It’s pretty unlikely I’ll get anything else done this year now, as I’ve hit my New Year-period wall prematurely, from which I can never imagine the possibility of making anything new again – until I make something new again. Perhaps I do my own yearly roundups because I somehow feel that I’m unjustifiably forgotten about. When I regain my bearings from the egotistical gravel pit, I recognise that it’s likely over 90% of us feel this way. But all the same, no choice but to play The Game.
So here’s a list, in a more or chronological order, of the best bits of what I have done in 2015; and believe me, there’s a lot of bits I’d rather regret. Regarding the visual works, I feel THE LONG NIGHT OF A NEEDLESS STORM is my strongest piece, both in visuals and title, it’s the best attempt I’ve made all year of interlinking all the problems of today indirectly back to the dominant political agenda.
Not Humanly Possible (A4, ink on paper)
A Cognitive Austerity (A4, ink on paper)
Five MORE Years… (A4, ink on paper)
“Hardworking Tax-payers, Inconvenienced” (A4, ink on paper)
Pain is Barred an Outlet (A4, ink on paper)
“Sad, LONELY, Frightened” (A4, ink on paper)
Everybody’s Fracking (95X130cm, mixed media on paper)
The Self [ie] Under Siege (A4, mixed media on paper)
“Can We Stop Now, Please?” (A4, mixed media on paper)
Debtland (2015, 110X77cm, mixed media on paper)
Artwork for Wear Your Band T-shirt to Work Day (explanation here)
Sounds that made up my year…
“the rotten soil of nowhere land”
Zomby – Where Were U in 92′
Real McCoy – Runaway (Tory election victory-sting-soother)
The Fall – Frightened
New Order – The Village
Goat – Let it Bleed/Gathering of Ancient Tribes
Sleaford Mods – Double Diamond
Wu Tang Clan – C.R.E.A.M
Sleaford Mods – Mcflurry
Sleaford Mods – Jobseeker
Sleaford Mods – Tied up in Notts
DMS – vengeance
Sleaford Mods – Teacher Faces Porn Charges
Rufige Kru – Menace
Congress – 40 Miles
Chumbawumba – Tubthumping
Sonz of a Loop Da Loop Era – Far Out
The Chameleons – Don’t Fall/Second Skin – (again)
I am very happy to state that myself and John Wright have now put together a comprehensive summary of the performing of our piece Non-Stop Inertia (named after an amazing book by Ivor Southwood, which examines the “deep paralysis of thought and action” caused by the “ideologically constructed” landscape of precarity). We undertook this performance at the Espacio Gallery, in Shoreditch in January, as part of The Anti-Gallery show.
There are 3 sections to this summary:
First: the sound files and video footage of the performance, inventively merged together by John Wright; made into 3 seperate episodes.
Second: a recording of our subsequent walk around Greenwich, using ‘Greenwich degree zero’ (what the artist Rod Dickinson called his incredibly though-provoking installation) as a cradle for reflections, not just on the performance, but extending to the entirety of contemporary life, and OUR lives.
Third: (a blog I wrote in January in response to the 3 days spent in London) Reflections gathered from our performance in the Anti-Gallery Show, weekend 16,17,18, January 2015.
We hope diagnostic and remedial value of the current cultural conditions can be found from the project we have undertaken.
This text is a reflection on the performing of Non-Stop Inertia: A Stuck Record – inspired by Ivor Southwood’s book Non-Stop Inertia. Part of a wider collaborative project between myself and Leeds-based artist/curator John Wright, Non-Stop Inertia was played intermittently over a 3 day period as part of the Anti-Gallery Show, at The Espacio Gallery in Shoreditch, London. As this text deals purely with reflections during and after these 3 days, the explanation for the motives behind this ongoing work can be found here: https://johnledger.wordpress.com/2014/12/07/non-stop-inertia-a-stuck-record-the-anti-gallery-show/ . However, the writing uses other points within the 3 day period in London to talk about a larger project, in which Non-Stop Inertia is just one part.
