From mid-September to early October the main body of the last 4 years of my artwork will be stretched between two exhibitions of a quite different nature.
The first exhibition begins at 6:30pm on Friday 18 September, at Gage Gallery in Sheffield. I will be exhibiting in this large space alongside John Wilkinson, a painter whose work is more than certainly both as narrative-heavy as my own, and as critically engaged with the current state of play. I look forward to seeing how our two styles work together, whether this adds any further depth/dimension to way our works are viewed when exhibited as solo artist shows.
The exhibition will run to October 1st, 11-4PM
Gage Gallery, Ball Street, S3 8DB
On Tuesday 28 September I will be part of a show consisting of a group of 5 artists all from/ or with strong links to the town of Barnsley. The exhibition will be called Strange Bedfellows, due to the contrasting styles and approaches in making of those involved. What joins us together is our connection to Barnsley, and a desire to see a celebration of a selection of its visual artists.
Additionally, we will be holding a evening opening event on Friday 2 October. Where prints/artists’ merchandise will be donated to a fundraiser in support of local foodbanks. This is followed by a connected Vinyl Underground music event across the road at The No7 pub.
@Contemporary Gallery, 2-4 The Arcade, Barnsley
Tues 28 Sept – Weds 7 Oct
10:00 – 16:00
It doesn’t feel like we’ve had a summer for years now. Climate Change may or may not be making July/August wetter, but this plays only a small factor in the loss of summer, if any at all. Even when the sun beams down the colour looks faded. The taste is gone.
All the more recognisable for watching the landscape from the tinted windows of a bus as it left Wakefield bus station heading through the summer fields of the hills that form the West/South Yorks boundary. A small, unreliable bus company who purchase old coaches; the tinted windows drain the summer colours outside to look like faded photographs, from a vehicle that provokes faded memories of holidays fooling some unlocatable part of me into thinking we are going somewhere coastal, and not just to our workaday drop-off points. Moving on Up, The M-People, was resonating off the tin and tiles of the bus station, as sounds always do. I make a joke to my work colleagues that now this mildly-annoying song is in my head, I’ll end up spreading it throughout the workplace. But I’m secretly trying to deal with this unending sense of an inner void that I don’t know how to fill; I was hardly M-People-fond, but at least it felt located somewhere in time; if it wasn’t for the faces (intermittently including my own) all staring at their phone screens, and the evident social pressure to look CGI-perfect, it could’ve been 1993, and, of course, it still is in someway, but without the taste and smell, no matter what that taste/smell was. Reality may as well exist on a computer screen if it lacks any tangibility, and we still roam around in a weird CGI-ied version of the last decade of the 20th century. Unwilling to share this truth, unwilling to share the pain of it.
Is it possible to rewind in an ‘always on’ inertia? If so let’s go back to the week following Friday 8 May. I shared a drawing I made in the wake of the Tories getting a majority in the general election. It got the most stirring response I’ve ever experienced in the 7/8 years of posting things online; people weren’t just saying “looks mint man” or “well done John”, they were sharing how they felt in the wake of the realisation of what another 5 years of the Tories’ sheer jubilance in carrying out the brutalities of neoliberalist economic realism would entail (as opposed to New Labour who seem to carry out the same measures through a sheer disbelief in themselves). I felt stirred, because I felt that others were stirred. You cannot be stirred for long if it’s a solitary experience. A sense of collectivity in enraged disbelief at what had just happened erupted. The summer looked daunting, looked like it could ignite – but at least it looked like it could be alive. I thought something new was afoot. But the same shit happened. The fire was dampened very quickly. It fell prey to the now-well-known amnesia and exhaustion of our ‘always on’ lives; psychologically overworked by the never-ending overtime of cyberspacial capitalism, we don’t recall the immediate because the here and now is fracked to death. Just like everything else that once felt like it required urgency, it suddenly feels far away. Was I fool for thinking that this was different to the other times? Maybe.
Life itself feels far away. Again.
Back into deep deep summer and an environing sense of depression takes hold again, like every fucking year to memory now. The possible exception being 2011, which I will return to. Whilst families still go on their holidays, the chain pubs promote ‘summer fun’, and Facebook piles up with photos in the sun, the mood is as heavy as to induce the mental equivalent of the Bends-effect once you try to out-do the environing depression and prise yourself into an proactive state. Mounting frustration; peak-time self-destruction.
