We are facing a crisis the likes of what we have never witnessed (political, and economic, but first and foremost, cultural). But who exactly do I mean by We? Well, according to the prolific online writer Umair Haque, it is ‘Us’ right ‘here’ (a place that cannot but see itself as the centre) in the English-speaking world. With its anti-socialist ideology that is so wedded to the idea that pure market freedom equals pure freedom per-se (and thus must be the best possible system), as its functionality seems to have congealed with crisis, “the English-speaking World is The New Soviet Union.”
Haque, like many jaded Americans who can still see stains of social democracy in the European fabric that we here are blind to, sees the current American nation as a lost cause, whilst holds out hope for the other Anglo-Saxon countries. But perhaps whilst Haque’s American perspective helps him see still existing stains of our faded socialism, he cannot see the deeper dye of Christian values that are more surface level in his own country. This conservatism has always been one part of the UK’s great social torsion with the nature of capitalist exploitation. But I wonder for how much longer.
An unprecedented amount of scandals are rising to the surface, the tax evasions are the most recent, but are totally overshadowed by the deluge of reports of sexual abuse and harassment perpetrated by individuals in positions our society underlines with trust and reverence.
I would argue that it has been caused by a three-way collision of trajectories all fueled on the rocket fuel that is capitalist culture in the ‘always on/always exposed-to age: the unprecedented exposure of corruptions that go on at the pressure points of high power and high pressure, first, colliding with the enlightenment principles of transparency, and secondly colliding with a culture that still holds true to Christian notions of what ‘sin’ is.
A painful, but necessary transformation has never felt so urgent. But left to the impulses propagated by deep-seated media tendencies, we seem to be hysterically heading towards a new age of show trials. The hysteria is tangible: “who is the next monster to be unveiled?” But where will such impulses lead us to?
I’m sorry, but anybody who is interpreting what I’m saying as acceptance of the institutionalized misogyny, and exploitation of people in vulnerable places, really has got the totally wrong end of the warning flare I’m waving around here. A crisis solved by ripping the plaster off as fast as possible is to allow blood to gush like never witnessed.
To ignore the male prison within patriarchy, to ignore that squeezing of desires into opposing sides; and then to ignore the extreme humiliations at one end of the male camp and them extreme lust for power at the other end that underpins the past 40 years, and then (!) to ignore the Pandora’s box opened by the capitalist cyber-sphere is to say, “I’d rather hysterically finger-point, and just hope the finger never turns on myself”.
A lot of men who have been made socially, and thus existentially limbless creatures, lunge out misogynistically into the mire of the patriarchal wasteland, before turning the violence back in on themselves. Whilst the men with all the power are slowly incriminating themselves, the men with no power are slowly committing suicide. With the advent of our ‘always on/always bearing-witness’ technologies, we are within a machine that stops at nothing to monsterise us. And the ghost of an Enlightened liberalism responds by saying “you don’t have to buy into it”. But this ghost is running out of bodies to possess.
Under Soviet state crises everybody was expendable for the cause; under extreme Anglo Saxonism everybody is held individually responsible for the crises. If we allow our deep-seated media structure to guide our impulses we face the Anglo-Saxon equivalent of Stalin’s show trials, where everybody is forever watching their back from an out of control justice system that will become indistinguishable from a mob.
That our current cultural structures are utterly dysfunctional in the face of the conditions that have been thrown up by this collision is the biggest understatement of 2017. I’d argue that beyond our reactions, there is a post-crisis stage that the painful transformation the internet age has precipitated could arrive us at. It’s the hardest path to take in the long run, but my word it is the better one; the one where we, to quote the brilliant words of Yorkshire poet Gav Roberts, we can Put All Weapons Down. And That means fully-loaded penises as well as fully-loaded guns. I suspect the sense of liberation this would allow for, would make owning your own gun seem laughable.
