fool I am thinking others are like this – I’m such a screwed up weirdo” (and then the lyrics from Just, by Radiohead, “you do it to yourself, you and no-one else” start pouring into my mind; chit chattering as a fluid of fatalist failure ferments all thought).

Why is shame felt? Why when ‘the downer’ catches you out in the middle of the day, in the middle of town, why is it shame that seems to hang from the flesh, making you feel as exposed as if you were naked?” It may sound ironic but when you’re entombed in self-centeredness you can’t actually locate a self. I don’t mean here, or believe in, the idea of a core person-hood that stays unaltered from birth to death; but I do mean at least a core security construction within a person that they can rely on.
For those entombed in self-centeredness there is nothing to rely on, no place of safety to rest in, when one’s person is attacked or thrown into a disorientating situation. Such a sense of self actually comes from interacting with and feeling part of the world; a secure self comes from that self being able to be porous to all that surrounds it – saturated by it at times.

The entombed self-centered person is envious when they see people touching, hugging, interacting, doing, and building things, seemingly without thought. He/she’s thoughts are always over-thoughts, unnecessarily rebounded contemplations of things that he/she is sure others don’t even contemplate. He/she retreats into depressive-pleasure-seeking every day instead, and the nihilist-pleasure compound of late capitalism yet again seems like the only world, and one he/she increasingly depends on when the external world looks more fucked up by the day. The only solution seems to be to share the burden – but the cell walls seem to respond like vinamold around attempts to escape them. He/she wished they could build something, join hands and build something. But art is the only thing the entombed self-centered person can produce; cave paintings, mere images of the world, painted within the cell.

Is this a externally-enduced condition that has then freed itself from it’s causation, only leaving the atomised self to answer for problems that arise? Well, surely under a dominant belief system that negates society for the individual when it comes down to success, achievement, wealth, well surely the opposite (perceived shortcomings) cannot help but becoming the individual’s burden?

Personally speaking, I have found myself caught between academia and personal experience, and find myself merely hoping my personalised analysis is somehow spotted and incorporated by one of the professionals into their own theoretical discourse – X Factor society or what?! (see here). I have found myself within a constructed reality that is way beyond comprehension for me (just hoping the theorists I quote can pick my unseen blogging-batton up). It is certainly a political issue, but explaining this to friends/family (to anyone) when the shit hits the fan (mentally) – as it is clearly doing right now – has proven unsuccesful so far. Where do I go from here?

Thursday, 25 September 2014

Images of Work from Recent Exhibitions

Over the past 2 week I’ve had my works in two exhibitions:

In Unity Hall Launch exhibition in Wakefield I exhibited The Place of Dead Ends, The Index For Child Well-being and Whilst We Were All In The Eternal Now…

And in Our Corner: Art as Political Expression, at Bank Street Arts in Sheffield, I exhibited …Coils Tightening

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Wednesday, 17 September 2014

Recent Mapmaking (2014 so far) part 3

This is the third post in a series that I still call psychogeographical maps (or cognitive mapping). Quoting certain sections and using a selection of photographs to widen the project, which at its core still has the intention to be a Cognitive Mapping of Now – aiming to be useful for locating the current socio-political mood, and the psychological impacts of it.

The 1st post can be found here.
The 2nd here
A collection of the 2014 maps can be found here.


6 September 2014

“Homeless man [near bus station, Leeds], head tucked into jacket (probably soaked by the rain earlier on). He looks beaten [by life]. Strangely I never expect to see homelessness on a weekend. Has the 9-5 logic fooled me into thinking that homelessness isn’t a never-ending job?”

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7 September 2014

“Around Wharncliffe, the displaced huge rocks, the tall, dark pine trees, and the almost monster-like pylons, make for an unusual and eerie landscape. A feeling of ‘something’s not quite right’ fits with my [current] feeling for a need for erasure or [momentary] disappearance”.

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8 September 2014

“Realise with dismay that today is the day when Peak Hour rail prices are extended [by Northern Rail, meaning that I have to pay them if I travel after work now. Due to this, which just feels extortionate, and the increasing presence of ‘rail guards’ stopping you and asking to see your tickets (sometimes almost frog-marching people who just haven’t been able to get a ticket yet to the ticket desk), it is beginning to feel like this private company is harassing people already struggling to make ends meet, and seeing their earnings diminished. Yet I feel like I have to keep my mouth shut, because someone could always remind me that I haven’t attended a protest against it all yet (even though I haven’t had the chance yet)”.

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9 September 2014

“Walk right, off The Moor high street. Barely anyone around already (at 6pm). A black male stumbles [just] in front of me, leaving a trail of smoke from something he’s smoking. He isn’t wearing any shoes, and at times looks as though he’s about to fall to the ground, but then seems to walk OK again. He looks like he’s broken down in life. Across from him a white male [sat in a doorway] who looks homeless clutches a can of strong beer. “It looks like America” is what I think to myself; a social space and people within it laid to waste by the cruel level of inequality we usually now – thanks to less rose-tinted US dramas – associate with the United States”.

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16 September 2014

“Not sure why, but this area, the [hilly] former mill area of West Yorkshire, feels like coming home. Maybe it’s due to a mythical construction of home [as in 'the north'] I learned from being a child. Or maybe it is because this area is [topographically, and settlement-wise] almost like an exaggerated version of where I grew up, so that it [this area] is laden with signifiers of early identity-forming?”

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16 September 2014

“Looking at all the windows of the apartments lit up in the tall buildings, as the train leaves the station. I’m reminded about what lures me to cities; the promise of life, of people, of things happening. Yet they [cities] never fulfil the promise the lights seem to offer, at least not in neoliberal Britain. They always frustrate”.

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