21st Century Limbo-id Men (2017, mixed media on paper)
Dead Ethics Hysteria (2017, 125X95cm, mixed media on paper)
The driving force behind the direction of works like Dead Ethics Hysteria has its roots in a cold winter almost 7 years back.
I remember my anticipations of the ‘austere age’ as we entered the winter of 2010. Back then my head was lead-lined with heavy expectations of imminent ecological collapse, peak oil, and freak weather patterns as a pending normality. The freezing snowstorms of that winter were close to confirming these expectations as if we were, at that point, breaking into a new horizon.
But it never really felt like we broke into that horizon. Of course I’m fully aware of the growing evidence to show how human-made climate change is upon us. But what I’m saying is that it seemed like from thereon-after nobody physically had the time to care, and not only that, but that this constrained capacity is linked to what I misunderstood about what this ‘austere age’ would entail.
I expected a social landscape of less. And, certainly, there is less for the spiraling number of those without homes, those dependent on food handouts, and for regional councils with less to spend on infrastructure and services. But I expected less shopping, less cars on the roads, less costly fads, less frenetic energy pushing us along, whereas the exact opposite occurred. A preoccupation with ecological limits meant I foolishly mistook this sort of reality for what the reality of ‘austerity’ would be: a more, not less-capitalist society.
Such anticipations are evidence that I’d already arrived at a realisation that the dynamics of capitalist relations were leading humanity down a dead end. But perhaps I hadn’t quite understood what this world would look like when the shit started to slowly disperse into the air from the direction of the fan.
As I found out, the belt-tightening we were made to do for this austerity program was actually more so that our trousers wouldn’t fall down whilst in full-flight. Whilst the cost of living rose, the bar for what were the mandatory social standards was raised, and we were forced to run faster and more frequently, as the sense of being in an all-v-all competition bit at nearly every breath we took. The space for empathy, reflection, and actions developed out of that, seems to have been significantly squeezed (as is evident in the general loss of concern about the biggest threat to our survival on this planet). But why? Surely the vested interests of the 1% alone cannot fully account for this hysterical, and masochistic sort of self-preservation?
Many economists talk of how capitalism as we think we know it died in the 1970’s, but the writer Carl Neville explores the cultural implications of this in his essay-book No More Heroes. He suggests that the whole of Western Culture from, say, the mid 1970’s until 2008 was sort of keeping itself in suspense from its natural demise through artificial stimulants, as the extraterrestrial rationality of finance capital was mirrored in a culture of steroid-pumped superstardom (Neville uses Arnold Schwarzenegger has the ultimate embodiment of the entire neoliberal countrevolution) and a stimulant-fueled culture in general.
This leaves you to wonder where the hell we ended up in the wake of 2008 financial crash? The system, and the values upon which it feeds, have long since run out of time, and only seem able to survive by trapping the whole of civilisation in a hyperspace artificially negated from organic time. It needs to go, but what do we replace it with? I think that we all secretly wish that we could stop now. But we can’t; a huge itch inside our skins seems to be keeping us running, faster and faster.
Running is a word worth staying with when the streets of northern English towns now seem to more like a ‘California without the sunshine’ (to paraphrase Mark Fisher), as thousands of us, certainly including myself, pour onto the streets, alone together in our IPod races against only ourselves. It’s probably no coincidence that the music of the last, maybe final (?) counter-cultural moment is what I’d wager most of us choose to listen to on our loops around the block.
In many ways, rave, as a generational movement, stood for a people on the hinterland of becoming something Other; perhaps post-people (perhaps becoming-cyborg?). But their horizon never arrived. What arrived was a knee-jerk civilisational refusal to give up the ghost; the ghost of capital, the ghost of wage labour, the ghost of a system of ethics that no longer corresponded to a world we were now beginning to endure rather than enjoy. In fact rave, ecstasy culture etc. is now a strange sort of self-medication used to wed us to our slavery to the capital machine, in this weird situation where body perfection is a control mechanism self-employed to ensure maximum functionality and assimilation into the work/work-leisure sphere.
The whole thing can often begin to look like one of those contemporary sort of zombie films, where the undead are closer to Olympic athletes than mall sloths, as they chase the last humans past abandoned Starbucks cafes (another subject brought up by Carl Neville in his book Classless).
But I wouldn’t make these drawings if I felt this dead end of capitalist reality has to be a dead end full stop, and it can often be darkly spiriting to consider that this slowly unfolding giant nervous breakdown may break us into a new horizon that doesn’t have to be one solely of climate change catastrophe, but one of potential abundance over scarcity.
Which brings us to an number of theorists, and economists, most notably Paul Mason, who talk of postcapitalism has an inevitability. In his book, titled Postcapitalism, Mason lays out evidence to show how the current technological revolution, the information revolution, and computerization of the workplace, is not feeding capital’s fire like the tech-revolutions that came before it, and is in fact significantly contributing to the terminal downfall of its modes of production.
As things stand our relationship with these technologies looks pretty-much the antithesis of a postcapitalist world. Born into a culture ruled by the scarcity logic it is creating a right old toxic mess of the social body, our private lives and well-being. But, perversely, this too may be contributing to the demise of the system that engenders this reality.
In comparison to most, Paul Mason is very optimistic about our future together on this planet. But isn’t it worth working with the likelihood that he may be right, what have we to lose?
As things stand there are clearly too many vested interests in keeping the whole damn thing going, to the bitterest of ends. But I wonder where the ends and beginnings of those who really do have vested interests in this thing really do rest. I don’t see many signs of mental well-being from bottom to top. Trump (to use a seldom-used example from the top) seems so psychologically unfit that he often appears on-screen like a nauseous genie, conjured by a legion of collective neuroses from a diseased social body.
