Very grateful to friend and photographer Rory Garforth for taking some really good quality photographs today. He also took some photographs of me with my works, perhaps the only kind of photograph I’m comfortable with (protected by the shield of my body of artwork, which I do, to some extent, see as my arsenal). Rory currently has an exhibition at Civic Barnsley
Here are a few of the photographs:
Artists intervention at Leeds Art Gallery this Friday (18th July) from 1-2pm. Artist John Wright and I will be performing a philosophical debate. Visitors are encouraged to interrupt.
Here’s a piece of writing I have made regarding my take on the performance Non-Stop Inertia: A Stuck Record:
Non-Stop Inertia is a performance piece named after an Ivor Southwood book of the same name. Southwood’s book takes an comphrensive look into the situation of the “deep paralysis of thought and action” caused by the “ideologically constructed” landscape of precarity. This affects mainly the younger generation of workers, but it is increasingly dragging even more people into a role that the economist Guy Standing calls that of the ‘Precariat‘, replacing the older term for the working class, the proletariat.
But Non-Stop Inertia is also a psychological state as much as an economic one. The “deep paralysis of thought” is basically what anthropologist David Graeber is saying when he argues “neoliberalism [the ruling economical dogma of the present reality] is a war against the imagination”. The stop, start and (finally) exhaustive effect of what Jodi Dean calls ‘communicative capitalism’, that in the age of cyberspace communication extends into all realms of waking (and sleeping) life, is arguably the neoliberal model par excellence.
The little red Facebook notifications, the vibrating phone are more than analogous with violent rashes/itches that produce an inescapable mania over the body. No wonder, as J.D.Taylor shows in her essay ‘Spent: capitalism’s growing problem with anxiety’, that cases of compulsive/anxiety disorders have shown to have spiraled upwards since we entered an intensified stage of neoliberal ‘race to the bottom’ from 2009 onwards. The immensely informative book Alone Together by Psychologist Sherry Turkle, about the predicament and consequences of being “always on” in a world dominated by cyberspace technologies, misses a crucial causal factor in the becoming of this cold turkey-like dependency, and cyberspace’s mushrooming presence in our lives: that the social landscape which has been so ripe for it to flourish in is (at least, in part) ideologically constructed. What Standing and Southwood refer to as the ‘global precariat’ is the necessary 24/7/”always on” agent that makes cyberspace the teaming immaterial beehive that it is.
I [John Ledger] originally undertook this performance as part of an umbrella of artistic events under the name Pandemic, based in Sheffield in the autumn of 2011. Pandemic began just as anti-austerity direct action groups and Occupy movements were asking questions, and demanding accountability in Sheffield around the world. Its aim was to create other spaces for interpreting and expressing a desire for the possibility of ‘another world’, that supported but also provided an alternative to the more direct aforementioned methods. Since then the speed, quantity of information on cyberspace, and our dependency on it, seems to have sped up so much, in just 3 years, alongside the feelings of unpredictability in our lives, that spaces for such contemplation feel ever-more compromised. This makes Non-Stop Inertia, and our performance concept, increasingly relevant.
The performance attempts to mirror this ‘paralysis’, to illustrate just how the ability to understand the social reality we are amidst is continuously broken up. With this performance being in a gallery institution, the predicament of the gallery worker (out of all service industry workers) seemed most appropriate. Compared to many service industry jobs, it is surely a far more pleasant working environment. Yet, because a gallery is an environment that has evolved over time to be a space for contemplation and an absorbing of different ideas, the gallery worker (who remains there all day) is psychologically ambushed by contemplation, (over)thinking. Yet the job requires a standard spiel to be given out to every visitor who enters the gallery. The environmentally-enforced contemplation is continuously interrupted and sent back to square one. Indeed, visitors subjected to more than one of spiels given out often say “you sound like a stuck record“. For such a relaxing environment, one’s head can often feel like a crushed tin can by the end of the day. Due to this I felt this predicament in itself was almost an analogy for the wider state of Non-Stop Inertia.
