Wednesday, 16 April 2014

Upcoming Solo Exhibition: Just The Noise…

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Gathering together 5 years’ work centered around large scale pen drawings; landscapes that depict the human condition pitted against the huge environmental, social and existential threats of the 21st century. A noise that fills everything.

Opening night Friday 16 May, 6:30 – 9PM

Saturday 17 May – Thursday 22 May 2014


Gage Gallery, KIAC, The Lion Works, 40 Ball Street, Kelham Island, Sheffield, S3 8DB

Tuesday, 15 April 2014

The La’s (album), and the plight of a working class city at the end of history

I first listened to The La’s’ self-titled (and only) studio album when 18, in 2002, originally surprised to find that the album wasn’t full of ‘sunshine pop’ tracks, as expected due their only chart success ‘There She Goes’ being the only track I’d heard by them until then – at a time of my life still largely under the influence of The Stone Roses’ self-titled (and the arguably only valid) studio album. Yet, since then, the more I listen to The La’s, the more I feel it embodies a crucial and tragic moment in British social history. To generalise in terms of class, I feel it embodies the defeat of the working class, purposely set upon with a neoliberal agenda imposed by Thatcherism, played out here in the desperate and tragic plights of individuals. By the end of this decade (the 1980′s) what was happening in the UK had been part of a larger ‘alteration’ of the world, as capitalism asserted itself as triumphant over all other social systems. A port-city band, The La’s truly sound like shards of once valuable flotsam, washed up on the beach at the end of History.

The album was released in 1990, although the songs were written and recorded throughout the previous 3 years. 1987 to 1990 was a symbolic moment. This was the point when the idea of history as a process towards universal emancipation ended; the crucial point being in November 1989 when the tearing down of the Berlin wall came to symbolise what the American philosopher Francis Fukuyama had termed ‘the end of history’ – that we had reached the zenith of social progress, that we couldn’t move beyond capitalist liberal democracy, as the fall of this wall was a clear indication that the half-century long communist systems in Eastern Europe were crumbling. However, little did Fukuyama know at the time how this soundbite would become a self-fulfilling prophecy.
Regarding British popular culture, 1989 was also the year when the Stone Roses released their (now) far better know self-titled album – going through a similar process of taking the previous years to formulate and The La’s (album). As with The La’s, their self-titled album is the band, making both albums works of art rather than releases made merely to please managers and fans (even Theodor Adorno may have warmed to them).

Why compare these two albums? Because they were both formulated and released in this historically crucial period; they are both incredibly revered albums; they were both born out of two once world cities, neighbouring cities, that were both suffering severely by this period (Liverpool and Manchester). The Stone Roses’ album has become synominous with so-called British working class culture (especially retroactively, and often crudely so), whilst I feel The La’s’ album embodies the destruction of that very class. That the eventually-obvious desperation in the songs is so relevent to our situation in 2014, when the majority are forced to compete against each other, in this neoliberal race to the bottom.

“Give me some money, as I’m right in a hurry, to find a way out of this” (Way out).
 
The musical scene that involved The Stone Roses, had a Utopian essence (an essence now seen as naive and now only deployed at retro discos), even (dare I say it? yes I do) a neo-communist impulse in the wake of the collapse of Soviet Communism in Eastern Europe. Yet with The La’s it was a social realism essence, one which they were evidently trying to climb out of. I feel that now, the further we move beyond the late 80′s/early 90′s, the less the Stone Roses (album) seems to embody the real social mood under the haze of then naive feel-good 1990′s optimism, and the more the La’s album seems to relate to the really-existing social reality underneath all that hyperbole, which is why I feel it agrees so much with the present mood, when nobody can believe in the 1990′s vibe anymore.

If you know what’s good for you, then you know what you can do, just don’t go down, don’t go down” (Doledrum).

Whilst the style of The Stone Roses, and the larger ‘Madchester’ scene (with which they are heavily associated) looked casual in the sense of cool, relaxed and free to do what one pleases, the look of The La’s (in the images in the album’s booklet and the surrounding period) look casual in terms of ‘casual labour force’. They look like a group of young proletarianised young men, who look like they’re waiting around for work at the docks, or whom had just been laid off – having to become accustomed to work becoming less available. It makes one think of the famous social realist 1980′s drama based in Liverpool, boys from the Blackstuff, “a powerful depiction of the despair of unemployment in the early 1980′s” . The La’s, particularly Lee Mavers, look harsh and tired (although probably more directly caused by his then addiction problems), and they seem to be carrying the weight of their troubled city on their shoulders, as if Joy Division’s Ian Curtis’ (near-enough) final lyrics “here are the young men, the weight on their shoulders” were a prophetic vision of the working class man ten years down the line. Liverpool by the end of the 1980′s; battered, suffering mass unemployment, exodus on a scale not seen in any other British city (“Liverpool’s population in 1994 was estimated at 474,000, just 60 percent of the 789,000 in 1951″ – View From A Train, Patrick Keiller, 2012) with the Tory government happy to consign it to ‘managed decline’ (god, I mean, they must have hated the city, what with its intelligent, un-shy prole sensations the Beatles, and its massive Irish ancestry, among other things – let’s get rid of it!). For me, even the soap drama Brookside (which began in the 1980′s) belongs to this weight on their shoulders; when the soap was gritty, realist, and unafraid to tackle “difficult issues”, before it died whilst trying to meet teen-targeting soap Hollyoaks half way.







The album is largely overlooked in favour of the most radio/retro-bar/spotify-friendly track ‘There She Goes’, which is to be expected, as this song fits to a picture of ‘care-free fun and sunshine times’ once separated from the album, nor do any of the album songs even satisfy the ‘death drive’ impulse which welcomes Joy Division’s music to the dance floor. Yet it is arguable that Joy Division’s “Nihil Rebound” (Mark Fisher, k-punk) foresaw the desperation that would infect The La’s’ melodies ten years later. Yet anybody can hear that The La’s obviously owe very little musically to the post-punk movement which Joy Division (inspite of their appeal to the eternal-ness of meloncholia) will always be associated. the La’s owe far more to the 1960′s, which arguably, due to The Beatles, and the Mersey Beat, Liverpool dominated.

Arguably the entire new musical culture of the late 80′s, early 90′s looked back to 1960′s. I don’t just mean The Stone Roses, but also the rave scene, because beyond the “fake music VS real (guitar music)” prejudice, rave music shares the same leanings as the 1960′s towards the “peace/love” mantra and psychedelics as a freeing up of the mind.

The ‘looking backwards’ shouldn’t be confused with the ‘retrophillia’ of our (non)times. In the late 80′s it was used to build with (towards a new horizon, now the walls had fallen), whereas now it is used to hide with (from the giant political, environmental and existential issues we now face). However, the motives that make The La’s look back feel very different to those of The Stone Roses and rave, and this is where they hold up the mirror the stark reality. To me the La’s’ stripped back melodies speak of the rising (largely) working class counter-culture, a rising Liverpool looking forward (like many of the industrial cities being regenerated in the post-war era) of the 1960′s, just as they were being systemically finished off by Thatcherism and the self-fullfilling ‘reality-enforcer’ that became the ‘the end of history’ theory.

