Below is a small text I wish to give as a presentation during the Fine Art Masters Degree I am currently undertaking
….Or ‘Wall, i’
A paper that keeps becoming art/art that keeps becoming a paper
I’m here to make a presentation about my ‘practice’.
But what if this practice keeps on becoming something other than a study focus, or skill base? Where the boundaries of disciplines become criss-crossed as everything gets dragged into an ongoing negotiation at the border of a self that is perpetually straining to get beyond this self, because the self always becomes the only reference point?
With a cyclical nature to this negotiation, any academic skill-set that is reasonably applicable beyond it, continually feels re-disembodied. Every day the body in question must be re-applied for. “You’re still not quite ‘it’ – not yet”. An audacious attempt to ‘do my own thing’ succumbs to the fears of dismissal or ridicule from what appears to be numerous superego structures, from whom one confusedly, but necessarily, asks for a body. Give me a body for this, ‘your‘ world.
This is important, because I wish to frame my work within this very proposition of a paper that keeps becoming art, or art that keeps becoming a paper – never having its own body.
Yet I argue that this is a dilemma concerning what a body is, and should be for, in the Modern industrial age. In his book Discipline and Punish, Michel Foucault saw the conjunction of the development of the scientific discoveries, especially relating to the anatomy, and the technological advancements that led to industrialisation, evolving a use of bodies specific for the Modern age; what he called ‘docile bodies’, would be trained in the school, the factory, the prison, the military camp, to be of use to the machinery of the industrial processes.
Yet, after the processes of the past 40 years this feels somewhat antiquated.
40 years ago Pink Floyd released ‘The Wall’ a work about the trauma, sadness, violence and hatred, born from what we can call the alienating affects on the body under this Modern experience.
Yet 40 years ago is when Margaret Thatcher was elected as UK prime minister, promising liberation from that world of factories and discipline, for individualism over collectivism.
30 years ago the Berlin Wall collapsed, bringing a symbolic end to a faltering communist experiment in collectivity and equality; simultaneously Western countries saw the end of a traumatic decade of de-industrialisation; Francis Fukuyama would tell us it was the end of history; global capitalism was the best system to offer us individual liberty, and, despite its problems, was our arrival in the best possible world.
‘So go forth and be yourself. The big decisions are all done with. It is your personal destiny that matters.
But 10 years ago I embarked on a conceptual work that tried to link the then 30th anniversary of ‘The Wall’ with looking for socio-political causes for anxiety, depression, disorders, and the inability to enjoy, when I’d grown up around so much positive encouragement to choose my own destiny. If the project was to change this it failed; the search for the answers became a work of superstition, in the sense of the philosopher Spinoza; overcome by feeling a lack of personal power to change, I laboured as if labouring for divine intervention.
In 2019, I try again, within the context of Masters Degree, and a different kind of future.
‘Wall, i’ is a playful re-employment of important themes in Pink Floyd’s ‘The Wall’, for the generation that grew up after the fall of the Berlin Wall, amidst what I call the ‘teenage kicks’ of neoliberalism (the 1990s); a semi-fictional amalgamation of personal experiences and those of my piers.
If Wall, I could be said to mark out a practice, then it is an auto-ethnographical one; a self-reflective practice, seeing ones experiences as part of a larger group, who are defined by certain common experiences, throughout the last 30 years.
It was a time of the ‘cult of self’, leaving behind the factories and armies of Discipline and Punish, but only to find ourselves in Gilles Deleuze’s ‘Control Society’, where “[Each time one is supposed to start [again] from zero…” No longer bodies subjected to power, but bodies arriving into a void of a guaranteed function, only gaining a body role by proving their superior individuality.
Suggesting ‘imposter syndrome’ is a phenomena that corresponds to how ‘being yourself’ often means the opposite of enjoyment, as enjoyment may occur beyond the parameters of such a ‘designated identity’, Wall, I only has addictive sad pleasures to feel any kind of connection, and justifies it through a vengeance-ridden conception of his circumstances. His, ‘i’ for Individual, IS THE WALL!
Addmittedly, although Wall, I could be a confident bodying of a skill set, it could also be a panicky releasing of distress signals to every superego that could grant me a body. As a highly collaborative work of animation, drama, film and music, it promises to bring to life flattened gestures, and abstracted goals, embodying the very thing in question in a way that suggests overcoming it. Equally, ‘Wall, I” is, for me, my perfect gesture for the past 30 years; a gesture on symbolic breaks with the past from the personal to social level. Yet they reveal a weakness for placing meaning in signs, the superstition of divine intervention.