The massive support for Jeremy Corbyn, as much as it shouldn’t be dismissed as mania, or as something that will fade into insignificance, is too little to late in regards to this year’s deep summer to provide any sense of a break from this shitty reality. At which point let me point out that I have never been averse to either socialist, anarchist, insurrectionist or reformist measures; any ways of making cracks/leakages in the global glacier of ‘capitalist realism’ with the aim of something better (what could be worse than the [no]future of diminishing returns it has in store for us?) has my backing. I am not aligned to any oppositional force, nor am I averse to any.
But more is needed. The only true summer moment of the past ten years I can think of was the English Riots of 2011. I’m not saying they were constructive (and what made them stand out more was that they were situated amidst a year of Occupy, the Arab Spring, and plentiful large-scale protests), and me, as scared of confrontation as I am, was as anxious as anyone about what could occur at the peak of their escalation. But they at least gave a sense of life to a country that has otherwise been in a coma under neoliberalism, to which no amount of ‘fun in the sun’ simulcra can make me feel otherwise.
The last few years have barely tasted or smelled of anything. I have been preoccupied with ghostly traces of a past that won’t go away. As deep summer rolls on I realise I’m just as stuck as I was the year before, staring at the appearance of the movement of people ‘getting on’, all the more impounded in this deep and depressed illusion of summer.
It’s all about being stuck
Maybe (in fact, probably) there are small and still-barely-connected energies at play, setting in motion the forces to build a continuity capable of shifting this neo-ice age of the neoliberalist political economy that coats the recognisable world (like rare creatures frozen in ice that could speculatively be brought back to life by science, the shared convictions of the 60’s and 70’s that the world could be shaped for the better still stare back at us as they float underneath this icy coating). But in spite of this probability, the sensation we still have to battle day in day out, on a Alone Together (a brilliant book which brilliantly manages to miss the elephant in the room) basis, is one of being stuck.
We rush around at a faster and faster pace, cyberspacial info swirls in and out of our heads, faster and faster. But it’s a trap; the more we try to evade the hell of being stuck the more we impound a very specific technological framework that serves to make the possibility of alternatives to the current state of play seem impossible. The more we rive and tear the more we become trapped. Or so it increasingly seems.
How have we managed to reach a point where we are both manic and deeply bored creatures at the same time? A Hyper-Malaise prevails. Disbelief, an inability to be excited by life alongside a Feverish chasing up on errands “surely it will all make sense once I finish the next task in hand….?” Anxiety and boredom are the ruling coalition, and realisation of this is so depressing on an solitary basis. Relief comes when somebody shares the same conviction, but it is thus far a rare occasion amidst the sea of commands to find the current state of play a deep forest of yet-to-be-discovered enjoyments, rather than what it really is: a wasteland of intoxicants to momentarily soften the blow.
Yet the depressed are potentially the ‘drowned and saved’ (to use the title of J.D Taylor’s blog – an inspirational writer of my generation if ever there was one), waiting to be joined together. They are thus the true optimists in-waiting, because the intolerable state of realistion they find themselves in makes for a deep deep desire and longing for a way out, amidst these deep deep depressive excuses of a summer.
This gallery contains 7 photos.
Originally posted on ASLI MAGAZINE – creating change:
Artist John Ledger ? John Ledger, 31 from Yorkshire, United Kingdom is an artist who specialises in fine art and drawing. With a self professed existentialist nature, John continues to search for what he defines as a “breathing space” in order to find the answer to one of life’s big questions “who am I” and says “I…
I must first of all explain how I was alerted to these lyrics from The Fall’s track Frightened, it’s only fair: via a great Youtube lecture by Mere Pseud who referenced them with a not-too-dissimilar-intent as my intent. But when I heard him echo the lyrics to his lecture audience I thought: that’s my life that Mark E Smith’s talking about… (although the original lyrics say ‘sixteen’ not ‘fifteen’ – maybe I started puberty, and thus a descent into a thinking-person’s-dead end a year younger than Mark E Smith?). It’s not the done thing to acknowledge that you’ve become stuck at a point in your life – but I’ve got fuck all to lose in pretending that I haven’t.
On rolls the deep summer. I have grown to despise both August and December (“you miserable fuck; why do always hate good things?”). I struggle, self-destruct and smash my fists against more psychological walls in these 2 months more than at any point in a year. It’s taken me a good decade of my adult life to fully realise this, to the point where I wish the ‘we’re all going on summer holidays’ and ‘season to the jolly’ months would vanish from my time on this earth. I wrote about the Xmas/New Year period in a blog last December called Share The Pain, with the conviction that our current social structure makes the adversities of life (both age-old and utterly preventable) far harder to deal with, due to the denial of the fact that life isn’t actually that great all the time. A society-hating society driven by implicit commands all based entirely on individualist fulfillment, where there is an immense deep-sea-like pressure to feel individually fulfilled more so around two points when we are supposed to living the good life; mid-summer and Xmas. The result is the knife of the pain-denying, market-individualism, that enshrouds us, punches deeper into ones coping mechanisms, making one feel more like a fuck up; a lonely, aging fuck up.
