…the most valued stuff that I spent my life on during the months from January to December. I’d love to be able to announce an ambiguity to the numbers that dominate our society, but I am a self-confessed walking hourglass of a human, who watches the passing of years with sad eagle eyes. Anyway, what makes me feel more brighter is looking at what I’ve done from within this socially-constructed perception of time… I don’t even want to think about 2015 right now.
Progress… (100X150cm, ballpoint pen on paper)
A Privatised Implosion (21X28cm, ink on paper)
Just The Noise… (exhibition)
Whilst We Were All In The Eternal Now…. (ballpoint pen and collage on paper, 95X125cm)
Untitled (ink on paper)
The Mary Celeste project (The Scene of The Crash) video-work
Feverish (ballpoint pen on paper, 90X140cm)
How the command to have perpetual good times causes its opposite
During the time I have kept this blog I have found myself annually writing a pretty messy and uncontrollably pessimistic piece around this time of the year, usually titled Crash-Landing of One’s Life at The End of The Year. This year [yes!] “to save me from [fucking] tears, I’ll try pre-emptive action, by getting to the source of the tributary that leads to Lake Breakdown. I have struggled around this time of year for as long as my post-millennial-mind can remember, yet what always makes it doubly hard, is that doesn’t feel like it is allowed the voice it usually carves slowly but surely out of the late-capitalist landscape. I know I’m not the only one, maybe even within the many, yet the banishment remains in place. As my mind labours throughout the day on this, blowing hot and cold, the words “Sharing the Pain” are repeatedly reiterated in my head, as a means of articulating what I mean in the face of accusations more or less inciting I take a pleasure in pessimism. I get to the point whilst I’m walking from place to place where I’m internally screaming “yes, sharing the pain is what is crucially missing” in our contemporary situation.
In a BBC Radio 4 documentary from 2013 commenting on the 25th birthday of the “wonder-drug” Prozac, Will Self argued that we shouldn’t be trying to be happy all the time that “[M]aybe the world is a difficult and abrasive place and hard place, and we’d be better off as a society if we acknowledged it in some way rather than papering over the cracks [and we] shared the pain”. The title of the documentary was [a] Prozac Economy, and maybe Prozac is emblematic of the implicit dictum of late capitalist society to be happy and living life to the full, 24/7. After spending 3 quarters of my 20’s on another brand of anti-depressant, I became convinced that what was often mistaken as/and resorted to by patients/customers as a solution to a genuine inability to function in life was actually the ‘papering over the cracks’ of all the things that were inconvenient to the command to be fully active, well-rounded, happy subjects in the ‘game of life’. What is being referred to here, isn’t even the massive cause for ‘pleasure-depletion’ caused by the expanding trail of ‘externalities’ (poverty, pollution, violence) sweated, and spat out by capitalist growth; what is being referred to is the banishment of the bad-to-mundane parts of life from the social lexicon. Good times and success have come to mean the same thing and an implicit command to be living life to the full glares at us from the workplace, street, and living room, making for an unending sensation that our lives are somewhat lacking.
“Life tends to come and go. That’s OK as long as you know”, I Won’t Share You, The Smiths
The Smiths/Morissey’s lyric on their final song of their final album from the late 1980’s almost seem to be wise words of warning for the increasingly USA-like consumerist landscape that the UK would increasingly exist as in the two decades following on, that life isn’t always full and memorably-great. Yet we now live in a social landscape drunk on expectation that life should constantly flow and never ebb.
But without going much further just yet, in comes the emotional-stomach-pumping that is Xmas/New Year; a annual occurrence that is more of an unwritten consensus for a time of mental illness more than anything. Tears, relationship breakdowns, taxi-rank travesties – a general unhinging of minds. It’s like being sucked into a black hole; you have to make plans well in advance to ensure your coordinates are on course to steer you way past its gravitational pull. Most of us fail to do this, and just have to hold on in the best psychological state we can until we come out the other end in early January. It disorientates, messes any routines we have that give us scope for making (some) sense of things; giving us no means of coming to terms with the burning sensation “why aren’t I having a good time? I’m supposed to be. What the hell do I do now?”.
Many of us (usually referring to some unfortunate other – but often meaning ourselves) talk about how Xmas/New Year can be a ‘lonely time’. But I don’t think it is actually that much to do with being alone at this ‘special time’, but more a loneliness induced by this omnipresent command to be ‘living it up’. We feel more left out, missing out, with a need to be having good times-max for 2 solid weeks – no wonder we feel so exhausted by the end of it. This pressure to be constantly sociable, in the thick of good times, coincides with the increasing atomisation of human beings, due to an increasingly presence of market forces coming between al human interaction, so much so that George Monbiot wrote a recent column calling this “the age of loneliness”; both our real and imagined loneliness have increased.
