Archive | January 2013

Just where the hell are we in time?

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That my life doesn’t seem to grow and change is because time itself doesn’t seem to move things on anymore.

Oh yes, things change, but it’s as if the entire world is speeding up its exchanging and obtaining of things already bygone. And when all that happens is that things are circulated faster and faster, little of it seems to have any substance. When one thinks of our present time and what could be seen as new, one thinks of applications, social-media sites; they don’t bring anything new into the world they just stretch out and speed up the circulation of everything that’s already happened in our civilisation (recent technological advances merely turn the world into one giant tin of old photo’s, and all we do as a culture now is constantly browse that tin).

I have never found myself able to allow myself to leave my teenage physique and demeanor behind. Reality would show that I have left it behind, but it doesn’t stop the need to maintain what has already gone.I cling to a past that retroactively becomes more and more massive, as a future never seems conceivable. The more I speak to others (although it is played out in different ways) the more I realised it wasn’t specific to myself.

That I make sure that I can still fit into (some) size 30 waist jeans is merely reflective of a culture that continuously makes sure it can still riff on the past. According to The independent newspaper,  the United Kingdom, in terms of soft power (or cultural capital) is ranked as the most influential nation in the world, and if there was ever a nation that has continuously managed to riff on its past (whether the royal spectacles or re-hashes of the same British rock group formula every 5 or so years) it’s the United Kingdom.

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+We are trapped in a cultural logic that believes nothing can be done to shape and make a new world. Because of this we are held to ransom by the logic of a system that told us its world is the only world. Our culture has nowhere to turn, and as this systemic logic brings the world into farce, we look further and further backwards, in order to grasp something that we feel we can control, in order to stay sane.

I would speculate that with every crisis the capitalist system has produced this side of the year 2000 that it further entrenches this immersion in things of the past (albeit with modern devices that we rarely try to rationalise). The legitimacy of the system has been smashed by farce after farce; we know we it is failing us, but we cannot perceive away around it, so our world is built out of a past that we can control and predict.

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Because we can’t face up to the present, or even acknowledge it, time feels out of joint. This disjunction between time and our experience can be unnervingly evident in the aftermath of the 2008 financial crisis. Dotted around every urban settlement up and down the U.K are, what I call, ‘Mary Celeste‘ Developments; never completed housing estates, barred off by metal barriers, and skeletal structures which are frozen in their foetal position. Precisely because we are culturally unable to face up to the present, we usually walk past these spaces and instantly forget about them. But if we make a conscious effort to observe them  we are confronted with the disconcerting fact the the financial crisis began half a decade ago, when it doesn’t feel long ago at all. It only feels like it happened a few weeks back, and everything at these construction sites stands, waiting to resume business, as if it were only a temporary blip.

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Because we have found ourselves at our cultural dead end (or at least at a blockage in the pipelines of time) the world hasn’t been able to come to terms with the truth that the world has been irreversibly changed from that day on. We can’t really picture the world as it actually is, now, because it gives us the sensation of already being dead, and having an after-death experience. So we wait for things to return to as they were; we wait and wait, and only rarely realise just how much time we have spent waiting.

It’s like we are the new Pompeii, but haven’t realised that we’ve been turned to stone and burried by the normal functioning of time. At times when we can passively flow through this world, without observing or experiencing the world-wide suffering that confirms that the world is still alive, one can be forgiven for at least imagining that the end of the world has already occurred, that we are literally spectres going through the motions unaware of being so, like the fate of the Characters in the film The Others, who do not realise that they are the ghosts haunting the living.

More people now dress like people from the past than the people who lived in them time-periods did. People in the 1960’s thought we’d be walking around in space-suits, but we actually walk around looking more like them than they did. More 1960’s than the 1960’s; more 1980’s than the 1980’s; we are more or less living in a simulation of the past, which helps keep us blind to ‘the desert of the Real’. This is the world of simulcra/hyperreality, understood well by the philosopher Jean Baudrillard in the 80’s and 90’s. Yet he makes it somewhat fantastical/exciting to read; it doesn’t feel like the bleak haunted house our post-recession culture occupies. The ghosts of the past are running out of energy just as we crave them the most; the music/pub/night-out scene which embalmed our culture with cheap drink is now often the arena where you feel most like you’re in spaces haunted by their past (empty pubs).

On a personal level, my predicament could be clumsily described by the previous generation as that of somebody who is “30 going on 18”, but the situation is far more serious. Much of the previous generation often refuse to acknowledge the reasons for this cultural inertia, because they grew up in a time when culture burst forward faster than anything before, only to exhaust itself in the form of tragic endings for many young pop icons. I have to ask myself whether I will be still heading to the “indie music” bars, not knowing where else to go, when I’m pushing 40. Experience of my past ten years, living in a culture that turned up the volume on its IPod every time news arrived of another crisis/catastrophe, is that doing so may be a necessary coping-method.

Our Padded Cells: The Disenfranchised Individual

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There seems to be an appropriate analogy between every citizen subjected to global capitalism and a person deemed-mentally ill, restrained in a straight jacket and shut away in a padded cell. Each one of us are being subjected to a process of increased isolation to the point of total disenfranchisement. In the strange time of no time/place of no place we occupy one cannot clearly see whether or not this process has already been completed. The internet can often feel like millions of isolated voices soaked with mental anguish, all screaming into a black hole, perpetuating their inertia. From such an angle, the internet resembles the pinnacle of communication-breakdown rather than the pinnacle of communication technology.

JOHN 034Some of the padded rooms are better endowed; they have more in them to keep the subject distracted, to forget their predicament. But some have  little to distract their subjects with, who are continuously shouting and banging – but nobody can hear them.