Below is the sign showing suggested interruptions for visitors to make on Friday:
Sometimes it feels that the malaise, the feeling of having been cheated, is because the ghosts of my forefathers embody me, disillusioned with the repetition of ordeals we thought were their past, not ours – after all that glorious future their Dickensian-stricken aging bodies believed they were handing down to us (no wonder the 1970’s seems more like a future than it does the past). I do not specifically mean by forefathers my genetic line, but also the people at large who came before us. I also believe many more my age and ten years either side feel this, even if they don’t think this.
And this feeling is certainly no jingoist rain dance! It’s more of a feeling that the future was stolen. A future in which the jingoist impulse would have been buried 6 miles deep (the depth at which they should have buried Thatcher).
The plight of those before me informs us that we are part of a defeated generation. Yet this truth remains an undetected feeling that almost never registers as a thought; drowned out by the white-noise of the capitalism 2.0’s con-work. The noise of competitive individualism, positive psychology and it’s flip-side, the draconian threats to work harder and harder for less. It turns the brain in an inflexible type of wood, then it sends in the wood worm to fuck you over twice.
“Here are the young men the weight on their shoulders … The sorrows we suffered and never were free” Decades, Joy Division
Yet my 200 year old glare knows it’s a con when it catches itself in a train window or the mirror in a pub. 200 years of hardship rest behind them (if nowhere else on my body), overriding me with a sensation of ‘not again’. Ghosts accumulated behind your eyes because the future they should have been laid to rest in never arrived – accumulated from a future denied.
This is a piece of writing I wrote to accompany of a photograph (image above) of screwed up job-centre print-outs (never worth the paper they’re printed on), when I was briefly claiming dole before returning to the very same job I had been doing prior to my unemployment:
“It’s like we all know the world wants us to go through the same ordeals that we already know the grim/empty outcome of, over again, and we’re telepathically communicating a message that roughly translates as “look we’ve [our civilisation has] come this far, look at what we’ve been through, we at least expect something a little better than this”. It is a feeling that haunts the first countries to go through the ‘modernisation’ process’ more than anywhere else; haunted by those ordeals of our forefathers – the first to be subjected to capitalist exploitation”.
I belong to the unemployed even whilst I work day in day out. I belong here because in my heart I don’t have it in me to accept life as a repeat of the grim ordeals of the past, after all con-men told us that this would never happen again. Thus don’t be surprised if as a 30 year old I remain somewhat in a peter-pan state, where am I to go? I’m not the only one. A culture of so-called ‘shirkers’ is actually a society of lost souls, but empathy for others is not something we do well (if we ever did).
But I can hear it already, “what gives you the right to think you don’t to do a hard day’s work?”, “you need to grow up mate and accept what life throws at you”. Which is completely missing the point, and also roughly translates as “How dare you challenge the work ethic so ingrained in our culture that we’re prepared to destroy the planet and go to war in the process of defending it?” Well, there was a time not so long ago when the idea of a coming-world where we worked less, stressed less, envied less, needed to drown our sorrows less, was anticipated. And I believe this world was far from being an unrealistic goal – until the tide of politics changed that was.
Oh, and if you do misread all of this as me being what you’d likely call ‘bone idle’, I do actually work hard. And, although apart from the day job it is not really/directly towards a better career, or a better-looking C.V, and may be work that actually diverts from securing a more financially-stable future for myself (as if I even thought that likely now!) I work fucking hard. But ask me to go to interviews? To start upon the road of bones and C.V’s towards a ‘dream job’? You will see in my eyes that I have already gone. It’s too late for me to believe. It’s a unnecessary repetition of our fore-fathers’ past, and it will only end badly. My 200 year old eyes can’t bear another lap on this grueling track.
These two small, but (I believe) quite effective initiatives seem so obvious to me that I’d be surprised of somebody who can usually only organise an half decent biro-pen composition could come up with them as original ideas, but here goes all the same.
After finding myself both dehydrated yet getting drenched on a warm,piss-wet-through day in central Leeds (after all, how can one go places always prepared for such mixed weather?), I had to consume far more disposable bits of plastic than my conscience usually lets me get away with: a couple of cheap-plastic bottles of water and a cheap umbrella.
