A eulogy for a ‘lost’ decade. The New Fringe, Doncaster. 11th January 2020.
Through a series of carefully chosen works produced over the past ten years by the artist John Ledger, we are asked to reflect on the decade we have just passed through
What was it? Did it even occur? Do I even recall? Was I really living?
Over the past ten years John Ledger’s work has largely taken the form of large-scale drawings, that through their merging of ecological, social, personal distress, shout out for an exit.
But an exit from what?
Maybe some answer lies in the central feature in ‘A eulogy for a ‘lost’ decade’, as we get a chance to see a screening of John’s most recent project, a film about the life of the ‘millennial’ ‘Wall, i’, as he comes of age in a post-industrial world.
‘Wall, i’ brings it all home, the ‘too close to home’. Scripted to pop songs, that enframe his emotional states like the alienating tendencies of contemporary life, we observe just one coming-of-age in a new age of individualism and new technologies.
In a life trapped in an identity of loneliness, purposelessness, and failed expectations, there is a consequential spiral into self-medication, self hatred and hatred towards others. ‘Wall, i’ becomes a car-crash life, from where there is ultimately only a plea for forgiveness, to be given another chance.
For we are ultimately asked to meditate on how we look after ourselves in the coming decade. A new start based on self-empathy, thus empathy for others, maybe?. The starting point for a new decade, despite all odds stacked against so many, others more than others.
Above and beyond there is a desire to live.
The exhibition opens Saturday 11th January 2020 at 5pm, with screening 1 of ‘Wall, i’ held at 6pm.
The second opening is Saturday 18th January, with screening 2 also at 6pm.
So here we are, at the end of the 2010s…
Despite my ambivalence towards today being Christmas day (ambivalent to the point of having my heart and mind changed by future happenstance), dates have always held their symbolic sway. Perhaps, you could argue, too much.
Nonetheless, we are about the leave the 2010s, and I want to tell you why this is important to me.
10 years ago I would protest how “anti-Christmas (!!!)” I was. Now I wouldn’t use such words….
I realise I only superficially rejected Christmas on the grounds of a ‘woke’, anti-consumerist, ‘rejection of herd mentality’ position, to hide the fact that I didn’t know how to engage with joyful experiences, outwardly show happiness; and at such times when it is sort of a social custom to do so (which, in itself is certainly an aggravation of the emotional distress many experience) I was secretly filling up with an anguish that I could only think to counter by saying ‘fuck your ‘socially sanctioned’ happiness’.
As you can imagine, this superficial ‘woke’ tactic didn’t work…
This will not happen again, not on my post 2020 life…
As the snow laid thick in the murky final days of 2009 I envisaged the future as one permanent winter.
‘Tighten your coping belt’ I told myself ‘because life will only get worse’.
Yet as I left the first decade of this century, aged 25, I still held onto a vague conviction that the future would arrive for me. In-spite of all the things like a seemingly inevitable climate breakdown, in a world of ever-diminishing returns, I had a future, and this future would be defined by ‘being saved’, saved from the external world, and more importantly, from myself.
This ‘saving’ would be done by a woman (‘of course’ haha), of an even more vague a description than one given by my beer goggled-self who would consequently continue to lunge from bar to bar in the following decade, ever more desperate to be saved than before.
This is because a 25 year old has no idea what a 35 year old will feel like.
This is obvious really…
But not so obvious, it seems.
We can project our present souls into a future space. What we cannot project is our bodies, our ageing, less youthful, less glamorous bodies, into a future space. Try it…it’s impossible.
It’s why we love the morbid pomp of a Dystopian odyssey like Blade Runner, but suggestions that today is a (boring) Dystopia don’t feel so morbidly fascinating, because our bodies are involved. We recognise ourselves, our discomfort in our own skin, our joint aches, our stoops as someone more glamourous, more youthful, or materialistically well-turned out, brushes past us like we are leaves in the wind.
Two artists Burial and Sleaford Mods were loosely my ad hoc soundtrack of the 2010s (although the former made most of their most acclaimed music in the decade that came before).
Whilst Burial’s ‘archangels’ melancholically haunt a undesignated inner-city space of futures that never materialised, let down in a perpetual Blade Runner-like deluge, the Sleaford Mods never allowed you to forget that you ‘still remain’, ‘putting up with it’, in these ‘weekends that give you a kicking’.
In 2009 I had yet to discover the writings of Mark Fisher. His term ‘capitalist realism’ described a world where economic and technological advances grew in sync with a growing cultural sense that there was no alternative to capitalism. He spoke of a ‘slow cancelation of the future’; that from the 1980s, but especially since the 2000s, there had been a drying up of a sense of possibilities both in popular culture (especially noticeable, he argued, in music), and possibilities of how life could be lived. There are ‘no more shocks of new’ as he says in ‘capitalist realism’.
