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Wrestling self-help language from Neoliberal-speak (self-help in a ‘cult of self-belief’)

This will be a clumsy post, a jumble of ad-libbing thoughts that have nonetheless been a concern at a deeply personal level over the past few years.

I don’t think my politics has ever changed, really. The deep sense of bad and good (or healthy or unhealthy, through the language I so far identify as ‘Spinozan’) is still the same.  What has had to change is my way of going about things. This is because after years of telling myself, ‘I’ll become a better person, rid myself of bad life practices, and bouts of regretful actions, when society changes and I can be free’, I realised I couldn’t do anything towards the greater production of ‘healthy’ from such a position.

No matter how many blogs I wrote, drawings I made about the environmental, social, mental and spiritual ills delivered by capitalism, no saviour ever arrived. Of course I didn’t officially believe I would be saved; but deep down I was certainly dependent on something swooping in, magically fusing my abstract pictures with my body, from where I could act in life the way I wished before it was too late. Until then, it seemed, I’d be a limbo[id], waiting, trying harder and harder to elaborate on ‘this great big thing’ stood in the way of living to my true capacities.

I’d use others as examples, only to ultimately feel hollow when that person ‘got on’, found a life for themselves. I wouldn’t call it jealously, just a deep deep sense of loneliness. I wanted my story to be other peoples’ story too (surely if it became all of our stories, then society would change!?). But I felt stuck, unable to move forward in life, side-tracking with a thousand million exhausting jokes to entertain people in the hope they’d give me some magical validation, and nearly as many stupid drunken texts, ever more desperately seeking the deliverance of a the self I couldn’t locate.

I’m not seeking any sort of sympathy (maybe a little forgiveness where I see fit). We all make mistakes, and many will share my story, no matter what their politics is, or whether they even mentally engage with ‘good and healthy’ on a political level. It is the story of losing, for whatever reasons, the capacity to act in the way we would wish, and falling into a state of assumed disempowerment to do anything else but hold on.

This, however, is where politics cannot be simply brushed aside as irrelevant to our personal stories of self-help, ‘self-actualisation'(if you must). Initially, I’m not talking about a certain idea of politics, or even the realities of the politics of different social structures, but that, to clumsily quote the psychiatrist David Smail, we are born into a world made up of forces far more powerful than ourselves. Some of us are enabled more at those crucial formative years than others, but none of us are immune from being shaped, and informed by the social forces we encounter.

Although I’m not directly communicating about what those specific forces may or may not be, nobody should be hostile to accepting this – it shouldn’t have to change your own story, or life path you have chosen. Seriously, I’m no in the habit of dismissing anybody’s life plans; they are an affirmation of life – it’s when we don’t have life-affirming strategies that we are more likely to do harm. Yet, similarly, we can all recall moments of feeling empowerment or disempowered due to situations largely out of our control, and some of us recognise these moments have shaped us.

Yet, even if I ,thus far, do not feel I have developed a useful language to employ this beyond my own life story, I have to try to define a difference between pure self-help and what I call our ‘cult of self-belief’ or the neoliberal-speak of post-industrial capitalism. Nobody can deny that the world we inhabit, the world we have inhabited for a few decades, is full of language and slogans based upon improving our personal stories. Some may find them inspiring. I’ll admit I’ve always found them deeply insulting, but perhaps never fully know why.

Let’s put it this way: from some point in early adulthood, the words ‘you need to get a job’ felt like a kick in the chest. Nobody would deny my work ethic, my willingness to work, my punctuality. Yet the aforementioned words, spoken, or seen written down, could kick me where it hurt the most: my self-worth.

In hindsight, I was reading these words in this way: ‘take leadership in your life, choose what you want to be, and be it, now! right now, this very minute!’ I’d no idea this is what caused the anxiety, because I hadn’t fully recognised how indifferent I was to the leadership of my life. Yes, I was anxious of a full time job taking up my time to my make my drawings about ‘the state of things’, but I was anxious because I could only ever imagine a job role negatively, because I never even realised that I had no confidence in myself to do any ‘proper’ job that wouldn’t bring misery.

