I’ve gone back to study this year. After years of wrangling over whether to go back or not, I finally decided that I had nothing to lose by doing so. Additionally, it has enabled me to have a bit more thinking space, away from working 5 days a week. Because no matter what job you do, I find repetitious work endeavours to corrode the will to be creatively and intellectually engaged with life. Although now in my 30’s, regrettably there are many things I haven’t experienced or engaged with, and in many ways I feel deprived of so much, but partly because of this, I still have much freedom from excessive responsibilities that many don’t, and this has enabled me to break free of 9-5, if only for 2 years.
I’ve still been working on my drawings, but spending much time considering and working on how the other main outlets for my work relate back to my drawings. I’m not a natural illustrator, I spend way too much musing things over than putting pen to paper, so it always feels a little disingenuous to go along with the ‘drawer’ tagline. It gives people the wrong impression about how I work.
It’s quite hard to explain this whilst also explaining how important my drawings are to the ideas and concepts that drive me to make and do. But the drawings are intermittent moments where the cognitive mapping of this chaotic world suddenly seems to come into focus, and make sense, even if this doesn’t seem to be the case for others who view the final outcomes.
Nonetheless, the current works are trying to take on the concepts of ‘dark optimism’ (which I borrowed some time back for my own uses, from ‘The Transition Towns Handbook’, by Rob Hopkins), and (my own) ‘punch-drunk idealism’, largely by pitting the capabilities we have before us, against the evidential mass mental breakdown that our current hysterical accumulation of modernity is causing. There has become within myself and my work an almost religious conviction that this moment, where we are at a saturation point regarding our ability to care and hope, will cause a tipping point where we will be forced to collectively transcend the ‘soul fracking’ of late-stage capitalism. I say religious to be cautious that I may just be fooling myself, but I guess if I didn’t at least have some belief that the future will be live-able the I’d be a nervous wreck.
One of the most important works, for me, was a written work, accompanied by maps, that sadly became an unrealised project. ‘How did I get so old? (Pre GE2017 musings)’ was a response to the then-upcoming snap election called by Teresa May. Although Jeremy Corbyn himself would never pretend he was the ‘golden ticket’ to a post-austerity, potentially post-capitalist society, his unexpected popularity with symbolic of a desire to break out downer-fuelled neoliberalist Britain. And this work was an attempt at reckoning with the potential of choosing to vote to challenge these depressed, foreclosed horizons, alongside trying to come to terms with my own depressed experiences of adulthood, and a willing to change this, also.
I’ve always found the balancing act of these two seemingly separate issues very difficult to communicate, because the language to effectively communicate a notion of a societal depression is inherently flawed, whilst when I veer more towards my own experiences as a better form of explanation, it appears merely pathological, or, at worst, that I’m wallowing in it.
The election, however, did surprise us somewhat, and was probably the last period of collective optimism, before the absurdity of Brexit, and the sex scandals that seemed to hover around it like accumulating flies around its rotting carcass of [the illusion of] neoliberal society, began to overwhelm such capacities for optimism. I guess there’s always next year..
WILL THE LAST PERSON TO LEAVE THE 20TH CENTURY PLEASE TURN OUT THE LIGHTS?
The biggest project was also to be the most spectral.
In 2017 The Retro Bar at The End of the Universe [the collective I am part of) was given the chance to curate a disused pub. The pub, which epitomises the weird and eerie landscape of post-industrial West Yorkshire, was situated on the relentless Otley Road, within the Saltaire/Shipley region. Yet, the building itself contained ghostly remnants of a political and cultural era which the RBATEOU argues is currently coming to an end.
Due to a location made ‘strange’ by our descent into a commuter existence, the event ‘Will The Last Person To Leave The 20th century Please Turn Out The lights?’ received NO VISITORS. This was an exhibition at the end of the universe, making the collective wonder “are we the last person?”. Perhaps it was meant to be?