European scientific discovery showed us how to take apart the living planet bit by bit, to see what it is made of, what qualities things possess, which has given us the ability to harness these qualities with revolutionary potential. But it seemed to be blind to half of what makes life what it is; yet you would be foolish to expect any individual living after centuries of the entrenchment of this logic to have some sort of idea what it was that was missed, even though many sense that something isn’t right. Before anybody could say “stop”, a powerful force has been released that capitalised on the extraction of qualities from the earth for profit: industrial capitalism.

Science now does us an immense disservice by continuing its crusade it has already won against organised religion, when the battle should be within itself (although I recognise this as an oversimplification, many leading scientific figures seem so hell-bent on ridding the world of believers in god, that they ignore that the frontline of science is used for the darkest, most secretive and socially regressive forces active in the world).

Capitalism harnessed scientific discoveries to extract from life to create something that is lifeless/dead: an accumulation of capital. This wealth is abstracted from what John Ruskin said was the real wealth: “life itself”. Like a dissection in a scientific experiment, capital acts on the planet as if with a scalpel, taking everything apart to extract profit from it. If there was ever a feeling that capitalism brought any other sort of progress than that of technological progress specific to its continuation, it has been incidental to it, such as with the creation of a proletariat (in the first industrial areas of the world) who forced capitalism to make a deal with it, otherwise there would have been revolution.

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But the improvement in living conditions was fooled, exploited and twisted out of recognition by the power of advertising and capital found a way of extracting from one half of the world by manufacturing desire, envy and greed, and getting the other half to make the products. The white people’s of the first industrial nations were made into consumers, whilst the darker skinned people’s, to whom industrialisation was new, were made into the producers. This sent the people who had initially fought back against capitalism into a sleep-like state, and people began to find themselves alone together; everyone in box rooms, watching boxes of moving images, right next to each other, in sprawling suburbs. Alone, surrounded by material gains that couldn’t satisfy.

 Once the labour organisations that had grown up to defend workers were defeated, capital had nothing to stop it growing and growing, and the more it grew, the more it fragmented groups of people; the more it did this the more it could exploit the individual. By the time the old Soviet regimes fell and capital went global, lots of people began to feel that if they couldn’t beat it they might as well join it; now they must be rueing this fatal error.

Everything capitalism sold to us as a token of freedom made us more and more trapped in isolation; cars emptied our streets of familiar faces; cell phones began to cut through conversations like an axe, and as more and more bought them, the more and more societies moulded to their design, making it almost impossible for anyone to be without them.

Forget the internet, now we have Facebook. Facebook may have the appearance of being a format that connects people and groups, but Facebook was an ingenious capitalisation; a capitalisation on a social trend already entrenched. Since the 1980’s an intense engineering of society to make it one of competitive individuals, isolated each individual, quietly disenfranchising them, to the extent that everybody found themselves unwillingly in competition with each other. The creators of Social networking sites picked up on this, to capitalise on the burning need to be recognised, seen as worthy of life and liked by others.

What is the feeling one has when they scroll down a Facebook news feed? It isn’t one of being connected, of being in company, it’s one of anxiety; anxiety over not being good enough, being invisible, being less popular, being left behind, being unattractive,  which are all tributary anxieties that flow into the main river of anxiety of our time; anxiety over finances/work – and Facebook  is an extension of work, which is why employees shouldn’t be surprised when potential employer’s analyse their profile.

Everything is an extension of work now, putting us in a continuous race to keep ourselves afloat. And individualism has began to show what it really means: freedom to fend off forces that are far too powerful for one person to deal with; a continuous becoming-incarcerated. The sound of what we have found ourselves in is slowly becoming too loud to ignore; but we no longer know how to connect and join forces with other people. Protest marches largely resemble festivals, charity races, that know where and when they will begin and end, than anything that has the potential to upturn the insane march into madness we have been placed on.

This is what I feel has happened; that so many of us have the same feeling; that the anger and anxiety about what is going on is trapped within us, as if it is our bodies that are the padded cells.

Doing anything to prevent ourselves seeing the true conditions of our existence

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The sky is that kind of colour that seems to saturate everything with lifelessness. The kind of day when moving from one metaphysical bubble to another is very much advisable. Even better if you can drape these bubbles in enough shiny stuff as to make convince others that they are desirable places to inhabit.  I suppose you lose a little dignity when you cannot do this at all; when the only thing that has colour on such days are the billboards/bus-stop-poster adverts that show a glamour that is seemingly always just out of reach.

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Stuck in a room with no reachable community (in areas drained of community), where everything sociable requires purchasing power in order to be reached, in a country of people who have been told time again that the world has ended and that their own lives are now all that matters. So I step outside, with just enough money to catch the only bus out of this village to a nearby gallery – my mind needs it easier today, it’s not a day for staring into the abyss whilst sat in it.

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I glance at the young people of this village, hanging around the top shop. A village that offers them nothing but street corners and empty roads to scoot down. They have reached that age when society slowly begins to humiliate them; slowly begins to wear the hopes and dreams down that it helped manufacture in the mind with orgies of images of glamour, the good life, and excitement. It now leaves them to stagnate in grey, underserviced housing estates. Of course they will look for distractions/sugary bursts that can help humour or keep in limbo those slowly-dissapearing hopes and dreams, and who can blame them when it turns into acts that are deemed as anti-social?

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To suddenly see yourself as you truly are – socially trapped, with few prospects/a person well down the chart on the all-important ‘who’s-who’ list – must be one of the worst assaults possible on that necessary ego one needs, in this ocean of egos. Perhaps, at this point in time, now I find myself unemployed and lumped back in my parents’ house on the outskirts of an already-neglected town (after a failed attempt to move somewhere else), I realise the difficulty in retaining one’s dignity and a sense of self-worth, and not feeling humiliated whenever seeing other human beings who seem to be faring better. An immense amount of energy and mental strenth is required to maintain well-being and ignore the omnipresent signs that tell you you are worthless and a ‘loser’.