The last two songs (forgetting the additional bonus tracks on all rereleases) on The La’s, are the climax of this desperation, perhaps suggesting that individual(ised) failure for the majority is rarely escapable. The track Failure takes a simple rock and roll format and takes it to the doors of most desperate accounts of individual proletarian failures in the Joy Division tracks ‘Novelty’ and ‘Isolation’.

“So you open the door with a look on your face, your hands in your pockets and your family to face. And you go downstairs and you sit in your place…”

Tensions in families pushed to their limits by an imposed economic reality that many just couldn’t/cannot ‘climb out of’. For me, these lyrics bring to mind Jarvis Cocker’s assertion that people from the more privileged ‘classes “will never understand” because they will “never fail like common people”. So much weight on the shoulders of those who’s ability to climb out of misery of poverty has so many odds against it; never enough energy to maintain the confidence to ‘succeed’. How can you not hear the above lyrics and think of the past 30 years through ‘The Boys From The Blackstuff’, the rising number of homeless on our streets, and the panic at the back at most of our minds about what the hell we’ll do if this current but precarious job position you hold suddenly becomes ‘surplus to requirements’?

For me, what we lost at this crucial ‘end of history’ point’ is now often found in cultural artifacts that were lost or (I would argue) misread during the hyperbole that lasted out till 2008. The last track Looking Glass is no ‘I am The Resurrection’, ‘Champagne Supernova’; no anthem to a ‘working class revelry’. The Looking Glass’ backing vocals repeat the line “sail away on the airwaves” from a previous album track. As the music speeds, and Mavers begins to sound manic, it is like the crash-landing of all that’s been before, like the life of a collective (a population, a class, a city) flashing before your eyes, smashing into unidentified flotsam on the shoreline at the end of history. They certainly shouldn’t be dismissed as just another ‘lad-culture’ band.

(Additional: If I sound like I’m writing as if I’m a Liverpudlian, when I’m clearly not, it’s because, coming from South Yorkshire, I have long felt there to be some affinity connecting both places. perhaps due to them being places suffering similar degrees of devastation in the wake of Thatcherism. I remember a scenario whilst on holiday in St Ives, Cornwall (not yet in my teens). A liverpudlian (who I think I recall saying was down there working on a boat), sat next to my family in a pub, and who, slightly intoxicated, began asserting how badly Liverpool, and Liverpudlians had been treat by the rest of the country, and that nobody understands what it’s like (for them). My dad, who had been unemployed at the time of the 1984 Miners’ strike (which affected caused major upheaval for our area), but who by the 1990′s had managed to get himself a degree, and then a teaching job, which lifted us out of poverty (and allowed us to take holidays in Cornwall), argued that we knew ‘exactly what it was like’, as our area had been treat in largely the same way).

Tuesday, 1 April 2014

Yes, Spent indeed

Just a few thoughts on JD Taylor’s article Spent: capitalism’s growing problem with anxiety. It’s anything but a comphrensive analysis. But I thought it best these small notes being shared rather than being forgotten about, as so many of my notes/thoughts-on essays do.

Spent: capitalism’s growing problem with anxiety is all incredibly agreeable; along with Mark Fisher she (although, with apologies, I thought JD Taylor was a he whilst reading her book Negative Capitalism - perhaps because, I unconsciously-genderised, and fitted it with my own experience so much that I instinctively thought it was by a man) puts the issue of the mental illness epidemic right at the door of neoliberal financial capitalism. But there was one particular part, under the subtitle Anxiety Machines that generated the “yeah-I’m-glad-someone-else-thinks-this” reaction in my head.
A rise in the cases of allergies, and obsessive compulsive disorders over the past half decade. Yes, I’ve been keeping a eye-that-often-wishes-it-could-be-blind on this too. A Psychosomatic whirlwind, where fakery and truth are no longer discernable – neoliberal financial capitalism makes us anxiety machines.

“These might all be conditions of modern life: rates of allergies like hayfever and eczema in the UK population have risen to 44% in 2010, whilst rates of depression have similarly soared. Rising recorded levels of these ailments may signal a greater awareness and ability to self-diagnose these conditions, one could argue; but this alone doesn’t sufficiently explain why anxiety disorders began rising first of all. Anxiety and fear are psychological marks of domination in all social structures, but a specific anxiety and fear emerges in financial capitalism through the accelerating demands and pressures of working and living in the neoliberal era. Greater insecurity in the workplace or school leads to an intensification of individual failure that is also manifested in the growing trend of bullying, which further reinforces the cycle of stress, depression and suicide. I think this insecurity is also expressed through the very media used to communicate and function in everyday life. By this I mean the intensification of information technologies into domestic and personal life, what Paul Virilio calls a ‘tele-present’ world. From home computing for leisure, to the Internet, hand-held communication devices, and social networking sites, in the last two decades there has been an unprecedented intensification of technologies that continuously connect users to hyperactive news streams and a disembodied form of social interaction, whose psychosocial norms deserves deeper analysis.” JD Taylor. 

If one could describe neoliberalism as a project, could it not be described as the darkest of psychological experiments imposed on a human being? Seriously, imagine a participant in a scientific experiment, (perhaps an adult from the 1950′s/1960′s) donning head-gear that simulates a neoliberal society, perhaps inducing an accelerated state (like in a dream) so that they feel acclimatized to it in no time at all. Then, is it not entirely plausible to imagine their body language changing, with an increase in nervous twitches, an increase in anxious self-analysing and diagnosing? Take a look around you (and a long look at your own habits), is not the case that in workplaces, city streets, and on the social media interface, that there has been a sharp increase in anxiety-ridden behaviour in the past half decade since neoliberalism was ‘doubled-up’ in response to its dramatic failure?

Is the sharp rise due to this double-dosage? Or is it just one part in a revving up of the then less-intense general problems of pre-crash neoliberalism, that most of us (if we’re truthful) thought would go away, as we used to feel about climate change, and the stop-start-stop-start escape from low paid jobs that Ivor Southwood termed ‘Non-Stop inertia‘? Come-what-may, I think it is wise not to dismiss anyone in our lives who seem to be ensnared by life-restricting issues as ‘moaners’, ‘pessimists’ or even ‘fakers’; I think that where we stand right now, we can all potentially be classed as sufferers of mental disorders without any wild exaggerations. As I said above, just look around, and give yourself a long hard look.

Tuesday, 25 March 2014

Better quality images of 'Progress...' (2013/14)

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Progress…
I’d prefer not to have to state that this title is meant to have an irony to it, but I probably need to, as part of the reason I chose it is because if it was used for a similarly-composed landscape drawing made 50-70 years ago I believe the title could have been used without irony – and legitimately-so. Today, however, capitalist growth no longer has energies, which were usually oppositional, incorporated in it or pulled alongside it, that could fuse capitalism’s energies with progress, making for a better civilisation.
ImageThe opposite could be said to be true, since we moved firmly into this era of global financial capitalism, legitimised by neoliberal (market fundamentalist) theory. A relentless eroding-away of the social contract that was built up over the last two centuries in the first industrial states to protect individuals from the extremes of capitalism’s boom/bust cycles and market dynamics. Alongside this is an almost universal disintegration of a picture of a future worth inhabiting (something that wasn’t the case in capitalist societies 50-70 years ago), as the violence of profit-thirsty growth brings human life into conflict with itself, the environment, and internally, through the invisible mental illness epidemic.