From top to bottom, I think most are intoxicated by a religion of work and the logic of scarcity. It often annoys people fighting for the most exploited to suggest that the global rich may not actually be a happy bunch. But short of killing them off, what do we expect to happen to them in way of the system-transition we need? Because such a transition is crying out to occur, and will occur for good or for bloody awful, because burnout is imminent. The Laws of gravity are tugging at this botched-attempt at cosmetic surgery for an entire civilisation.
Stuck in The Sediment of Suffering (2017, mixed media on paper)
I’m writing this in a world that is a week into the Trump administration. I can’t yet tell if it’s caused the biggest cloud of confusion and panic since the Twin Towers came down (it’s shock certainly eclipses the event that’s stuck in the middle of these – the financial crash of 2008), but it is certainly a ‘Super-massive event’.
I bring this up because it’s also caused a crisis within my creative output. I’ve found myself in doubt not only as to whether my work is relevant in the midst of this ‘mania’, but to whether or not art has validity when panic emitted from all media orifices makes experience so fractured.
The last thing my work aims to do is to generate a sense of hopelessness and hatred of the world, but one largely un-constructive and, I feel, unjustified comment left on here a month back did force me to question whether this is the affect of my work in many eyes.
As dark as the images can be, they are in their essence self-helping rejections of a powerful and pervasive agenda that is itself, I believe, the source of the hopelessness and hatred. They are a ‘fuck you’ to its realism, even if they fall short of aiding the materialisation of a viable alternative.
I started Stuck in The Sediment of Suffering in the month of the presidential election and, at the time of writing, am still working on it a week into the Trump administration.
What is it about? Of course, when a work takes months to make, a myriad of mindsets (or a myriad of me’s? ) have their say, but the decisive meaning is within its conception, hence the title.
It is the sister work of the recently finished Hope of The Nihilized. Both were conceived in the space of two days. Both works not only desire/long for, but demand, an active transition from a capitalist system now condemned to be a wheel spinning furiously in the deep mud of its end point, causing only senseless trauma and decomposition, on the soil and in the soul.
Stuck in the Sediment of Suffering looks at the persistence of class, wage slavery and it’s discontents, in a time when the necessity of material scarcity, and immiserating and humiliating work and social conditions is totally debunked by our technological capabilities. It looks at how these structures are not only persisted with out of convenience but also out of a deeply rooted sense that lifelong suffering and punishment is somehow right (views that can easily make unwarranted appearances out of the mouths of friends as much as they can from perceived foes). I disagree, believing that it creates a cycle of needless social violence.
However, I’m starting to feel like this drawing marks an end point, not only to a body of work that has tried to reflect life from run up to the 2015 UK election to the 2016 US Presidential Election, but to a stage of my life. I’ve been making these large drawings for ten years, and there’s many things I haven’t and want to do in life, regardless of whether the world goes to war tomorrow or the air becomes poisonous. Most my adult life has been stunted by self-esteem and emotional barriers, a path which I’m trying to take pigeon steps away from now. But without going into all of this (as it isn’t largely relevant, and I don’t want to encourage online ‘life advice’ I don’t need – I’m just explaining the facts), it may just mean a large gap, or a point of juncture . It may not – if I’m posting new landscape drawings on here in a few month it may well mean I’ve returned back to the only tools that have thus far worked.
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.
After The Sugar Rush (2016, mixed media on paper)
My last drawing of 2016. Literally finished at 11:20pm on December 31st.
Ten years ago to the day (28.12.2006) I got the help of a friend to drive me out to a grassy island at the motorway junction on the border of South and West Yorkshire, to plant an oak sapling. It was for the aide of a project I was undertaking in my final year of my degree, to plant trees as a statement. For a held belief that more forested land (town and country) would be an essential factor in a survivable, and enjoyable, 21st century world.
I guess that belief is still there, but the fresh- faced idealism isn’t. I’m much more of a depressed idealist these days – who still has in mind such an ideal, but who is far more weary after a following a decade made up of overthinking about just how you ‘square the circle’.
I became wary to point fingers because I became aware that my fingers were just as much stained with complicity. My focus moved away from relying on ‘magical voluntarism’ (Mark Fisher) to ‘save the day’ and onto a social spirit that will not budge from engaging in harmful actions when it is depressed and defeatist.
I see this tree almost every week, as not long after I planted the tree, post-graduate job-seeking landed me in a job role just up the road. I’m glad it’s been here 10 years, in a decade that feels simultaneously short and long. 10 years ago I saw climate action as number 1 in humanity’s ‘to do’ list. 10 years later I still see climate change as the biggest issue, but the MAIN issue is how to transcend a capitalist world without it becoming something even worse and more barbaric.
But a lot of my actions over the past 10 years are the actions of someone overcome by a sense of defeat on a daily basis, a sense that is very much connected to the world as I have found it. Amidst the hyper-malaise of the present I nonetheless hope one day I can waste a day away admiring the trees I once planted.
Here’s a selection of images of the art and exhibitions I did this year, and links to best blogs I’ve written. This year has largely been occupied by a large collective project called ‘Fighting for Crumbs (Art in The Shadow of Neoliberal Britain) – for which you can see our documentary, produced by DEADIDEA on the video section of this website; an intensive exhibition early in the year called ‘Under Digital Rain’, and on-going work for the collective ‘The Retro Bar at The End of The Universe’. I feel there’s enough content within the writing and art itself to save me having to sum up 2016 both on a personal and worldly level.
List of written work, including writings for The Retro Bar at The End of The Universe