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Everything that could have been done to make places more pleasant holes to exist in, everything that could have been done to create an environment that gives meaning and well-being to people has been shit on from a great height by the rights of free enterprise and private property.  You either become somebody who is constantly in need of distraction (who have probably now become Facebook/text message addicts), somebody who has a skin as thick as a crocodile’s, or both. There is no real future that one is able to plan for.

Think of the 1960’s film, and cult-classic Kez (situated within the same borough as the village described, and culturally not as far apart as one would expect due to the amount that has changed since the production of the film). The protagonist, Billy Casper, enters the careers/jobs office at the Comprehensive school he attends. He is a young man who has sought constant distraction from his grim existence, to the extent that he cannot apply himself to anything – well, until he pets the Kestrel he names Kez, which gives him a meaning and freedom to life, only for it to be cruely destroyed by the culture he is trapped in. In the interview he cannot think of one job he would like to do; he obviously doesn’t have the capacity and strength to think this far-ahead. All he has in his mind is a desire to get out of that room as soon as possible, and get on with whatever gets him through each day, one by one.

To realise one’s true conditions of existence is, for many, a moment of sheer humiliation, followed by fear. One instead has to constantly spin the plate/keeping in balance the feeling that you “are the man, I am man”, whilst clearly knowing  that they have been, by and large, sidelined by society. The best description I heard of the effect of the current government slashing of welfare is one of humiliation; as things get worse and worse, more and more will find it harder to maintain their dignity and a sense of self-worth. Within these coming years we are sure to witness extremities of all reactions to such humiliation; more riots, more drink and drug problems, more acts of random violence, more tribalism, more talent shows providing slim chances of success to ever-more desperate people, prepared to be in ever-more humiliating productions just for an end to the long humiliation.

It isn’t possible to look away from this, and these grey days demand of us that we see the world minus the ideological-enhancement-of our real conditions such distractions help maintain.

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THERE IS SOMETHING IN EVERY DAILY INSTANCE TO MAKE ME CONCLUDE THAT WE ARE LIVING IN A DYSTOPIA OF COMMERCE

THERE IS SOMETHING IN EVERY DAILY INSTANCE TO MAKE ME CONCLUDE THAT WE ARE LIVING IN A DYSTOPIA OF COMMERCE

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Society on Tindersticks, and The Snow Hasn’t Even Melted Yet.

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It’s not hard to find the crater-sized hole in the ‘Rivers of Blood Speech’ and all its wannabes – that hostilities between different groups of people only really flare up when the material conditions of the majority are either under threat, immiserating, alienating or all three, and then when groups of people who “didn’t used to live around here” appear, they become a tangible source to blame for the suffering that is often too immediate and in the face of people for them to see the roots of its cause.

But as much as we can feel proud and smug about ourselves for acknowledging this and being “better than the bigots on the streets”, knowing that the problem isn’t caused by “all these immigrants”, our acknowledgement does nothing to halt the death drive hidden in the DNA of this social system with dynamics that divide the majority into seemingly competing forces, whilst being invisible enough to escape most of the blame being dealt out. And as there seems to be no end in sight to the amount of austerity and deprivation the system could drag us to, the rise in aggressive tribalism, racist and random attacks seems inevitable.

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The frustration in public places is more and more evident; whether people class themselves as liberal, nationalist, socialist or try not to class themselves as anything, all seem more tired, disillusioned and generally more fearful of everything. It’s obvious in the pubs (now like haunted houses, trapped in melancholy clinging to the ‘big nights out’ of the late 1990’s/early 2000’s), the high streets (where, once again, the mood is one of denial of the present, like a place that doesn’t know its own time-period) and the train stations. Random aggression, and scenes where people are in the grips of a breakdown are more common.

In Barnsley town centre last Tuesday ,early afternoon, I saw a man already very intoxicated, throwing punches and squaring up to inanimate objects, such as signposts, like nobody was watching him do so; then making gestures to a man with learning difficulties suggesting he would cut his throat.  The police eventually turned up to speak to him, but I was wondering what is outlook on life had become, what is material conditions had become like, in order for him to be reduced to that state.

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On Saturday I was at the famously run-down Wakefield Kirkgate station, which always feels like a place murmuring with frustration about life (Wakefield Kirkgate is a real place; it serves a significantly poorer populace that the mainline station, Wakefield Westgate, just half a mile away). Two young men, who by the sounds of their accents must have been either Irish, from a traveller community, or both, were trying to get to Knottingley, a station about 12 miles over to the east. They asked me when their train was, but I had no idea, as I was waiting for a train south, to Barnsley. True, they possessed a bit of ‘laddy’ lairyness, but it wasn’t in anyway aimed at me, nor did they say anything inappropriate.

I left the station for a bit, just to keep the blood flowing in my legs on the cold day, as the train was delayed by 15 minutes. When I came back, the train was delayed by a further ten minutes, and as I walked up the platform I looked back to see the two young men talking to a well-dressed young man who had just appeared on the platform. But there seemed to be an uncomfortable change in exchanges of expression between the two parties, as one of the two men was stood right up to the face of this well-dressed young man.

As I walked back down towards the Shelter, where quite a few more people were gathering now, I heard this well-dressed young man on the phone to somebody, talking about some “crack heads at the station”. How he knew this, I’m not quite sure. I wasn’t sure who had done/said what, but when they returned to talk to him, he reacted in a rude manner to them, which fired to two men up, who then began to get more confrontational with him.

After a few words were exchanged, an older man intervened in the conversation, saying without looking “shut the fuck up”, to which one of the young men said “who are you fucking telling to shut uo, baldy?”. I’m not sure why the older man needed to get involved aggressively, and this is why from the onset I felt the situation would have played out slightly differently if these two men hadn’t evidently got non-English (tax-payer) accents. But he seemed frustrated anyway (everyone there seemed a little frustrated, anyway), and it was making him more frustrated (I saw him take a puff on his inhaler afterwards).