However, this is the reality for so many. Much contempoary work does bring misery, we are an overworked society, and are likely to be resentful towards anybody who isn’t as overworked as we are. Yet we have to assigned those ‘choices’ to do that work to ourselves, because we are in a culture that endorses taking leadership of our lives as the only game in town.

I assign the term ‘the cult of self-belief’ to our post-industrial age of neoliberalism. It is constantly telling us to be the best we can. We never feel good enough because this ‘best’ isn’t actually on our own terms. We are being asked to be our very best to a rigid idea of a self that only ever leaves work production to maintain their health and fitness. This is kind of evidential, it’s everywhere in our cities, most notably in the language used to promote a new development project.

Yet what’s hard to both do, personally, and to communicate in sound, positive language, is to separate one’s plans and strategies for self-help from this culture. YouTube is awash with adverts of entrepreneurs with positive mindsets, telling you how their positive attitude, and self-belief got them to where they are. But not all of us want to be entrepreneurs, and maybe not all entrepreneurs want to be mega rich? But surely we all want to live to our full capacities?

I spent years resentful of this self-improvement language because I felt constantly pressured to be the person I wanted to be, but it wasn’t the person I wanted to be! I spent many years being a ghost, evading self-actualising, because I couldn’t imagine it beyond this language; being officially liberated, whilst actually subordinated to neoliberalism.

But just because this language has been taken up by neoliberalism, it doesn’t mean it owns the ideas of self-help and self-improvement. I want to now take leadership of my life on a vague basis of living well, towards myself and others, in a way I haven’t before. It isn’t easy to do this outside of ‘the cult of self-belief’, yet I can’t see what good I can do myself, or others, if I don’t somehow achieve something similar to taking this leadership of my life.

Wall, i

Precursor: I developed ‘Wall, i’ as a film intended for exhibitions, and independent screenings, but was encouraged to make it accessible online. The work covers a series of complex contemporary issues, so whilst the film is available to share, I just politely ask people not to share clips of it out of context, as, out of context it may unjustly offend (even in our are of stimulation-saturation!), So, please, share with consideration 🙂

‘Wall, i’, is a young male who is born into a world that tells him he can be whoever he wants to be, that the ‘old world’ of duty, discipline, division and drudgery has gone. Yet the promise doesn’t turn out quite how it was anticipated. In a new world of new technologies and self-help slogans, the past returns with anger, and ‘Wall, i’ becomes trapped inside himself. Unable to connect, he descends into a spiral of minor addictions, loneliness, bitterness and hatred, from which he ultimately seeks forgiveness.

A song-based film, Wall, i is a response to the 30 anniversary of the fall of The Berlin Wall, and the affirmation that we had reached ‘the end of history’, and the 40th anniversary of Pink Floyd’s The Wall (‘Wall, i’ tries to employ similar themes for a ‘Millennial’ experience). It is also an autoethnographical (using collated experiences personal and pier experiences, to expand into a fictional self) response to the political, social divisions we now see in 2019.

This film was a highly collaborative film, and I wish to thank everybody who helped. I could never have done anything like this without the help of these people.

Co-songwriter and music composer – Lee Garforth
Assistant director – Jordan Blake
Assistant director (2) – Sheldon Ridley
Lead actor – Ben Crawford
Lead actor and contributing vocalist – Jade Robinson
Lead actor – Laura Clowery
Creative support – Rebekah Whitlam
Editing support – Katherine Lacey
Support assistant director – Rob Nunns
Supporting vocalist – Carys Bryan
Sound editing support – William Addy
Technical support – Simeon Dear

Actors: Yew Tree Youth Theatre (Ben Walton, Chloe Walton, Ellie Barraclough, Madison Mersini, Lara Earnshaw, Lucy Gallican, Tom Mason)

Actor – Kevin Parkin
Actor – Mollie Hobson
Actor – Sam Francis Read
Actor – Celeste Taylor
Actor -Lucy Crouch
Event support- Chris Scarfe
Event support – John Chambers (Temple of Muses)
Event support – Steve Ellis
Supporting actor – Ben Parker
Supporting actor – Rose Merry
Supporting actor – Rachel Marie Thornhill

Becoming After MA Degree show


A4_MA Final Show Flyer[4245]

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 postcard 2

‘Wall, i’  here played by actor Ben Crawford

‘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.

wall, i postcard 1

Scene filmed for ‘Wall, i’ with the help of Yew Tree Theatre Group based in Wakefield.