My interpretation of the usual defence of Christmas [specifically, regarding the UK], as an ancient tradition of good will in the deep dead of winter, is that the difference lay not really in loss of belief in the Christian story (or tradition), but in the shift from it being a time of bringing good will, and an easing of pain, to a time where the language describing pain and general not-good times is banished from the existence. A burgeoning feeling of unease, makes us feel more distant from the (seemingly) joyous crowds. But my suspicion is that most of that crowd are actually only connected by their hidden loneliness.
Perhaps this shift can be placed at a point within the 20th century when a newly emerging stage of capitalism (a more completely market-saturated, market-dominated and deterritorialised society) snatched the mores (the demands/actions for the liberation of pleasures, freedoms to enjoy life) from the cultural revolutions of the 1960’s that fought to overthrow a previous style of capitalist domination. The counter-cultural liberation of the human soul in the mid-to-late 20th century turned out to be like rocket fuel to what could be called an emerging hypercapitalism, that re-appropriated and ventriloquised it so well, that tracks like the Velvet Underground’s All Tomorrow’s Parties becomes a slogan for this different style of domination.
Many theorists have worked hard to interpret this crucial shift, usually located in the 1970’s-80’s, but most notably Gilles Deleuze. Deleuze’s essay Postscript for Societies of Control, using Michel Foucault’s description of societies of Discipline and Punish (“operating in a time frame of a closed system”, based on containment and territorial in nature) to delineate the previous form of domination, talks of the beginnings of a new form of domination by “ultrarapid modes of free-floating control” where the “corporation has replaced [the older model] the factory, and the corporation is a spirit, gaseous”, it extends into all walks of life and “constantly presents the brashest forms of rivalry as an healthy form of emulation that opposes each individual against one another, and runs through each, dividing each within”. We are no longer citizens and workers, we are competitors and consumers; enforced individualism. (Digression slightly, but being as I am referring to many bands here, I will argue that the quintessential record for a discipline and punish society is Pink Floyd’s The Wall – released at that crucial point, 1979, when the transition was truly occurring, and that the quintessential record for control societies is Radiohead’s 1997 pre-cyberspatial-horror record OK Computer).
And, In a simplified way, it would seem that what the revolutionaries of the 1960’s were trying to overthrow was the discipline and punishment stage of capitalist domination, unfortunately oblivious to the more gaseous ‘control society’ stage of capital that was de-territorialising the sources of power, and re-appropriating the energies pitted against that older form, at the time. Unlike in a society based on discipline and punishment our pleasure drives aren’t something to be kept in check from a watchtower, but something left to the management of the individual, whilst advocated as a consumer rite of passage. As Zygmunt Bauman wrote in his essay The Riots – On Consumerism Coming Home To Roost, the 2011 UK rioters were ‘disqualified consumers’ who were (financially) unable to carry out their ingrained duty, and thus the rage of injustice was followed by the return of the repressed rite of passage to consume/enjoy – thus came the looting. Because control societies are always losing control, from the macro-economical right down to individual level.
What has all this got to do with Xmas/New year though? Well, all the factors that drive our contemporary reality, hit a huge power surge at this point every year; as Xmas/New Year now operates as some kind of social nervous breakdown, from which it rises back out in vain with redemptive plans for the new year. All the cities in the UK, by weekend, transform into landscapes of people desperate in pursuit of pleasure, in what is still seen as ‘leisure time’ – do they find their fun? Maybe eventually. Christmas however, is this on overdrive, when we truly do become lonely prisoners to the pleasure pursuit. ( The Black Friday escapades, that are condemned by those who foolishly think they are exempt from consumer subjectivity, are if anything a mirror image of the London Riots).
I don’t believe the pursuit of pleasure, and the unrealistic expectations we become condemned to place on such periods deliver their promise at all (In all honesty, the best nights out I have are ones that come out of nowhere, usually when you bump into a friend whilst out on a mundane town centre stroll). The failure to find pleasure on a singular weekend night out can be shrugged off far more easy, but the command to be fulfilled around Xmas/New Year can bring about series mental distress.
There is no way to go much further than this when the most crucial thing (on my part) is getting through the period with minimal damage as possible. It’s fair to say, I think we’re all swept along (or pulled under) in the tide of society at different degrees. At least I’m being honest in saying I’m far more seduced with the perfume of aspirational hyperbole than I’d ever wish on anyone else. It’s like a sealed pocket that releases its poison at certain points throughout the year.
I truly believe if ‘sharing the pain’ was a dominant paradigm, in the place of ‘everyone must enjoy themselves’, life would be truly more easy. It is impossible for a society to share the pain, and accepted the difficulties of life whilst there is a command to be a ‘player’. I also feel a society that acknowledged the difficulties of life would find it easier to adjust to adverse scenarios, rather than responding to it like the infantile consumers it currently moulds us into; to consume and suffer in silence.