The upwards-driven spiral in this drawing is two things at once. First of all it is an imaginary chronology of capitalism on planet earth, violently veering off a path made-steady by social and civic idealist demands and onto a hyper (‘feral’) capitalist path, severing its ties from reality, whilst dragging us all along with it. As, even though this is clearly a critique of what capitalism produces (and reduces things to), looking back at where this ‘break’ from what before occurred (at a series of points during the 1970′s and early 1980′s), I really do think that, despite the horrors its ‘invisible hand’ induced during the previous centuries, if we had transcended it at this stage, humanity could have taken stock of the then zenith of material plenty under capitalism, and said “we wouldn’t have what we have now without it, but now it is time to go beyond capitalism” (pretty much along the lines of what Karl Marx meant, that capitalism was the best thing and the worst thing to happen to humanity).

But at this very moment when I firmly believe profit-motivated dynamics were no longer needed, (at least here in the west) a progressive program should have been introduced to help us beyond capitalism (and according to Doreen Massey, what is forgotten by history is that there was plenty of ideas about how to do this). However, a trick was played on social evolution. And in hindsight we can see that although individuals were demanding more autonomy and individual freedom, we (to use a Will Self analogy) had “accepted a Trojan horse” gift; the ruling class had staged an ambush. This isn’t conspiracy theory: it’s about one class (the ruling class) working collectively to regain the ability to organise society in the way they thought it needed to organising. What we thus received was an even more ruthless, sociopathic capitalism, with diminishing social alternatives standing in its way, globally.
The second thing this upwards spiral shows is the social and environmental gradient, that gets harsher and more brutal towards the bottom, where so much is reduced to waste, both in economical and ecological meanings of the word. The protestant work-ethic has an increasingly religious grip over us (a violent dislike of the unemployed has emerged); it isn’t a coincidence that this is happening the same time as so many human beings are becoming surplus to needs of capitalism, no longer needed to exploit their labour, and are falling from all security nets towards an existence of utter destitution and state-sanctioned repression. As economist Guy Standing pointed out in his talk at the Leeds Tetley gallery, the UK Tory MP, Iain Duncan Smith (a figurehead for this extreme enforcement of the religion of work, work, work) has in speeches more or less repeated the same words that, written in German, were above the gates of one of western civilisation’s most extreme outcomes: “arbeit Macht Frei” (“work makes you free”), which was above the entrance to the Auschwitz death camp. But, without forgetting that the vulnerable/voiceless always get smashed first in such a system (the poor, the minorities, plant and animals life), let us not forget, that with total collapse of civilisation, which the dynamics currently driving will sometime no doubt lead to, no one is spared; all in this drawing are vulnerable, eventually, within this upwards spiral.

Up is also down in this drawing. The system, as much as it accelerates – faster and faster , also just accelerates entropy. It only reproduces itself as it drags everything crashing down to a primordial ‘dustland’. Capitalism works fine, whilst putting everything else into crisis, until there is nothing left to put into crisis. Indeed, the only buildings/objects visible in the ‘dustland’ within this drawing are icons from a time when civilisation could be said to be progressing – when our past believed in a future; space shuttles from a time when our frontier was space and not the inverted privatisation of our biology; symbols of times when an alternative world seemed on the horizon; towers and buildings for cities for citizens rather than cities for finance and elites.

The use of red pen colour always seems appropriate when depicting a landscape that shows a civilisation/a humanity/a planet running out of time. Perhaps it makes me think of the ‘red planet’ – Mars; earth’s next door neighbour in the Solar System. Mars is certainly a red barren ‘dustland’ and is also what the originator of the Gaia hypothesis, James Lovelock, argues could be the fate of planet earth if we make it so that earth’s co-operating eco-systems are no longer able to enable that thing we we call ‘the living planet’.

In fact, keeping in tune with the talk of Space and the planets here, you could interpret progress… as capitalism (and the generations of humans at its mercy) embodied as a space shuttle; elevating itself on the planet’s stored-up energies; veering off track and dragging  life (displaced and dismembered) with it, needing it as it bleeds it, like ripping a plant from the soil and then leaving it on the surface to starve of nutrients as ‘surplus to requirements’. And then add to this the powerful instrumental music piece evoking time speeding up, and then crashing, from Pink Floyd’s The Dark Side of The Moon, which will forever be the music that reminds me of the conception of this drawing, and you’ll maybe know, more or less where I’m coming from.



Strivers (no2)


Wednesday, 19 March 2014

On the news about 35 trees being destroyed in anger by somebody in an area nearby.

http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-england-south-yorkshire-26629673

Lots of misplaced rage round these parts. They don’t even know why they’re so fucked off. So they enact it on those who are weaker or whom cannot answer back. Bubbling frustration from a sense of injustice in life. But growing rage that has no object of blame, so it picks the weakest/or that which cannot answer back in a society that exemplifies this everywhere, implicitly .The difference is that some of us, for some reason or another, learn not to take it out on those weaker than us, even if we do not understand what is causing our frustration (my argument is that some people never find an environment in which to think for themselves, and never move beyond the bullying-culture of secondary school). I also find it hard to contain my frustration at times, sometimes inanimate objects are regrettably smashed, but trees bring nothing but benefits to areas, and, even though I don’t do any guerrilla tree planting anymore, I keep eagle eyes on those trees I once planted, eager for them to evade the gaze of misdirected rage.

I don’t think there’s ever been a time when British didn’t have a strong leaning towards taking it out on those weaker; the film Kes, from 1969, (based on the book Kestrel for a Knave) was filmed in the very same parts of Barnsley as this news story – the protagonist, a scrawny young man with unresponsive to his expected lowly role in society, is repeatedly picked on and bullied by those around him who are clearly internally suppressed by these same social roles that have encased them; even in this historical period when Britain was as equal a society as it has so far been (the post war period).
Also, the aspects of our culture that takes things out on those weaker/who can’t answer back seems to increase under a Conservative government. With their ascendancy to power there always returns the nastier elements of society that we thought we’d left behind, in fact any illusions of social progress are instantly forgotten once they return to power – although New Labour’s championing of ‘multiculturalism’ (and other easy targets like in an hierarchical society) was always going to feel like a con whilst they pursued a Thatcherite economic agenda that continued the economic and social conditions that stoke frustrations and their cry for a violent outlet.

It doesn’t surprise me that we see random outbursts of rage; the “fuck it, let’s smash things up for no reason” always has a reason, it’s just that reason is often not known to whoever is doing it. Last week I was basically bullied off the road as I was walking back from work on a country lane. Part of the reason was that I too find myself very frustrated and angry about things at the moment (the state of the world in general, and also a feeling of my sense of self worth being driven over in the mud, as the violence aimed at self worth in a deeply hierarchical society such as Britain is often very hard to rise above), and being somebody who walks a lot in a nation dominated by cars, a frustration does build up against road bullies who marginalise the pedestrian further.

