21st Century Schizoid Man

An image that will always stick with me is one which was on a video in an exhibition commemorating the holocaust, at the Imperial War Museum, London. In a well-meant diversion from the Jewish Holocaust, the video narrator spoke of all those other holocausts which have happened since then in the late 20th century, mainly in the poorer parts of the planet, which we hear significantly less about. The moment which gripped me was about how these awful events come to be, as it spoke out to the whole of the humanity for our parts played in them, describing how seemingly minor actions made by citizens in richer consumer societies have an affect on other areas of the world.

.The camera focused on people drinking take-away coffee from some cafe-chain. This struck me, as I have (certainly did so back then) a fetish for buying ‘Mochas’ from cafe chains such as Costa, Cafe Nero, and at that moment I certainly was looking forward to one. Never quite escaping the bleeding obvious in this globally divided planet of exhaustible resources, I spent hours trying to justify getting my chain cafe coffee fix. The likelihood that that one purchase would trigger some genocidal rampage is low, but this is irrelevant as I am playing the game: I am keeping the entity of capitalism in motion/in power (at which point it must be pointed out that, far from fighting against racism/bigotry, capitalism needs them to be there, unconsciously, playing a part in the psyche of all able consumers – if aware of capitalism’s destructiveness, the bulk of consumers need some unspoken sense of superiority to allow them to carry on doing what they know is potentially harming somebody else). True to form, the battle for attention between the guilty me and the hungry-for-more me, played itself out, right through the rest of London visit, until I was at a familiar lull from where I realise that I cannot obtain enjoyment, thus a life devoted to the making of my artwork is the only saviour. The image of the people drinking coffee, which followed on from images of the Killing Fields of Cambodia were the iconic images of all that day’s trekking.

.It’s easy to imagine a future moment when one no longer feels so discontent with themselves so that there remains the desire to be constantly consuming, but this moment never arrives. The propagandist infrastructure, that surrounds us, constantly refers to this period when all finally rests OK around our necks – a point when there is no demon and angel battle battering us from alternate shoulders – but of course it would refer to this stage; it keeps us hooked into the matrix; constantly jumping from one failed holiday from work-time to another (and just to point out, most holiday-speak in postmodern Britain refers to binge drinking sessions which nearly always end in farce). To add to this, personally, it is easy to imagine a future weaned off capitalism, growing my own ‘veg’, being less worried about “looking a mess”, yet as soon as I meet people and go places that are more down this alleyway I feel a desire to be heading towards the city lights, railway journeys and the clean shaved feel. I feel disgusted with myself about this. I am reminded about my own stupid capability of making myself feel alienated and detached from everything once I am next to it. I put my hat on, my long black coat, my rucksack, and play Metanomic by John Foxx on my music player (dark synth-pop from the early 1980s) and set off to walk the streets by myself, and I feel myself again.

Today after a day/night trip to help on an organic farm my sister is staying on, apart from a love for the English oak and enjoying finding things buried beneath the soil, I felt so much more myself as I returned to my big coat, rucksack-on-back, as I entered the concrete gridded postwar town of Stevenage. I felt weird to feel at one in a human way of living which I am all-too-aware is provoking a disastrous 21st century, but I did feel more like me; a socialist-orientated thinker who ironically feels more at home in his isolated urban meanderings, looking for hope in places that he all-but-knows he will never find it in.

It is a slow process in becoming who you want to be; you’ve spent you’re entire life spoon-fed media and ideas that make you lose your identity and make you lose a true sense of enjoyment; in a consumer society, where we are bombarded by images of enjoyment and fulfillment, one should take note that they are profoundly lacking. I have taken note, yet my cockles are still warmed by the prospect of a night-out piss-up which usually, although nice for the the fist 2/3 pints, turns into a regrettable experience. Although possibly more screwed up by it, these ‘occasions’ are what most of us earn our wages for and anticipate with glee. The holiday is perhaps the greatest example of this, and thankfully the piss-up seems to be the only one I am still wired-up in – precisely because the act of getting pissed is the act of forgetting both the state of humanity and that state of ones own life (although both come back to haunt you after 6 or 7 drinks).

To be honest I can’t even be arsed with holidays. Take away the one thing that usually exempts me from guilty feeling – producing works of art/rantings that work as a defiance against my 21st century despair and also divert me from the truth about my inability to enjoy the present – and I feel constantly shit about the fact that everybody but me appears to be having a good time, in an apparent enjoyment which just seems to pass me by.

I always get the lyrics from the final song (Fragile Happiness) on the Super Furry Animals’ 2001 album Rings Around The World (which, it has to be said, is perhaps one of the best albums for depicting the postmodern condition, and seemed to be released just in time before alternative music got incorporated into, and began to solely exist for TopShop fashion parades). The lyrics go like this:

“well go to Miami
Take old friends and family
we’ll stay out and party
does Will Smith lie?
does he ever cave in and cry?” (Fragile Happiness, from the album Rings Around The World, SFA, 2001)

You see, as much as I know that breaking free, living off-grid, without a need for shaving foam, and moisturiser is the right thing to do, its those who are miserably trapped within who I resonate with. I suppose an artist has to live within the mess to depicted it; I just wish I could be certain that this was the main reason why I stay within it and not mainly because I enjoy being led by its carrots on sticks. I’ve made many works depicting the sinking ship of humanity in the 21st century, and know that this is because I’ll definitely be on it.
.I really wish I wasn’t so paranoid around people, and not so negative as to be unable to be part of anything which equates to helping the environmental cause, but I’m not this person. Sadly I’ve built myself into a pessimist who seeks morbid fascination in concrete jungles and dystopian music – I do not like myself, so I suppose I find the places that suit me.
The iconic factor of my inescapable addiction to the process of humanity’s self-destruction is possibly that of being constantly attracted to women who consent to the shallowness of late capitalism, living behind a veneer of brand-new clothes, make-up, ‘top’ hair does, and big nights out, as opposed to a woman who would actually probably be right for me. I don’t like what’s good for me; I’m captivated by what I see as I lift up a fold on humanity’s death throw. I am a decent bloke trapped in a western pigdog – or maybe it’s the other way around?

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About John Ledger

A visual Artist, eternal meanderer and obsessive self-reflector by nature, who can’t help but try to interpret everything from within the tide of society. His works predominantly take the form of large scale ballpoint pen landscape drawings and map-making as social/psychological note-making. They are slowly-accumulating responses to crises inflicted upon the self in the perplexing, fearful, empty, and often personality-erasing human world.

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