We curated both floors of this large building, to create something that actually began to creep us out as a collective, as if we’d uncovered a truth about the era we arguably just leaving that wasn’t comfortable.
Rebekah Whitlam’s ‘Milly Molly Mandy Gets Loaded and Other Stories’, at the dead end of a corridor in the upstairs section, felt like the exorcism of this period. And I would recommend watching the video piece she made afterwards, with the help of sound artist Adam Weikert.
The Eternal Blip (A Mary Celeste Decade)
I have some projects that I am wanting to conceal until the new year, but they will, without doubt, be documented upon here in good time. But perhaps the last point of interest to finish on would be my rookie attempts trying to map an idea of society’s emotional patterns in response to certain political upheavals during the past decade.
Working on ideas put down in 4 years back in ‘The Mary Celeste Project (The Scene of The Crash)’, 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.
Next year is going to be a real challenge on so many levels. But I feel far less of the objectless and hopeless confusion I had in many of the previous years. I’m hoping I, and those I work closely with, are onto some great ideas for 2018…
<p><a href=”https://vimeo.com/225750903″>Milly-Molly-Mandy gets Loaded and Other Stories</a> from <a href=”https://vimeo.com/user68633656″>Rebekah Whitlam</a> on <a href=”https://vimeo.com”>Vimeo</a>.</p>
Video work by Rebekah Whitlam based on her installation for Will the last person to leave the 20th century please turn off the lights? an exhibition staged by our collective The Retro Bar at the End of the Universe
Thanks to Adam Weikert for the soundtrack (and TLC).
A mixed media installation exploring a nations 21st century come down from 20th century neoliberal hedonism. A new generation of adults become petrified in 90s juvenility. Numbers in anxiety, depression, ADHD, and liver disease have doubled over the past 30 years. We’re broke, confused, and desperately scrambling for the exit.
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.
I really wanted to make more of this project before election day, but the things I had been documenting spread into a project I felt I couldn’t reasonably complete in the time space left. I had been making narrated maps and compiling photographs from the 7th May onwards, but to post all of that right now would just be the equivalent of showing the teacher all the ‘hard work’ I’d been doing in the past month in the hope that I could pass the GE2017 exam, so not to face the tidal wave of bickering sounds that’s building.
I begin with the series of maps I made during the last month, and conclude with a short piece of writing I have cobbled together within the last week, as I tried to make sense of the chaotic month, year, century leading up to now.
In a Barnsley Wetherspoons the ‘Love Manchester’ event that plays out from a screen usually emitting rolling news anxiety, prompts at least 10 drunk men to loudly and proudly sing along. If the Manchester brand of the past 20 years was borne from the far less deranged and nihilistic IRA bomb attack of 1996, the Oasis hit ’Don’t Look Back in Anger’ released in that very same year, has resurfaced to become the anthem for a Manchester hyper-branded through social media in a matter of days. It evokes a pleasant memory of spring in 1996; the entire of our year 7 class singing along to it on a cumbersome ghetto blaster in the school’s music department.
But that was 1996 – how did we all get so old?
I’m distracted towards the living rooms of the houses I walk back past, as the screens are noticeably showing the music event. The exhibited middle-aged white singer could be Liam Gallagher, Chris Martin, Damon Albarn or Robbie Williams. They all look the same; ageing men under the spotlights of an ageing spectacle. I start to see this gig not as a triumph of enjoyment over terror but as a send off to Britain. A gig to mark the sinking of ‘HMS Brexit’. It’s beyond doubt that something is ending… And I’m wondering if we are actually singing something altogether different, something that would spook the reality consensus of this 200 years-industrialised nation if we could hear it played back (perhaps through that old ghetto blaster?). Don’t Look Back in Anger, tragically, sentimentally and pathetically, has become this anthem.
How did we get so old?