So, when an angry van driver sped past me, throwing verbal abuse at me through his window, seemingly because I was in his way as I walked down the correct side of a country lane, my anger burst out also, and I threw verbal abuse back at him. However, he pulled his van to a halt, and then started reversing towards me. Despite my own outburst of rage, I am not a confrontational person, and there was not one bone inside of me that wished to find out how he was about to react, so I started running. Eventually he stopped reversing and drove off. He “had won”, he had bullied me, and I had run away. Of course it was far wiser for me to run, than to wait for an outcome with somebody in control of a 3 tonne vehicle. But this is exactly the way things work in a society when lots and lots of people are frustrated and don’t why; the weakest are easy targets for bullying. To him, in the mist of his anger, I was a relatively soft-looking man, with glasses on; he wanted an outlet for his rage, and I was a safe bet. Just like those 35 trees at the other side of the borough.

This of course isn’t the whole story for what causes depressing acts of vandalism. And sometimes when I’m so angry about things myself, from within the red haze I wish to advise people to redirect their longing to smash things up closer to sources from where the pain is being dealt out. However, I usually refrain in fear in being arrested for in-sighting riots in an age of information surveillance. Also, as we have seen with those who go smashing up the windows of banks and the stores of tax-avoiding corporations (if not agent provocateurs themselves), it is only used by the right wing media to instill a fear into the rest of us to be ever more obedient to a social organistion that causes such frustration in the first place.

Sunday, 16 March 2014

The Parasites of Pessimism

Due to recent thoughts I felt the need to both reference and praise the artist/documentary-maker Patrick Keiller’s 1994 film London; a filmed about a journey through London, which forms a beautiful protest and desire for Justice in a time of loss of belief in a future



Although it should be a suggested alternative watch to Mind The Gap: London vs The Rest, the ‘documentary I criticised on here a week back, I am referring to it here largely due to recent concerns I have been sharing with friends that the Tories may somehow be reelected. This current government [the coalition by name, an unelected Tory coup by nature) thrive off apathy, our sense that there's nothing we can do.The more apathetic we become, the more powerful they. They are parasites of pessimism.

I reject the idea that I am a pessimist: I am incensed with the injustice in the world/forced to look at what is happening to the world because I cannot stop caring. Pessimism is when you don't care any more. I may focus on the what's going wrong, rather than how things could be better, but this isn't because I don't care or desire for things to be better. My heart often feels like it is slowly turning to stone, but yet there still remains a utopianism within me.

Of those I've been speaking to we know our society well enough to understand why it may support something that can only maintain/enhance the silent miseries and frustrations; a resignation to all outside our family units and a bizarre fearful distrust in anything that could promise to make life better for us. Yet it remains baffling and relatively impossible to articulate why this happens. Yet this film uses a journey through London to almost map out a diagnosis of the illness stunting society. The real-felt consequences of the re-election of the Conservatives is well illustrated by the worried anticipations of the narrator and Robinson (whose life the art-documentary is based around) on the days surrounding the 1992 Tory reelection. Furthermore, I feel this description  that I have used below must be familiar to most of us in contemporary Britain, if we are honest with ourselves, regardless of how 2014 compares to 1992.

[pre-election] “I expected the [Tory] government would be narrowly defeated, but Robinson did not trust the opinion polls, which were in any case showing a last minute drift away from Labour…[post election]. It seemed there was no longer anything a Conservative government could do to vote it out of office. …[T]he middle class in England had continued to vote Conservative because in their miserable hearts they still believed it was in there interest to do so.” 

[The expected consequences] “His [Robinson's] flat would continue to deteriorate, and his rent increase; he would be intimidated by vandalism and petty crime; the bus service would get worse; there would be more traffic and noise pollution, and an increased risk in getting knocked down crossing the road; there would be more drunks, pissing in the street when he looked out of the window, and more children taking drugs on the stairs as he came home at night; his job we be at risk, and subjected to interference; his income would decrease; he would drink more, and less well; he would be ill more often; HE WOULD DIE SOONER” (London, Patrick Keiller, 1994)

I’m no defender of New Labour (I hate the small-minded arguments that try to pit the two parties together as being the full scope of possibilities of how our society could function), but I have definitely noticed many changes since 2010 (since the Tories got back into power), in the news, in the street, in my friends’ lives, in my life, that chime with the description above. The increase in cars on the road – as if somehow the increased psychological pressure of a more harsh, unforgiving, yet deliberately imposed reality onto people, has pushed us into using the form of transport most naturally at home with self-centredness – a pessimism reinforcing itself; as we no longer even dare contemplate the environmental consequences of this anymore. I am always expecting violence, self-inflicted and aimed at others; the nearby city of Sheffield seems to have had an increase of both homeless individuals; in my home town Barnsley, individuals evidentially being crushed by this imposed reality, due to the often-seen inability for rage to be controlled, whether it is aimed at others, or at themselves. I sometimes wonder whether we are a society of taught masochists wanting pain from the public school boy sadist-rulers. But there again, anybody who hasn’t become the ideal-functioning man-capital, must be wondering how much more they can hide from, and whether they will be in-front of the crusher sometime soon. How much can a “miserable heart” take, before it retaliates?

Tuesday, 11 March 2014

My books from the past 6/7 years of doing exhibitions/keeping blogs

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I now have a collection of books from the past 6/7 years of doing exhibitions/keeping blogs, that are available here http://www.blurb.co.uk/user/store/ledgefromkec

Something in The Way

There is something in the way that prevents me from reaching a wider philosophical enlightenment, and beyond what I thought was just a stage of melancholic existence; much desired (and much-needed), it feels like the inevitable next step that is forever delayed.

For some years now my belief is that the ‘something in the way’ is capital. I claim it is beyond doubt that It has an invisible, yet over-determining presence in every one of life’s equations, and thus cannot be subtracted from any given equation. Anybody who thinks this claim is wildly exaggerated should pause and try to think of any given moment in our lives that is free of conflict with its demands, or is motivated by its demands, or both.

For this reason, the philosophical approach(es), of ‘oneness’ (or ‘wholeness’), the spiritualist pleasure in seeing ourselves as part of everything else (largely associated with traditional Eastern and Native American thought), remain very nice ideas but distant and intangible, and my philosophy is bound to partisan chains. yet, I do not mean partisan in the usual sense of ‘I am against this person/group/class, etc’. Although my philosophy is naturally in conflict with interests with an investment the dominant power structure (whether delusional or real investments), it is a condition of being partisan that is directed against a something (the intangible something of capital), rather than a specific person/group/class who, after all, are also subjected to the same real of capital, whether they have it great, riding high, jet-setting across the globe, or are enduring the most brutal exploitation.

The use here of a Nirvana song title (not The Beatles!) for this blog title isn’t a random act, if you see a major factor in the front-man Kurt Cobain’s self-destruction as a philosophical deadlock which was caused by the existential-assault of late capitalism’s ability to turn any sublime artistic endeavour of his into a money-spinning turn (almost seemingly achieved faster than the artist endeavour was achieved); propelling him to stardorm whilst compromising and fucking over his very existence.
Mark Fisher, in Capitalism Realism (2009), argued that Kurt Cobain/Nirvana arrived too late, that he (Nirvana) fitted well the integrity, genuine liberatory spirit of the counter-cultural pop music of the 60′s and 70′s. But by the time Nirvana arrived, the future such a counterculture demanded had been canceled out (or, at least hijacked by other forces); “the high existential angst of Nirvana belongs to an older moment”, leaving Cobain to “objectless rage”, leading tragically to inflected rage and eventually to self-destruction.