A Psychological Experiment…
That I am in a well-and-truly-spent state the day after our Non-Stop-Inertia piece means that if it was as much a psychological experiment as it was a piece of artwork then the experiment was successful. The carefully-chosen texts we chose to read out were so fitting, but fitting within the eternal-now, ‘in the loop’ of the performance. Because the gravity of their content could as easily fall from mind as it could be put back there once there performance resumed. The content itself became looped; there was no further level of understanding. It was the poetry of a ghost trapped in the machine.
And ghosts trapped in the machine we became. Neuro-psychically electrocuted by the randomly occurring door-alarm signal, I for one can testify to the physical effect (in my manic body movements) that such internalising of the constant expectation of random interruptions can have. Certain lines read out from our texts would land in unison on the pulse-line of the subjectivation, at which point we’d look to each other as if to confer “yes, that’s what this is, exactly!”, but cognitively building on what was being said/read felt impossible due to this anticipation of interruptions. How can you build on things if you are in a perpetual state of siege?
The door alarm noise signaling our ‘calling’ to disseminate emotionally-laboured welcoming-spiel (language absent of life aimed at an absent customer) was, of course, implemented in a random-fashion by our own design. But the intention was to show how this unending anticipation of unpredictable interruptions of our thoughts is a constitutive part of contemporary life, which (we believe) is intrinsic to the inability of individuals and societies alike formulate, or even imagine, a way out of the current global cultural situation that consumes the hopes, desires and visions of alternatives with the same level of ferocity that it consumes the people and resources needed to constitute a future world full stop.
We came away from this performance with no answers to this, but this was the intention: to give poetic form to the very structures preventing us from finding the answers to the current situation. We believe that if the structures permeating contemporary life are dismissed as irrelevant to the task of building towards an alternative, then any kind of positive alternative is impossible.
No Desire to Converse
Whilst in London, myself and John Wright frequently discussed the difference between desire and drive: that, in an ‘always on’, no-future, hyper-competitive, hyper-capitalist world, desire is both short-circuited and disemboweled from drive. This leaves us trapped in a ‘nothing-left-but…’ state, where we often feel a zombie-like-entrapment to the motions of tasks, duties and habits and especially the end-game pursuit of sugary, narcotic, or sexual stimulus; that can often feel like being in a state of seizure due to inconceivability of there being anything else we can do “but pursue pleasure”. (an overly referenced section of Mark Fisher’s Capitalist Realism book, which I attempted to read out as part of the performance).
As well as the resulting post-performance-state leaving us in a state of incomprehension of what we could possibly do except going and getting alcoholically intoxicated in the city, the performance itself also functioned through pure signal-actioned drive. The words were spoken out of drive, rather than desire. This is why others who attempted to engage in the dialogue, and who weren’t used to the nature of the represented job-type to an extent that they could ‘go through the motions’ like we could, very quickly became frustrated (as was partly the intention). One of the participating artists in the Anti Gallery Show said he couldn’t see the point in trying to make conversation. What was the point of him trying to gain something from a conversation if he was to be constantly sent back to square one by the interruptions?
If we are correct in viewing this predicament as endemic in contemporary life, could it not be said that the breaking down of thought and communication to a sound bite-form isn’t merely the result of a reduction of our attention-spans caused by our immersion in cyberspace, but is actually caused by the lack of desire to engage in conversation due to the anticipation of interruptions slicing through it? We also argued that the increasingly competitive nature of contemporary life further reduces the room for conversation, because the constant sense of the self-under-siege within such a competitive world makes it seem an immediate necessity to get our point heard rather than allow the time for other points to be heard (I, for one, am very guilty of this). Indeed, what was left of our broken up conversations was used to discuss the breaking up of dialogue intrinsic to one of the largest social media platforms: Twitter.
