This blog page has become far less frequented, and seems to represent a different stage in my (artistic/philosophical) life – a time when I wasn’t so bogged down in the affect of words, not only on others but on how they rebounded onto me. I retain deep core ideals, yet also a muscle memory of mildly traumatic online exchanges, and an awareness that the legacy is arguably our deeply divided, sectarian world – a dividedness few anticipated with the advent of mass internet use.
Equally, part of this change has been a slight sideway shift in the way I make work. Indeed I’ve often recently found myself considering whether ‘making’ is the right thing to do at all, being that the ‘artist’ self-hood I developed in conjunction with coming of age in a neoliberal ‘cult of self-belief’ has often been problematic to say the least.
Yet, despite this constant awareness of our footprints (carbon, social, self-perpetuating ones etc) nobody has yet, to my mind, come up with a better practical philosophy than ‘onwards and upwards’.
This is so hard, because in one respect our society is saturated with a ‘cult of self-belief’, which is, to a large part, what the philosopher Slavoj Zizek sees as a core principle of the current capitalist culture that has brought us into a many-faced crises, which is arguably even more existential than anything. Notions of self-help and self-improvement can easily become indistinguishable from the survivalist anxieties we all experience from feeling that how we look, how confident we are, how positive we are, is vital to whether we ‘survive’ or ‘lose’.
The task is to distinguish. Just because our capitalist culture asked us to smile and live healthily, doesn’t mean we should never smile or eat only in Wetherspoons to prove a point (a mistake I have certainly made). Just because hyper competitive YouTube adverts have appropriated the language of self-improvement, doesn’t mean we shouldn’t want to improve ourselves on our own terms. It’s just not an easy task: the driver to be the opposite of what is healthy for body and soul is often a result of the experience of the sheer internal violence (a violence we are so used to we just call it low-level anxiety) of feeling that we must constantly be happier, healthier and more productive than we already are, for a cultural superego that tells us to love ourselves, whilst reminding us that our right to self love is conditional upon our success.
‘Wall, i’ is a film-based work I have developed for the University of Leeds MA degree show. It has tried to work around this difficultly of living to a better self-script, taking the reigns of ones own destiny, actions and health. It is autoethnographical (which basically means using your own experiences, and of those you grew up with as a sort of social/cultural study). Rather than the more bold political statements that my older artist self thought he had to make (and, to be honest, I never really felt I made them, I was just employing the wrong form to dicuss larger questions of self in relation political and historical circumstances – hence why even jesterly claims of hypocrisy felt painful) ‘Wall, i’ is a semi-fictionalised collation of experiences and phenomena for a generation who’s formative years were around 30-20 years ago, when the dominant cultural narrative had shifted towards one centred around being ones true self and believing in one’s true self.
Scripted by songs (co-written and produced by long time friend Lee Garforth), the narrative has sort of a ‘pop’ form to it (us first wave millennials were probably the last for whom the TV chart shows and radio played a pivotal role in our growing up). Additionally, loosely playing with the structure of Pink Floyd’s ‘The Wall’ , ‘Wall, i’ is kind of an inversion of The Wall’s ‘Post war’ narrative, to where a dominant cultural story of individual freedom goes awry. ‘Wall, i’ is a character who gets trapped within himself, and, enabled by new communication technologies, falls into a spiral of loneliness, addiction, bitterness hate, and finally self hate, whilst all the time being told individual freedom is the way out of this.
Yet the best part of doing this hasn’t been the telling of ‘this story’, it’s been the fact that a lot of people have been keen to help me do it. It seems appropriate that our group show is called ‘Becoming After’, because, although it is always hard to remind oneself, it’s those bits where you’re actually on the go with the making, with a group of people, that makes the project take on the significance within your own personal life story. We often neglect the ‘becoming’, turn a blind eye to this grey matter, in favour of the ‘after’ moment. It’s so easy done; our culture is very individualistic and competitive; allowing the co-inhabitation of our own stories, and even the ability to get a group together in one space are sizeable asks, when most of us spend most our time anxiously guarding our selves from failure.
Yet this project was very much about the failures of the individualism story to deliver well-being to both ourselves and those we interact with. I wish for people to come see this film (and the larger group show) and connect with it (maybe I’ve found a new way of communicating I didn’t think I had), but more so I hope that it isn’t a point of closure and closure, period; but also the beginning of a new path.
Becoming After will run from Weds 18 – Saturday 23 September 10 – 6pm. And Sunday 23 10 -4pm
School of Fine Art, History of Art and Cultural Studies, University Road, Leeds LS2 9JT