“In his dreadful lassitude and objectless rage, Cobain seemed to give wearied voice to the despondency of the generation that had come after history, whose every move was anticipated, tracked, bought and sold before it had even happened. Cobain knew that he was just another piece of spectacle, that nothing runs better on MTV than a protest against MTV; knew that his every move was a cliché scripted in advance, knew that even realizing it is a cliche”.Mark Fisher, Capitalist Realism (2009)

But this so-called ‘end of history’ (Francis Fukuyama) shoreline that Nirvana washed up on, like a rare thing thought to no longer exist, well, maybe it did at least bear some resemblance to he realised desires of counterculture from the previous decades? I think it makes sense to say that a lot of what has constituted life, in an era generally referred to as postmodern, had at least the objective appearance of the realisation of the ideals sought-after by the counter-cultural/progressive forces prior to this age (at least in the countries designated ‘Western). Yet, inspite of this resemblance, the subjective experience of this era has had a consistent dread, and depression, that wouldn’t go away, due to the ever-faster-swimming ‘something in the way’ of capital – an invisible evil spirit that couldn’t be exorcised. And perhaps this ‘something in the way’ ruined a space in time when it could have actually worked out?

I do not think the quality of life (for most people) can be improved until this ‘something in the way’ is rooted out. For this the reason I remain highly critical of the advice (sometimes given when you’ve not even asked for it) that change can only come from within. I am always suspicious of this, especially as it can often come across as self-gratifying smugness, as if the advice-giver had found a key that allows them exist with gravity-less-ease, untouched by the ‘blockages-to-Being’ that, for me, constitute more than less of our (21st century) waking lives. My cognitive mapping cannot move beyond there being a ‘blockage-to-Being’ that remains external, and, more so, that this external thing is continuously bearing down heavier, making less rather than more possible. 

Maybe my cognitive mapping has a damaged receptor, maybe it is ‘entirely subjective’. But for me this is too easy, I have always felt my subjective mapping to have been constituted by the objective situation. I feel that Slavoj Žižek is making the same point in his book The Year of Dreaming Dangerously (2012) about the disparate yet totally connected sparks of revolt around the world in 2014. Using Marx’s point that the “‘objective’ determinations of reality are at the same time ‘subjective’ thought-determinations (of the subject caught up in this reality)… Žižek says “…the limits of our thoughts, its deadlocks, contradictions, are at the same time the antagonisms of objective social reality itself…”. Žižek often criticises the use of traditional Eastern philosophical practices within contemporary capitalist culture (meditation practices for example), for the way they allow disavowal from the objective reality we exist, and participate in. For me, this simply doubles-up my conviction that such practices, that are closely tied with the advice to “just be”, at best don’t begin to challenge this ‘something in the way’, and at worst advice me to ignore the social reality which constitutes this unshifting feeling.

Maybe we have run out of time to realise the aforementioned ideal, free of this ‘evil spirit, an era that the postmodern could have been? What, with the damage done since then; the necessary carnage dealt by a system that necessitates a culture of hasty resource consumption, resulting in climate scientists confirming a global temperature rise of 2 degrees Celsius is unstoppable now, that it is really about damage limitation now, by trying to work towards making the planet as inhabitable for humans as possible. But to carry on with this something that is hastening all this, whilst compounding an immiserating existential deadlock – well, if I believe anybody is under a massive delusion if they feel they have an investment in such a world. And I think a meditational philosophical approach (to “just be”) to relieve many from this immiserating existential deadlock is practicing denial. Such a philosophy, isn’t the problem (by itself I have no problem with it, nor do I criticise though who do practice it for what it is) but if it is used to advocate forgetting about the problem, it is really no good right now.

Friday, 7 March 2014

On the BBC’S Mind The Gap: London VS The Rest and a general criticism of the BBC

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During a recent relatively-passionate conversation about the rest of country suffering at the expense of London (a subject justifiably broached often in the former industrial heartland of Yorkshire, and no doubt I suspect elsewhere in the UK), somebody, I can’t remember who, said, “well they’re actually doing a documentary on this on the BBC this coming week”, to which there was a shared sentiment of “well, OK,  at least it’s finally being talked about in the mainstream media”. However, when I finally stumbled upon the first edition of Mind The Gap: London VS The Rest on the BBC’s Iplayer service, I found myself initially disappointed, and eventually very frustrated with the ‘documentary’.

First of all, it felt like I was being subjected to a montage of soundbites that I have heard mouthpieces for businesses, hyped-up London-based events, the global market, and all things promoting the capital, utter on news stations throughout the past 10-15 years. I was certainly not hearing anything I hadn’t heard before, yet I was hearing it all again when I’d mistakingly sat in front of a screen hoping also for the other side(s) of this story; meaning, the side of the story that I see daily, not just outside London, but also when I visit London, but that which rarely reaches consciousness in the mainstream discourse; the scattered army of those people and places abandoned underneath the ‘photogenic’ world shown in this ‘documentary’.

This infuriation was stoked by the way dramatic, ‘film-scape’ muzak was layered over the footage. With very little in terms of gaps between the music and soundbite montage, I felt that this documentary was unfortunately quickly sliding into the tragic category of ‘info-tainment’, where so many documentaries languish, completely forgotten in a few months, but not after leaving their sensationalist stains in the collective psyche. It is a sad state of affairs for so many documentaries, which maybe, at some initial idea-forming-point, had integrity behind them, only to have it squeezed out as television producers feel pressured to compete for viewer numbers with mindless entertainment shows, that even when not on at the same time, pressure them into making documentaries as close to seamless titillation as possible (which usually means making people and things into larger than life characters, with either a ‘admirable’ or ‘hateable’ end in sight). When something aiming to be factual is so heavily saturated with the demand to be endlessly entertaining, can it be classed as a documentary? Mind The Gap is by no means the worst offender here, but it still is an offender on these terms.

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The tiny space left to debate the negative consequences of this “phenomenal miracle that is London” (snippets that only appeared three quarters way through) was bad enough, after a 30+ minute championing of the “entrepreneurialist spirit” within the city (at least they did elude to the issue of social exclusion with the ‘redevelopment’ of the Elephant and Castle area just south of the centre – which, I suppose is better than nothing). For me, what was more worry-some, wasn’t the unbalanced representation of the antagonism between London and the rest of the UK (including left-behind-London), but the utter lack, in fact blind ignorance to there being antagonisms against this whole ‘design for life’ full stop. Mind The Gap presented the world as if it was a mostly glitch-less capitalist utopia.

I hope that, like myself, lots of people tuned into this documentary expecting something that opened up serious debate. What we got instead was a self-acclaiming dosage of ‘capitalist realism’ (Mark Fisher, 2009), perhaps most-infuriatingly summed up with Boris Johnson’s trickle-down pseudo-theory soundbite: “that if London keeps getting all the jam, then that jam will spread itself out [naturally] to everywhere else”. The message I received from the program was that “it’s all about competition, entrepreneurialism, market dynamics [god forbid any human activities been motivated by anything else], and we’re doing pretty bloody fine out of it, thank you very much!”.

