I’ve gone back to study this year. After years of wrangling over whether to go back or not, I finally decided that I had nothing to lose by doing so. Additionally, it has enabled me to have a bit more thinking space, away from working 5 days a week. Because no matter what job you do, I find repetitious work endeavours to corrode the will to be creatively and intellectually engaged with life. Although now in my 30’s, regrettably there are many things I haven’t experienced or engaged with, and in many ways I feel deprived of so much, but partly because of this, I still have much freedom from excessive responsibilities that many don’t, and this has enabled me to break free of 9-5, if only for 2 years.
I’ve still been working on my drawings, but spending much time considering and working on how the other main outlets for my work relate back to my drawings. I’m not a natural illustrator, I spend way too much musing things over than putting pen to paper, so it always feels a little disingenuous to go along with the ‘drawer’ tagline. It gives people the wrong impression about how I work.
It’s quite hard to explain this whilst also explaining how important my drawings are to the ideas and concepts that drive me to make and do. But the drawings are intermittent moments where the cognitive mapping of this chaotic world suddenly seems to come into focus, and make sense, even if this doesn’t seem to be the case for others who view the final outcomes.
Nonetheless, the current works are trying to take on the concepts of ‘dark optimism’ (which I borrowed some time back for my own uses, from ‘The Transition Towns Handbook’, by Rob Hopkins), and (my own) ‘punch-drunk idealism’, largely by pitting the capabilities we have before us, against the evidential mass mental breakdown that our current hysterical accumulation of modernity is causing. There has become within myself and my work an almost religious conviction that this moment, where we are at a saturation point regarding our ability to care and hope, will cause a tipping point where we will be forced to collectively transcend the ‘soul fracking’ of late-stage capitalism. I say religious to be cautious that I may just be fooling myself, but I guess if I didn’t at least have some belief that the future will be live-able the I’d be a nervous wreck.
One of the most important works, for me, was a written work, accompanied by maps, that sadly became an unrealised project. ‘How did I get so old? (Pre GE2017 musings)’ was a response to the then-upcoming snap election called by Teresa May. Although Jeremy Corbyn himself would never pretend he was the ‘golden ticket’ to a post-austerity, potentially post-capitalist society, his unexpected popularity with symbolic of a desire to break out downer-fuelled neoliberalist Britain. And this work was an attempt at reckoning with the potential of choosing to vote to challenge these depressed, foreclosed horizons, alongside trying to come to terms with my own depressed experiences of adulthood, and a willing to change this, also.
I’ve always found the balancing act of these two seemingly separate issues very difficult to communicate, because the language to effectively communicate a notion of a societal depression is inherently flawed, whilst when I veer more towards my own experiences as a better form of explanation, it appears merely pathological, or, at worst, that I’m wallowing in it.
The election, however, did surprise us somewhat, and was probably the last period of collective optimism, before the absurdity of Brexit, and the sex scandals that seemed to hover around it like accumulating flies around its rotting carcass of [the illusion of] neoliberal society, began to overwhelm such capacities for optimism. I guess there’s always next year..
WILL THE LAST PERSON TO LEAVE THE 20TH CENTURY PLEASE TURN OUT THE LIGHTS?
The biggest project was also to be the most spectral.
In 2017 The Retro Bar at The End of the Universe [the collective I am part of) was given the chance to curate a disused pub. The pub, which epitomises the weird and eerie landscape of post-industrial West Yorkshire, was situated on the relentless Otley Road, within the Saltaire/Shipley region. Yet, the building itself contained ghostly remnants of a political and cultural era which the RBATEOU argues is currently coming to an end.
Due to a location made ‘strange’ by our descent into a commuter existence, the event ‘Will The Last Person To Leave The 20th century Please Turn Out The lights?’ received NO VISITORS. This was an exhibition at the end of the universe, making the collective wonder “are we the last person?”. Perhaps it was meant to be?
We curated both floors of this large building, to create something that actually began to creep us out as a collective, as if we’d uncovered a truth about the era we arguably just leaving that wasn’t comfortable.
Rebekah Whitlam’s ‘Milly Molly Mandy Gets Loaded and Other Stories’, at the dead end of a corridor in the upstairs section, felt like the exorcism of this period. And I would recommend watching the video piece she made afterwards, with the help of sound artist Adam Weikert.
The Eternal Blip (A Mary Celeste Decade)
I have some projects that I am wanting to conceal until the new year, but they will, without doubt, be documented upon here in good time. But perhaps the last point of interest to finish on would be my rookie attempts trying to map an idea of society’s emotional patterns in response to certain political upheavals during the past decade.
