First and foremost for anybody who has never heard of Baildon (mainly people south of Wakefield), just think ‘2 miles north of the World Heritage Site, Saltaire.
I’m really looking forward to this event. To be honest it’s our first proper outing as a collective. The Artists’ Bookfair at The Tetley Gallery in Leeds earlier this year was sort of leading up to this. In light of the series of events that have unfolded in the past month (for better and worse) the title of the event, ‘will the last person to leave the 20 century please turn out the light?’, really does seem loaded. No longer does it merely seem to be a ironic nod towards the serious structural inertia that has dominated culture and political thought for what feels like an eternity, but it now seem to on the point of potentially being seriously responded to. Indeed, the post The End of The Long 90’s on the blog Flip Chart Fairy Tales, really puts into focus the unavoidable proposition that recent events will change British politics for good – that maybe the “Summer of ’17 really will be the end of the Long 90s”. I’m excited to say Rick from Flip Chart Fairy Tales has allowed us to use the blog in an introductory installation to the exhibition part of the event.
We have to be cautious, and what is still clear is that the apparatus that foster cultural inertia and negative realism are still in the driving seat, even if it’s now clear the vehicle has no idea how to navigate the new roads. However, with trepeditity, and paraphrasing the words of Juliet Jacques’ recent post for Repeater Books, ‘For the first time in [adult] my life, I don’t feel like [I’m stalked by depression]’. It may be a flash in pan, a hysteria brought about by the heatwave and the flurry of events discrediting Neoliberal agenda’s freezing of social life into billboard graphic impressions of public space. But I’m feeling more than ever that this negative realism can be fought against, both in my art and life.
Comewhatmay, we have a series of artists, writers and academics parttaking on some level in this exhibition. I’m sure the outcome will be a fruitful one!
As well as the collective (which currently revolves around myself, artist Rebekah Whitlam, Artist-Curator John Wright, and composer Benjamin Parker, – ghosted by DS Jarvis), we have invited contributions from DS Jarvis, photographer Steve Schofield, writers Merepseud and JD Taylor, the poet Jonathan Butcher, the blog Flip Chart Fair Tales, and potentially the engineer David Hooppell. All in all it is looking like
I really wanted to make more of this project before election day, but the things I had been documenting spread into a project I felt I couldn’t reasonably complete in the time space left. I had been making narrated maps and compiling photographs from the 7th May onwards, but to post all of that right now would just be the equivalent of showing the teacher all the ‘hard work’ I’d been doing in the past month in the hope that I could pass the GE2017 exam, so not to face the tidal wave of bickering sounds that’s building.
I begin with the series of maps I made during the last month, and conclude with a short piece of writing I have cobbled together within the last week, as I tried to make sense of the chaotic month, year, century leading up to now.
In a Barnsley Wetherspoons the ‘Love Manchester’ event that plays out from a screen usually emitting rolling news anxiety, prompts at least 10 drunk men to loudly and proudly sing along. If the Manchester brand of the past 20 years was borne from the far less deranged and nihilistic IRA bomb attack of 1996, the Oasis hit ’Don’t Look Back in Anger’ released in that very same year, has resurfaced to become the anthem for a Manchester hyper-branded through social media in a matter of days. It evokes a pleasant memory of spring in 1996; the entire of our year 7 class singing along to it on a cumbersome ghetto blaster in the school’s music department.
But that was 1996 – how did we all get so old?
I’m distracted towards the living rooms of the houses I walk back past, as the screens are noticeably showing the music event. The exhibited middle-aged white singer could be Liam Gallagher, Chris Martin, Damon Albarn or Robbie Williams. They all look the same; ageing men under the spotlights of an ageing spectacle. I start to see this gig not as a triumph of enjoyment over terror but as a send off to Britain. A gig to mark the sinking of ‘HMS Brexit’. It’s beyond doubt that something is ending… And I’m wondering if we are actually singing something altogether different, something that would spook the reality consensus of this 200 years-industrialised nation if we could hear it played back (perhaps through that old ghetto blaster?). Don’t Look Back in Anger, tragically, sentimentally and pathetically, has become this anthem.
How did we get so old?
Back in West Yorks I meet with Michael and we make our way out of the centre of a town that nobody is willing to admit is the heart of a dysmorphic, discontinuous, yet larger UK sprawl. This late spring heatwave has helped unveil the strangeness of the West Yorkshire mash-up of landscapes, now covered in a deep greenness. Rather than seemingly seasonally premature, it appears to spring up around us like a Jurassic landscape rising from a deep sleep that’s encouraged by the excessive carbon emissions we currently seem seized into emitting as the exorcism of the fossil fuel age heads hysterically to its death.
The sun’s heat just keeps on rising as we return from a walk that followed the Calder and Hebble Navigation. Once an essential artery for one of the capital machine’s long-gone dead skins it is now an extension of a leisure park for a post-historical England that was never successfully achieved. We marvel at excavations by hands, many hands, by a once disliked immigrant population now totally saturated in sediments of Englishness that seem to perpetually suffocate its potential. It’s such a familiar story, and like the immaculately engineered bridge we pass under, a mile down the tow-path, it feels like a painful reminder of how long in the tooth this game is here in England. And with the heat beaming down, it’s all too much. I’m massively relieved Michael suggests a pint at a nearby pub.