I feared for the emergence of a tribal turn to all this when the old man kept asking “weer’ tha from mate?” (where are you from, mate?) to which the more vocal of the two men replied “yer mothers cunt, mate”, and this resulted in the old man chasing the two men, who really did run like hell (one of them cutting right across the tracks to the platform on the other side), to which he sat back down and began to talk about them to the other people in the shelter, with an air of “we don’t like outsiders” to it.

But the two young men then began to hurl abuse from the other platform. Yes, they were behaving idiotically, but the reactions began to be about who they were/where they were from rather than what they were doing. But they were also obviously scared, as whoever they were trying to get hold of over the phone, they were now trying to get them to come meet them in Wakefield (it’s amazing how well you can hear everything in a half-derelict train station). As they repeated the thing about his mother, the older man started shouting “why dunt tha guh back tu weer tha cem frum? (why don’t you go back to where you came from?) to which they replied “you can’t even speak properly mate”, to which he replied saying something about being from around here, and that they were “fookin’ pakki’s” and that they should “get ovver t’ fukkin tower wi’t rest oh ’em” (get over to that fucking tower with the rest of them), pointing to the Mosque you can see from the station.

(by the way, I’m not mocking the Yorkshire accent here – this is also how I usually speak)

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A younger girl chipped in, saying “shut the fuck up, why dunt yer?”, that “if me dad woh ‘ere he’d knock ‘fook art ‘oh ’em” (if my dad was here, he’d knock the fuck out of them). I just felt like the people in the shelter were beginning to team together, and as much as it was probably more down to social cowardice that made me so muted at the beginning of this debacle, I remained mute because I realised I didn’t agree with either of the two, newly formed, parties. Despite the aggressive behaviour of these two young men, it’d raised the ugly tribal side of my home town, Barnsley (I could tell they were all from my home town by the accents); almost a negative/a distortion grown from historical traces/reasons for socialism in the town, taken hold of by fear, resulting often in racism and general hostility towards others.

I have a weird complex with my home town, it seeps into its residents pathology whether they like the place or not, its cultural Psyche makes its subjects unusually porous to it, strange for the relatively small size of the place. It sinks itself into you, whether the cultural of the place fits you or totally alienates you. And due to this I often feel like I owe it big, and it owes me big, only to be forever finding myself disappointed. The anger aroused in the station eventually, (due to the persistence of two young men’s obnoxiousness), eventually revealed a force against them for who they were, rather for what they had done, and it deeply saddened and worried me. My town is enbedded in me (I can’t escape this), and due to this you cannot help but want to see positive forces within it, but time after time it looks for answers from destructive forces (it’s so enbedded, that I would even suggest my own self-destructive moments owe something to it).

I think my frustration over my social cowardice, which always seems to reign supreme in such situations, is a reminder of my nervousness over expecting to see more and more of such random angry events in the coming years in this country. Protests, Occupy movements, even when protests appear to turn violent (well, when a few windows are smashed, in comparison with the many heads the police smash, often before the excuse of retaliation is valid) are likely to grow again, now that the labotomising flag-waving-enforcement of 2012 is done with, and this can only really be a positive. But as a form of reaction, I fear it will be in the minority compared with the disparate destructive reactions in this country.

Thinking along the Hallam Line (Leeds, Wakefield, Barnsley, Meadowhall and Sheffield)

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Along with the Engineering of Leeds (my 4th town) into a (relative) economic powerhouse, there seems to have followed an almost identi-kit pasting of all the traits usually found in the big financial centres like the City of London, yet in a much smaller area circling the railway station (after which it begins again to look more like a typical post-heavy industry northern city, and a Yorkshire town).

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The swankiness; a desert to all retailers except the most upmarket of independent and chain stores. The speed of life in this colony-island of the global finance empire is much much faster than ten minutes walk either way. There is an expectation to be met with tuts if you take your time; you have to run across the street after actually casually stepping out, because a car, that in normal circumstances is a safe distance away, advances towards you with the speed of a motorway slip-road acceleration. Maintenance; you get on the train in your local town feeling pretty well dressed and tidy only to feel like a medieval peasant in contrast to those rushing back and forth from the train station. Homelessness; the homelessness in Leeds, in comparison with its size (irrespective of the wider urban area now dependent on it), is apallingly bad. You do wonder where they could have all possibly come from, as it looks too extreme – without forgetting the suffering such a existence must create, it does often look like a stage-set of a typical city scene, almost hyperreal, which could explain why people find it so easy to be indifferent to others’ suffering in such areas.

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Leeds is often seen as the capital of Yorkshire, and this is very true – certainly regarding the West Yorkshire Urban sprawl, as Leeds has increasingly become the only hub of this 2 million-plus area, as other large towns (especially Bradford) have seen gradual decline since their demise as industrial bases.

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This may not include Wakefield (my 2nd town, living 8 miles from the centre), which does often seem to have something going for it now, quite possibly down to the needless construction of the outdoor shopping centre Trinity Walk and two international sculpture galleries (The Hepworth and Yorkshire Sculpture Park),which surely do deserve their place here with two of the most accredited sculptors of the 20th century originating from the borough.

But Wakefield, or the half of Wakefield mentioned so far, is if anything a suburb of Leeds, that seems to owe its ascendancy to what Leeds has become. This seems to be in an almost identical manner to the relationship towns such as St Albans, Reading, Stevenage have to London. This could well be because Wakefield is the only stop the mainline train line from London (which is so important in the ‘commuter-age’- which shrieks at the sight of snow on the tracks) makes in West Yorkshire on its way to Leeds.

