By Nick BirkheadI suggest that Ledger’s work owes something to the fantastical Hieronymus Bosch (1450-1516). Specifically, the Garden of Earthly Delights comes to mind, with its lush depiction of organic sin. The world famous and brilliant forerunner of surrealism was, in his day, unique and radically different. Today Bosch’s work could not be more relevant, taxing and fascinating, revealing the folly and hypocracy of man. Bosch was born during the transition from the Middle Ages to the Renaissance in ‘s-Hertogenbosch, in the Duchy of Brabant [Netherlands]. Why are his paintings so powerful and why do I think there is a common thread between them and Ledger’s more dour pictures?
Bosch places visionary images in a hostile world full of mysticism, with the conviction that the human being, due to its own stupidity and sinfulness has become prey to the devil himself. He holds a mirror to the world with his cerebral irony and magical symbolism, sparing no one. He aims his mocking arrows equally well at the hypocrisy of the clergy as the extravagance of the nobility and the immorality of the people. Hieronymus Bosch’s style arises from the tradition of the book illuminations (manuscript illustrations from the Middle Ages). The caricatural representation of evil tones down its terrifying implications, but also serves as a defiant warning with a theological basis.
|John Ledger | Ill Equipped|
The echos of these powerful works struck me immediately on viewing Ledger’s work. They were of a dark world in turmoil. Bodies and abandoned buildings were strew across the landscapes, which were more often than not cities; cities which had seen the apocalypse. These were pictures of a decaying world, where redemption was impossible. The doom presented itself as an all consuming and deadly force. There was a cruelty and even a vindictiveness which was apparent, and undeniable. Is this what Ledger thinks our world will be if we all continue on our selfish and consumptive ways? Or a portrait of the present state of affairs. To be honest, I don’t think there is much in it. If the date of his work, 2045, is anything to go by, I do not think much will change in the next thirty years..
|John Ledger | The Index Of Child Well-being|
From afar, these drawings are remote and almost picturesque; only upon intimate inspection do they reveal the tremendous horror of the truths they reveal. The macabre and the ironic and the droll all seem to be competing. Even more interesting is the methodology behind them. The fact that Ledger has chosen a biro as his instrument for these works is significant. If the biro is a symbol of anything it is transience. The throw-away nature of the pen indicates Ledger’s choice of atmosphere for his work; as if commenting on the idea that humans, like the tool he has chosen to depict, are useful but not permanent. As if the state employs us for a time, and then discards when we are empty. Such a picture of the world is not a pretty one. One which is filled with vices and death and decay. Physically, the pictures are very striking and the tone which is set by the biro creates great contrasts within the works. They are evidently a labour of love, and as I stood in front of them, entranced and appalled, I thought just how long and how much pain-staking effort it cost to produce such mesmerising effects. What on the surface may seem to owe something to the colourful and cheerful design of the Beatles’ Yellow Submarine is in fact a violent indictment of the corruption which we encourage with our lifestyles.
|John Ledger | In The City…|
The sound of people talking as if they are asking a question, when they are actually stating something, or telling someone else what to do, is normal to hear now. We’re aware of the rise in tone at the end of every sentence. It grates on many people, even as they find themselves doing the same.It is commonly suspected to be a trait borne in university student campus’s, that has spread throughout the rest of society once these students begin to look for work; or, even more unlikely, that it is an Australian import, due to the tonal similarities the trait shares with the quintessential Australian accent.
As I sit in a cafe sat with my back facing a table holding a conversation between ‘potential’ employee and ‘potential’ employer (or employer’s employer), with the tonal rise at the end of the employer’s most asking sentences, I suspect it is neither of these things. I suspect it is an unconscious adaptation of our communication skills to what is required to function in a neoliberal society, memetically spread onwards from those who are first to find this adaptation of value to (semi) succeed under this system.
The usual name given for a society under neoliberalism is the Post-Fordist society. Getting along in a Post-Fordist society means applying oneself in wholly different ways to the way those who came of age before it had to. Gone are the more predictable, and stable – if not tedious and restricting – structures of Fordist society, the preceding system associated with a strong welfare system, Keynesian policies of state ownership of large national assets and tight government regulation of the market system (periodically speaking, think 1940’s to late 1970’s), and in with a structure based on both individual adaptability and cunning, and much more freedom for market systems rather than social obligation. If Post-Fordism promised to do away with the tedium and alienation of Fordist structures, then it has more than certainly replaced them with endemic fear and paranoia, and has if anything exacerbated the biggest down points of Fordist society for the majority, who don’t have the opportunity to be ‘the winners’ in this world.
