Ten years ago to the day (28.12.2006) I got the help of a friend to drive me out to a grassy island at the motorway junction on the border of South and West Yorkshire, to plant an oak sapling. It was for the aide of a project I was undertaking in my final year of my degree, to plant trees as a statement. For a held belief that more forested land (town and country) would be an essential factor in a survivable, and enjoyable, 21st century world.
I guess that belief is still there, but the fresh- faced idealism isn’t. I’m much more of a depressed idealist these days – who still has in mind such an ideal, but who is far more weary after a following a decade made up of overthinking about just how you ‘square the circle’.
I became wary to point fingers because I became aware that my fingers were just as much stained with complicity. My focus moved away from relying on ‘magical voluntarism’ (Mark Fisher) to ‘save the day’ and onto a social spirit that will not budge from engaging in harmful actions when it is depressed and defeatist.
I see this tree almost every week, as not long after I planted the tree, post-graduate job-seeking landed me in a job role just up the road. I’m glad it’s been here 10 years, in a decade that feels simultaneously short and long. 10 years ago I saw climate action as number 1 in humanity’s ‘to do’ list. 10 years later I still see climate change as the biggest issue, but the MAIN issue is how to transcend a capitalist world without it becoming something even worse and more barbaric.
But a lot of my actions over the past 10 years are the actions of someone overcome by a sense of defeat on a daily basis, a sense that is very much connected to the world as I have found it. Amidst the hyper-malaise of the present I nonetheless hope one day I can waste a day away admiring the trees I once planted.
(A writing for the Retro Bar at The End of The Universe Collective)
Apparently Generation Y arrived in January 1984. This means my sense of stuckness could be down being born in a generational hinterland.
Actually no: we are all stuck, stuck in the deep mud between the end of something and something….something else, that needs to be longed into existence promptly.
This year has been one of free-fall in stasis. No wonder the word of the year hasn’t been Trump or Brexit, but post-truth. How could our experience of the world feel to be both frozen and falling to bits at the same time, except in an age when our ability to function in daily life isn’t even affected by an era-defining loss of trust in all beyond our immediate lives?
The freeze and free-fall are no doubt effects that have mushroomed in motion with our hyperspace dependency. To begin with, let’s look no further than the big documentary of the year; Adam Curtis’s Hypernormalisation. In a condensed interview for BBC 6 Music he spoke of how The Internet is one magnificent engineering feat, but one that we have mistaken for the future. It is a means to an end, but has become the end in itself.
But whilst we’ve been caught in this quagmire we have also found ourselves subjected to far more stimulatory information than we were ever equipped to deal with. We have become stuck in a search for an endless series of tasks, which we multitask until the sun goes down (and back up again), from social media, information from all angles, dating, job-searching, house-hunting and more bad news than the TV channels could ever imagine delivering to us. If the Internet was engineered to deliver things, what it has actually engineered is a huge mental health time-bomb, from which no recent global event could said to be immune. A toxification not just of the soil and sea, but also the psyche.
To add to this, economist and thinkers such as Paul Mason and Peter Frase have shown us this year, through information abundance and automation, that computers are actually bringing an end to capitalism. Although it is an end that currently has no end in sight.
..well, it doesn’t if you’re a depressed but stubborn utopianist, adamant that capitalism’s death means fully automated communism.
…rather than Barbarism.
But… wait for it….!
The Ultimate Roast Potato!! (Sorry Jamie, it’s nothing personal)
“It can’t go any further, it’s already reached the end” says DS Jarvis, in a sweeping but justifiable assessment of culture under late capitalism, as he drives us down the hill from Grange Moor Roundabout towards the built up beginnings of Huddersfield.
Onetime Cool Britannia-late-comer Jamie Oliver is the locus of today’s said assessment. His Xmas cooking program offers to show us how to cook ‘the ultimate Roast Potato’, leaving DS with no option but rage.
“I wouldnt mind… I wouldn’t fucking mind, but he’s already put a disclaimer in his program saying he’s already shown us how to make the BEST roast potato, but no, that wasn’t enough, NOW he’s showing us how to make ‘the ultimate roast potato’“.
The conversation weaves in and out of how outrunning and inevitably then lacking the New, capitalism is pulping culture, and creating pointless tokens of luxury in order to keep selling shit, and we reach the old mills of Huddersfield before DS adds “I wonder if he [Jamie) even realises what ultimate actually MEANS? It means final, or ending. After this he may as well just fucking kill himself, I mean what left is there for him to do now he’s created ‘the ultimate roast potato?’. I wonder after a hard days baking, if he sits down and thinks ‘Christ, I’m dead inside’ ?”.