It doesn’t help that most contemporary documentaries tend to be fronted by narrators who come across more like a ‘star of the show’. Mind The Gap’s narrator, Evan Davis, may be a decent bloke, but here he came across as smug, overconfident – that ‘untouched by the trials of contemporary life’ look so many on the BBC have these days. But this is because the problem here doesn’t lay with the documentary, but the BBC itself, or more than this, the hegemonic culture in the UK that always manages to land the institution back into a neutral position, devoid of agenda/opinion -  as if “it’s the BBC -you’re safe with us”.

I certainly grew up believing this, and I suppose I was fortunate enough to see some of the last of the factual-programs that helped the institution become so highly-regarded, before the onslaught of CGI, muzak, soundbites and all other ‘keep-me-stimulated’ stunts became the norm. Documentaries such as the famous David Attenborough trilogy (Life on Earth, The Living Planet, The Trials of Life, ) helped imprint a belief that the BBC was trustworthy in my mind. Yet, by the 1990′s, I was already watching repeats of these shows, and if in hindsight I dissected the channel, program for program, it would find another story to one that grew in my mind. And by then the emphasis on challenging and critical thinking was on the wane; “Thatcher launched her coup against the BBC … sacked the Director-General Alasdair Milne, replaced him with an accountant and made it clear that the age of rocking the boat was over. Everyone lost their nerve and the message was passed down from on high that you weren’t to do difficult and challenging stuff anymore. My boss called me up one morning and just said “end of show, it’s over…” (George Monbiot, Now Then Magazine, issue 35).

Also before the 1990′s, an incident that had a major impact in my local area had occurred regarding the BBC. The BBC purposely misrepresented the major conflict between the police force and striking miners at Orgreave during the 1984 Miners’ strike, by reversing the footage of the event to show the miners’ starting the violence, when it was in fact the police. The BBC later apologised for this, but the impact of a institution highly held as impartial showing such footage during the heat of the moment meant that there was irredeemable damage done to the case for justice on behalf of the miners. But, perhaps highlighting how strong the belief of BBC impartiality is in UK culture, I keep forgetting they did this; even though I have read, or been told about it time again, it repeatedly slips from mind.

Thus, although my trust in the BBC has been waning for some time now, it has been waning very slowly. I am within this culture, and the established powers within a culture have a lot of investment in letting some things fall from memory. What is repeated on a daily basis becomes as invisible and as naturalised as the air we breath. The UK seems to be especially adept at this. As George Monbiot wrote, regarding the most monstrous but largely forgotten crimes of Britain’s imperial past, whilst Holocaust deniers [for example] “…must engage in strenuous falsification. To dismiss Britain’s colonial atrocities, no such effort is required. Most people appear to be unaware that anything needs to be denied…[that] we British have a peculiar ability to blot out…” our not so rosy history” (Dark hearts, George Monbiot). This has major consequences. And what is shown to us as factual via a broadcasting institution that is instilled into memory as ‘trustworthy’ also has huge consequences. For this reason, if we feel wrongdoing with what the BBC shows, it cannot just be ignored. Its misrepresentations, or ignorance to certain truths on behalf of others (as was the case with this first episode of Mind the Gap) has potentially long-standing consequences for those on the receiving end, or those being ignored all-together. If we see injustices and want things to change, we cannot leave the mainstream to voices that help support these injustices.

Friday, 28 February 2014

Rebuilding The Flattened – new art book





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‘Pancake People’

“…today, I see within us all (myself included) the replacement of complex inner density with a new kind of self evolving under the pressure of information overload and the technology of the “instantly available”. A new self that needs to contain less and less of an inner repertory of dense cultural inheritance — as we all become “pancake people” — spread wide and thin as we connect with that vast network of information accessed by the mere touch of a button. Will this produce a new kind of enlightenment or “super-consciousness”? Sometimes I am seduced by those proclaiming so — and sometimes I shrink back in horror at a world that seems to have lost the thick and multi-textured density of deeply evolved personality.”1 – Richard Foreman

Over the past ten years, the speed of information and the amount of it flowing around, and in and out of us has increased dramatically, and it shows no sign of slowing down. In agreement with Richard Foreman, sometimes I am excited by this new reality, but just as often it gives me a sense of cold “horror”. The dominant belief in our culture is that the more we find out, the more of an understanding we have of our things that matter to make a safer, democratic world. But is this happening with the current way we receive information, where our points of contact with the big issues around the world become mixed up with the points of contact with friends, employers, titillating-trivia and everything else imaginable, until what matters and what doesn’t can often seem undistinguishable in what can feel like living under a waterfall of information?

Rebuilding The Flattened, deals specifically with Twitter. It reels in everything I have ‘Tweeted’ as John Ledger since I joined in March 2012. The aim is to re-imburst them with substance, by bringing all the sentences together and placing them in a space where text isn’t constantly in flux;  to reinvigorate them with memory that has a continuity to it; and if it merely reads a pocket-sized riot of random sentences strung-together to other people, it certainly tells a story to me, reminding me of things I was feeling, and things that were concerning me, that would have otherwise remained forgotten in a cyberspace graveyard.

For me, the prospect of a society of ‘pancake people’ poses an overtly political dilemma: how can we make sense of things, and get keep hold of an understanding of what is the root cause of the problems in the world when, as Franco (Bifo) Berardi says “Subjected to the infinite acceleration of the info-stimuli, the mind reacts with either panic of desensitisation”? 2. Can we really act collectively to counter anti-democratic forces, extreme economic injustices, and climate change whilst we are subjected to this? The problem here is that disconnecting ourselves from cyberspace is neither the solution nor achievable for for most people.

Thus, there is certainly a political motivation behind making this book. A ‘cognitive mapping’3 (Fredric Jameson) of an info-drenched landscape that pulls us all into points of panic and delirium, with the intention of constructing a larger picture of these past years. In many ways this desire is what also motivates my large scale drawings, a way of working which  also more or less spans social media age also. A consistent hope that artistic endeavours contribute to helping us transcend the huge deadlocks civilisation has come up against in the 21st century.


john

Tuesday, 18 February 2014

Progress… (2013/14, biro on paper)

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Progress…
I’d prefer not to have to state that this title is meant to have an irony to it, but I probably need to, as part of the reason I chose it is because if it was used for a similarly-composed landscape drawing made 50-70 years ago I believe the title could have been used without irony – and legitimately-so. Today, however, capitalist growth no longer has energies, which were usually oppositional, incorporated in it or pulled alongside it, that could fuse capitalism’s energies with progress, making for a better civilisation.

The opposite could be said to be true, since we moved firmly into this era of global financial capitalism, legitimised by neoliberal (market fundamentalist) theory. A relentless eroding-away of the social contract that was built up over the last two centuries in the first industrial states to protect individuals from the extremes of capitalism’s boom/bust cycles and market dynamics. Alongside this is an almost universal disintegration of a picture of a future worth inhabiting (something that wasn’t the case in capitalist societies 50-70 years ago), as the violence of profit-thirsty growth brings human life into conflict with itself, the environment, and internally, through the invisible mental illness epidemic.