The way our working lives are structured feeds into all aspects of life. As Mark Fisher states in his 2009 book Capitalist Realism (Zero Books) ‘Work and life become inseparable. Capital follows you when you dream. Time ceases to be linear, becomes chaotic, broken down into punctiform divisions. As production and distribution are restructured, so are nervous systems. To function effectively as a component of just–in-time production you must develop a capacity to respond to unforeseen events, you must learn to live in conditions of total instability, or ‘precarity’, as the ugly neologism has it. Periods of work alternate with periods of unemployment. Typically, you find yourself employed in a series of short-term jobs, unable to plan for the future’.
The potential employee sat behind me in the cafe was obviously keen to get a job. Even before neoliberalism was further entrenched by the recession (that it caused), people were much more willing to accept jobs that included unpaid voluntary spells, minimum wage pay, and constantly changing shift patterns, just in order to get by. Of course, when in a predicament like this one must always communicate with positivity, and a willingness; they must create the impression that they are always employable. They cannot just ‘walk into’ a factory job like their parents, and parents’ parents could, they have to be willing to take what they can.
Simultaneous to this, management, or middle-management are constantly trying to make the prospective job in question sound much more inviting and worker friendly than it will no doubt be, maintaining the vision of a world laced with exciting opportunities, a vessel that Post Fordism sails upon. The sternness and straightforward authoritarianism of employers, thought of in relation to Fordist times, simply wouldn’t be in sync, whilst a no-smiles indifference from the employee, to his/her often exploited predicament, would be they would soon find themselves unable to find work.
In Capitalist Realism, Mark Fisher references the 1999 film Office Space, a comedy-based but also prescient film, to exemplify this new kind of relationship between employer and employee. He talks of management being in-keeping with the “being smart” ethos…’of shirtsleeves-informality and quiet authoritarianism’, and refers to a moment in the film when in the local cafe where ‘staff are required to decorate their uniforms with “seven pieces of flair”, (i.e. badges or other personal tokens) to express their ‘individuality and creativity’: a handy illustration of the way in which ‘creativity’ and ‘self-expression’ have become intrinsic to labor in Control societies’ (another way to describe Post Fordism, associated with french philosopher Gilles Deleuze). Fisher points out, informed by Paolo Virno and Yann Moulier Boutang, how this ‘now makes affective, as well as productive demands, on workers.'(2009, Zero Books)
Communication skills are now of utmost importance, Although often with reluctance, life under Post Fordism is one of constant ‘careerism’, where one can never miss an opportunity to sell themselves; and thus this isn’t only evident in designated workplaces, or in job interviews, but in all communication. Positive, friction-fleeing, good feeling communication is essential. To not maintain this runs the risk of falling out of employment, with the abandonment of welfare support, giving way to prevalent attitude that it is soley the fault the individual. As Ivor Southwood explains, from the position of looking for work, in his 2011 book Non-Stop Inertia (Zero Books) ‘the Job centre “customer” who is indifferent to the institutional charade of choice and positivity () tends to be viewed as having brought the situation upon himself…(I)t’s no wonder you haven’t got a job with that attitude’.
This seismic alteration, I would argue, is the cause of the rise in tone at the end of sentences. Asks of people, and statements of personal opinion need to maintain an air of uncertainty to them; the receiver understands what is being said without it having a negative effect on the appearance of the person speaking – this being harmful to the maintenance of an air of willingness, and perpetual-employability. And in the case of the demands the employer has of the employee, the ‘questionisation’ of an order, the ‘quiet authoritarianism’ of a shirtsleeve (casual) boss, outsources the authority to an unknown, a non-place even, from where all responsibility lands firmly back onto the receiver/employee. Thus the employee must then respond with the utmost enthusiasm.