Regardless, I speculate that overpowering what I call my ‘designated identity’, will allow an overcoming of ‘imposter syndrome’ when the chance of overpowering an inhibiting identity reveals itself.
However, I conclude, that what Wall, I says about individuals and this brief history of sadness, is vital to understanding a lot of what is fuelling the reactionary identity politics in the social media engagement with the world through what the late Mark Fisher called our ‘mandatory individualism’. Heavily inspired by the philosopher Spinoza’s conceptions that it is related to the body in its positive encounters that we truly to get to know ourselves, I take heed from Fisher’s latter thoughts, suggesting that what is causing the hurt and hatred is very much connected to being stuck in our identities, stuck in an idea of what we are, and that overcoming our ‘designated identity’ may not only alleviate the pain of taking everything personal, but could allow for joyful ‘consciousness raising’ ideas that are a potential antidote to today’s miserable political inertia
Recently I’ve been thinking a lot about not only the pitfalls of mistaking moments of symbolic catharsis with real changes, but also (speaking as somebody who makes art, projects, events) in the real emotional dangers of putting all your hopes for change, to be changed, in such symbolic gestures – relying solely on great moments of external validation to align the internal and external disorder of things.
Yet, I don’t believe that ‘Songs for my punch-drunk idealism’ is merely containable in such a category. Firstly, it was a cassette tape for a ‘beautiful day’; the ‘what if’ General Election of Governing Emotions (or ‘#GE18’). More-so, it was a project that not only tried to ask participants which songs pick them up and give them fighting spirit, but put out there the proposition that we all have songs that evoke a distant horizon of a just and peaceful world/life; a proposition explored within this #GE18 project, that, albeit on many different frequencies, we all have Utopian desire.
What is Utopian? Well, it isn’t ‘Utopia’. To be Utopian is the longing for the aforementioned; justice, peace, fully-realised social and individual potential, all across our known-world. Utopian is a pathos, a pathos that refuses to accept a shut-down, emotionally closed up landscape of ‘miserable Monday mornings’, forever in debt to the entropic givens of historical tragedy as an inevitable. It is in defiance against “the idea that life is essentially drudgery”.
Anyways, ‘Songs for my punch-drunk idealism’ is those songs that are maybe more than a ‘pick me up” – a mixture of potential songs that form the inner interplay between being pulled out of despair, and (re)believing in the very best of humanity once again. And with those last sentences in mind, I felt I had to make another cassette sleeve full of songs I’ve come to hold dear for these reasons.
A potential critique of this could be an open goal for those who wish to score an easy goal. The reason I’m writing these blogs is that I’m trying to reconcile things that may in turn be shown to be incompatible with one another. Yet I’ve found myself at the bottom end of a road I’ve been walking for years – unwittingly, I’d say (others may dispute this…), and I’m either at an existential dead end or about to find new pathways. I’m not seeking sympathy, I’m reaching out on the wager that I’m not at a dead end.
I have no idea how to seek well-being in the present. I can only defer dealing with this by indulging in sad ‘torporous’ pleasures that entertain the ghosts of my out-of-date day-dreams. Certain songs arrive me visions of some future moment of ‘rightening’, for the ends of justice, peace, and collective joy. These familiarized songs repeat a sense of mounting momentum driving towards a space where this burning hollowness no longer has to justify itself to the cruel judge of dead time; 18, 19, 20, 21, 22, 23, 24, 25, 26, 27, 28, 29, 30, 31, 32, 33, 34 – the moment still feels pending.
The inability to enjoy the Now. A deep longing to do so, but a genuine inability to shirk what always seems frozen into the horizon – an horizon that captivates due to its sense-making of the disorder of things.
Only in that frozen horizon am I the person who isn’t anxious, dismissive, negative when in contact with the people, groups and moments I have utmost longing to share collective joy with; a joy that would come from within and spreads outwards.
I know I have developed cognitive foundations that are cemented in an alienated understanding of life, but it isn’t completely fucked up, I’m sure of it. My perpetually frozen horizon refuses to accept a life-plan that sees a gravitational pull of life’s potentiality towards a naturalisation of miserable life-jobs, poverty, crime, finger-pointing justice systems, and finger pointing warfare.
I often feel cognitively paralysed by the dominance of a ordering of things I see as fundamentally negative; can’t help feeling in a competition I don’t want, nor can succeed in.
The songs (the 2nd list of songs!) I have submitted here are at least a refusal to accept the depression I so often struggle to beat away. I often listen to these songs in the morning, when I’m out jogging, And although my jogging is very much part of a control routine, listening to these songs keeps alive my spirit for inner and outer good.