Working on ideas put down in 4 years back in ‘The Mary Celeste Project (The Scene of The Crash)’, The Eternal Blip (A Mary Celeste Decade) basically tracks the past ten years, since the year when the financial crash happened to now, asking if others feel the same way as I do: that with retrospect it feels like a lost decade (?).
Now, I haven’t been forced to rely on food handouts, had to choose between heating and eating, or found myself on the streets (an awful new normality in the past ten years). But in hindsight I feel like it has stunted me, almost caged me in a previous point of my life. I feel like when I shut my eyes and reopen them, I can’t remember the decade, as it has been sucked from under me.
The parallels between a long depression, and the memory loss it can cause are very closely tied, and I can only hope that it isn’t a lone experience, because I want the other aspects of the work to make sense to people, as they are where the optimism lies.
Within this submerged soundscape there are points of emergence that correlate with times within the past decade when I felt ruptures in default reality fabric occurred. For good or for worse, new horizons felt palpable, as was a sense to act. Ultimately the default reality fabric reasserted itself, and, arguably the depression/memory loss resumed.
From the 2011 English riots to Trump, from Corbyn to Brexit, constructive or destructive, the fact is that these ruptures offer(ed) alterior possibilities from the business-as-usual outcome. I don’t know, I just know how I feel /felt in these moments seemed to contain some kernel of something other, that allowed me to imagine myself in relation to the world in a different manner.
Next year is going to be a real challenge on so many levels. But I feel far less of the objectless and hopeless confusion I had in many of the previous years. I’m hoping I, and those I work closely with, are onto some great ideas for 2018…
I have been re-working this text and image work I made late last year in a sound/image piece. Last Resort To Forgotten Funwas part of a series of works called ‘Stories From Time-locked Space’, which we included in our first publication, published earlier this year.
<p><a href=”https://vimeo.com/248603349″>Last Resort To Forgotten Fun (Stories From Time-locked Space)</a> from <a href=”https://vimeo.com/user60125733″>John Ledger</a> on <a href=”https://vimeo.com”>Vimeo</a>.</p>
In the United Kingdom many areas believe they are marginalised and overlooked in favour London and the South East. Although I’d argue the primary cause for such grievance isn’t geographically located, but located inside of us, from being subjected to the kind of society created through 40 years of fidelity to the ideology of market fundamentalism and market individualism – which personalises social problems, and affects people in London as much as the North (for example) – there are many reasons why people in the UK feel ignored and marginal to matters due to where they live. For example, “London will see £1,500 more in transport spending per person than the North over the coming years” a fact that is cause for bitterness for anyone who regularly has to use Northern Rail or Transpennine Express.
Additionally, the idea that a sense of belonging to a geographical location has been totally illegitimatised by these globally interconnected times has been proven to be totally flawed. I think it’s an impossibility to expect the human animal to thrive with no sense of connection to an area they have lived in for a number of years. And it doesn’t have to be forged around hard oppositionalism to other regions. I’d argue regional identity can take on different forms, and doesn’t have to be borne from the alienation and humiliation many feel in impersonal nation states that can conversely result in a more ferocious fever of xenophobic nationalism.
However that’s a topic for another time. Also, I’m not here to make such statements of what type of devolution should be sought, whether they would work, and all that, etc. I am simply employing my years making mind maps around the South and West Yorkshire areas, to hypothesise about ‘workable’ constitutional boundaries that could deal with the ongoing dilemma of devolution between the Sheffield City Region and the Wider Yorkshire Region..
Residents in the Barnsley and Doncaster districts are being asked to ‘have their say’ on a decision over whether to agree to be part of a stronger Sheffield City Region (which they are currently the most northerly areas of) or as part of a Wider Yorkshire Region. Barnsley and Doncaster councils have voted against on their initial agreement to be part of a mayor-run Sheffield City Region, in favour of a Wider Yorkshire Region, for reasons, they say, are due to the amount of changes in British Politics since the original agreement was made in 2015.
After much consideration, I started playing around with an idea for a map that de-draws constitutional boundaries that I think could potentially work.
Yorkshire is giant county in proportion with other England centres, with a massive sense of identity, which, in turn, has made it forget that some of the areas now in within its boundaries, weren’t always so.
