I finished The Planet’s Mental Illness 4 years and 1 month ago. It was completed during a period of minor personal breakdown and slow recomposition. Although the breakdown was minor, the conception of the work in early 2012 was informed by something a friend said to me in the wake of the mere sparks of an uprising that galvanised a sense of immanency to social change in the summer and autumn of 2011. He told me how a number of people close to him were all somewhat simultaneously experiencing migraines. A physic pressure was building, but the confines of the prevailing ideology held on too strongly in interior and exterior structures. This physical pain, I would argue, if as widespread as I was sensing at the time, dutifully subsided into malaise and numbness in the years up to 2015.
I’d argue that from 2016 it has returned, especially during the past month.
The 21st century has been dogged by a ‘bug’ that has spread like wildfire throughout the highways of the millennial technological revolution: aka the Internet. The Internet is a tool, as in a means to an end. But the last 17 years have seen it rapidly become an end in itself, under the imperatives of capitalism.
This superhighway scarcity has brought the competitive element into our lives at a speed and quantity previously unknown, at an intensity totally unrelational to the general material conditions of the age; from the way we anxiously binge on information to the way people fight with words like Hunger Games contestants over small indifferences in the WorldWide One-upmanship of social media. It is slowly bringing more and more of us to the point of illness, fearful of not knowing or being as much as the next person, and generally just not being able to carry weight of a unravelling world in loneliness. The ‘bug’, as it has done in the past, mutates into extremism, into reactionary primal screams that are manipulated by the biggest and loudest in the competition.
We may well now face Fascism in the form we did in the 1930’s, but I’d speculate that it’s more than that, that, for good, for worse, or for both, we may actually be in the midst of some huge tectonic conflict – a shift in emerging collective psyches, that is pushing against the bricks and mortar of the established ones. But the sensation is being experienced in anxious, panic-stricken loneliness. It is pushing and pushing, and it feels like hammers smashing against the inside of our skulls, as we try to break through our competitive and fearful systemised loneliness and reach for the New.
My confines mean that whilst I have an urgency to act, anxiety, fear of conflict and fear of unsettling those upon which I depend, have made art-making my main tool with which to scream. The Planet’s Mental Illness was an illustration of the aforementioned. It’s not a blueprint for what is expected to come; the claustrophobia of the present, the stuckness of thought within white noise of information binging meant such future predictions would’ve been insincere. They still are insincere, even whilst it is becoming clear that new horizons, whether terrifying or darkly optimistic, are upon us.
…oh, also, before it is pointed out that want I really meant in the title is ‘world’ not ‘planet’, the usage intentionally points towards my deepest idealism: that human beings, in evolutionary terms, are the eyes of all that has preceded it. A desire for us to recognise consciousness as the universe’s ability to look at itself. If we choose to, that is.
PS, I’m writing a lot at the moment, I’ll hopefully be sharing it asap.
“The Art of Menschlichkeit…Some works from the Treadwell Collection and Related Art. Opening Sunday 29th January from 2 till 6 pm
Two of my older works ‘People Factory’ (2008), and ‘We are Watching Ourselves Sink’ (2009) will be on show as part of The Art of Menschlichkeit (‘the human condition’ – English)…Some works from the Treadwell Collection and Related Art. Opening Sunday 29th January from 2 till 6 pm
Kirchengasse 4; A – 4160 AIGEN; AUSTRIA; Tel: +43 (0) 7281 20000 or Mobile: +43 (0)664 3449543
I’ll begin as humbly as I can. I’m a anxious character, who hasn’t quite yet figured out how to deal with criticism from others and the shame that often follows. This makes me uncomfortable paying respects to a writer who has inspired me as much as any other, aware of the gaping discrepancies in my academic knowledge of the subjects that have preoccupied me for nearly a decade.
I always felt slightly silly quoting Mark Fisher in my own blogs and spoken works. My thoughts always felt vastly inadequate in contrast to the value I placed on their source. I always felt that I’d probably misrepresented what he was saying. Nonetheless, I have referred to his writings many times, maybe as a need to celebrate the emotional connection they gave me.
It was indeed something of an emotional enlightening coming across both Fisher’s book Capitalist Realism and his blog Kpunk in 2010. I cannot think of another writer before him who better helped me construct a vocabulary to articulate how life felt under Capitalism in the 21st century. As soon as I read the first chapter of Capitalist Realism I almost clairvoyantly read the Kpunk texts on mental illness, the music of Joy Division, and the shortcomings of ‘starvationist’ leftwing and environmental perspectives before I’d even found them. His words made my own much stronger.
The news obviously broke on social media, and after seeing the words of a few who are more than half a decade younger than I saying how Capitalist Realism was instrumental in shaping their current political ideas and activism, I would speculate that it was the accessibility of the text, in contrast with Jameson, Zizek, and Lacan, that could, in retrospect, be seen as a building block in a 21st century social movement we cannot currently see because we amidst the formation of it. Hopeful thinking, but necessary thinking.
Below I have listed both books I read by him and a list of blogs that meant so much to me:
December 30 2016. I sit in The Retro Bar at The End of The Universe, this time in Sheffield.- it’s focal point the kind of jukebox that gives you performance anxiety (nobody dare choose the ‘wrong song’ at the end of known world). Iconic rave-era track Voodoo Ray plays out, followed by The Buzzcocks’ Ever Fallen in Love. Apparitions of a sunshine, of a world alive, in the deep autumn of our social reality, our civilisation…our world.