Fisher’s writings were a guiding light, not just for myself, but it now seems, for a hidden generation of young(ish) people who were stumped for ways of describing the condition of the world they were in, and how it affected them, especially their mental health.
Reaching my 30’s, was like running out of life credits just as it seemed I needed them the most (and I say this carefully; I am infinitely more fortunate than many; I speak from some privilege, where I can speak almost entirely about this as emotional experience, and not as a literal fight for economic survival, as it has been for many in this decade).
In 2010 I envisaged the incoming ‘austerity’ as something more akin to an ‘eco austerity’; that all belts would be tightened as we braced ourselves for less available resources. Not that I’d prepared myself for this, but I certainly also hadn’t prepared myself for an age where the fusion of the immaterialised high maintenance of social media use would merge with lived personal materialist standards. I suddenly felt out of date, scruffy, and, admittedly, more overcome with my own feelings of personal failure.
There was a quality to the air, a loneliness that didn’t seem as noticeable before.
Yet, equally what I hadn’t, didn’t dare face up to, is to why I was out in those spaces, scruffily carrying all my daily necessities in a rucksack, in the first place.
I had spent the previous decade expecting to be saved from myself, and the world, because I couldn’t like or accept myself, I guess. Because I never felt good enough, I could never tell myself to go home, be at ease. I always had to chase proof that I was good enough; my low pay job equated to me not being good enough, so I would go to my studio, make art that proved I was. I still didn’t feel good enough, because I was single, or something vague like that, which equated to then going straight into town. And guess what? I never found it (whatever ‘it’ was), all I found, or (most accurately) all others found was a man with a rucksack, on a liquid tea, who, as much as they themselves probably had little critical judgement of, clearly couldn’t accept himself.
I often used Fisher’s analysis of the loss ‘the future because we can’t remember present’ to make the excuse that everything current in life was meaningless, or depressing and uninspiring. It was an excuse to hide the fact that because I didn’t like myself, and couldn’t accept myself, I also had no idea what I enjoyed. It was easier to say that nothing mattered in culture anymore, than to admit that I couldn’t make anything matter to me.
Fisher’s writings are still so important, powerful, beautiful, but the last thing he would have wanted (I can only imagine) is for people to employ his analysis against life itself.
Separating the right to like oneself and the right to be happy in a world that seems so fucked and cruel is something I have never managed to do. This decade I used a notion of a ‘Dystopia of the present’ as a wall to hide the fact I didn’t know how to live a life. Nobody, whatever their political standpoints should do this; most of all, because it is they who pay the most.
I feel I have paid for this through an odyssey of negative emotions and semi-addiction cycles in this decade. Recognising this in the past year or so allowed me to embark on my largest ever art project, a semi-fictionalised pop song/film biopic, about the life of ‘millennial’ called ‘Wall, i’, as he came of age in a post-industrial town.
‘Wall, i’, (with all the help I most gratefully received from good-hearted friends and fellow students who helped me for nothing more than petrol fuel and crisps) is possibly the one project I feel most proud of. And yes, I will confidently assert ‘I like this work, I feel proud of it!’ It’s my passing gesture not just to one decade, but to three decades of a life not lived to its true capacities.
The film was centred around what I call the most enticing yet consequently crippling and life-messing cultural command of that era: to “go forth and be yourself”; the cry to self-actualise that were emitted from countless pop cultural products in the 1990s and 2000s.
Yet, self-actualisation, isn’t a bad thing! It’s just if nobody gives you any tools, or any mild idea of how to pursue it, you just wait for the world to give you a self-actualised body, or you lunge at the world in a stupor, desperately demanding to be given it: I did both in the past 30 years.
But now I feel different. Or at least I know different.
In-spite of what, to my eyes, seems like a far more desperate political situation than ten years back, my personal message for the 2020s is different: I want to embrace life, not fear it. I no longer accept the idea my 25 year old self had that things have to get worse.
I may not ever figure this stuff out. I may always feel like I’m chasing my tail around and around. But at least I can know say to myself “I want to live a good life.”
But one last word: the dreams, and day-dreams, when your body isn’t weighed down by its self-consciousness responses to being in physical space; when you walk into that space and be that person who isn’t haunted by the ghosts of past and future self-critiques, but fully capacitated, from feet to fingers with the good will, joy, and fun, you wish to give and receive. If this self isn’t worth aiming for, despite all obstacles, then what is the point of life?
…2020 is going to be hard. But it doesn’t need to be miserable.