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The upwards-driven spiral in this drawing is two things at once. First of all it is an imaginary chronology of capitalism on planet earth, violently veering off a path made-steady by social and civic idealist demands and onto a hyper (‘feral’) capitalist path, severing its ties from reality, whilst dragging us all along with it. As, even though this is clearly a critique of what capitalism produces (and reduces things to), looking back at where this ‘break’ from what before occurred (at a series of points during the 1970′s and early 1980′s), I really do think that, despite the horrors its ‘invisible hand’ induced during the previous centuries, if we had transcended it at this stage, humanity could have taken stock of the then zenith of material plenty under capitalism, and said “we wouldn’t have what we have now without it, but now it is time to go beyond capitalism” (pretty much along the lines of what Karl Marx meant, that capitalism was the best thing and the worst thing to happen to humanity).

But at this very moment when I firmly believe profit-motivated dynamics were no longer needed, (at least here in the west) a progressive program should have been introduced to help us beyond capitalism (and according to Doreen Massey, what is forgotten by history is that there was plenty of ideas about how to do this). However, a trick was played on social evolution. And in hindsight we can see that although individuals were demanding more autonomy and individual freedom, we (to use a Will Self analogy) had “accepted a Trojan horse” gift; the ruling class had staged an ambush. This isn’t conspiracy theory: it’s about one class (the ruling class) working collectively to regain the ability to organise society in the way they thought it needed to organising. What we thus received was an even more ruthless, sociopathic capitalism, with diminishing social alternatives standing in its way, globally.

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The second thing this upwards spiral shows is the social and environmental gradient, that gets harsher and more brutal towards the bottom, where so much is reduced to waste, both in economical and ecological meanings of the word. The protestant work-ethic has an increasingly religious grip over us (a violent dislike of the unemployed has emerged); it isn’t a coincidence that this is happening the same time as so many human beings are becoming surplus to needs of capitalism, no longer needed to exploit their labour, and are falling from all security nets towards an existence of utter destitution and state-sanctioned repression. As economist Guy Standing pointed out in his talk at the Leeds Tetley gallery, the UK Tory MP, Iain Duncan Smith (a figurehead for this extreme enforcement of the religion of work, work, work) has in speeches more or less repeated the same words that, written in German, were above the gates of one of western civilisation’s most extreme outcomes: “arbeit Macht Frei” (“work makes you free”), which was above the entrance to the Auschwitz death camp. But, without forgetting that the vulnerable/voiceless always get smashed first in such a system (the poor, the minorities, plant and animals life), let us not forget, that with total collapse of civilisation, which the dynamics currently driving will sometime no doubt lead to, no one is spared; all in this drawing are vulnerable, eventually, within this upwards spiral.

Up is also down in this drawing. The system, as much as it accelerates – faster and faster , also just accelerates entropy. It only reproduces itself as it drags everything crashing down to a primordial ‘dustland’. Capitalism works fine, whilst putting everything else into crisis, until there is nothing left to put into crisis. Indeed, the only buildings/objects visible in the ‘dustland’ within this drawing are icons from a time when civilisation could be said to be progressing – when our past believed in a future; space shuttles from a time when our frontier was space and not the inverted privatisation of our biology; symbols of times when an alternative world seemed on the horizon; towers and buildings for cities for citizens rather than cities for finance and elites.

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The use of red pen colour always seems appropriate when depicting a landscape that shows a civilisation/a humanity/a planet running out of time. Perhaps it makes me think of the ‘red planet’ – Mars; earth’s next door neighbour in the Solar System. Mars is certainly a red barren ‘dustland’ and is also what the originator of the Gaia hypothesis, James Lovelock, argues could be the fate of planet earth if we make it so that earth’s co-operating eco-systems are no longer able to enable that thing we we call ‘the living planet’.

In fact, keeping in tune with the talk of Space and the planets here, you could interpret progress… as capitalism (and the generations of humans at its mercy) embodied as a space shuttle; elevating itself on the planet’s stored-up energies; veering off track and dragging  life (displaced and dismembered) with it, needing it as it bleeds it, like ripping a plant from the soil and then leaving it on the surface to starve of nutrients as ‘surplus to requirements’. And then add to this the powerful instrumental music piece evoking time speeding up, and then crashing, from Pink Floyd’s The Dark Side of The Moon, which will forever be the music that reminds me of the conception of this drawing, and you’ll maybe know, more or less where I’m coming from.

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Friday, 14 February 2014

Climate Change is NOW


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100 years ago war finally broke out between the dominant empires and rising empires of the day. In Britain, war with Germany had been a much-expected, anxiously-anticipated reality right through the 20th century years leading up to 1914 (and these feelings were probably mutual within Germany). Then, one day, it ceased to be a looming threat, and people found themselves actually living through it.

Through the 21st century years leading up to 2014, another kind of pending catastrophe has loomed over our heads, nestling in the back of our minds. “What are we going when climate change begins?” is what you can almost see people silently thinking to themselves. Suddenly we have awoken to find ourselves living through it; climate change is now. The voices in which we place our trust in telling us ‘what’s happening out there’  – news reporters, train station tannoy announcers – are repeating the words “extreme weather” or “adverse conditions” with an increasing frequency. However, it should no longer be seen as being ‘adverse’: this is it; this is the way it is going to be now.

Of course, it has been the reality in other countries, poorer countries in the global south, for some years previous; but over here, although it was on our television screens, and we knew it was happening, we never actually believed it was happening. The belief system/the dominant ideology was still functioning without cracks in its force-field. Because we largely kept the feelings about a looming terror to ourselves, we didn’t realise that everybody else was probably having very similar thoughts; and the mainstream media would report on the environment like an innocent that knew what had just occurred, but without the ability to relate it other occurrences and thus report on why it had occurred. This is what the theorist Slavoj Žižek using the ideas of psychoanalysist Jaques Lacan, refers to as ‘the big other’. ‘The big other’ is an ideological function, where any given individual believes that the other (everybody else) is thinking the opposite. Thus, distrusting our own thoughts, what we believe  (as opposed to what we know) remains in line with what we think everybody else believes – “surely catastrophic climate change can’t really happen to us?”. But Žižek reminds us that ‘the big other’ does not exist. This year, right here in Britain, climate change suddenly seems very real indeed – ‘the big other’ doesn’t exist.

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Something seems wholly different about the world when we step out of our ‘private bunkers’ and onto the streets. It suddenly comes to be recognised as a submerged world. Both literally, as the flood waters show no sign of residing (“will the floods ever leave now?”), and also as an analogy for a world that is suddenly so heavy with ominous anticipation for what may happen from one second to the next. Is there any light left in a submerged world for a soundtrack to run through your head? If so then it is by the artist Burial, the music of exhaustion, let down and loss; people’s heads weighing heavy as they make their way through storm-ravaged city streets. All other music, anger or anxiety-driven, now remains in the anticipatory, but not lived-reality of yesterday’s world.

Societies will adapt when there’s no choice, that’s for sure (or the ruling class, and its state apparatus, who stand in the way of adaptation would find itself at war with the rest of country), but whether individuals within that society are able to adapt psychologically to a new reality remains to be seen. According to Alt Sheffield, in an article in the city-based Now Then magazine about the necessity of growing as much food as possible within a city’s borough: “Britain has only about 3 days’ supply of food at any given time”. But it encouragingly says that “the community-level social interaction of allotments can dramatically improve peoples lives”.