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


Imposter syndrome: a brief history of sadness in ‘the cult of self’

Below is a small text I wish to give as a presentation during the Fine Art Masters Degree I am currently undertaking

….Or ‘Wall, i’


A paper that keeps becoming art/art that keeps becoming a paper


I’m here to make a presentation about my ‘practice’.

But what if this practice keeps on becoming something other than a study focus, or skill base? Where the boundaries of disciplines become criss-crossed as everything gets dragged into an ongoing negotiation at the border of a self that is perpetually straining to get beyond this self, because the self always becomes the only reference point?

With a cyclical nature to this negotiation, any academic skill-set that is reasonably applicable beyond it, continually feels re-disembodied.  Every day the body in question must be re-applied for. “You’re still not quite ‘it’ – not yet”. An audacious attempt to ‘do my own thing’ succumbs to the fears of dismissal or ridicule from what appears to be numerous superego structures,  from whom one confusedly, but necessarily, asks for a body. Give me a body for this, ‘your‘ world.

This is important, because I wish to frame my work within this very proposition of a paper that keeps becoming art, or art that keeps becoming a paper – never having its own body.

Yet I argue that this is a dilemma concerning what a body is, and should be for, in the Modern industrial age. In his book Discipline and Punish, Michel Foucault saw the conjunction of the development of the scientific discoveries, especially relating to the anatomy, and the technological advancements that led to industrialisation, evolving a use of bodies specific for the Modern age; what he called ‘docile bodies’, would be trained in the school, the factory, the prison, the military camp, to be of use to the machinery of the industrial processes.

Pink Floyd

Yet, after the processes of the past 40 years this feels somewhat antiquated.

40 years ago Pink Floyd released ‘The Wall’ a work about the trauma,  sadness, violence and hatred, born from what we can call the alienating affects on the body under this Modern experience.

Yet 40 years ago is when Margaret Thatcher was elected as UK prime minister, promising liberation from that world of factories and discipline, for individualism over collectivism.


30 years ago the Berlin Wall collapsed, bringing a symbolic end to a faltering communist experiment in collectivity and equality; simultaneously Western countries saw the end of a traumatic decade of de-industrialisation; Francis Fukuyama would tell us it was the end of history; global capitalism was the best system to offer us individual liberty, and, despite its problems, was our arrival in the best possible world.

‘So go forth and be yourself. The big decisions are all done with. It is your personal destiny that matters.


But 10 years ago I embarked on a conceptual work that tried to link the then 30th anniversary of ‘The Wall’ with looking for socio-political causes for anxiety, depression, disorders, and the inability to enjoy, when I’d grown up around so much positive encouragement to choose my own destiny. If the project was to change this it failed; the search for the answers became a work of superstition, in the sense of the philosopher Spinoza; overcome by feeling a lack of personal power to change, I laboured as if labouring for divine intervention.

In 2019, I try again, within the context of Masters Degree, and a different kind of future.

‘Wall, i’ is a playful re-employment of important themes in Pink Floyd’s ‘The Wall’, for the generation that grew up after the fall of the Berlin Wall, amidst what I call the ‘teenage kicks’ of neoliberalism (the 1990s); a semi-fictional amalgamation of personal experiences and those of my piers.

If Wall, I could be said to mark out a practice, then it is an auto-ethnographical one; a self-reflective practice, seeing ones experiences as part of a larger group, who are defined by certain common experiences, throughout the last 30 years.

It was a time of the ‘cult of self’, leaving behind the factories and armies of Discipline and Punish, but only to find ourselves in Gilles Deleuze’s ‘Control Society’, where “[Each time one is supposed to start [again] from zero…” No longer bodies subjected to power, but bodies arriving into a void of a guaranteed function, only gaining a body role by proving their superior individuality.

