A Visit To ‘Sheffield and The Nuclear Winter’ Exhibition, and a Whole Lot More…

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So today I walked into Sheffield Central library, and in the remaining 30 minutes before the exhibition ‘Sheffield and The Nuclear Winter‘ closed, I found myself facing a certain series of reality prospects that had been somewhat buried under an half-decade of an unwanted montage of self-consumed anxieties, based on age-based frustration, the unending demands for identity (re)construction in our ‘always on’ [no]times, and the entrenched sense of competition in life caused by this phony-austerity agenda.

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Nuclear War?! There Goes My Career! – Mark Vallen

“Under the general weight of it all.”… and trying to maintain a sense of dignity (the Self[ie] under siege!], I have literally thrown myself into my art-making. And it’s stronger than it’s been for years. But I’m not quite sure why I’m doing this; because I don’t think I have it as ‘career’ in my mind (I can’t picture a beyond point) it’s more of a final push; a “fierce last stand of all I am”, to quote a line from a track by The Smiths. I often wonder if it has become pure drive.

I’ve somewhat lost my way; adrift, with no idea how to get out, and it’s been like this for a good few years, whilst social pressures seem become claustrophobically close.

“Give it all you’ve got now”

I daren’t be too open about my doubts over the reasons behind why I make work in this way, when ‘selling oneself’ is so mandatory to contemporary life, which ‘could result in a damaged reputation for my product’ {type bollox]. Creative expression is crucial to my very being, it finds a way out whether I plan it or not, but my way of working on things thereon-after has been so caught up in a destructive cycle that’s spun like a hula hoop around my adult body, that often I just want to be able to relax, not be so PUMPED UP, but, then I get stuck: “relax into what, exactly?”

How to be at ease in this world has always evaded me. But today I have looked back to when I began an introspection into why. I somewhat want to get back to that future.

But it was only a fantasy
The wall was too high as you can see
No matter how he tried he could not break free
And the worms ate into his brain.

So the day after I put on an exhibition, I hit a comedown, and I recoiled and slumped into the thoughts and feelings of my 24 year old self. Waiting for a train in Wakefield, I began listening to Pink Floyd’s The Wall, and with Grayson Perry’s great documentary All Man about the impact of masculinity on individuals and society alike on my mind, I began thinking about what path The Wall partly guided me onto back in autumn 2008.

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Untitled, 2009

Not only did I think it was time to understand why I’d been such an emotionally bottled up/screwed up young man until that point, but I wanted to [try to] understand the world I was living in –  after all, the financial crash was an event still fresh from the oven, and it occurred to me that I needed to know a little more about the structures of this world especially if life was going to get tougher.

I buried myself into books, defying the self-told-story-thus-far about me not being able to read properly. So, imagine The Wall helping me deconstruct why a prison wall was emotionally starving me, whilst reading James Lovelock’s Doomed-Gaia hypotheses, and then, erm, doing my back in, staying in over Christmas and watching Threads – the film based on a possible nuclear attack on Sheffield/South Yorkshire amidst a 1980’s tension point in the Cold War…

You only need to watch Threads once. If you’re sensitive enough to the realism of it, or from a nearby area and literally know the streets the terror is played out on, it is artistic shock value taken to its logical extreme: it’s traumatising.

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Taking from South Yorkshire and Nuclear War – Information For The Public in South Yorkshire. (a book which advocated the sharing of its text/imagery

Threads hit me so hard I literally smiled when I visited Sheffield a week later, realising it was still there and standing. And foolishly misleading as emotions are: as anything so big would’ve taken out where I live in an instant too, as this story based on a likely scenario if Sheffield was hit by a nuclear blast explains –  chillingly so, if you are closely affiliated with the former mining area-cum-sleepy dormitory suburb that is Darton, or home.

“Jim is in his farmyard near Darton, Barnsley. Suddenly a brilliant flash of light temporarily blinds him. A wave of heat from the explosion scorches his face. Seconds later, he hears the explosion. Windows crack and tiles fall from the roof. Numb with shock he feels his way back into the kitchen….The house provides little protection from fallout. Like four out of five people in the Barnsley area, Jim dies.”

The above text and the accompanying diagrams were taken from the documents on display that made up the one day event Sheffield and The Nuclear Winter. I didn’t get to absorb that much, but in 30 minutes left I was sobered out enough to realise how increasingly streamed out I am from becoming more and more tied to my ‘Always on’ (or Wi Fi-seeker!) devices, and how my core being (or core sense of what it is to be fucking human or something) demands I COME UP FOR AIR!