In fact what has become more evident, since the observant eyes of the Southerner Owen Hatherley pointed it out in his book The New Ruins of Great Britain, is that Wakefield feels “like a southern city” (for which he did instantly offer his apologies for saying). But if you look at all the towns served by the East Coast Railway from London to Leeds, they all have a similar feel to them; all commuter towns, and they reek of modern industry, which to inhabitants of the old industrial areas of the north looks like the south (If you were that way inclined you could certainly feel a little bit of treachery, when seeing the a large London Underground map at the visitor service desk in Wakefield Westgate station).

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But there again, this beating organ dependent on the beating heart that is Leeds is only really one half of Wakefield. Wakefield really does seem to be two towns stitched together. One half of the city is the aforementioned town, served by the suits-and-ties-populated Wakefield Westgate station; the other half  is the remnants of a former mining town (culturally closer to Barnsley and Castleford than the other half of the town), served by the incredibly neglected Wakefield Kirkgate station, in a side of town that is full of sad sights, especially once the night draws in.

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This is the problem with Leeds in general, it is the hub of a larger Yorkshire urban area (which Hatherley suggested is a Supercity which possibly doesn’t know that it is), yet much of the urban area is neglected/ignored for the sake of Leeds, which itself is now nothing but a colony of the financial world-city. But there again, could the same not be said for Canary Wharf and its surroundings?

At one point Bradford was probably as big as Leeds, and Leeds would not have the gravitational pull it has without being less than 10 miles away from another large urban settlement. If West Yorkshire was recognised as the metropolis it more-or-less is, one would maybe begin to see a more reciprocal relationship between these already conjoined towns. What you get instead is each town (and this applies for all of England expect London) maintaining a provincial small-town mindedness, which results in London absorbing the lion’s share of (what remains of) alternative culture.

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(Emley Moor Mast, from the former Woolley Colliery pit site, between Wakefield and Barnsley)

I have always had a bit of a longing for West Yorkshire and South Yorkshire to be re-merged to reform the old West Riding of Yorkshire, which stretched from the Yorkshire Dales, down to Sheffield and Right across to York where it ended. It would mean an end to the ridiculous train fare hikes once you cross the South/West Yorkshire border to a town not 10 miles away. This has helped create a divide, with everything in West Yorkshire being Leeds-orientated and everything in South Yorkshire Sheffield-orientated. This is maybe a personal frustation due to being raised in an area right at the top of South Yorkshire, just a mile from West Yorkshire.

Because this area will always be what I call homeland I never really differientated between South and West Yorkshire. Yet there is certainly a gap in the continuity of human settlements around here, which does seperate the South Yorkshire mining-village-conurbation – which begins in Barnsley, heading down the Dearne Valley to join Rotherham, at which point becoming the Sheffield urban-area – from the West Yorkshire urban-area, which begins with Wakefield, Dewsbury and Huddersfield, just over a series of hills.

Barnsley

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There’s just enough of this gap in continuity to give the town of Barnsley (my nearest town) a more isolated location than the other (former) West Riding towns. Barnsley is a strange place. Defiant, proud, but confused about what it is actually defiant and proud about. It certainly has a sense of self (under of the banner of ‘tarn ‘n’ prard – meaning ‘town and proud’) big enough to match that of the much larger urban settlements around here. And I would argue that what has elavated this sense of self in recent years is that it is relatively more isolated and hasn’t become a suburb of the bigger cities, which is evidentially the case with towns such as Wakefield and Rotherham.

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But I would also argue that it stems from its identification as being the centre of the South Yorkshire Coalfield, possibly with more right to claim the east side of Wakefield, the mining villages within its borough, and the Dearne Valley than the actual townships these mining areas resided in. Despite the pomposity of the size of the construction at the time of its erection, perhaps the reasons for the construction of Barnsley town hall, upon a hill looking across the landscape, were for it be a beacon to all of the mining villages under its far-reaching gaze, like a benevolent Mordor overlooking its coal-ming empire(the clock at the top even looks like an eye). However, since a neoliberal agenda replaced the damaged and scarred physical landscape with a more invisible damaged and scarred mental landscape, the idea of what Barnsley is, and how it is still important has been shaken to the core.

The result of this has been an ever-more defiant sense of self with fewer and fewer decent sources with which to proclaim this sense of self; a culture obsessed with past because no real alternative identity has been found. ‘Professional Yorkshiremen’ such as Dickie Bird and Ian Macmillan have capitalised on this huge sense of self, magnified by the ridicule the rest of country deals the place, to the benefit of their careers, but unfortunately (I would argue – although not to completely slag them off, just that I observe this to be the case) it is to the detriment of the town – because by playing this parody back to the rest of the nation, they give it what it wants, which is beneficial to them no doubt, but unfortunately seems to have helped culturally stunt a borough that contains a quarter of a million people; a place where countless people have thrown energy into trying to help the place develop, but to no avail.

The culture of the area is difficult to build on however because of the lay-out of ex-coal mining areas. Barnsley, the town, probably only has 70,000 residents, but the wider borough (not even including the mining villages which are under town halls all-seeing-eye, but not in the town’s borough) has over 220,000 residents. But this village-after-village layout creates a village-culture that dominates the entire town. A village culture is very damaging to a town centre that still sees itself so central to these 220,00 plus residents. For this reason I did have some sympathy for architect Will Alsop’s idea for the town (not the one about having a giant Halo of light over the town, making it look like the class-clown of the north) to rehouse a greater number of the population within the town centre. True, the reality of this would be massively different, but I liked the idea on the grounds that I wish for something to generate life back here, even although the sell-by date for these Blair-year grand schemes has long passed.

The F.E. students, who populate the centre during term-time give some life to the place, and as much as Barnsley College has shrunken from what it was at the turn of the millennium (largely due to financial difficulties caused by corruption at management level) it still attracts many students from all over South Yorkshire, and parts of West Yorkshire. But they leave. Or merely give up on their dreams (not necessarily careerist ones, but also dreams of a different way of life) and return to their respective village quagmires, leaving an age gulf in the town’s culture; a gap that seems to begin at 18+ and end with 40 year olds. Most young people who don’t give up on their wish for something different, and have the (all important) means to do so, leave Barnsley, usually for Sheffield, but also Leeds, Manchester and London.