I know I need water when the sound of crying babies (whose mothers are seeking the dryness on the same shopping malls as me ) are like ‘wack-attack’ mallets hitting my anxiety-buttons. And getting drenched is always a best-avoided humiliation for someone with an hastily-bodged together self-esteem in an anxiously-hierarchical society, where those already trodden on the most like sodden and discarded bus tickets seem to be the ones drenched by the rain of city streets.
Beyond my own experiences, thirst and heavy rain clearly have a large negative affect within city spaces that are already lacking any sufficient communal areas adequate for such refuge and recuperation. Things that shouldn’t be as disruptive as they are, make a sufficient number of people (thus the general mood of the city) more stressed and angry.
I thought how beneficial it would be to all if that unnecessary stress was lessened, making peoples’ journeys within the city more pleasant, by having stop off/drop off points for weather-essentials such as umbrellas, drinking water, etc. Regarding umbrellas, despite being annoyed by their nickname, and a deep dislike of the individual concerned in the nickname, maybe a way of making this seem practical would be by calling them ‘Boris Brollies’ – as umbrellas, and other weather-essentials could have collection and drop off stations within a city like ‘Boris Bikes’ have in London. Obviously water bottles would have to be boiled before reuse (glass or steel probably being the best bottle material) – but would such a system of doing this really be so difficult, for the benefits of eradicating the city-wide tension caused by thirst, and the unwanted used water bottles littering the streets because the city-user didn’t have any choice but to buy one?
I don’t trust the assumption that people wouldn’t hand back the umbrellas, water bottles and other things, and would pocket them. If there were enough conveniently place drop off stations for the items (such as in public transport interchanges), people would most likely find it far easier to give them back after use than lug them around for the rest of the day.
Of course, all this sounds nonsensical under a cultural reality based around an assertion that everything should be commercially-driven within city spaces for prosperity. But the most privatised, commericialised city-spaces, in my opinion, usually tend to be the ones that deprive one of well-being, at least until the next purchase provides momentary relief from discomfort. Perhaps this is why European countries that, even if their levees are being broken by the tide neoliberal economics, are still largely social democratic, are more open to ways of making cities smarter, than here in the UK. Here, there are so many ways that our cities could be better environments for all, but the private and commercialised notion of space is so dominant that they remain ‘day-dreamer’ ideas.
It’s not that we now live as if every potential moment could be photographed/filmed, it’s more that we seem to automatically behave as if there were already the case.
There is almost film-like gestures, sound-bite body movements, perhaps a response to the demand not just that life always be entertaining but that we are also continuously part of the entertainment complex.
Like auto-tune programs for digitally rendered sounds and auto-enhancements for images, there seems to auto-enhance for human bodies, and how we say the words that fall from our mouths. Has late capitalism created individualism for the automaton?
The theories surrounding mass culture/The Society of The Spectacle haven’t become irrelevant, but perhaps they are no longer locatable in contemporary life because it is no longer that the individual is subjected to it – the individual now projects it themselves. (Perhaps, an example of this can be made by watching selections of old adverts on Youtube that show us adverts for products that have now become such a naturalised part of reality they no longer need advertising to us)
Everything that registers as a ‘thought’ in our heads is within the the setting of a film-set of our life. How did thought work before the photogenic and film-like reified our imagination? How can we even tell now?
I’m aware I’m even doing this now, to some extent, as I sit in a cafe writing this on my laptop; I can’t help the inverted spectacle making me act as a photogenic ‘muse’, ‘thinker’ – I’ve literally no idea how I would look if was for once possible to imagine myself without it becoming a stage set in my mind (Would I imagine myself at all?).
Of course, this is just standard observations of a late-capitalist (or postmodern culture) – am I just witnessing a higher saturation of it than the Sci Fi writers could have imagined 30 years ago? Not only is integrity gutted and then subsumed, but even ironic self-reflex (thought of as the ultimate postmodern reflex) is also (re)gutted and (re)subsumed into the stratosphere of late capitalism.
Is it also the case that I independently re-spot things, without the once-read thoughts of the likes of Baudrillard, Barthes, Debord doing the terminology for the signs I see? And this annoys me that any comprehensive account of my own is continuously stop-started, and finally exhausted, more than it (probably) annoys an academic who says “yeah, this [writing] says nothing new”.