This gallery contains 16 photos.
Originally posted on The Retro Bar at the End of the Universe:
photograph taken by Thanos Andronikos The Public Secret is by far the largest project undertaken by the collective to date. Quite literally: this disused warehouse is more expansive than many of the nearby major established galleries. The work that culminated in our last…
The Public Secret is a project our artist-led collective the Retro Bar at the End of the Universe held, starting Friday 31st August, in a warehouse on the south west side of Leeds. For this we all contributed a dispatches – which you can find here. This is my long read which I have omitted from the collective’s blog, because of its length and personal detail.
As an artist collective, something binds us. Speaking frankly, I don’t think we even share the exact same ideals, life goals, or approaches to creative practice, or even a shared understanding of what creative practice means. We really are a motley crew. But this motley crew have converged through finding one another’s company comfortable enough to have honest reflections on what seems to be the grand unspeakable.
Basically, what has brought us together is the public secret: everybody knows this thing we are in (call it capitalism, liberal democracy, modernity, whatever you like) isn’t working, and is beyond tweaking; it’s unable to meet the required needs of an unbelievably self-aware connected planet; mental well-being is collapsing in the old industrial nations of modernity, as ecological and social stability collapses in the old colonised nations of modernity.
We all know it; all see it, yet rarely speak it to anyone but our closest friends. Few of us truly like what we see in the world beyond our comfort blankets, but somehow it remains in the realm of self-doubt; the TV’s, radios, even the signage in the café is saying business as usual, “so who am I to speak?”.
I feel this sense of the great unspoken is what bound the Retro Bar at the End of the Universe. Our collective doesn’t read from the same page; our vocalised points of priority in this urgent need for change all differ, as do our inherently preferred ideological bases in the categories of old modernity (yeah, most of us still cling to one when we feel cornered).
One day…some day…
However, I have recently had to come to terms with the fact that such self-assured prose (that, uncoincidentally, I’ve never felt confident enough to publish beyond my own blog) faces falling flat, on my part, for the reason of what it omits.
If you scour my decade-old blog you will find plenty of content that on the surface appears to be self-pitying. What you won’t find is the comments from anonymous sources. I deleted them. They hurt me.
The reason for this is that I wrote these blogs not for sympathy, but for the purposes of understanding, recognition; parachuted-in help, I guess. If anything, a desire to be released from my ego, not an ego-boost.
The reason that so many of my blogs have confusingly meandered between a sporadic critique of contemporary life to very honest reflections on my own life is that I have always been seeking help from anywhere but within. A need for a paternalistic recognition of both my external concerns and how they connect with my inner distress(even if heroic intervention came in the form of the infamous relationship between O’Brien and Winston Smith in Orwell’s 1984, which is basically an abusive but yet reassuring father-figure).
For this reason what I am now about to write, in an aim to try to understand if my ‘post-capitalist desire‘ (to use a name that Mark Fisher gave one of his essays) is a product of perpetually placing happiness outside of myself, comes with the disclaimer that I am writing from a position of trying to take affirmative control of my life. For the sake of myself and whoever, ego-based interventions into my own affairs are no longer required, thanks (if they ever were…).
What is the purpose that drives me? I have intent, sometimes it burns away leaving pure drive, but I have intent.
Is the desire for a post-capitalist world my intent? Or is the post-capitalism just over the brow of the horizon what I use as substitute for the sense of inner disarray that I have felt since as long as I have known?
I am no longer in the business of asking honest questions right here on my blog in blind hope that somebody with some cure will come and make me whole. I have spent far too long as a backseat passenger in my own life. A back seat passenger who has thrown things out of the window, even jumped out of the moving vehicle (bruised and broken, only to heal and get back in), yet always remained passive.
Nobody wants to leave their life regretting the life they had; regretting that they were constantly chasing or waiting for something, with no arrival; or that what they did do is so regretful, largely due to be being motivated by sad, negative preoccupations.
Well, with above disclaimer in place, I’ll be totally honest: if I was to die tomorrow, the moments beforehand would be spent regretting my entire life.
Trying to break down the compulsions, routines that I live by is proving very difficult. Nonetheless it is a task I am not letting any individual compulsion-driven act forget; I’m not wanting to meet that ultimate regret at the end of it all.
I often feel convinced that when Kurt Cobain sang that there was ‘something in the way’ he was speaking from a similar, if not far more desperate, place.