All in all Non-Stop Inertia: A Stuck Record was successful – too successful perhaps; afterwards, the necessary walk (climb) back to Kings Cross station seemed almost daunting.
The (Un)realised Project
This inability to transcend, to get beyond the “this is so relevant!” point whilst we were reading the texts/debating perhaps makes Non-Stop Inertia:A Stuck Record pivotal to a wider sensation myself and John Wright are investigating. That, as numerically-measured time pushes onwards, and one’s skin slowly sags downwards, somehow one hasn’t merely become ‘stuck in a moment’, but that the moment has terraformed, re-landscaped the horizon so that the next step beyond this ‘stuck moment’ seems to have never even existed, and that the places that proclaim to have movement are merely just full of frenetic ghost-like actions, speeding up but going nowhere. The unending nature of the sentence I have just written embodies a unending struggle to put to sleep the ghosts that haunt me. After countless debates around this matter, myself and John Wright began an investigation, of intertwined stories (personal to me) and wider post-millennial cultural moments, that we aim to turn into a solid body of work under the umbrella title The (Un)realised Project.
Thus far it has been agreed on that one specific work, The Mary Celeste Project (The Scene of The Crash), will take centre stage within this body of work. The Mary Celeste Project (The Scene of The crash), completed in 2014, uses my own turf (post industrial areas stretching along the foothills of the Yorkshire Pennines) to examine near pasts, lost futures and dead dreams to understand the wider contemporary social condition. Focusing on two lost futures and the un-locatable present, the condition of which is largely caused by the loss of the previous, and their haunting presence. The first lost future is that of popular modernism, which died in the latter quarter of the 20th century. The second lost future being the naively optimistic early to mid-1990’s, and its utopian gaze toward the coming new millennium. The un-locatable present here refers to a specific intensification of life under digital capitalism, looking at a severe disconnection to the passing of time since the 2008 financial crisis. The Mary Celeste Project (The Scene of The Crash) is crucially inspired by my sense of a loss of narrative and of being out of time, amidst a feverishly neoliberal reality. But certain locations I spent time in prior to the beginnings of this project were crucial to reasons behind making of it.
It is clear then that specific geographical spaces are very important to this whole investigation. Thus, with the rarity of two people from northern England planning to embark on the south at the same point, it was essential we had to go another very symbolically important location: Greenwich.
So what makes Greenwich so important? We’d arrived in darkness, and the specifically-threatening-looking silver Met police cars guarding the gates put us off trying to find a way in, so we circumvented Greenwich Park wall right down to the river. One point of agreement on that walk was pivotal to the whole text I’ll write thereon after: my ‘stuck in a moment’ fixation with a 3 month (yet 3 year-long-feeling) time spent in London, unsuccessfully trying to complete an MA in Cultural Studies just down the road in New Cross, prompted John Wright to say to me (in a supportive manner, of course) that I really ought to have done the MA in Leeds (I had considered doing the MA at the University of Leeds, the institution John had recently been awarded an MA qualification at), but we both instantaneously and almost simultaneously responded by agreeing that I had to go to London; that there was something much larger and important at play.
I’ve written way too much already about the mental state I found myself in down London that forced me to leave, and the time leading up going and the time afterwards is far more crucial to the project and the reasons for the usage of my experiences within Greenwich. However, there is one crucial line explaining my state down there that activated this entire project: I believed I’d reached a total dead end, that there was nothing beyond this spell in London.
During this 3-year-disguised-as-3-month-spell, I found myself at Greenwich quite a few times (even ending up with a part time job there, just a week before finding myself back in bed in the north), finding the momentary ease under the autumnal ‘avenues all lined with trees’ an embodier of the wish for a granting of indefinite residence in a place I never really wanted to leave – “I like it here can I stay?” as the lyrics from The Smiths’ Half A Person that weaved through all other thoughts within my room in nearby New Cross.