I’m really in a work-in-progress point at the moment. I’ve got a bit more time, because I’m doing a part-time Masters, and working less hours. Getting into more debt by taking a loan and returning to further develop my art may seem like a foolish move to some, but with working five days a week (no matter what that work is!!) the sheer lack of time was meaning my ability to think creatively and strengthen my work was being starved. Fair enough some may say: ‘that’s life’. If I was to stay working 5 days a week I would have had to give up making my work, because it had no room to maneuver and expand, and could only contract. But I saw an opening to keep on working on it, and that’s what I’ve done.
The Eternal Blip (A Mary Celeste Decade)
<p><a href=”https://vimeo.com/239828894″>An Eternal Blip (A Mary Celeste Decade)</a> from <a href=”https://vimeo.com/user60125733″>John Ledger</a> on <a href=”https://vimeo.com”>Vimeo</a>.</p>
For years I have been reeling from accusations that not only is my work very negative, but I also am negative. I have never accepted this, and from a person who suffers quite a lot of anxiety, I think it’s a given that on first impressions I’m not as warm and accommodating as I’d like to be, even though I nearly always come around, when I have chance to ‘breathe’.
The work (or ‘what I can contribute’) is more difficult. I’ve felt that my work has been trying to help harness a ‘dark optimism’ or a ‘punkdrunk idealism’ for some years now. But maybe it hasn’t been a strong enough element. I have become tired of trying to piece together how fucked up the grand scheme is, if it shows no sign of leading anywhere, especially when the grand scheme, and the awareness of it, isn’t offering yourself out of a future of deteriorating mental health and behavioral patterns.
It may not seem evident within these works in progress straight away, but there is a concerted effort to try to reach out to others in the work. 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.
Below is a series of maps that work with the same motives, which are an extension of mapmaking I have been doing for around 5 years now.
Battlegrounds between potency and impotency
The Manifesto for The Just-about-managing (2017, mixed media on paper)
The Manifesto for The just-about-managing is explicitly propaganda; it is propaganda for a kind of future that is worth living in for humankind. Surely this is not a disingenuous aim?
This is the final work I’ll finish before I begin studying a Masters part-time. Most of my most recent works have attempted to make my jaded idealism manifest itself, finding a way of expressing a conviction that the darkest of times can conversely be the times when the brightest of futures are galvanized. This is because over the past few years I’ve begun to feel that the only route possible except for oblivion borne of war and ecological collapse is one that harnesses the wealth of knowledge we have accumulated for a common purpose – no matter how long and painful that road is. It’s what I’ve been calling The Hope of The Nihilized.
It’s hard to remind yourself of this when the nihilism finally demolishes your spirit when the day in hand has done you . The goal I’ve set myself for this MA is the goal I’ve realised everything has to lead to: to fight through pessimism and depressive solitary pleasure seeking borne from burnout, to ignore the demons of the spirit so to work more with others, and to use whatever tools I may have as part of a constructive collective project I can’t even see yet.
And to be honest it’s a big ask, and towards the completion of the work the negativity from the exhaustion of workaday anxieties has crept over my spirit, and I was propping up its completion with cans of cider, a story readers familiar with this blog will know too well.
The Manifesto For The just-about-managing is the manifesto of depression. The sense you get when you turn on the news and text scrolls past you stoking fear of Other, whilst eclipsing Otherness – an ability to think beyond the norm. Its the sense you get when the sparks of political optimism in the spring of a new year disappear under the white noise of consumerist commands in the deadness of mid-seasons.
The Manifesto For The just-about-managing argues against all naive goodwill; promotes the pursuit of happiness only in loneliness. It screams at us to enjoy but yet creates a structure to cope with the scattered fallout of depressive-pleasure-seeking, or (as I prefer), dead-end pleasure-seeking.
It’s what makes you cynical of everything; cynical of climate change, cynical of good-will to others.
It is all that makes you reach for your drug of choice, because ‘there’s nowt you can do’.
Yet, the drawing is an argument that a miserable status quo is becoming harder and harder to maintain. The toxicity of the manner in which we are pumped up like battery farm chickens on information isn’t just making us into the consumer addicts of the 20th century, but soundbite addicts, super-aware of just how disagreeable the status-quo of things is. We know too much to be content. We have seen too much for our well-being. We are becoming deeply unwell as the structures built to make reassuring sense of life dissolve. We don’t need another Hiroshima, because it is happening in our heads. The interior landscape is being forced to recompose itself, and its craving for a new horizon is being suppressed by the Manifesto For the Just-about-managing. But below the crust the earth is moving.