This spreads to all ways of communicating. Electronic communication is now an extension of forced-perpetual careerism, or ‘social networking sites’, evident with the insertion of uncertainty or a jokey quality into many written messages which aren’t uncertain or joking. For example, the use of question marks at the end of messages which aren’t questions, and the use of ‘LOLS’ or ‘Ha’ or a kiss at the end of the message, when the message is actually a stern assertion. To appear to be an obstacle in the path of this sensation of moving in the right direction, can be damaging to ones own hopes of any kind of quality of life within these times.
Perhaps this communicative trait is more prevalent in students, at, or just leaving university, but this may be due to the predicament of the university student, of acquiring large debts, having to take any part time work they can, and being thrust into an anxiety-stoking environment of ‘careering’, who, for these reasons feel the tightening of neoliberal chains sharper than others, for the need to be reaching out for the fading middle class quality of life. Students/or recent students perhaps embody the existential anxieties of living in a neoliberal/Post Fordist society more than any other section of society. This is rather than the trait being embedded in university culture time immemorial.
Lee Gascoyne, John Ledger
18 April — 10 May 2012
Open: Tues — Sat, 11am — 6pm
Public Opening: Wednesday, 18 April 2012, 6pm
The Orchard Centre
14-18 West Bar Green
Sheffield S1 2DA
Gascoyne’s artwork not only represents the artist’s journey towards the finished piece but also includes, and plays with, the recognition of the work’s observation by others. He is self-aware of having ideas and making things, and also aware of the space between this process and the observer (the context of which is also considered). Gascoyne states he does not expect the observer to ‘get it’ as he does not feel he is actually injecting precise information that can be read like a book given enough intelligence. This imagined space is what he finds to be the ultimate end/beginning of a piece of art; the point where he is no longer involved in the rigors of thinking and doing. ‘I have a chance to see the work again as an observer and to also learn from others in the process of repeatedly attempting to express the indefinable.’
Lee Gascoyne graduated in 2011 with a first class honours degree in Interdisciplinary Art & Design and was awarded the Chancellor’s Prize for outstanding achievement. Lee has been part of several group exhibitions and collaborative works that span painting, sculpture and installation. He is currently working on a private painting commission and has a major collaborative exhibition in the pipeline for 2013.
Drawing has been the vehicle for John Ledger’s ideas and concerns for the last 5 years as it is ‘the most accessible and direct way of expressing them.’ Nevertheless, he states, his doodles have had no choice but to become murals as he tries to match the size of his concerns. Ledger describes his works as aiming to depict the human predicament in the 21st century, precisely in landscapes to reveal the impacts of our collective movements with a sense of hopelessness and powerlessness to do anything else. ‘Feeling like i am mentally pushed into a corner, my creative expression is my only retaliation.’
John Ledger lives and works in The West Riding of Yorkshire and has exhibited at various venues across the Yorkshire area.
For more information : E-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org Tel: +44 (0) 7979933405, +44 (0) 7598294919
And I don’t mind the horror that surrounds me” 4st. 7lbs, Manic Street Preachers (The Holy Bible, 1994)
I felt me slipping in and out of consciousness
I felt me slipping in and out of consciousness”
Lyrics taken From Harrowdown Hill, from Thom Yorke’s 2006 album Eraser
This collection of thoughts were brought together in the midst of hearing of the British ConDem government’s plans to extend powers of security services to monitor the web, meaning “(t)he authorities will be able to establish patterns by seeing who we send texts and emails to and how frequently, which websites we visit and what we download and the people we phone and how often” (from blog page A World to Win: http://aw2w.blogspot.co.uk/) and hearing about “courtroom secrecy proposals“ which would allow “ministers to decide what material could be concealed from the public, the media and even claimants during civil trials” (The Guardian, 4Th April 2012) which parliament’s human rights committee criticised for, among many things, causing harm to “the principle of open justice”, thus basically potentially allowing certain trials to to be undertaken behind an iron curtain of sorts.
David Cameron added his defence, saying the government needed to take every step to make the country safe (The Guardian, 4Th April). Despite this being highly hypocritical, by proclaiming safety and peace are his highest priority, in a month when he jetted off to East Asia to try to persuade countries such a Japan and Indonesia to buy British-made weapons, the more pressing questing is what do they see as being a threat to safety? Teresa May added ‘ordinary people’ have nothing to fear. But again, what is meant by ordinary people? The contrasting of a fictional do-gooder with a devious monster creates an image in the cultural imagination which allows for a simple binary, frozen in time interpretation of innocent next to guilty. From this you get the common rhetoric on the street of “if you’ve done nothing wrong, then what’s the problem?” which sends shivers down the back of anyone who cannot dismiss these things so clearly.