Suggesting ‘imposter syndrome’ is a phenomena that corresponds to how ‘being yourself’ often means the opposite of enjoyment, as enjoyment may occur beyond the parameters of such a ‘designated identity’, Wall, I only has addictive sad pleasures to feel any kind of connection, and justifies it through a vengeance-ridden conception of his circumstances. His, ‘i’ for Individual, IS THE WALL!

Addmittedly, although Wall, I could be a confident bodying of a skill set, it could also be a panicky releasing of distress signals to every superego that could grant me a body. As a highly collaborative work of animation, drama, film and music, it promises to bring to life flattened gestures, and abstracted goals, embodying the very thing in question in a way that suggests overcoming it. Equally, ‘Wall, I” is, for me, my perfect gesture for the past 30 years; a gesture on symbolic breaks with the past from the personal to social level. Yet they reveal a weakness for placing meaning in signs, the superstition of divine intervention.

Regardless, I  speculate that overpowering what I call my ‘designated identity’, will allow an overcoming of ‘imposter syndrome’ when the chance of overpowering an inhibiting identity reveals itself.

However, I conclude, that what Wall, I says about individuals and this brief history of sadness, is vital to understanding a lot of what is fuelling the reactionary identity politics in the social media engagement with the world through what the late Mark Fisher called our ‘mandatory individualism’. Heavily inspired by the philosopher Spinoza’s conceptions that it is related to the body in its positive encounters that we truly to get to know ourselves, I take heed from Fisher’s latter thoughts, suggesting that what is causing the hurt and hatred is very much connected to being stuck in our identities, stuck in an idea of what we are, and that overcoming our ‘designated identity’ may not only alleviate the pain of taking everything personal, but could allow for joyful ‘consciousness raising’ ideas that are a potential antidote to today’s miserable political inertia

Songs For My Punch-drunk Idealism (cassette no2)


Recently I’ve been thinking a lot about not only the pitfalls of mistaking moments of symbolic catharsis with real changes, but also (speaking as somebody who makes art, projects, events) in the real emotional dangers of putting all your hopes for change, to be changed, in such symbolic gestures – relying solely on great moments of external validation to align the internal and external disorder of things.

Yet, I don’t believe that ‘Songs for my punch-drunk idealism’ is merely containable in such a category. Firstly, it was a cassette tape for a ‘beautiful day’; the ‘what if’ General Election of Governing Emotions (or ‘#GE18’). More-so, it was a project that not only tried to ask participants which songs pick them up and give them fighting spirit, but put out there the proposition that we all have songs that evoke a distant horizon of a just and peaceful world/life; a proposition explored within this #GE18 project, that, albeit on many different frequencies, we all have Utopian desire.

What is Utopian? Well, it isn’t ‘Utopia’. To be Utopian is the longing for the aforementioned; justice, peace, fully-realised social and individual potential, all across our known-world. Utopian is a pathos, a pathos that refuses to accept a shut-down, emotionally closed up landscape of ‘miserable Monday mornings’, forever in debt to the entropic givens of historical tragedy as an inevitable. It is in defiance against “the idea that life is essentially drudgery”.

Anyways, ‘Songs for my punch-drunk idealism’ is those songs that are maybe more than a ‘pick me up” – a mixture of potential songs that form the inner interplay between being pulled out of despair, and (re)believing in the very best of humanity once again. And with those last sentences in mind, I felt I had to make another cassette sleeve full of songs I’ve come to hold dear for these reasons.

A potential critique of this could be an open goal for those who wish to score an easy goal. The reason I’m writing these blogs is that I’m trying to reconcile things that may in turn be shown to be incompatible with one another. Yet I’ve found myself at the bottom end of a road I’ve been walking for years – unwittingly, I’d say (others may dispute this…), and I’m either at an existential dead end or about to find new pathways. I’m not seeking sympathy, I’m reaching out on the wager that I’m not at a dead end.