This is just one example of many potential ways in which society would have to adapt. However, I think it remains to be seen whether individuals within a society would find a new reality more fulfilling (where we would have a society with a similar level of well-being to the often-mentioned high level of well-being brought about the necessity of communities pulling together during the big wars of the past) or whether society would be a landscape of beaten people, entombed in a state of painful disappointment and loss; people who had been mentally wired-up with the mores of what Jodi Dean calls ‘cognitive capitalism’, who just cannot transcend the dreamscape that’s been fed into them. This dreamscape is part of an ‘anxiety package’ of drives that keep capitalism legitimate. The package includes acute unhappiness with the way things are, but the unhappiness often becomes a perverse enjoyment from inside the window of the western belief system, and may struggle to deal with itself with the coming collapse of this belief system. This will collapse happen; but it just remains to be seen whether  or not there will be a catastrophic reaction caused by this within many peoples’ lives – what Franco Berardi calls a ‘psychic timebomb’.

All this remains to be seen, and will be seen. Because what is so clear now is that we cannot go back to yesterday’s world.

Thursday, 13 February 2014

Amidst the Ever-Present, there is no past as well as no future

It is becoming clear to me that by desperately trying to collect and ‘itemise’ memories,you end up starving them of life – putting them into something that resembles an expansive yet underused ‘memory museum’ (a collection of dead things). Yet, inspite of this, I remain obsessed with time, captivated by the passing of it, that there is tantamount importance placed on personal memories in my life, almost in a king Canute-style attempt at stopping the flow of time. But I try in vain to stop the flow precisely because life doesn’t seem to move and alter with time anymore. And I think that the reason (which is certainly connected to the political/cultural dead end we’ve found ourselves in) is because the total recording (and instant availability) of all events around which memories form (think, for example, Youtube -a the photo-album of all that’s ever been, or Netflix ) has landed us in an ever-present, where there is no past as well as no future. And within such a reality, the unpreventable decay of all organic things is so much more painful.
It is likely that a major player in the reason why I post my writings on here is possibly the futile desire to make sure my thoughts really do exist upon the melancholy ‘computer world’, where any organic happening, that doesn’t have its computerised stunt-double upon it is threatened with never actually existing anyway. After all, I am still pretty-much an arm-chair thinker, a writer from the ‘lay’ community; having to drop out of a culture studies Masters, and having a pretty weak range of sources from which I quote. This is partly why, even though I write as much as I draw, I pull the writing under the ‘artist umbrella’, from where it will be more accepted, within a ‘specialisation’ I actually completed a degree in.

So then. Recently I felt an urge to track down the Sci Fi cop-drama Ashes to Ashes (the follow-up TV series to the popular Life on Mars) where a woman on the verge of death in 2008 finds herself transported into the early 1980′s – it remaining uncertain whether it is a dream or she really has travelled back in time . My urge to track it down had nothing to do with whether the program was any good or not, but to do with being tempted to preserve the unpreservable: a memory that, during the last 5 years since I was an over-tired armchair-bound spectator of bits of the series, has accumulated not nostalgia but a longing for a feeling from my past to exist now. Originally I saw a clip that contained music by Orchestral Manoeuvres in the Dark (specifically their late 70′s early 80′s music) which prompted me to investigate their music that itself serves as a time-capsule of a past that seemed to be in control of both its present and therefore had anticipation of its future. And the music stuck, became wrapped up with the memories of the show, and many personal feelings from that year (2009).

The inevitable inability of the actual series being able to live up to the memories, prompted me to move onto Life on Mars itself, from where I remembered a rather interesting blog written about the TV series by one of the very theorists I overuse to the extent that my poor range of sources is proven: Mark Fisher’s blogs ‘The Past is an Alien Planet’ and ‘Mitigated Nostalgia‘, written in 2007 about both the problem with Life on Mars and the then new Doctor Who series.

Both shows are nostalgic: Dr Who in trying to resurrect something lodged in British cultural memory of the mid 20th century, in the 2000′s, and Life on Mars in trying to actually resurrect that very time-period on screen. Fisher argues that they do not succeed and gives reason as to why this may be in our non-times when everything that has been recorded, as long as you have constant web access and active web accounts (which, most likely, you do) is more or less always at hand. Fisher wonders, with doubt, whether “the new series of Dr Who, which continues to frustrate and disappoint, will be remembered as the old one was. In the period before re-runs on digital channels and VHS re-issues, the old show existed only in the form of memory, of course. In the case of many of the episodes from the 1960s, long since wiped by the BBC, this remains so”.

Fisher here Places an importance on the difference between memories and the resurrection of every media artifact around which the memories originally grew out of. This began with the availability of VHS/cassette-tape recordings (although cassette recordings had a character specific to each individual tape that none of the following devices for music storage would have) and has thus-far resulted in seemingly being able to track down any media artifact on the web within a minute of memorising it. He refers to Jean Baudrillard’s remarks “that computers do not have memory because they cannot forget” – if everything can be recollected then memory does not exist. But ,frighteningly, “digital memory” is beginning to be used instead of real memory, and, I would argue, a sense of tragedy, ensues.

“These augmented recollections, these re-dreamings, inevitably had the richness that actual episodes, when they were available again, could not match, damaging the reputation of the previously celebrated”. Is Youtube (to pick an example) a memory graveyard (the vitality of the original memory drained the moment it appears online)? Once you know that it is extremely likely that the artifact exists in digital memory on the ‘computer world’ the temptation to seek it out is often too great; the argument not to seek it is very weak, as it is nigh on impossible to practice a life without access to these digital memories.
In this time there is no time, because everything is ever-present. In this context the past can no longer exist, and regarding Life on Mars, Fisher say that it “is a 73 that doesn’t feel lived in. The actual post-psychedelic, quasi-Eastern Bloc seediness of the 70s is unretrievable; kitsch wallpaper and bell bottoms are transformed instantly into Style quotations the moment the camera falls upon them”. Yet as, he points out, digital memory doesn’t forget, and, as our culture devoid of time increasingly has to rely on referencing a past “that every cultural object from 1963 on has been so thoroughly, forensically, mulled over that nothing can any longer transport us back…”.

In a blog I wrote well over a year ago, called Miles Away, I commented on how an emotional response to (in this case) a music track that memories had grown around is often only now achieved by listening to (mainly sonically-innefficient) adaptations of the originally-heard track; “Not as good quality, not as good versions, cover versions, poor live performances, these [are often the only ways to] rejuvenate shivers in me that the original/and landmark (to my ear) ones can no longer create.”. A memory kept half alive by imperfect representation of a song. But almost in a direct response to the melancholia of the takeover of ‘digital memory’, there seems to be something particularly captivating about 8-bit-computer-game-style remakes of classic tracks. Maybe through them we have an emotional outlet for the loss of vitality that ‘digital memory’ has done to all cultural artifacts?

How to move beyond this ever-present I am not sure. Meanwhile the organic, normal decaying process of life, and the collapse of planetary eco-system becomes more unbearable as cultural experience remains frozen in this ‘digital memory’. It gives us less means to be able to come to term with death. But this in turn encourages us to try to immortalise our lives, by constantly documenting and referencing everything we have done, seen, heard or felt. This, to be honest, was the sources of the doubts I had about my own actions, that originally prompted me to post this blog.