Yet I still believe there has been a shift, regarding the behavioural patterns specific to this pseudo-essay of mine, in the past 10 years. I don’t think the photogenic, cinematic posturing was so naturalised over ten years ago; I believe it still had to be attempted, to some extent – an ideal way of looking, walking, talking that we had to mimic. Now it no longer needs thought to be mimicked, as individualist automatons.
Obviously the question arises: does it matter? Is it so bad if we all now walk around in auto-enhance, automatically communicating with each other as if it’s for a final cut? It matters only if we believe that there is a common reality base that we all share; that if I punch a wall I will feel pain, and the person I demonstrate this to will agree that that pain is an unquestionable realness.
If life is graceful enough to us, we can accept that nothing may be real, and rejoice in the further abstraction from base reality. But if we do this, then what need is there for any empathy for the sobering suffering spilling out onto our streets more and more as part and parcel of the same late capitalist dynamics that enable abstraction from it? Why care about anything?
We can’t NOT care, eventually, when the things we ignore as relative realities catch up with friends, family, ourselves. Further acceptance of this advance of what Baudrillard called ‘Hyper reality’ will only come back to bite our pain feeling bodies.
It seems that today the use of ‘Ever-‘ with another word attached to it, is almost everywhere. Usually it is ‘Ever-more’, ‘Ever-less’, ‘Ever-increasing’ or ‘ever-harder’. It has become so frequently used in news articles, management emails, general work-place chit chat, scientific journals that is has become white-noise, entirely naturalised. When you pull it out the white noise, suddenly it reveals the disconcerting connotations of Now.
I would say that such a use of words (even if the language has changed) would have had little need to be used before the industrial revolution, except (perhaps) in times of ‘Biblical catastrophes’. I’d say that such a use of words is specific to a society based around the illusion of infinite growth set in motion by capitalist dynamics. But I would also say gthat despite the fact the this process is over 200 years old, the naturalising of this use of words began at the back end of the 20th century, and became naturalised during that last decade. This is because the psychological assault of the austerity-logic alongside the creeping (occasionally, crashing) awareness climate change is upon us that has given us the feeling of being on borrowed time, a feeling that gives rise to the ‘ever-more’ ‘ever-hard’ etc.
Out of Time?
Why does time seem against us? Is everything completely out of out hands, or is this sensation helped along by an ideological construction? The ‘Ever-‘ of ecology and the ‘Ever-‘ of economy have recently blurred into one. A sense of overriding powerlessness results from this. True, an economy has to take into account the ecology, and a deteriorating ecological predicament is going to affect the economy. But this economy is driven by an ideology that has asserted itself as reality. The assault of seemingly permanent austerity is not a response to reality but a distortion of reality. Yet, because there was no alternative idea big enough to challenge it when it died the first time in the 2008 financial crash, it has been able to rule the media-waves with its ‘reality management’.
This has compounded the feeling of time being against us, because the ability to picture a pathway out is smothered by a tidal surge of hardship (aping the real, climate disaster tidal surge) slowly heading our way. Everything seems to be in permanent motion against (the majority) of us. Which is why the sink of swim, ultra-competitive dog fight logic seems to have become the norm in society – like fighting for the remaining places on a lifeboat. Austerity is not an empirically-based objective – it is an economic war dealt by an ideology based around neoliberal economic theory, that seized the chance to distort the causation of the 2008 crash for its own ends.
If you’ve noticed, concern shown about the environment has diminished significantly since 2009, at least here in the UK. As much as people recognise the seriousness of it, the feelings of ‘Ever—‘ that dominate thought make it seem such an insurmountable situation. However, I think it’s pretty reasonable to argue that, under an economy driven by (or, more correctly, in service of) a different agenda, serious actions to deal with it could be taken in a very straightforward manner.
But with this acceptance of the ‘Ever—‘ we become silently accepting of things only ever getting worse. This has a huge psychological impact, that ripples throughout society, where people feel that they have to accept worse working conditions, worse services, a worse environment (think how the powers that be are repeatedly trying to make us resigned to accepted fracking – whether it works or not. The gap between a worsening of life for the majority based on empirical fact, and the worsening caused by this ideological assault has been been seamlessly bound. Why is why environmental issues cannot be challenged whilst accepting such a dogma as reality itself.