Something had occurred here to a degree that I was finding it incredibly hard to get out of bed in morning after 15 years of habitually getting up at 7am. The years preceding had seen a building up of both foreboding and understanding of the global cultural situation, to which 2011 felt like the zenith; a clicking into place of a new reality from which we couldn’t go back. And now I was here, in the last 3rd of 2012, and it truly felt like the eye of the storm; the “that’s exactly it!” masters course (that I wanted to last forever, not 1 year of pressurised performance); the financial epicentres seen from my windows; the potential of meeting the world in a world-city; THE HEART OF DARKNESS – as it really did feel like I’d finally found it in as if in an inversion of Joseph Conrad’s novel – because, as comical as it sounds, the plentiful Megabus trips down there looking for a home were symbolic of a wider feeling of being worn right right right down into a man in search of a resting place. And, after the year 2011, there appeared to be no way of going back. And at that initial point before it all went wrong it didn’t matter that there was no way forward.
But as the London-endeavour lead on it became unavoidably clear that there was a dead end rapidly approaching. Throughout the preceding years there had been so much effort to show how entangled my inability to perceive a future for myself was with the dead end that was the endgame of the course the world was taking, to the point where I was exhausted just as it all seemed to come to a head. But as I walked around Greenwich, a place arguably unsurpassed in symbolic importance to creation of the world as we know it, to the extent that it often feels like the meridian was the first line ever laid, it became very clear to me for the first time how our ‘always on’ global capitalist culture was trapped by the past.
Greenwich is a place symbolically laden with traces of ghosts from other eras that refuse to die; a fusion of what-might-have-been’s (lost futures) and unshifting-has-been’s’ (archaic tombs that won’t close up). One that caught my attention was the Queen Elizabeth Oak, an important tree for the Tudor dynasty (a crucial period in the formation of Imperial expansion and modernity). Yet the tree is 100+ years-dead, and has laid on the floor like a wooden carcass for some years now too. Trapped under the weight of the past, with no future to speak of, the speed of life/the ‘always on’ endless labouring within the infinitely accelarating capitalist technosphere, traps us in a frenetic eternal-now epitomised by the Non Stop Inertia project. But in such a Stuck Record state, the present is also a void without a perceivable future in its wake, meaning the past, especially the near past, seeps into the void left by the unlocatable present (think of how traces of the optimistic 1990’s seem to cling to everything); impounding the pressure between the new reality demanded in the wake of 2011 and the lack of ability to be able to even think beyond the current moment. This is well and truly an hauntological state, and through my endeavouring after abandoning London to engage on a cognitive level with the South/West Yorkshire landscape I lapsed back into, these past 2 two years have been profoundly hauntological; all that has followed as felt unrealised…undead.
Connections….Always Looking for Connections…
Of course if we didn’t deem all this crucial to some wider situation we wouldn’t have embarked on the (un)realised projects investigation, nor would we have bothered taking the bus to Greenwich on a cold, dark night. The very fact that I also ‘sound like a stuck record’ on this blog now is more to do with my emotional energies smashing against 4 walls, looking for a way out, than the indulgences of dwelling in the past. Or at least this is what I tell myself. I have to tell myself this, because I am profoundly sick with the way things are, and the conviction that I am not alone means that the current direction of my work is as much as political act as the works I made in my early 20’s that dealt specifically with the threat of climate change.
The closed brackets around the ‘un’ in unrealised, was John Wright’s idea, positing it as the hope that all that is hanging around in a ghostly form will one day be realised. Using Jacques Derrida’s differentiation between an Ending of something and a Closure of something, John and I discussed how this dead-end feeling doesn’t have to be (or at least shouldn’t have to be) the end in itself, but a closure of something that allows the beginnings of another. Of course, our usage of specific geographical locations was a way of simultaneously commenting on this as both a deeply personal and deeply global cultural state. Perhaps using landscape is one of the strongest methods or articulating the fusion of two issues that would appear very distinct on a surface level?