Genuinely decent human beings say to me “your art’s fucking mint man, it must make you dead proud”. This is possibly true, but only when I’m actually in the process of making. Otherwise there remains a great void, intermittently filled with the screaming-schizoid-noise of contemporary life; emptied only to be filled at some later point, like an urban sewage system.
“…I don’t know how to use freedom. I spend hours looking sideways, to the time when I was Sixteen” (Frightened, The Fall)
(A dream I had when I was 20 where I was encased in a rock on some distant planet, watching the around me)
I can roughly trace my thereon-after sensibility, of depression, to a point when I was 15, when the glow of life fostered by childhood vanished in the short space between hearing Radiohead’s then-2-year old track Paranoid Android and going out and buying it from MCV in Barnsley’s Alhambra Shopping Centre, and what I can now see as the beginnings of feelings of total emptiness from which the only state in which to resume the inescapable tasks of life was one of ‘controlled anxiety’, that broke into panic when the control-based routines were interrupted. The wider state was (and still is) one of ‘managed depression’.
Art-making became a prominent feature in my life from 3 years after this point, and proceeded to give a discontinuous continuity to my life. The broken bits, the gaps in the process of making, are where I keep on becoming aware that I’ve been spinning around since I was 15, going nowhere emotionally (and FUCK ME I’m tired of writing this every damn year).
People have said that I live in the past. I do: from 15 onwards I have never been able to picture a future. The thing is the place where I have become stuck doesn’t exist. it’s a void I hang over. A nowhere land, which I am all to aware can’t be revisited. A transient moment that was never superseded, where any memory becomes more desirable than the voided-present that sucks in the future.
I think this is the reason I have been enchanted by non-fiction writers who deal with depression and anxiety as something constitutive of the times I inhabit. They make it seem so sensible as to why I should’ve felt this way from day one of my self-designated adult life. Writings on ‘hauntology’ refer to how the future seemed to abandon us, in the latter half of the twentieth century, to the point where it has become impossible to imagine anything but a slow entropy dragging down life quality in this eternal-present-land. It’s a conviction felt more by those who grew up in the 1970’s, but I was duped by a sense of progress amidst the hazy, new-shiny-capitalist Utopianism of the early 90’s, once it had convinced us that socialism had been buried with the collapse of the Berlin Wall , and that was a good good thing “let’s party man!, things can only get better!”.
I genuinely have spent hours looking sideways, as I’ve always been tasking-up the day in hand to avoid the hell of empty time. In-spite of the bookshelves filled up with mindfulness, which is alienating dead language when you feel like I do, the only empty time I can actually appreciate is on trains, or when I’m caffeinated. The problem is this alienation comes from a general conviction, embedded further into our perceptions of the Other by social media, that most are building a life of continuities of emotional and material progression. And it isn’t a total illusion, as I have felt like an observer of life, as it drives past me at some insignificant bus stop.
When I try to think of myself in these terms it’s pretty much like the scene in the Truman Show when Jim Carey’s protagonistic character hits a wall painted as an horizon; the ability to perceive more than what’s in front of me vanishes.
“Back to the 90’s, feel good hits!”. Even those born too late into the decade to remember it are overly nostalgic for its hyperbolic optimism in the faded, yet CGI-ied, depressed continuation of it in our times of disbelief. We never really exited the 90’s. 9/11, The Iraq Invasion, and Broadband folding of all that’s ever been into a digitised ever-present, pushed us right back into the decade we were supposed to have left. So, what exactly are we trying to achieve, what exactly are we innovating, striving for? Why do I feel so alienated from this? As much artwork as I make, I forever remain in a renegade state of mind, because the general command to better ourselves comes across as equally absurd and stressful.
The boundary between what stunted me as a human being in my mid teens and the conviction that it closely corresponds with entering a ‘secretly depressed age’ is very blurred to say the least. But it isn’t so strange that I feel more optimistic and full of life when I find somebody who owns up to feeling this way too. I’m still an optimist. If I see clues to a genuine way out of this I can sense it in my bones.
I think we can sense when we have been duped long before we can acknowledge it. There’s a ray of light, as tiny as a spec in the midst of the long night in my eyesight, conjured by growing evidence that many more are admitting they feel like me. I have sensed for some time that there is no future for me the way things are. From my perspective it can only be a good thing the more people there are who own up to feeling the same.