There is a new museum opening, and as much as museums are obviously about the past, that past doesn’t seem to have anything now to enhance the future of the place. Especially the romantacising of it. Of course there is plenty of unfinished business; the poverty left from the demise of the coal-mining industry and the police brutality dealt out in the strikes. But the centre of an empire of coal mining it isn’t now, unfortunately.

That centre was moved, perhaps with tactical intentions.

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Meadowhall

As much as Barnsley constructed its large Portland Stone town hall in the 1930’s seeing itself at the centre of the greater Yorkshire coal-mining area, this centre has been moved since the demise of the industry. The centre of South Yorkshire (specifically) is (and has been for 20 years) the Meadowhall Shopping complex.  Sheffield is a city with much to offer, and the only place that can really offer decent (again, what remains of) alternative lifestyles to the one just mentioned in Barnsley, but it is not the centre of South Yorkshire, it is more of an alternative within it; the centre is Meadowhall.

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This consumer paradise/hell on the north-east edge of the city is where all of what remains of the railways in South Yorkshire connect; it’s the hub that brings together all the scattered ex mining villages, and steel towns. It is the nearest connection the railway has with the M1 Motorway, and it is where all the coaches for Sheffield pull up. It certainly takes those villages away from towns like Barnsley, and one could certainly speculate that there were political means behind the locating of such a huge shopping centre here. South Yorkshire was once referred to as the Socialist Republic, as after the war it was the home of strong unions and home to a lot of very socialist-orientated housing schemes. It was surely a statement to the New Capitalism being drilled into us at the time to bury the epicentre of all of what South Yorkshire was under a palace devoted to consumerism/commodities (and just a few years after the defeat of the National Union of Miners in a battle at Orgreave just one motorway junction down from Meadowhall).

If you want to see the dominant culture of South Yorkshire, don’t go to Sheffield go to Meadowhall via the interchange. See the masses leaving the trains to walk the aisles (sometimes not even shopping, just going there because it’s where to meet people), people who have had all meaning ripped from under their feet, not future granted to them, save one of acquiring more and more consumer goods. The sight of all these people flocking here is far sadder than the sight of the characterlessness of such shopping complexes.

Sheffield

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The Majority of people in South Yorkshire don’t even get as far as Sheffield (my 3rd town), one finds the train completely empty for the final leg of the journey on the Hallam Line from Meadowhall to Sheffield.

Sheffield is certainly a far more attractive city centre than Leeds. Although apparently the opposite was true in the 1930’s when George Orwell visited it during the great depression. The centre is certainly my favourite urban area in the old West Riding, and is where I wish to relocate if I get the chance. The hillyness of it, and thus the areas of it unsuitable for development make it a relatively green and attractive city; the train station layout is incredibly attractive, being greeted with pleasant water features and walkways, the opposite of the grey,hustle and bustle outside Leeds station. The city has always seemed to be an important place for street art, and compulsive taggers; I like this, as for me, it almost seems to be an embodiment of the aforementioned unfinished business, and makes me imagine that an alternative to capitalism lies dormant in the rolling hills of South Yorkshire. The Supertram system, as it goes up and down the steep hills, has something really positive about it, just to see it, perhaps it feeds into the potentiality of the city to be something different from the others, looking more like a European city.

The city itself is as big as it’s more money-minded brother Leeds, but the wider urban area dependent on it is quite a bit smaller, and the Meadowhall shopping complex prevents it from having the level of consumerism seen on Leeds’ streets. Which, all in all, is definitely a good thing. Meadowhall largely takes the landscape of shopping bags and legs away from Sheffield, and as much as this has shrunk the city, it has opened up opportunities for the creation of many small independent art/music venues, something Leeds may have, but always seems pushed out of reach by the big money in the centre. Not to say that Sheffield hasn’t got all of these things mentioned here, and that Leeds hasn’t got alternatives to its finance, but they are both far less prominent features.

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But one thing that can easily go unnoticed, unless a concerned local tells you, is that the poorer residents of Sheffield have been by and large turfed out of the centre of the city into estates on the outskirts. One of these estates is Gleadless, which is a peculiar looking low-rise estate. Obviously real thought was originally gone into the layout; the buildings weave in and out of the steep green hillsides, and the views are quite leafy, and apparently architects from all over Europe came to view it when it was completed. But now it is a sad place to be. With exhibiting my work quite often in places in the centre (the city’s receptiveness to artist is one of the reasons I’ve warmed to it more than Leeds, for example) I was picking up something from a house down there one day. I just felt sorry for the residents, and realised that many of them are as abandoned and isolated within this city as people in the deprived mining villages are further out in South Yorkshire.

I will always have some kind adoration for the 1960’s brutalist Park Hill housing development next to the train station (whether is a morbid and more positive fascination, depends on my attitude towards the past and present), and I actually would have liked it if they have kept the other similar ones (Kelvin, and Hyde Park) that were demolished in the 1990’s, because the steep rise of the hills around there makes the buildings look so much more profound. But Park Hill is now nothing but a shell, much like the way that New Labour were nothing but a shell of the old Labour party. The original inhabitants of the then-run down estate were relocated, and then the regeneration company Urban Splash turned them into luxury pads for city workers/Young professionals, going for £95,000 each.

But in many ways the reason I do have more positives to say about Sheffield, is because it always makes me think of what Barnsley could be, and is often in dreams (sleeping dreams not daydreams) what it is (as Sheffield’s proximity to the Peak District, Woodland, and then almost immediately high rise, and factories, has an almost collage-like nature to it, usually found in dreams). One just wishes there was something that connected all these towns up better, and didn’t leave them to be the provincial small-town fortresses they seem to end up wanting to be.