The Utopian Never Truly Dies
As much as we felt it necessary to travel to Greenwich after our performance on the Saturday, after our final, most exhaustive, performance on the Sunday, we deemed it necessary to spend time in the Barbican complex before we set off back for the train.
There is something truly special about this place, which gets beyond the facts of why it remained like this whilst other Brutalist utopian residential schemes failed drastically; that this estate was designed for the well off, the cultural elite, and thus corners weren’t cut in its construction (nor was it fucked up socially by mass job losses), is a seperate matter to to truth of the place which is that it exists as a realisation of the utopianist society that truly could have been. This place doesn’t even seem to have been bothered by the onslaught of Thatcherism; neoliberalism seems to have been kept at the gates of this fort-like-structure, and you can imagine the same being true in long night of fascistic, repressive governance if we don’t find a way of changing the course we are on. It may be a place of the communal/the shared for those who already have their fair share, but in that it actualises elements of the ideal, it shows that they could, and should exist elsewhere.
What I like about this place is what makes me realise that as undead as I often feel, as emotionally-turned-to-stone as I regularly feel, I am still deeply utopian. Utopian is different from a Utopia; arguably Utopia can never exist, but to be Utopian is to be an idealist in life, not to accept any given reality as ‘the way it is’ – such fatalism is dangerous, and has arguably made the situation we are in profoundly worse to deal with.
The Barbican reveals traces of the utopian in the past that was left behind when neoliberal economic theory and postmodernism galvanised the TINA (there is no alternative to capitalism) reality. We sat in the canteen (the only place I know of in contemporary life where the word canteen isn’t associated undesirable eateries), and just sat, without the need for more pleasure-seeking, drink, etc – just sat. As we moved on toward the station, making a closure on this situation still felt as far off as it did before the performance, in the Barbican we did at least get a glimpse of elements of a place that could exist beyond this stuck point. This point has to be moved on from; personally speaking, I cannot stay here any longer.
Am I currently working on a drawing called The long Night of a Needless Storm which I wanted to be ready to show now, but it isn’t and I don’t like showing incomplete works, so here is the rest of the psycho-bile-build-up from the past 5 years. I for one cannot endure another 5 years like this.
“…GIVE ME A BREAK!?!!..”
A Privatised Implosion (2014, A4, Ink on paper)
The Index For Child Well-being (2011, mixed media on paper, 100X100cm)
I Want None of This (2011, mixed media on paper, 180X105cm)
A Psychic Timebomb (2013, mixed media on paper)
Achieving and getting Things Done (Installation, Sheffield 2011)
In The City… (2011, ballpoint pen on paper, 115X100cm)
Just The Noise… (2014 exhibition flyer)
The Planet’s Mental Illness (2012, ballpoint pen on paper, 105X150cm)
…Coils Tightening (2014, mixed media on paper, 100X125cm)
A Cognitive Austerity (2015, ink on paper, A4)
Untitled (2014, ink on paper, A4)
Mind Camp (2013, mixed media on paper, 105x155cm)
Disintegration (2013, A4, mixed media on paper)
Feverish (2014, ballpoint pen on paper, 135x95cm)
Untitled (2013, ink on paper, A4)
Not Humanly Possible (2015, ink on paper, A4)
The Place of Dead Ends (2013, mixed media on paper, 100x125cm)
Hyper-Malaise (2014, ink on paper)
Global Ghetto, 2045, Marks The Centenary of The Defeat of Fascism (2010/11, 105X140, ballpoint pen on paper)
Whilst We Were in The Eternal Now... (2014, mixed media on paper, 95X125cm)
The Mary Celeste Project [The Scene of The Crash] (2014, video)
A short story of my last 10 years.Returning to the hills I roamed in my early 20’s for a sense of resonance with my own mental landscape..