Feverish (new work). Ballpoint pen on paper
It seems to me that the crucial thing to do right now (individually, socially, and internationally) would be to pause for deep reflection on the situation neoliberal economics has brought us to, as if we could reach a consensus to slow the treadmill back down to walking speed (at the very least). Ironically “pausing for reflection” is perhaps the one act that is fundamentally anti-neoliberal – and actioning this when its agenda dominates decision-making across the globe seems unfathomable. Yet this is what is needed if we are to even come close to stalling the rise in right wing populism, frightening levels of inequality, state surveillance, cyberspace misogyny, and (lest we forget) climate change.
When a lone human being hits a crisis point, they only recover after slowing down to the point of almost total entropy, often having to become so disillusioned with daily social reproduction, that society’s feverish demands of them become inaudible as one becomes (metaphorically-speaking) submerged underwater, in a state of ‘depressive withdrawal’. Beaten, bruised, and perhaps finding oneself back at the beginning of a rigged-game of snakes and ladders that constitutes life in such a competitive system, but nonetheless able to reflect, without respiratory unease.
I have often found the dark optimism of theorist Franco ‘Bifo’ Berardi’s potential solution of ‘depressive withdrawal’ from cyberspacial capitalism an inconceivable solution whilst the majority of us are put to (unpaid) work within cyberspace in order to hopefully track down a relatively worthwhile future for ourselves – especially as the unpaid labour we give extends far further into life than traditional job-seeking endeavours. With a process he calls ‘semiocapitalism’, Berardi tals of how our entire cognitive and emotional energies are appropriated into the reproduction of the system, and that this demand of us is in a state of perpetual acceleration. “Semiocapital puts [our] neuro-psychic energies to work, submitting them to mechanistic speed, compelling cognitive activity to follow the rhythm of networked productivity. As a result, the emotional sphere linked with cognition is stressed to its limit”. My own recent experiences of ‘trying my best’ via cyberpsace (interpreting and taking part in political discussion via social media platforms, whilst simultaneously trying to ‘career-hunt’, promote my art, and – wait for it – even considering Internet dating) has made me feel so disorientated, and unable to gain understanding of situations, due to the speed at which information sources bombard you, that I am now writing this after slowly coming up for air from month-long spell of depressive withdrawal.
Life is increasingly mediated via cyberspace – a mixture of platforms tending to and enhancing our panicky aspirations, our need of social approval, and depressive pleasure-seeking that results from the exhaustiveness of all that precedes it. Regarding trying to play a traditional participatory citizen’s role via Cyberspace, I have found myself bombarded daily with calls to stop TTIP, challenge the threat of UKIP, Boycott Israel, and help gain the Green Party the media limelight their policies deserve. Yet I feel bowled over, electrodes hitting me from all sides, ticking boxes of things I haven’t read, just ticking boxes of my pre-set ideas of what is just and unjust, not gaining a clearer understanding of anything, except a growing disbelief in the dissemination of information.
Yet social reproduction is incredibly claustrophobic once it is echoed from every device capable of connecting to the web. Our souls are put to work feverishly, trying to get places, gain things, learn things, yet learning nothing really. As the journalist John Pilger said in a recent lecture, the world is experienced as a “a tsunami of unexplained horror through the media”. Contemplation is squeezed into narrowing pockets of time, promoting its opposite: pure emotive reaction.
The ‘social-disease of neoliberalism’ has taken over 30 years to reach its current austerity-age fever pitch level. When the profit motive eclipses everything else, reflection isn’t required, or given a chance; just the emotive reaction. No matter how much information disseminated about the truth behind Farage’s UKIP (for example), its emotive pull creates such a huge din that reason becomes unreasonable. Neoliberalism forces down upon us an emotive populism, from Xfactor-style television to UKIP-dominated current affair panels. Thought is compressed into tactics on how to gain ground in a race to the bottom reality, whilst the quality of our lives is evaluated via media-interfaces, often only leaving space for the grubby residue of life’s wealth – what Paul Verhaeghe calls ‘depressive pleasure-seeking’.
We have found ourselves living under a strange Autocracy of Populism. “Everything must be entertaining, everything must entertain”, and we are expected to be constantly performative (and with success). an exhaustive psychic shutdown and depressive withdrawal is inevitable to many of us; yeah, we start from scratch, but it always strikes again.
And all the while the so-called protestant work ethic has intensified in response to the increasing difficulties of getting by. With each of us working our hardest, hoping the system will spare us (and grant us the leafy and comfortably-off 2.4 children lifestyle) the survivalist instinct has become feverish, repeatedly reinforcing the dog-eat-dog social reality. Since the austerity-age reality adjustment of the past half-decade, the work ethic has become hysterical in society. To challenge hard work is seen as heresy. In fact work isn’t even good enough, you need to be striving to move onwards and upwards constantly. Yet this hysterical work ethic only registers paid work as legitimate; all the unpaid exhaustion of energy that constitutes our so-called leisure time isn’t recognise one bit.