The Planet’s Mental Illness

The Planet’s Mental Illness (2012, biro on paper, 105X145cm)

The Planet's Mental Illness (for whitewall) (1512x2000)

 

The Planet’s Mental Illness (2012, biro on paper, 105X145cm)

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The first thing I need to explain about this piece is why I chose the word planet instead of world; the latter being specific to humanity and all of its concerns, whilst the former describes everything that makes up the ball of rock, gas and liquid that constitutes the earth. I need to do this as it is evident that what I am trying to depict here is life in the grips of the dynamics of the human-made system. The word planet seemed more specific to dealing with an infliction on the earth of this all-consuming human system. I wanted to look at this culture (or civilisation) as something that, despite its initial intentions, has coated everything, making its logic inescapable, a logic that deals with maximizing all resource extraction, destroying the body upon which this civilisation needs to survive. This is why the word world simply did not suffice in representing the extent of the saturation of the issue we have here.
JOHN 042
In a completely unreligious way, I see humanity as being life’s brain: its ability to think about everything that is and has been; the ability to look back at what came before it. I don’t mean it in a sense that it is our destiny, more that the evolutionary process has placed the human being in this position. Yes, this way of seeing has been inspired by the Gaia hypothesis (a scientific hypothesis), which argues that all of the ecosystems on earth, and each living thing within it are interdependent to the extent that life has adapted this ball of rock, gas and liquid into a super-organism, self-regulating the earth to maintain conditions the best it can for life, in the way that a smaller system regulates itself in order that its stability is maintained. And I am in no way a new-age hippy: I’m too saturated in this wasteful and exploitative cultural logic/too infected with this globally-spread mental illness to be anything that comes near to genuinely fitting such a persona.
JOHN 015
The term mental illness applies at every level here, right down to the individual. As we now clearly see, this life-sapping system is now creating a mental-illness epidemic, where the use of anti-depressants has become on commonality, and it being rare to walk around a shopping street without noticing a victim of eating disorders. Earlier this year, my friend spoke of how such a high number of his friends were complaining from migraines due to the stress of being unable to fathom out what the hell is going on, from the local to the global, that it couldn’t be dismissed as mere coincidence. I situated such heads, fit to burst, in isolated computer screens within this piece of work, as more and more of communication between one another is mediated through mechanisms. The spaces between us, in cyberspace, are full of arguments and attempts to explain what just is going off all around us. However, rarely does the action transcend the screens and have effect.
JOHN 034
Computer screens seemed like the best place to position individuals separated from each other to suffer from the exact same causation, alone. It may be worth adding here that the scientific methodology that dominates our culture, has always sought to reduce everything to its individual components, to see everything as atoms per se, rather than as interdependent/connected atoms. And although this is certainly very useful, it seems to be a methodology with penetrating perception in one eye, but utter blindness in the other. The philosopher Martin Heidegger uses the term ‘modern technology’, where I would always use capitalism, to show how it is not a coincidence how a system based on reducing everything to “standing reserve” for future exploitation appeared historically not long after the beginnings of modern physics. This one-sided view of the world saturates our culture to an extent that it’s hard to imagine anything else, even whilst it slowly makes us more and more ill.
The tube-like tunnel this landscape is situated in is just this: the hegemony/the logic that has spread so intensively and extensively that one cannot imagine a world outside of this tunnel, even as it leads us into a darker and darker place. Towards the end of the last century, as systems that tried to challenge capitalism began to fall apart, the theorist Fredric Jameson claimed that in this time of late capitalism (or what he called ‘a time of no time’) “it’s easier to imagine the end of the world that an end to capitalism”; and as humanity stumbles into the second decade of the 21st century, this diagnosis is becoming terrifyingly tangible.
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As the heads inside the computer screens veer closer to the dark ends, they burst, re-releasing the cultural logic, in a chronological waterfall of the destructive cycle in motion since early European colonialism and the beginnings of the industrial revolution pours out, recreating the only world they know, as they self-destruct. It is almost the genealogy of the system being revealed, like DNA within we who know no other way even as it causes us to break down.

The landscape being constructed from the genealogy of our culture is of course intended to be the world we have now. As much as we see the brutality of the social gradient, from the private houses, and finance skyscrapers to the corpses of the global poor as they are the first to reap the harvest of climate breakdown, and those who are cultivated to sell their bodies in whatever means as the only means to earn a living, it is still clear that nobody is safe from these destructive dynamics. The lyrics of the late Richie Edwards in the Manic Street Preachers song Motorcycle Emptiness claim that “every where’s death row, everyone’s a victim”; this is the case under a truly global capitalism. Whilst this doesn’t excuse the vast injustices, where more and more millions are being dumped on the waste pile, whilst a minority enjoy the luxuries of kings, it certainly makes the case that we all have an investment in a different the future to the bleak one the logic of capitalism has in store for us and the planet

Long Stares That Never Reach Anywhere.

A past returning to haunt and all roads forward blocked

I am sat staring down a hillside, sat where I often sat when I worked here for 5 years, with my mp3, on shuffle function, playing out sounds from my last 10 years of accumulated music, staring as if looking for something in the manner in which I have so for as long as I can remember.

After trying to make a change in my life only to have it fire me backwards as if there was an elastic band tying me to something, I find myself one year off 30 and on the same ring-road lacking exits as I have been on since  the fading days of naive and sentimental youth-hood.

I’m sure it would be a mistake to wish myself into a relationship, my own family unit, and a joint-bank account, but what I have is no kind of existence to wish to take to the end of my life.

It’s like No-man’s land never ceases in my mind. The opposing sides never reach a conclusion. A cold grey sheet of mist blocks the view past the trench that I have planted myself in. I sit and wait and wait, for something to change, after a decade of failed attempts to change the predicament myself. Yet I know this to be fruitless.