(an image took within January/February period of 2005, when I was 21)
And not enough to stay alive
I’m sitting in the middle waiting”
(4st. 7lbs, The Manic Street Preachers)
The intensity of routine and control that made me anorexic followed on from this summer. But I would be returning to these hill tops at the other side of Anorexia, and returning to the music that had freaked me out just before I went through anorexia, because it offered no illusions and cosiness from this bleak nihilism thrown my way, music I could only return to once there was no going back into the denial-base of anorexia: the music of Joy Division, in particular.
Your life is shelved when anorexic, mainly because to live it seems unbearably hard. Everything that us human is controlled. Food, drink, relaxation and socialising are controlled as if they are visitors making prison visits to your human self. The inward-looking watch tower makes sure there’s no indulgence, that nobody gets too close – for that would be to sin in the eyes of that which is scared of being human due to being scared of having to try to live in a world that could cause irredeemable unhappiness. This inward looking watchtower also states that nothing is as important as maintaining a very active lifestyle and that all things should be sidelined in order for this to be maintained; standing when you could be sitting; walking fast when you could be strolling; running instead of walking fast; doing sit ups when you could be waking up. Looking healthy is never the objective: looking hard-worked and thin, looking the opposite of lazy, because it seems to suggest an exemption from the guilt of living in this world; you are constantly telling yourself “I am winning/I am getting better” – getting better at slipping between the cracks of the world; not touching anything. “My life is under control and I am exempt the this bleak world around me”.
Anorexia isn’t despair or hopelessness; it’s an illusion of jubilantly flying over these seemingly bottomless pits; but it can’t last, you’ve got to crash at some point(the only despair during this spell came when external convention demanded celebration/enjoyment from you, only for you to find that this is when such pain reemerges). Of course, the terror of being overweight also owes much to the advertising industry and the image world of late-capitalist ideology itself, but these causation’s aren’t separate to the other causation’s; the images of horror (buildings collapsing/people jumping to their death from buildings) and the images of glamour (which may make you feel anxiety about your own body) double-up and are part of the same visual language which we are (force)fed.
(4st. 7lbs, The Manic Street Preachers)
Once I began on the road away from anorexia, I knew that I’d have to find a way of facing this world I had once tried to escape from; I had to face what I’d ran away from 2 years previous. I quickly learned, as my body began to re-establish itself as a 20 year old male (as I regained weight) that I could no longer completely hide myself from the world, no matter how much I struggled to cope with what I saw and what that made me think of. And I began living the life that I have lived ever since.
My first steps out into society, after coming through the other side of anorexia, were in (re)finding old friends and venturing out to where society informed me everything that is meaningful could be found within: pubs, bars and nightclubs (drinking culture in general); places where the people convene, and where we are told lovers meet.
Before this, the underlying inability to cope with living was safely tame and massaged into my artworks and with my solitary Walkman moments with the music of Joy Division; a band I heard in 2002, but struggled to listen to at the time because of a bleak nihilism (that remains unchallenged in it’s potency to my ears), were now resonating strongly with my experience of life. I knew that when I was getting hooked on the dark euphoria of the track ‘Digital’ that it was because I was relating closely to the lyrics “feel it closing in…..day in, day out, day in, day out”, knowing that my own walls were still closing in on me and I’d have to face them at some point.
(Novelty by Joy Division)
Housebound, and with what had sustained my optimism out of reach, I fell into the depression that the ‘honeymoon period’ with the real world had made ‘out of mind out of sight’. In 2001/2002 the fundamental environmental worries/worries about our species’ future (a previously unlocked door for my eyes to see now via the ‘atrocity exhibitions” I saw on television and in newspapers) seemed far away; voices I respected scoffed at such ideas, and information proving things like climate change didn’t seem to be there. In 2004, these concerns, far from going away, felt like they were still slowly closing in. I’d found out that climate change was a real and big threat, and, although it couldn’t recreate the shock of my introduction to the bleakest of thoughts, it certainly reinforced the story that they told me.