Jamie Oliver arrived in our world on a mopehead in the complacent dying days of the 20th century, adding a flavour of Britpop-lite to high quality food our newly-middle-classed bellies had now come to expect. The problem is, we weren’t so middle class after all. And to Jamie’s horror, he discovered there was lots of people who hadn’t ‘got on their mopehead and looked for Britpop-lite in the 90’s’, and were still eating bad bad bad food. He even cried. This was Jamie’s 9/11 moment.
We drive down past DS’s favourite (and most-hated) building in the town; the incinerator. “John, it’s that fucking big, that it actually dominates the town; the town’s main feature is a place where you go to destroy all the shit that you didn’t even want in the first place”. We’ve been to the Costa coffee next to it before, and marvelled at how both it (with its atypical simulacra of Mediterranean life) and a Travel Lodge could only exist in so close proximity to an incinerator in a time where the idea of a place has so utterly eclipsed the reality of a place, to the extent that people can’t see that the biggest chimney in Huddersfield isn’t some now-romanticised chimney, which once pumped dark smoke into the sky over this former mill town, but this white monument to the unspoken failure of consumerism to fill the void.
The Huddersfield of the mind is still brass bands, satanic-but-reassuring mills and Fred Dibner-ites. On the congested ring road DS goes on about how Dibner called Huddersfield a rat-race in the 1970’s. “Fred, you should come look at it now” he says. “You would lose your fucking mind!”.
Into the town itself now, and under the influence (thank fuck). We meet John W. John W looks around the pub. “You see, the Xmas fever usually over-rides the depressed and troubled spirit of the year that’s been. But I’m not seeing it this year. I feel that this year’s events and forebodings have been so hard for us to switch off from that not even ‘santa can deliver the goods’. We are well and truly experiencing something different.”
I must admit my whole idea of purpose has been wrong-footed now that the concerns I felt lonely in thinking about seem to be concerns for all of us to think about in loneliness. I used to think that exercises in the exhaustion of the sugary lie of ideology would be enough to make people reject it like an under-cooked Wetherspoons meal and vomit it out. But a zeitgeist of disbelief is what currently prevails, and who can see that changing in 2017 right now?
As we leave, DS turns and says “I will be following Jamie Oliver’s recipe for the ‘ultimate roast potato’ on Xmas day. I mean, what choice do I have? After all it is ‘the ultimate roast potato’!. But I wonder what is left in this world for DS, and for all us for that matter, after the ultimate roast potato has been eaten?
Here’s a selection of images of the art and exhibitions I did this year, and links to best blogs I’ve written. This year has largely been occupied by a large collective project called ‘Fighting for Crumbs (Art in The Shadow of Neoliberal Britain) – for which you can see our documentary, produced by DEADIDEA on the video section of this website; an intensive exhibition early in the year called ‘Under Digital Rain’, and on-going work for the collective ‘The Retro Bar at The End of The Universe’. I feel there’s enough content within the writing and art itself to save me having to sum up 2016 both on a personal and worldly level.
List of written work, including writings for The Retro Bar at The End of The Universe
This gallery contains 6 photos.
Originally posted on The Retro Bar at the End of the Universe:
In Another Country… … … December 2016 “7:10am. That very point where you sense an internal fist-fight with dread. It occurs about 5 minutes after you wake, when ‘The Everyday’ slaps you in the face with a post-nuclear protestant work ethic gone zombie.…
I have three works in the open exhibition at The Old Market Gallery in central Rotherham. A town of a 1/4 million people, which has possibly been let down by the powers that be more than my home town Barnsley. I don’t often visit the town, normally spending time in nearby Sheffield when I travel this way. But when I do I feel a massive grievance for a place this size to be given such little, especially in regards to transport infrastructure – which is appalling when you take into consideration how the place now actually makes up a large part of a continuous South Yorkshire urban sprawl of possibly over 700,000 people.
I’m exhibit 3 pieces. ‘Whilst We Were in The Eternal Now…’ from 2014
‘Debtland’ from 2015
And my most recent piece ‘Hope of The Nihilized’
If you are passing, or fancy going out of your way to visit, here are the details:
The open exhibition runs until Saturday 17th December
The gallery opens 11-3, Tuesday to Saturday
Market St, Rotherham S60 1NU