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“There is no pain you are receiving. … your lips move but I can’t hear what you’re saying!

It seems that Pink Floyd’s The Wall follows me when I think about such things. Perhaps it’s the quintessential Cold War-period album? Perhaps The Wall, like Grayson Perry argues in All Man, is about how damaging masculinity can be on an individual and geopolitical level, when it becomes a used for emotional repression in a society.

It seemed that I was able to reflect on both these things today, for the first time in ages.

There’s nothing like ‘a near miss’ of a potential apocalypse in global affairs, centred on the annihilation the place you’ve seen the world from, to momentarily drag you out of the stream/our never ending cyberspace commutes, to take a look at something we don’t usually feel is real enough to care about.

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This is because the nuclear threat usually doesn’t feel real anymore. Not only have we been misguided into thinking all those threats died away when the main adversary to USA-centered power, the Soviet Union, collapsed in the early 1990s, but I think the ‘disappearance’ of the big threats is mainly down to the type of world that was just emerging from the Cold War and Post War settlements like some freak creation.

In the early 1980’s the neoliberal project, which forces our 21st century ‘online’ selves into being endless entrepreneurs of ourselves, was in its infancy in the UK. The technologies that push us into committing to self promotion (in whatever form it takes) 24/7 in 2016 were years away, and the social bonds, communities that gave the otherwise politically disfranchised ‘the capacity to care’ hadn’t yet been fully desecrated by neoliberal policies.

In 2016, we are equally bored and anxious – although we are a pains to openly admit this ‘public secret’.  Internet memes and lifestyle gurus promote the wonders of the world – exciting tastes, views, diets, experience -whilst the language is one of community, friendship and good times. Yet what we have been more or less pushed towards in the past 15 years is a way of life that makes us anxious and bored in equal measure. Anxious because life is becoming tighter, more brutal, competitive between one  another, just for crumbs. Boring, because we are glued to devices that stream pics and texts into us at such speed that everything becomes insignificant. Much of the content itself has the potential to really make an impact on our perceptions, but under digital rain, nothing new can enter – you have to consciously push yourself to find anything significant that doesn’t directly concern your lonely, cyber-commuting-self.

The compounding sense I, at least, have had during the past 6 years, when cyberspace dependency has skyrocketed, is one of being in an eternal now. It’s not that I don’t feel like I‘m getting older, or anything; on the contrary, it possibly impounds a sense of ageing, as digital dependency, and increased competition seem to spill out onto the street as the world begins to look like a landlocked Baywatch scene, where a mass of “keep and young beautiful” people hustle between job, gym and grocery as self-perfection becomes a mandatory for market individualism. And as my naturally anxious figure cuts between them, feeling like some 1990’s flotsam and jetsam washed up on the shorelines at the end of history, I am also aware other parts of our towns and cities are beginning to resemble Rustbelt America, or even perhaps the 3rd world. Yet the ‘always on’ cyber-commute way of life we have, creates the sensation of being stuck in a loop, forever.

And how can anything beyond the immediate seem a physical actuality anymore. Even Climate Change feels like it isn’t real, even as nearby floods are showing it most clearly is. This hit home most strikingly when I was jolted out of the post-night-out numbness of my particular ‘loop’ one night, when trouble was flaring up in the Ukraine 2 years back.

Whilst We Were In The Eternal Now...

“Whilst We Were in The Eternal Now…” (2014)

“Whilst We Were in The Eternal Now…”  was a response to the this feeling of pervading unreality to geopolitical and climate change events, whilst in the cyber-commute loop. A cold shiver whilst lying in bed, as I suddenly CAME UP FOR AIR, and realised just how real the threat of nuclear war still is.

I’m the sort of person who doesn’t want to live in a dream world, but I’ve found I’ve been doing more of this over the past few years. Perhaps this was due to an initial meltdown due to the amount I used to threat about the future of humans on this planet under capitalism. It didn’t do me any good, but I hate living like an avatar. And Im glad I came to to the Sheffield and The Nuclear Winter exhibition today, because it made me come up for air.

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About John Ledger

A visual Artist, eternal meanderer and obsessive self-reflector by nature, who can’t help but try to interpret everything from within the tide of society. His works predominantly take the form of large scale ballpoint pen landscape drawings and map-making as social/psychological note-making. They are slowly-accumulating responses to crises inflicted upon the self in the perplexing, fearful, empty, and often personality-erasing human world.

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