The reason I would propose to change a Sheffield City Region (excluding Barnsley and Doncaster) into a place of its own called ‘Hallamshire’ isn’t out of some petty wish to exclude it from the bloated belly of Yorkshire, but to agree with the thoughts of the Writer/critic Ian Nairn when he visited the town in 1960’s. Nairn says:
“[I]t is the capital of an area which exists in fact but not in administration – Hallamshire, or the missing South Riding. …The industrial revolution gave it character which is not quite Midland, not quite Yorkshire, not quite Pennine…”
The reason ‘South Riding’ wouldn’t work, however, is due to one of the main obstacles to Sheffield being part of a Wider Yorkshire Region. Much of the south of Sheffield is situated, at least historically, in Derbyshire, especially as the housing developments continue to sprawl out towards the south and east. Additionally, much of the City Region that sees Sheffield as its nearest city is in Nottinghamshire. Although the nearest city to most of the Doncaster and Barnsley boroughs is Sheffield, they are also very close to the conurbation that has built up around Leeds.
I think Sheffield would fair well being known as the centre of a ‘Hallamshire’. I roughly propose it would begin in the north, following the Don valley from Dunford Bridge, taking on Penistone (which has much more in common, culturally and geographically, with Sheffield, than it does being currently part of the Barnsley district). It would stretch to the eastern side of the Derwent valley in the Peak District, and follow the Rother valley from the south in Derbyshire and into Rotherham, and stretch out South East to include the former mining areas of north Nottinghamshire around Worksop.
There are historical reasons to suggest that Sheffield may have existed on boundary lands between the North and the Midlands. According to the historian David Hey, The river Sheaf, from which Sheffield takes its name, means ‘boundary in Old English’. he suggests, in his 2000 paper ‘Yorkshire’s Southern Boundary’ that:
“it might easily be thought that the boundary would follow the river Sheaf to its confluence with the Don, and so on to The Humber. This in fact may have been the division between the Brigante and the Corieltauvi tribes when the Romans erected their fort at Templeborough in A.D 54…”. David Hey (2000) Yorkshire’s Southern Boundary, Northern History, 37:1
Even though this map is purely hypothetical I felt it still it could offend Sheffielder’s who feel just as strongly about their Yorkshire identity. Yet, I am actually trying to point that Sheffield’s ‘uniqueness’ (often evoked more by Southern expats who moved to the city, surprised how different the city is to the dated perceptions of it being an ‘unsightly’ place) puts it in a category of cities whose identities have outgrown their origins. Despite it being considerably smaller than Manchester and Liverpool, it is of similar ilk, in not belonging to one area, but of forging an area all for itself. Leeds’ identity, for example, seems to be far more at entwined with a Yorkshire identity, seeing itself as the main Yorkshire city.
As we move ‘into’ Yorkshire from the hypothetical Hallamshire, I tried to make districts that I feel could possibly work both geographically and culturally. ‘Southwest Yorks’ would follow the Dearne Valley from its source on the hills just west of Denby Dale to its end as it joins the river Don. However, it would also include the land that lies south of the middle and lower Calder Valley. The reason for this district is that although much of this area is closer to the centres of Huddersfield, Dewsbury and Wakefield, once you actually hit their respective urban areas you are clearly in a wider urban area that is more than the sum of its parts and, although haphazardly, spreads right up to Bradford and Leeds.
‘Southwest Yorks’ roughly spans the areas of industrial Yorkshire that never became so built-up because they were largely mining communities. The same applies for the Doncaster area, but the reason I felt this was a separate area was due to its geography being more like the vale of York, which is noticeable in the change in the colour of the rock formations, which changes from the orangey brown sandstone found in ‘Southwest Yorks’ to a thin strip of ‘magnesium Limestone’ that runs north to south as the land flattens out almost completely.
The ‘West Riding Metropolis’ was a hypothetical name that the writer Owen Hatherley came up with, to designate one of the most built up, heavily populated areas in England, which has never yet worked as a fully functional metropolis due to its incoherent and discontinuous urbanity; indeed, speaking of the current counties, as they stand, I feel it is accurate to call South Yorkshire a ‘discontinuous conurbation of villages’ and West Yorkshire a ‘discontinuous conurbation of towns’.
The western perimeter of the former industrial side of Yorkshire also has a separate geography to the ‘West Riding Metropolis, a side that is a mirror of the land just over the pennine border. This area is post-industrial, yet is more rural, but unlike the mining areas, seems to visualise not only its own history but the very beginnings of the industrial revolution. I struggled for a potential name and called it ‘Mill Town Yorks’, but perhaps ‘Uppermill Yorks’ would be better. The area would likely start in the south at Holmfirth and follow the western edge of the West Riding Metropolis up to Keighley.
These are very simple plays with the area of I know of Yorkshire best, and I don’t expect it to be taken too seriously. However, it would be nice to think it could help think differently about a wider area which certainly needs infrastructural rethought.