Six years ago nearly all time spent neither at work, or traveling to the studio I held, was spent working on a piece of work called The Alpha Forest, then with the aim of showcasing it in a empty-shop art-initiative in Barnsley centre called ‘Emergence’. In 2009 before the exhaustion(s) of austerity politics, these initiatives really caught the imagination of many artists including myself.
In the gaps between making this 10 foot long drawing, mainly on trains and in cafes, I was reading like I had never read before, developing an understanding of the way the world worked that was so raw that it had a gravitational pull dragging all conversations into a friendship-damaging whirlpool concentrated on the two ‘C’s’; capitalism and climate change. During this time of the rawness of a developing worldview I made a illustration/story-piece called ‘I am Here’.
I was pretty obsessed with the idea of walls during this period. Mainly invisible ones, psychological ones; ones made using (what I came to know as) ‘soft power’. This trajectory formed the second seminal piece of MY 2009, called Looking For Truth. I was mentally-fucking drained at the end of this year, and an inevitable softening of that initial rawness slowly ensued.
I am Here never ended up being shown in the Emergence exhibition, I don’t remember the reasons (and I can’t remember whether I showed it anywhere to be honest). The work is very direct, to the point where when I showed it to a friend, mildly drunk, outside the Polish Club in Barnsley he said “fuck me, Ledge! Have you turned into Kim Jong Il?” – I’d like to think time has proven that not to be the case! Yet, even if I wouldn’t make a storyboard so direct in its message today, I still feel the same. In fact I feel it would probably have more of a receptive audience in 2015. So here it is:
I am Here (2009)
Watching the 1980’s film Threads generated a strikingly similar shock and awe affect on me as witnessing the 9/11 televised events did, at the beginning of this decade. I have only just managed to confirm this in my head whilst in the middle of reading Naomi Klein’s The Shock Doctrine, realising what shock and awe do to the seeming stability and security of everything we see around us.
The reaction I had to Threads had in no way the kind of affect on me as witnessing the televised 9/11 events did in my late teens, as this spectacle completely shattered all that I had grown up knowing to be stable and ‘true’. Although in the following 8 years I have learned a lot more about why this happened, and why the changes in society which followed were allowed to happen, this can in no way undermine the impact it had on me and the way in which I would go on to see life.
However, the manner in which I responded to both Threads and the events of 9/11 did have remarkable similarities. I felt disorientated by what I had seen. It was like a thorn had been pushed into my mind, making me compelled to insert the subject into every conversation I had (which wasn’t many in my shy late-teen state), in the hope that someone or something might put an anchor down to calm my disorientation.
If anybody hasn’t seen Threads I am still eager to try and describe it. The film is set in early 1980’s Sheffield, less than 20 miles from where I live. It was produced in a period of history when the Cold War was still at its height. But in this film the Cold War escalates in hot war. Sheffield is a prime target because of its steel industry, the then nearby airbase at Doncaster, and the fact that it is situated in the very centre of the UK. The Soviets (The capitalist West’s enemy in the Cold War) wait until the American President is most likely to be getting some sleep, which is noon time in the UK, to drop Nuclear bombs on the nearest target – The UK.
Two bombs are dropped on Sheffield, with the terrifying scene of utter panic on The Moor (a shopping street I am very familiar with) resulting in the strangely uncomfortably-realist scene of a woman pissing herself as she looks up at a mushroom cloud rising above the city – I would describe this scene (although fictional) similar in its shock and awe factor to the very real TV footage of a man jumping from one of the burning World Trade Centre towers on September 11 2001. It’s close-to-home nature certainly made it more frightening; South Yorkshire accents screaming at the sight of the mushroom cloud is chilling to say the least.
The film then shows the utterly catastrophic outcome of the nuclear destruction, as society and law and order collapse in the most grimly-imagined way; over-time reducing the UK to a land of less than 11 million people, more like dark ages Britain than today’s. It is a truly shocking film – whether it is of any benefit to be seen is another story. Bringing the message home in this manner certainly gets the point across.
Of course, ‘bringing the message home’ is precisely what 9/11 did. the effects (as explained in The Shock Doctrine), although vastly exaggerated by Western governments and the media for their own gain, sent a message to every seemingly comfortable western nation saying ‘you aren’t safe – there are people who want to destroy you, your families and the places where you live’ (I remember that, around the time of immediate aftermath, my dad talked of a recurring dream a tankers full of explosives being driven into buildings in an unknown city centre).
Of course, this message was used by our government to eventually increase the amount of control the corporate state had over citizens, i.e more CCTV cameras, more security paranoia etc. We inhabitants of the post 9/11 world we forced to accept greater state interference and further restrictions to our liberties as a compromise against the perceived greater threat of ‘you’ or ‘your loved ones’ being killed by terrorism.
9/11 certainly shattered so many of my foundations at the beginning of this decade – it certainly erased my childhood sentiments. I was only 17 at the time. This event would eventually prove to profoundly shape the person I have become. Now, as the decade comes to an end, and these earlier events have helped make me who I am, I feel that everything is beginning to come full circle, as I come to realise that the disaster capitalists (Milton Friedman for example) wanted these feelings of disorientation to happen to people like myself. Along with other events in my life I have slowly begun to realise who/what has done the most damage to my person.