Back in West Yorks I meet with Michael and we make our way out of the centre of a town that nobody is willing to admit is the heart of a dysmorphic, discontinuous, yet larger UK sprawl. This late spring heatwave has helped unveil the strangeness of the West Yorkshire mash-up of landscapes, now covered in a deep greenness. Rather than seemingly seasonally premature, it appears to spring up around us like a Jurassic landscape rising from a deep sleep that’s encouraged by the excessive carbon emissions we currently seem seized into emitting as the exorcism of the fossil fuel age heads hysterically to its death.
The sun’s heat just keeps on rising as we return from a walk that followed the Calder and Hebble Navigation. Once an essential artery for one of the capital machine’s long-gone dead skins it is now an extension of a leisure park for a post-historical England that was never successfully achieved. We marvel at excavations by hands, many hands, by a once disliked immigrant population now totally saturated in sediments of Englishness that seem to perpetually suffocate its potential. It’s such a familiar story, and like the immaculately engineered bridge we pass under, a mile down the tow-path, it feels like a painful reminder of how long in the tooth this game is here in England. And with the heat beaming down, it’s all too much. I’m massively relieved Michael suggests a pint at a nearby pub.
Later, we sit in Michael’s back garden in Ossett. Sandwiched between the multi-ethnic communities of Dewsbury and Wakefield, Michael talks in dismay about how this town is possessed by proactive wishes to remain miserably white-middle-class in preparation for the gathering storm clouds. The most severe indication of this was the line of union flags we observed along an ugly bypass past a new housing development where surely nobody with a sound mind in a sounder time would want to live. All seems bleak, but as his teenage children come and go, I just can’t envisage their generation finding a platform from which to practice such pessimist social philosophies. It just seems inevitable that all this has to fold into a brighter horizon.
But how did I get so old? This back garden reminds me of my grandparent’s on the periphery of the Darton settlement. Was it an interwar or postwar estate? I’m not sure, because both are longer ago than I feel I am willing to accept. I’m 33; biologically of grandparenthood if circumstances had been different. As I look at the garden of a man not much older than myself I have a sensation of having awoken from a deep and long sleep. But in the company of certain friends I don’t feel as fearful of this knowledge as when I wake up at 4am in cold dread over my stunted adulthood. From as long as I can remember my spirit found itself to be so vulnerable that my mind began draining its desire to live on daily basis ironically trying to work out life-living formulas to the digit. Formulas that confident pro-active behaviour would not give a second thought.
But that which causes regret and bitterness is for another time. “Don’t give up, man” I tell myself “optimism is the only way right now”. The forthcoming election requires a fight against depression, to wager on the ‘what ifs?’. And if all I think I’m seeing (?) on this streets of post-importance has some reality to it, perhaps we should look at post-industrial Britain in 2017 as being a patient half-way through psychotherapy treatment?
We are at a crossroads point in the therapy process. You realise you have a problem, yet the alternative is frightening, because it is the unknown. That past of downer-driven motivations seems easier, because you’ve learnt to numb yourself from the worst excesses of the misery and pain of it through a self-medication that numbs you to even the most horrific post 9/11 news stories; it’s a day to day battle with no future, but the alternative isn’t tangible and seems somehow far more frightening. And the most audible negative voices can anyhow reassure you that all this so-called alternative can muster is a return to the 1970’s. “And who would want to go back to the 1970’s?!?”. Their calls to your depression aim to convince you that everything has been done before. ‘There’s nowt tha can do, pal!’.
But, maybe this is just societal senility. Maybe, just maybe, everything hasn’t been tried before?
Trying to stop the memory mountain foreclose the future is hard. Even after the Tory party’s campaign blunders during the election run up, and sore memories of 40 years of social decay and financial anarchy, if their calling voices successfully manage to echo our depressive doubts about the world we live in, they will win cheer-led by the riotous and smug victory declarations of the Right Wing press, like In May 2015.
It does us no good to see ourselves as selfish and privileged 1st worlders who can’t get a grip; the consumerist addiction, and anger at small things is part of a depression that a culture that encourages atomisation and distrust encourages. To continue our punishment is to send out a toxic message about the way to distribute the wealth of life in a rich country. HMS Brexit: a ship of self-enslavement; enacting the sinking of the Mary Rose with seeming total complicity from those on-board.