The Manifesto For the Just -about-managing is being bombarded by more and more proof of its stupidity and folly. This piece of work is like no other I have made before, and I have used as many of the most telling quotes as I could find. Due to this, it is also like an essay, which means I have had to list my reference points. Which are below:
The Coming ’17, Franco (Bifo) Berardi
Art and Revolution, John Berger
The Soul and The Operator, Expressen, John Berger
Pascalian Revelations, Pierre Bourdieu
Culture Design Labs – Evolving the Future, Joe Brewer
The Look and Feel of 21st Century Science – Joe Brewer
Injustice, Danny Dorling
Humans are Most Atrocious When We Live under The Weight of Great Inequalities, Darling Dorling
Is Inequality Bad For The Environment?, Danny Dorling
Abandon Hope (Summer is Coming), Mark Fisher
Good For Nothing, Mark Fisher
What We are Fighting For, A Radical Collective Manifesto, Mark Fisher
Four Futures – Life after Capitalism, Peter Frase
We Already Grow Enough Food to Feed 10 Billion People – And Still Can’t End Hunger, Eric Holt Gimenez
The End of The American Experiment – Bad Words – Umar Haque
The Likely Cause of Addiction has been Discovered, and it’s not What You Think, Johann Hari
A Storm is Brewing in Paradise, Dalarna University lecture, Dougald Hine
David Graeber interview: ‘So many people spend their working lives doing jobs they think are unnecessary’, Stuart Jeffries
London, Patrick Keiller, BFI
This Changes Everything: Capitalism Vs Climate Change, Naomi Klein
The Robots are Coming, John Lanchester
The Case For Despair is Made. Now Let’s Try To Get out The Mess We’re in, George Monbiot
Neoliberalism is Creating Loneliness, That’s What’s Wrenching Society apart, George Monbiot.
Sick of this market-driven world? You should be, George Monbiot
The Age of Loneliness is Killing us, George Monbiot
Philosophy and Human Values, lectures, Rick Roderick
Capital’s Hunger in Abundance, Andrew Smolksi
Island Story: Journeys Around Unfamiliar Britain, JD Taylor
Super-intelligence and eternal life: transhumanism’s faithful follow it blindly into a future for the elite, Alexander Thomas
We are all very anxious , We Are Plan C
The Spirit Level: Why More Equal Societies Do Better, Richard Wilkinson and Kate Pickett
Inventing The Future: Postcapitalism and a World Without Work, Alex Williams and Nick Srnicek
<p><a href=”https://vimeo.com/223045399″>Dont Look Back in Grandeur (2017)</a> from <a href=”https://vimeo.com/user60125733″>John Ledger</a> on <a href=”https://vimeo.com”>Vimeo</a>.</p>
Don’t Look Back in Grandeur (title by DS Jarvis) was a videowork quickly thought up for the introductory section to the ‘exhibition space’ in ‘Will The Last Person To Leave The 20th Century Please Turn out The Lights?‘ – an event staged by the collective ‘the Retro Bar at the End of the Universe, in a disused pub within the eerie and unidentified West Yorkshire metropolis.
This introductory space became a quick response to the sense of structural ‘unraveling’ occurring around us in the months of May and June. Across from the videowork is an installation of blog-article ‘The End of The Long 90’s’, posted by Rick of Flipchartfairytales in the week we had a potentially game-changing General Election, and the farcical and despicable tragedy at Grenfell Tower in London.
Obviously in May we had the horrific terror attack in Manchester, and while nobody can (or should want to) argue against showing compassion and trying to create togetherness in the aftermath of such a traumatising act, I couldn’t help thinking that the song that became a unifying singalong, the 1996 Oasis track ‘Don’t Look Back in Anger’ was beginning to embody the entire state of the nation in 2017.
