Archive | March 2014

“we must keep feeding the beast in order to keep it calm”

“we must keep feeding the beast in order to keep it calm”, ink on paper, A4

Better quality images of ‘Progress…’ (2013/14)

Better quality images of ‘Progress…’, a large scale drawing I finished earlier in the year




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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Strivers (no2)

Strivers (no2), A5, ink on paper

Strivers (no2)

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

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

I don’t think there’s ever been a time when British didn’t have a strong leaning towards taking it out on those weaker; the film Kes, from 1969, (based on the book Kestrel for a Knave) was filmed in the very same parts of Barnsley as this news story – the protagonist, a scrawny young man with unresponsive to his expected lowly role in society, is repeatedly picked on and bullied by those around him who are clearly internally suppressed by these same social roles that have encased them; even in this historical period when Britain was as equal a society as it has so far been (the post war period).

Also, the aspects of our culture that takes things out on those weaker/who can’t answer back seems to increase under a Conservative government. With their ascendancy to power there always returns the nastier elements of society that we thought we’d left behind, in fact any illusions of social progress are instantly forgotten once they return to power – although New Labour’s championing of ‘multiculturalism’ (and other easy targets like in an hierarchical society) was always going to feel like a con whilst they pursued a Thatcherite economic agenda that continued the economic and social conditions that stoke frustrations and their cry for a violent outlet.

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

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

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

Exhaustion in The Face of Everything

Exhaustion in The Face of Everything, A5, ink on paper

Exhaustion in The Face of Everything

The Parasites of Pessimism


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

Patrick Keiller’s London

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

ImageI now have a collection of books from the past 6/7 years of doing exhibitions/keeping blogs, that are available here