They only need to look back 10 years or so to see how flawed such rhetoric is; to see the frightening advance of the security and surveillance complex following the terror attacks of 9/11. Despite the news that anger from back-bencher’s in the coalition has stalled these plans, one only need to look back to see that there’s little doubt as to where we are heading. Writing about the growth of the security state, once the social state had begun to dissolve, sociologist Zygmunt Bauman writes that “once visited upon the human world, fear acquires its own momentum and development logic and needs little attention and hardly any additional investment to grow and spread – unstoppably” (Liquid Times, 2007). We are in the midst of this swelling.
These plans for tighter security extend much further in their aims than merely watching the spectres of terrorism or paedophilia which haunt our society; they will have to watch many more, who up to now believed this nation was one with the eternal right of free speech. It seems to me as if the entire anti-capitalist movement, which incorporates many more than what the media would suggest, isn’t quite sure yet what to do next, after a 18 month period in which the idea of a Left and a belief that capitalism can be challenged has gained credibility (at least outside the mainstream again). I think this is because it realises the challenge it must now face is much larger than (most camps) expected.
The government, protecting an ever more clean cut type of capitalism, will obviously find this (rise in anti-capitalism) alarming. ‘Safety and security’ for many with vested interests will require the silencing of such voices, as the cuts really begin to bite. What we may now possess as potential for a better future, is more than equally matched by a fear of what those who would wish to prevent this would do. In my darkest moments I fear to what extend our still-viewed-as democracy could descend.
But we forget the threat so fast, more or less as soon as it falls from the media’s gaze (I’m finishing off this blog over a week now since I heard of these threats, and I too feel worryingly less concerned about it, precisely because it has fallen from the front page and so fallen from our topics of debate). Like with the way we don’t fear climate change as much now it’s on the news significantly less – due to the drug addict-like obsession our world has with economic growth post-recession crushing anything that may stand in its way like sustainability – we feel much calmer, as if it must all be OK now; like sheep sitting back down now the dog is no longer in the field.
The aforementioned song lyrics are taken from Harrowdown hill, by Thom Yorke (The Eraser, 2006): they repeat over and over in my mind when I start to become concerned about how we all forget about frightening indicators of Power’s capabilities, as they slip to the back of the cultural memory as new news stories, of a more trivial and more thought-numbing nature push more troubling stories right to back, like old clothes you forget you have. Harrowdown Hill was where David Kelly, whilst under intense pressure, being a weapons inspector looking for evidence of weapons of mass destruction in Saddam Husain’s Iraq hence being a liability for the government’s need to maintain The Lie post-invasion died, from (officially) suicide, or was (as is suspected by many) bunked off.
This is possibly what is the most frightening about all of this: collective amnesia, and how any story, no matter how damaging to the power structure, can be pushed away from sight. This needn’t be done through techniques similar to an Orwellian memory hole, but just by maintaining the course for the vast majority of the information we receive with an abundance of what is more distracting rather than informative. And it is so hard to remember, to keep on ones mind on events which bear significance to our own liberties. I think this is what scares me about the recent new legislative plans: that one day people may go missing in the night, be detained without rights, but it will just slip from cultural memory, again and again: the spectacular society needn’t have ways of deleting unfavourable information, because the Memory hole is in every citizen’s mind.
Returning (historically) to how we got here, surely once it has been stated that “there is no alternative” to a way of running our world (no matter what particular way that may be) the totalitarian potential lurking behind the statement will eventually, over time, be enacted in brutal repression of anyone/anything that disagrees with it. Looking at it from this angle, are the current “constraints imposed on certain freedoms – some of them unheard since The Magna Charta” (Bauman, Liquid Times, 2007) inevitable out-comes from the final ‘triumph’ of capitalism, achieved in Britain in the 1980’s?
A dictatorship isn’t actualised in one clean sweep, it takes years of gradual erosion, manipulating a culture’s ability for memory-loss, to maintain an illusion that everything is the same has it has always been. Already maintaining a pretence of democracy, don’t be so sure that our western ‘democracies’ still couldn’t descend further. If it’s a one-way process, then we need to pull the rug from under the entire process.