To be successful is all. The biggest fear is to fail – to be systematically reduced to an ‘invisible’. Being socially visible, whether at celebrity or at group level is all – to be validated within the believed-to-be all-seeing all-knowing media (or social media), which the writer Carl Neville says has taken on the role of a “benevolent deity, conferring riches and status”[Classless, Zero Books]. Whether it is the high echelons of celebrity media, or cyberspace social media – it is the all-important decider.
In one of his essays on the erasure of class struggle within British cinema, Carl Neville says that “In Xfactor Britain, we’re all just one step away from being a celebrity. …that exclusive x factor, detecta ble only by those of truly heightened sensibilities such as Simon Cowell and Cheryl Cole [the media embodied], are your tickets out of the most degrading of all personal situations, anonymity”.
We’ve all been pitted against each other, all against all, in this daily exhaustion to ‘get out’, to escape poverty, misery, anonymity. No wonder video trends with names like Epic Fail are so popular on the one-versus-all battleground of social media. Is the Xfactor nation depicted in the 15 Million Merits episode of Charlie Brooker’s Black Mirror really so far from our current situation? Will our lonely and feverish plights to ‘get out’ get more desperate, and more ruptured by increasingly frequent depressive shutdowns?
Within this drawing every figure is initially frantic. The zombie-like look isn’t coincidental; once the pursuit of ‘LIFE’ becomes feverish, lived life itself feels like it has ceased to be; many a frantic moment I have felt undead. It seems appropriate to add then that when I’m in a state of depressive withdrawal, whilst I go into a state of psychic shutdown, I still require to be in motion. But not frantic motion, more endless urban meandering, and a wish that the train journeys would never end, carrying on into an endless night. The problem isn’t movement, it is when competitive forces dictate movement. And these competitive forces are crucial to neoliberal dominance.
Our current situation isn’t understood because the speed of daily life has increased as to cancel out the bringing in of new understandings. Our current work ethos belongs in the 1970’s at the latest; in 2014 it is driving us mad, literally. The only solution is a reduction in the speed, but the fever has our blood racing. But patronising individuals by telling them to chill out and relax is both futile and part of the very atomising structure set in motion by the neoliberal ideology – ascribing an unreal self-determination to people which places them in charge of something they cannot alter from an individual basis, lets our current social reality off the hook. A global consensus on the need to stop and reflect is essential. If one chooses to argue that perpetual acceleration is at the heart of capitalism, then I think we can agree on the root-source of this ‘planetary mental illness’.
Instigated by the Degrees of Freedom artist collective, the Anti Gallery Gallery Show is an experiment in finding ways for artists to change their relationship with each other, their artworks and the public within a traditional gallery space so as to subvert its governing ethos- competitive individualism within a consumerist culture.
Alongide 35 other artists and art groups using the space from 8 to 29 January, we will be performing on the dates 16 to 18 January, at select time during those days. Please feel free to come down.
Non-Stop Inertia: A Stuck Record:
Non-Stop Inertia is a performance piece named after Ivor Southwood’s book of the same name. Southwood’s book takes a comprehensive 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, which economist Guy Standing suggests is the ‘Precariat‘, replacing the older term for the working class, the proletariat.
As much a psychological as a situational inertia, this “deep paralysis of thought” is basically what anthropologist David Graeber is referring to in his argument, “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’, which in the age of cyberspace communication extends into all realms of waking (and sleeping) life, is arguably the neoliberal model par excellence.
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. But the crucial twist is in how this performance aims to bring this issue into the gallery by mapping the subject most present in all galleries: the gallery worker.
Out of all workers, the predicament of gallery workers appeared to us most appropriate. The gallery is an environment that has evolved over time with the aim of being an ideal space for contemplation by allowing the absorption of different ideas. The gallery worker (who remains there all day) is psychologically ambushed by contemplation; chronic (over)thinking is part of the job. Yet he/she is actually employed to be of constant service to the endless stream of visitors. A spoken introduction, an issuing of guidelines is required to be given out to every visitor who enters the often heaving galleries. 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“. Anybody who’s ever worked in a gallery can’t quite state why they felt so exhausted and defeated at the end of the working (“this job is easy isn’t it?”).
Both participating artists work and have worked as gallery invigilators for many years. We are experienced in the fundamental contradictions of both the gallery space, and the predicament of those who work in it, who are often mistakingly seen as volunteers “doing it for a hobby”, rather than doing it to put bread and beer in front of them.
My work features in this months edition of the Liverpool-based on-line magazine Little Performance.
The specific page can be found here
Regarding the information I provided to accompany the images, although it doesn’t wholly differ from what I usually say, there is a specific despondency which is specific to that time and place.