I am told I have built walls; that I need to knock these walls down. I know I have built walls. This advice misses one crucial factor: there may be nothing behind that wall, Like the void left when a rain-forest tree is so strangled by vines, it dies and rots away leaving just a coffin of vine branches reaching into the canopy.

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We aren’t born with a solid personality that  remains to the day we die, we are layers that are built up over the years. Peel back too many layers and you may find everything has been bled dry. After all, the one thing in the world that has given me the confidence to live in it has been my art, a form of expression that has become so congealed within my obsessive and negative tendencies that any attempt to kick down these walls could crush my art underneath.

Nor do I buy the philosophy that one is “fully in control of their destiny”. A human being is thrown right into the world. He/She is hammered, and shaped, as if a  sculpture,  by his/hers immediate (mediated) environment, the historical period they find themselves in, their family genetics, and, let us not forget, the social ranking he/she is born into.

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Like the difference between a strong, confident-looking English Oak tree in a country estate and a withered and bent English Oak which has been long  exposed on a high hillside with poor soil, a human character is the plastic put into the mould of the environment him/her is thrown into.

Yes, a human can change their predicament, they can make the best of what lies in hand to shape themselves into where and what they wish to be, but this is very different to the prevailing pre-austerity-measures (and still popular) philosophy, that everyone is surrounded by infinite opportunity, that he/she can be what he/she wants to be, “if only they try“.

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Opportunities are more like slivers of light, eventually appearing through cracks in what for a long time seemed to be a dead end, rather than an horizon, seen from a hilltop, of opportunities just waiting for us to go out get them. The cracks appear because, most of the time, a human being finds a way out of what appears to them, for a long to time, to be a dead end. But sometimes they don’t find a way out.

Just as it would be foolish to use this writing as an argument that those born into comparative privilege in today’s world aren’t unwillingly moulded by their own environment (despite the gaping discrepancies in opportunity that separate them from the less privileged), it would also be foolish to argue that this inability to move on in life is specific to myself.

True, the stalemates I reach in my mind often seem too strange to be normal, yet I would argue that in our current state of permanent crisis under global capitalism (which includes the slow domino-effect it is playing out with the earth’s ecosystem’s) that obsessive disorders and depression are widespread.

People feel trapped. Even amongst the more light-hearted, talk about the future world is usually saturated by dread. Obsessive disorders are an attempt to stave off the drop into depressive states: obsessive disorders are fanatical rituals that allow the person to forget he has reached a dead end; depression is being face to face with the dead end.

The problem is the advice each of us receive, no matter how well-intended, makes us feel alone. Yes, we know we are not the only people suffering from depression/obsessive disorders, but are led to feel that we are in total control of our ability to pull ourselves out of it. In life-lived rather than advice-given, this is true. But the assertion that one is in total control of their destiny positions us alone, where the only option is to deny the causations of our predicament or be forever-blamed when ruing our inability to move forward.

This makes people less likely to reveal their feelings of being unable to move on, because it becomes a sign of weakness, and of failure. When the world looks like a giant cruel game where we are all pitted against one another, who dares confide in their failures?

However, the confusion comes now as I realise that nothing good is going to come from allowing my thoughts to expand to a global situation, when it is clear I become obsessive about these things to the point that I cannot even gain better knowledge of them because it makes me so dis-functionally miserable. I need to prevent it reaching this stage from where it all backfires resulting self-destruction.

So….

When did ‘all that is solid melt into thin air’?

Spending most of my school days day-dreaming, all I ever really wanted was a lover (somebody to spend my life with) and maybe, one day, a family. But as I write this down the sheer embarrassment I feel in admitting this reveals how far removed I have become from these day-dreams.

I don’t day-dream any more. I just stare away, and look around me all the time, still waiting for the dreams to be replaced; trying to figure out where something of substance to replenish me with optimism, hope and enjoyment for life can possibly come from. Whilst it may a blessing that the old day-dreams fell away, I have been left in limbo with no new ideas of how I would best like to live my life. And I certainly haven’t had any luck searching within myself.

It is clear that I haven’t got over losing the old dreams that guided me. I cannot find substance so I run round and round in circles to tire myself out everyday, so that this emptiness isn’t staring me in the face.

Writing on his K-Punk blog, Mark Fisher describes the band Joy Division and the suicide of their singer Ian Curtis as a Nihil Rebound: an inability to overcome the empty feelings and erosion of hopes and beliefs by the horrors and collective madness of the 20th century and to use nihilism as a powerful tool. That this made “the slow, quiet hell[.] in which most of the proletariat endure their working lives” Unendurable for the incredibly psychologically-trapped Ian Curtis, and all that he found he could do was to make his “…case against the world, against life, [my italics] that is so overwhelming, so general, that to appeal to any particular instance seems superfluous”. Fisher explains that “Depression is…a theory about the world, about life”, and it is the fate for those who find themselves overcome with nihilism, but who cannot (for numerous reasons) begin to use it has a tool to rebuild their life from their ‘zero-hour’.

I have friends who champion the power that nihilism can offer the individual. To me, this ‘world set-free’ still feels hollow, meaningless, and with nothing there to counter the suffering and destruction in our world today.

I am haunted by the ghosts of the past. Whilst enjoyment and meaning don’t amount to anything in the present. I remain in constant orbit around myself. As a means of keeping myself afloat.

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It’s quite calm right now. No one can escape the anesthetization of the Christmas period whether they like it or not. And I need to do some calm thinking, not get lost too quickly again.

Yet, all this musing as I sit here and stare is rather different from the anxiety one feels when these very questions bother one’s mind whilst in the fragile position of being half-asleep. At these moments the real worth of the anxiety is revealed.

And one  cannot escape the misery that spreads like a fog from the attack of more or less everything by the neoliberal system. Walking into 2013 is certainly like walking into the wilderness.