2017 looms like a year that threatens to make us remember it. After all, the consistency of 2016 has been akin to a pea soup (a liquid mush aided by smart-tech dependency) with no taste left to it at all. Yet it was the only meal left on the menu.
2017 will be the 100th anniversary of the October Revolution, and who could argue that this moment hasn’t shaped and scarred all imagine futures more than any other? If you can still dream whilst a 20th century deja vu affect haunts every move you make, then you may well be able to help us out of this mess.”
“For if it’s the end of history. It’s frozen and still. There is no other pill to take……”.
After the slow unravelling of the symbolic structure in 2016, will 2017 see a violent regurgitation of the pill ‘….that made us ill’?
I actually smirked when George Michael died. Not a ‘lol’, but a wankerish and smug ‘I told you so’ kind of grin. And before an emotional cyber-lynch mob hunt me down, let me stress that the smirk over his Xmas day death wasn’t because a human being had died, but was due to the fact that this day is usually one for ignoring the pain of the present and indulging in a day that is supposed to remain immune from history – acting out of time. Yet this year there was too much to remind us of the permanent ebb of the present.
And it’s not coming back…
As harsh as this will sound, maybe what is really upsetting us isn’t that too many celebrities have died in 2016, but that too few celebrities died? We want to end this terminal illness that defines these times, and maybe that can only happen when all the remaining figureheads of our 100 year old love affair with the consumer spectacle die? Perhaps we subconsciously want queen Elizabeth to pop her cloggs before the year is out; for Ringo and Paul to go, leaving no more heartbeats in the Beatles?
Or if that is an overly audacious expectation/wish (a wish for all to be longing for an end point to this decaying culture), I wonder whether we at some level are surprised that the figureheads we lost in 2016 were still actually bloody alive in this body-wastage-stage of late capitalism! As we seem to have noted their passing in the way we would note the dying out of a family lineage, surprised that some old relative is still alive. And this is for good reason.
A recent article by George Monbiot talks about how celebrity serves as the familiar human face to an impersonal and rapacious machine. These familiar famous faces both distract us from our deep-seated alienation, and lessen the pain it causes. Now, these postwar icons may have been a challenge to the paradigms of the status quo’s of yesteryear, but they were still always components of the ideological superstructure. This isn’t to discredit their art, and the shimmers of potential futures that may have laid within it, but is to basically say that you can’t be both famous and remain outside the consumer spectacle.
But they are not being replaced!
Monbiot, I sense, had in mind more the present day figureheads. All the ‘new’ celebrities are not new at all; they are so flat that they may as well be holograms of those from the 20th century. Perhaps the dying off of the iconic figurehads is so sore because we are losing any trace of the familiar beyond our own online avitars, and nothing to alleviate the effects of deep-seated alienation.
Left with nothing but our own reflections
“We lost our MEMES this year!” reads a text message, sent from John Wright, jestfully summing up the year that’s been.
Sat in the pub, I am joined by friends Bek and Ben. We discuss MEMES. Partly because we ask ourselves what is funny in 2016? Ben talks of how comedy has actually been replaced by the MEMES that crop up on feeds we access in loneliness. Their focus on the situational, Ben suggests, give us a connection point with other people seeing them in loneliness. We ‘lol’ due to thinking others are ‘lolling’ at the same time – as MEMES aren’t really that funny at all.
The meme quotes are so 21st-century-everyday that we can all relate to them. They largely use imagery from film and TV from another time. Most important is that memes are dead objects – all we have for comedy and icons is dead objects. The evident break up of global political certainty, and the continuation of dreadful situations around the Middle East and the Mediterranean, is felt more sorely because all we have is the past. Perhaps within the passing of these figureheads, we feel the anguish of lacking the tools to act on the present.
I repeat that, within the symbolic power of the death of icons that represented a century, there may appear the space for something new. But although we have nothing to lose from the dead world, the potential nightmares that may well be unfolding onto it threaten to make life unbearable.
But when the figureheads abandon us to a godless barbarism of a capitalism doing its best to survive by any means, how much longer can we inhale the air of a zeitgeist of disbelief (a term I came up with to describe a present day that was brilliantly pieced tougether in Adam Curtis’s recent documentary Hypernormalisation)? My depressed idealism scours the landscape for signs that a social spirit, so dejected and broken up, reacts violently against that process.
Violence being the important word, as I don’t want to imagine that a major revolt can only occur when the economic and political circumstances become that desperate for the majority they no longer have a choice but for violent revolt – as history has shown us that such circumstances usually create oppressors our of the liberators.
But history is now the important word. As the sheer bulk of historical awareness, even if in soundbite form, that rests on today’s hyperconnected generations, does sometimes appear to be not only what is making us feel so “stuck”, but is also making us unwilling to undertake acts that could ape the acts of historical violence that many of us are reminded of daily on our news feeds.
Enough people are already suffering (the army of homeless is proliferating on the streets of the cities of this so-called ‘developed’ country). enough people lack any clear idea of a future, and, although all are connected, enough people are mentally sick of the state of affairs that there is surely still room for optimism for imminent forces for change? Maybe there is room for optimism, even under Trump’s cock waving nuclear threats, that a transition can be made to something beyond the capitalist scarcity model, without a decimated global population? History in the 21st century has locked us in a depressive view of ‘human nature’ but it has also made us acutely aware of that which we should never let happen again. But what we still lack is what to do next…
After The Sugar Rush (2016, mixed media on paper)
My last drawing of 2016. Literally finished at 11:20pm on December 31st.