The biggest, and most convincing argument I, and many others who are emotionally loyal to the post-capitalist desire face is the one that aims to defang any argument made by anybody who is unable to find peace and inner enrichment in the here and now.
Despite the way I have posited this commonplace argument making it glaringly obvious that not all of us can find peace in the here and now, there still persists an undeniable truth to it. And I know that as a white, educated male, who has a perpetual existential itch, that I am very susceptible to it; I often clumsily walk into a corner where the undeniable half-truth reveals itself: “why don’t you just learn to enjoy your life!”
And it’s true. Why don’t I just learn to enjoy life?
So, I need to begin my way out of this maze of brutal dualisms and unhelpfully vague holisms by beginning from scratch (disclaimer still in place…).
From being a young child, what fired me, motivated my successive obsessions was always an abstract; an image of some future moment, where (to quote a psychotherapist I saw at much later date) the universe aligned. I was constantly day-dreaming about some future landscape that had no distinctive features apart from the fact that the disorientating cluster of signifiers in the present tense had gravitated to a central point of meaning. The fact that my encounter with the social was initially poor, fostering a low self-esteem I haven’t until now properly challenged, encouraging self-pity and withdrawal, certainly did nothing to hamper the persistence of the libidinal investment in this abstract future whole.
I came to see the negatives that played themselves out in those years (from school bullying, people without enough money, right up to stories from far away about tropical deforestation) as unnecessary states of affairs that were to be ‘righted’ as we travelled further from the ‘olden days’ of my parents and grandparents to some point when it would all be merely history.
World War to End of History…?
These dreamy expectations of a just and coherent universality certainly cluster together around the final decade of the 20th century. I have pondered ever-since on this as being more than coincidental; I didn’t need to know of Francis Fukuyama’s premature triumphalism about ‘the end of history’ (as in, an end to the chaos and brutal upheavals of competing ideologies played out in the previous 250 years), to pick up on a specifically 1990’s optimism, constituted by the fall of the repressive Soviet system, the teenage kicks of ‘neoliberalism’, and the pre-millennial computer-generated utopianism, glued together by the momentary flattening of counterculture (think of squeezing down femimism into The Spice Girls) into a mainstream consumer palette.
But this is irrelevant now; we are, culturally speaking, still vomiting up the 1990’s, in our social media exorcisms (from where nobody, like in an William Hogarth etching, is spared – perhaps rightfully), but this doesn’t heal the void, certainly not in my own life. And it’s high time I acted.
I’m now a 34 year old, who has spent most of his ‘going out’ evenings of the 2010’s drinking alone – although it is the sense of having failed which has had a larger influence on my actions than alcohol, as swathes of friendships have stretched into non-existence, leaving me like a caretaker of places we all once haunted, 11 years into a low-paid job that most barely spend a year doing before moving on.
Where I work, where I live, and how long I have worked and lived in these circumstances would be of no-consequence if I associated with them positively and (much more importantly) confidently; if my relationship to home and work was a somewhat more positive affirmation of my life. But it couldn’t be further from that.
Fuck me. I’ve been writing this shit that seems very much like the aforementioned for as long as the piece of string named ‘getting old’ is long.
I have always placed so much emphasis on the passing of time; I gave each passing year a certain identity distinct from the others. When I was young, growing old was anticipated for all the life-affirming rites of passage it would deliver. The future would always align and straighten the disorder of today.
However, the future intervention that would align the world stopped being a rite of passage and instead something I clung to for hope of rightening a new inner turmoil. Since my mid-to-late teens I have been driven my compulsions and routine, bent on either maintaining or losing control. Always from the sense of needing a higher hand to intervene, I went from late teen eating and control disorders, to aiming my sights on ‘big nights out’ in my early 20’s where getting pissed up and momentarily losing my controlling habits would free me – maybe a woman would come into my life, and a validated obedience to patriarchal norms would liberate me from the things that caused anxiety.
During this time, the moment of universal righting moved towards more Dystopian seas, I became rapidly politicised and super adept at turning pub conversation towards pointing out to others the iceberg we were heading for (metaphorically speaking of course) – unaware that they too had seen them, probably before I. It was another means of seeking external validation, seeking an external answer to the inner gulf. What ensued was a situation where I was still waiting, whilst everybody around me went on and did other things, until I found myself hitting 30, being drunk in pubs by myself. The drink was still used to liberate me, but by now was from a daily sense of failure as life passed me by, and once inebriated it was no longer a means to liberate me from the negative controlling habits of my youth, but merely a means to access more regrettable avenues for negative pleasure-seeking. Again always as the back seat passenger.