Because Oasis, and Britpop (the pop music moment they embodied more than any other band), was a decadent and nostalgic movement in music that looked back to more visually recognizable times in British History, it seemed not only doubly odd that it came back strong after 21 years, but doubly fitting for a country that was slowly seeming to unravel after a long period of deep identity crisis, propped up by apparitions of former glories.
“May as well get another round in” for a boozed-up population that lost their culture not to waves of immigrants coming in, but to being coerced into buying into an ideology that cut communities into pieces, and began selling back pieces of the past to us in increasingly absurd forms, with left us with no identity based in the present, save for our own lonely narratives of how we’ll find happiness…eventually.
The video consists of all the prime ministers that have presided over this period, enjoying a boozed up ‘trip down memory lane’.
Writings From HMS Brexit was made for our exhibition ‘Will The Last Person To Leave The 20th Century Please Turn out The Lights?’
Although this pub conversation only consisted of 4 (absent) speakers, this dissection is approached from very different angles.
Thanks to all involved.
VIEW UPON REQUEST [see below for contact details]
Monday July 3
Tuesday July 4
Wednesday July 5
OPENING EVENING AND INFORMAL SYMPOSIUM
Thursday July 6 | 6pm – 11pm
Our collective The Retro Bar at the End of the Universe is currently staging an event and exhibition titled Will The Last Person To Leave The 20th Century Please Turn out The Lights?
Through the Leeds-based arts group Skippko we have gained access to an eerie old building on the road from Bradford to Otley, last used as a pub. This disused pub, and the remnants of all the pasts, in and outside the doors, met with a disconcerting present of endless volumes of traffic for the now-more affluent side of the Urban West Riding, has to be the most perfect of settings for the first proper exhibition our collective has held.
The pub, and the area embody the all the possible hinterlands that epitomise the weird and eerie West Yorkshire landscape; the visual collision of urban, surburban, post-industrial, picturesque-rural; the hauntingly old, the forgotten, and the upwardly new, the aspirational and materialistic. The only potential downside is that the location is so apt, that it is off the beaten track and difficult to attract people to (I’m hoping ‘ attracting people right now!).
Upstairs, the event’s exhibition begins as we’re met with installation of the recent, but surely prescient, blogpost The End of Long 90s by Flipchartfairytales. The blogpost is accompanied by an appropriate video piece, and forgotten photo frames, showing our perpetually absented collective member.
We move on to a room exhibiting many of my most recent drawings, including Hope of The Nihilized, and Dead Ethics Hysteria, only to become aware of disconcerting sounds from a darkened room opposite; a remix of collective member Benjamin Parker’s composition ‘I Thought I Was Awake’. We reach a dead end, with collective member Rebekka Whitlam’s installation ‘Milly-Mollyy-Mandy Gets Loaded and Other Stories’, which ‘looks at a nation’s 21st century come down from 20th century hedonism’ in the bleakest of ways.
Downstairs in the bar. Events and non-events occur. The one-time resident of nearby Shipley Mere Pseud haunts the room with displays that have run out of time, and now exist like crime scenes for a cancelled future. His Retrospectral Dispatches, a title taken from the words of late theorist Mark Fisher, exhibits residual traces of his formative years, coming of age in the strangest of times when the future began to retreat and arrive us who came after in a place unsure of its time or place.
At the corner of the pub we have an event ,yself, poet Jonathan Butcher, and the writer JD Taylor (author of Island Story: Journeys around unfamiliar Britain) have made spoken word pieces for the event Writings From HMS Brexit to be held this weekend – the blogger Mere Pseud may or may not still be able to make this event.
In this disused pub, looking back over a dislocating time; an erosion of time and place; a vacuum filled by unfulfilled ghosts from the past. Always in homage to the late cultural theorist Mark Fisher, this series of prose speeches is strange due to the absence of the speakers. Only their half-finished endeavors will be visible; half finished pints and coats flung over the seats – as they proceed to dissect a body that has become to be known as ‘Brexit Britain’
If you can’t get thee by car, here is a map telling you how the hell to get there from the train station!
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.