If the vote goes the wrong way on Friday; I’m dumbfounded to think what new movements could grow in a country that has decided to stick to its depression.
But just now, we haven’t reached that conclusion.
Michael later texts me in disbelief over seeing the Tory campaign advert the owners of Barnsley local newspaper have decided was wise to cover it with. But the local rag’s lazy lock-down might have misjudged the nerves currently communicating on seemingly sleeper streets, like cable wires. Maybe, just maybe the meme hit a dead vein? As I’m travelling back through an obsessively familiar landscape that reminds me of the lines below my eyes more than a mirror, I realise that my eyes look forward from a time I don’t even remember; that the bags under my eyes seem to correspond to things seen in the decade before I was born; the 1970’s.
I don’t think I am alone, as many of my contemporaries felt aggrieved that they hadn’t been old enough to have physical presence at ‘the rave’ as if a curse had cruelly planted them in a time for which they couldn’t locate a pulse. For those who reached puberty in the mid to late 1990’s, a drink-fueled comedown-culture took over all that appeared to suggest that it could’ve been more.
It’s hard to imagine the only grown up ‘me’ I’ve been at a rave. The depressed and anxious vibes this post-pubescent body has emitted would have only sought sleepy cider sedation at a rave. But this body only ever knew the reality of the drink-fueled comedown-culture; the need to ignore the pain of losing that what we could have had.
And this is why a vote that could, at least in spirit, signal the end of the neoliberal clampdown consensus is actually fucking scary. But maybe I wouldn’t be alone in anticipation of a beckoning nervous breakdown; my god, we’d wake up and, maybe, just maybe, we would realise we could leave our shields at home. That would be so strange, and why would we need the drink at the end of the day, if we haven’t been holding them shields?
I’m sorry. How dare me, but Ive lost myself in idealism. I do apologise. But it’s better than idly saying ‘we’re fucked, whichever way it goes’.
Because I really do sense that something does indeed beckon.
Jeremy Corbyn has been a channeling force for the collective dysphoria borne in the wake of May 8 2015 (an election result reality nobody really prepared for). He is a head upon a ‘momentum’ that, if found disembodied this Friday, will gravitate towards a more extra-parliamentary form. And those who think Corbyn represents an ideological extreme should really prepare themselves now. At least from an English perspective, perhaps we will see extra pressure placed on the distressed and distracted collective conscious that burgeons on our times; it bleeds as a slow rain of individual meltdowns on a knife-edge between the impossible and the inevitable, but surely will be forced into the inevitable as the forces driving what currently registers as our annihilation engender its stage presence?
Short of nuclear war, the impossible future is the inevitable future.
This voyage, perhaps even whole flat earth that it navigates, has reached an end point.
This is an epochal moment – yet we duck, dive, and talk about following our forefathers’ impossible footsteps into yesterdays’ jobs, homes and families, where hair goes grey and skin wrinkles with the pride of purpose.
These footsteps lurch over the void – momentarily held in suspense by a binge on artificial enhancers (or Zombie economics).
We are led over this cliff by the bloated reign of the Baby Boomers.
They don’t mean harm, but they are.
They are ghosts trapped in a machine. A shit machine, but one of full employment, affordable housing, and visions of a future that isn’t our present. Dictating all down below down a road that doesn’t even exist.
No wonder we are lost. Clambering for any clarity. Doing anything to cleanse our bodies of workaday anxieties.
On HMS Brexit ‘work’ doesn’t make sense, because we have lost all direction. Work was the only meaning we had, but as it dies it lives on like a zombie.
He caught me when I was already at a pressure point. I found myself yelling “fuck you” at him. Two drinks later the rage has gone. But my head was melting with an urge to inflict pain on somebody already in pain’s main firing line.
I’m scared about how nasty all this is going to get.