Later, we sit in Michael’s back garden in Ossett. Sandwiched between the multi-ethnic communities of Dewsbury and Wakefield, Michael talks in dismay about how this town is possessed by proactive wishes to remain miserably white-middle-class in preparation for the gathering storm clouds. The most severe indication of this was the line of union flags we observed along an ugly bypass past a new housing development where surely nobody with a sound mind in a sounder time would want to live. All seems bleak, but as his teenage children come and go, I just can’t envisage their generation finding a platform from which to practice such pessimist social philosophies. It just seems inevitable that all this has to fold into a brighter horizon.
But how did I get so old? This back garden reminds me of my grandparent’s on the periphery of the Darton settlement. Was it an interwar or postwar estate? I’m not sure, because both are longer ago than I feel I am willing to accept. I’m 33; biologically of grandparenthood if circumstances had been different. As I look at the garden of a man not much older than myself I have a sensation of having awoken from a deep and long sleep. But in the company of certain friends I don’t feel as fearful of this knowledge as when I wake up at 4am in cold dread over my stunted adulthood. From as long as I can remember my spirit found itself to be so vulnerable that my mind began draining its desire to live on daily basis ironically trying to work out life-living formulas to the digit. Formulas that confident pro-active behaviour would not give a second thought.
But that which causes regret and bitterness is for another time. “Don’t give up, man” I tell myself “optimism is the only way right now”. The forthcoming election requires a fight against depression, to wager on the ‘what ifs?’. And if all I think I’m seeing (?) on this streets of post-importance has some reality to it, perhaps we should look at post-industrial Britain in 2017 as being a patient half-way through psychotherapy treatment?
We are at a crossroads point in the therapy process. You realise you have a problem, yet the alternative is frightening, because it is the unknown. That past of downer-driven motivations seems easier, because you’ve learnt to numb yourself from the worst excesses of the misery and pain of it through a self-medication that numbs you to even the most horrific post 9/11 news stories; it’s a day to day battle with no future, but the alternative isn’t tangible and seems somehow far more frightening. And the most audible negative voices can anyhow reassure you that all this so-called alternative can muster is a return to the 1970’s. “And who would want to go back to the 1970’s?!?”. Their calls to your depression aim to convince you that everything has been done before. ‘There’s nowt tha can do, pal!’.
But, maybe this is just societal senility. Maybe, just maybe, everything hasn’t been tried before?
Trying to stop the memory mountain foreclose the future is hard. Even after the Tory party’s campaign blunders during the election run up, and sore memories of 40 years of social decay and financial anarchy, if their calling voices successfully manage to echo our depressive doubts about the world we live in, they will win cheer-led by the riotous and smug victory declarations of the Right Wing press, like In May 2015.
It does us no good to see ourselves as selfish and privileged 1st worlders who can’t get a grip; the consumerist addiction, and anger at small things is part of a depression that a culture that encourages atomisation and distrust encourages. To continue our punishment is to send out a toxic message about the way to distribute the wealth of life in a rich country. HMS Brexit: a ship of self-enslavement; enacting the sinking of the Mary Rose with seeming total complicity from those on-board.
If the vote goes the wrong way on Friday; I’m dumbfounded to think what new movements could grow in a country that has decided to stick to its depression.
But just now, we haven’t reached that conclusion.
Michael later texts me in disbelief over seeing the Tory campaign advert the owners of Barnsley local newspaper have decided was wise to cover it with. But the local rag’s lazy lock-down might have misjudged the nerves currently communicating on seemingly sleeper streets, like cable wires. Maybe, just maybe the meme hit a dead vein? As I’m travelling back through an obsessively familiar landscape that reminds me of the lines below my eyes more than a mirror, I realise that my eyes look forward from a time I don’t even remember; that the bags under my eyes seem to correspond to things seen in the decade before I was born; the 1970’s.
I don’t think I am alone, as many of my contemporaries felt aggrieved that they hadn’t been old enough to have physical presence at ‘the rave’ as if a curse had cruelly planted them in a time for which they couldn’t locate a pulse. For those who reached puberty in the mid to late 1990’s, a drink-fueled comedown-culture took over all that appeared to suggest that it could’ve been more.
It’s hard to imagine the only grown up ‘me’ I’ve been at a rave. The depressed and anxious vibes this post-pubescent body has emitted would have only sought sleepy cider sedation at a rave. But this body only ever knew the reality of the drink-fueled comedown-culture; the need to ignore the pain of losing that what we could have had.
And this is why a vote that could, at least in spirit, signal the end of the neoliberal clampdown consensus is actually fucking scary. But maybe I wouldn’t be alone in anticipation of a beckoning nervous breakdown; my god, we’d wake up and, maybe, just maybe, we would realise we could leave our shields at home. That would be so strange, and why would we need the drink at the end of the day, if we haven’t been holding them shields?
I’m sorry. How dare me, but Ive lost myself in idealism. I do apologise. But it’s better than idly saying ‘we’re fucked, whichever way it goes’.
Because I really do sense that something does indeed beckon.
Jeremy Corbyn has been a channeling force for the collective dysphoria borne in the wake of May 8 2015 (an election result reality nobody really prepared for). He is a head upon a ‘momentum’ that, if found disembodied this Friday, will gravitate towards a more extra-parliamentary form. And those who think Corbyn represents an ideological extreme should really prepare themselves now. At least from an English perspective, perhaps we will see extra pressure placed on the distressed and distracted collective conscious that burgeons on our times; it bleeds as a slow rain of individual meltdowns on a knife-edge between the impossible and the inevitable, but surely will be forced into the inevitable as the forces driving what currently registers as our annihilation engender its stage presence?
Short of nuclear war, the impossible future is the inevitable future.
21st Century Limbo-id Men (2017, mixed media on paper)