I have no idea how to seek well-being in the present. I can only defer dealing with this by indulging in sad ‘torporous’ pleasures that entertain the ghosts of my out-of-date day-dreams. Certain songs arrive me visions of some future moment of ‘rightening’, for the ends of justice, peace, and collective joy. These familiarized songs repeat a sense of mounting momentum driving towards a space where this burning hollowness no longer has to justify itself to the cruel judge of dead time; 18, 19, 20, 21, 22, 23, 24, 25, 26, 27, 28, 29, 30, 31, 32, 33, 34 – the moment still feels pending.

The inability to enjoy the Now. A deep longing to do so, but a genuine inability to shirk what always seems frozen into the horizon – an horizon that captivates due to its sense-making of the disorder of things.

Only in that frozen horizon am I the person who isn’t anxious, dismissive, negative when in contact with the people, groups and moments I have utmost longing to share collective joy with; a joy that would come from within and spreads outwards.

I know I have developed cognitive foundations that are cemented in an alienated understanding of life, but it isn’t completely fucked up, I’m sure of it. My perpetually frozen horizon refuses to accept a life-plan that sees a gravitational pull of life’s potentiality towards a naturalisation of miserable life-jobs, poverty, crime, finger-pointing justice systems, and finger pointing warfare.

I often feel cognitively paralysed by the dominance of a ordering of things I see as fundamentally negative; can’t help feeling in a competition I don’t want, nor can succeed in.

The songs (the 2nd list of songs!) I have submitted here are at least a refusal to accept the depression I so often struggle to beat away. I often listen to these songs in the morning, when I’m out jogging, And although my jogging is very much part of a control routine, listening to these songs keeps alive my spirit for inner and outer good.

The ‘Cassette 2’ playlist can be listened to here…



The Public Secret exhibition: a virtual presentation

Originally posted on The Retro Bar at the End of the Universe:
photograph taken by Thanos Andronikos The Public Secret is by far the largest project undertaken by the collective to date. Quite literally: this disused warehouse is more expansive than many of the nearby major established galleries. The work that culminated in our last…

Our next major event…

The Retro Bar at the End of the Universe


For any further details don’t hesitate to contact us on

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The Public Secret (Dispatches no1)

The Retro Bar at the End of the Universe


“We don’t need another Hiroshima, because it is happening in our heads”

I wrote the above sentence for the purpose of describing the ‘dark optimism’ behind my last major drawing projects. I feel I need to explain, in detail, what I mean, because I feel it is a good place to begin my understanding of the projects based on shared experiences and radical care that The Retro Bar at the End of the Universe is currently undertaking under the title of ‘The Public Secret’.

When I can’t help expressing my distress about my experience of this world, a few people have pulled me up and pointed me towards the work of the scientist/author Steven Pinker: his works on how our world is on average less violent and more safe than it has ever been. Begrudgingly accepting of this truth (although I’ve never read his book), I had to figure…

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Can symbolic acts manifest themselves into lived experience?

Originally posted on The Retro Bar at the End of the Universe:
2018 was the year when I had to ask the question the above title poses… Neoliberal Me (An Exorcism of) and #GE18 (The General Election of Governing Emotions) 2008 to 2009 – I learnt a harsh lesson: devoting a year to mapping one’s…

#GE18 (The General Election of Governing Emotions)

Over the course of the year, I’ve had to ask myself a lot of questions, for numerous reasons. Part of the outcome is that I largely class the work I do as part of the collective I am part of (

Here is the first event I am putting on since this deep point of reevaluation…


#GE18 (The General Election of Governing Emotions) is an event occurring at two locations in Leeds on the Longest day of the year!
130 Vicar Lane from 5-7pm and…
Art Hostel, (83 Kirkgate) from 6:30-9pm.
Born out of intense debates around the global political crises, the mental health epidemic, and the online factionalisation of opinion, #GE18 asks to us to engage in a ‘what if’ general election where we get to vote for emotions rather than through them.
How would we ideally like to feel and behave in life? How would we really like the world to feel and behave like? Well come along to The General Election of Governing Emotion on June 21st and let us know…as well as seeing #GE18 art prints, cassette sleeves for a collaborative project called ‘Songs For My Punchdrunk Idealism’, and engaging in non-combative conversation!