Yet, I admit I am sat here, alone in bar, drinking, writing this down.
But I’m here now attempting to actively break this circle, rather than wait for it to break.
But how does this relate to political ideals? Surely I have just expressed that the issue is internal to me and not external to the world?
Well, I have harboured a certain paranoia since my political ‘awaking’ fell further back onto negative pleasure seeking: that many who I felt I shared post-capitalist desire with began to see me as an hypocrite. They see me as unwilling to act on what I see as right and wrong; in one respect they are right. On the other hand action is born from self-worth and pride, those who can act on their own behalf feel a joy from doing so; they love being alive and fight for it whenever they see it being taken away.
The reason those with political ideals, who become so reliant on them as a crutch, are easy targets to those who have found an inner sanctuary but are more or less happy with the status quo, is that they are clearly people who aren’t happy with their ‘lot’ and communicate out of unresolved traumas and grievances. This is true. I don’t not distinguish myself from this group, as disparate as they are.
However, these traumas and grievances are real.
I will be honest, what has often scared me from undertaking a course of intense self-confidence building is that I am scared that I would eradicate my entire identity in the process. I cannot differentiate my who I am with my entire concept of the abstract utopian ideal.
But the truth is I have never really known myself anyway. Me, I, John Ledger, has never stood tall in the here and now, but always in some abstract future point. My sense of fashion (intrinsically bound up with self-worth) has been at sea since I was a teenager, I don’t really know what I am meant to be, and to get back to the question of politics, I do not know how to act in this world.
What I have to convince myself is that making a life for myself, finding out what gives me a joy to be alive, isn’t in opposition to a post-capitalist desire. I have visually illustrated the experience of being trapped in a late-stage capitalist world for the best part of 15 years. It would be foolish of me to see this as time-wasted, but that time has gone, and there so much more to do, not out of duty but out of joy.
Being happy and being part of the emerging movements to transform the world are far from mutual opposites. My self-made task, is to find this out for myself.
I wrote the above sentence for the purpose of describing the ‘dark optimism’ behind my last major drawing projects. I feel I need to explain, in detail, what I mean, because I feel it is a good place to begin my understanding of the projects based on shared experiences and radical care that The Retro Bar at the End of the Universe is currently undertaking under the title of ‘The Public Secret’.
When I can’t help expressing my distress about my experience of this world, a few people have pulled me up and pointed me towards the work of the scientist/author Steven Pinker: his works on how our world is on average less violent and more safe than it has ever been. Begrudgingly accepting of this truth (although I’ve never read his book), I had to figure…
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This gallery contains 13 photos.
Originally posted on The Retro Bar at the End of the Universe:
2018 was the year when I had to ask the question the above title poses… Neoliberal Me (An Exorcism of) and #GE18 (The General Election of Governing Emotions) 2008 to 2009 – I learnt a harsh lesson: devoting a year to mapping one’s…
Over the course of the year, I’ve had to ask myself a lot of questions, for numerous reasons. Part of the outcome is that I largely class the work I do as part of the collective I am part of (https://retrobarattheendofuniverse.wordpress.com).
Here is the first event I am putting on since this deep point of reevaluation…
#GE18 (The General Election of Governing Emotions) is an event occurring at two locations in Leeds on the Longest day of the year!
130 Vicar Lane from 5-7pm and…
Art Hostel, (83 Kirkgate) from 6:30-9pm.
Born out of intense debates around the global political crises, the mental health epidemic, and the online factionalisation of opinion, #GE18 asks to us to engage in a ‘what if’ general election where we get to vote for emotions rather than through them.
How would we ideally like to feel and behave in life? How would we really like the world to feel and behave like? Well come along to The General Election of Governing Emotion on June 21st and let us know…as well as seeing #GE18 art prints, cassette sleeves for a collaborative project called ‘Songs For My Punchdrunk Idealism’, and engaging in non-combative conversation!
The Mental Health Strike is part of a project I am building as part of the Retro Bar at the End of the Universe collective. The project is based on actions and moments that deposit social and political actions within the contemporary cultural landscape that would be seen as impossible asks, as if they are apparitions from near-futures where a completely different set of tools and demands are available to build a 21st century world where collective mental well-being is at crucible of social organisation.
The Mental Health Strike, which was set for the date of January 22 2018 (supposed to be the most depressing day of the year) is neither a case of ‘what if’, nor is it an actual strike that has been organised. It exists in the in-between, where it could become real.
The week before Jan 22 these placards were placed around specific areas in Leeds…
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