As I mentioned above, the battle with my inability to cope did come back for some time between exiting anorexia but before my honeymoon with the real world period began. When I fell into depressed spells my eating habits kind of performed what my previously anorexic self has always warned me of whilst I became slowly obsessed with food as my body needed it more: I ate and ate way too much. This came back to haunt me again now I was immobile and stuck in the house with only my own thoughts to keep me company. Eating way too much, when the fear of being overweight for all the previously mentioned reasons clung on, magnified the depression.When I finally managed to get out and attempt to restart where I’d left off, I was already in an uphill struggle; the aspects of me I had foolishly thought had been left behind had returned, and I felt that it was now a rush to get something meaningful from these nights out/and other socialising situations before these aspects caught up with me. I thought I had to get a girlfriend because I believed that this would ‘eventually’ be the anchor to secure me. I was still relatively happy with the way I looked – that gave me, even if not inner confidence, at least a belief that “something would surely come along sooner or later…” – but I was terrified of the depression chasing my tail, because if it debilitated me and I started overeating permanently then I would truly be left to rot in a pit of all my worst nightmares. The level of my naivety was well and truly put to test by the fear of losing to my depression.Thus, with more expectation and desperation placed on nights out in a provincial town, uncontrollable disappointment was always on the cards. Every pub/club I went into, I would ask for Joy Division (preferably the track Digital) and dance endearingly but awfully to their tracks (which, on a side note, has made me concerned that the ‘let’s all dance to Joy Division’ song by the terrible indie-pop act The Wombats may have been written about me; although, to save me the crippling embarrassment, this is highly unlikely, as I think the ultimate death disco feel of Joy Division’s tracks has an almost universal appeal within our anti-depressant-dependent generation, mainly because it resonates with our general complete lack of optimism for the future; “get pissed and dance now, because there’s no point in saving it for the future”). In almost one out of every two nights out, I would end up getting on a massive downer, and running away from my friends and out of the club to head home.
The days after would be low days. I would feel stuck for reasons to do anything, whilst eager for something to do be done, for better or for worse, either to get me out of it or to at least allow the depression unconditional confirmation. This probably explains why I would then proceed over eat, which would exacerbate the unhappiness to dangerously low levels. That’s when I started walking up to these hill tops. Cycling up there wouldn’t have been enough; I needed to feel like I could keep walking further and further up onto those hills as if I wasn’t coming back. I couldn’t cope with the world I saw around me, so when bad things happened in my newly found social circles (girls fighting, friends getting their head stamped on, people saying things to me that hurt) it made everything unbearable and I it felt like it was all was closing in on me faster and faster.
During this period right at the beginning of being 21, suicide wasn’t just a passing thought that strangely comforted when you’d just like the ground to swallow you up, it was much closer and much more pressing. I had no coping methods, no thick skin against the world, but I was no longer in a place to avoid life like I was when I was anorexic, I was now well in deep like everybody else. The walks up onto these bleak hillsides seemed like the only route available to me.
Could these sensations make me feel the pleasures of a normal man?”
(Disorder, Joy Division)
If I wasn’t struggling so much to cope with living I am sure that the events around me wouldn’t have made the impact they did. I’d left a massive gap in my growing up years 17-20, when I did almost zero socialising, which didn’t help things when situations did start to go awry. This vague idea that if I found a girlfriend that it would somehow create a safety net preventing me from free fall, a safety net against all my biggest fears about humanity within the 21st century, got more desperate. More desperate in general, than desperate for love itself, I found walking up on these hill tops and listening to Joy Division (more than any other band) the only safe mental environment whilst either escaping from the state a bad night out had put me in or waiting for the next one, with the hope that something ‘great’ may happen within it. The grueling-ness of these walks, which I tried to push further and further onto the moors each time, also tamed my despair over eating to much (linked to the despair of becoming undesirable thus unable to find this ‘safety net’, as the walking felt like I was “keeping the weight off”), as my mind was in a trance-like muteness-to-scattering-fears once I was well and truly within the middle of one of these walks.
The landscape up there is beautiful, but it is also a bleak and minimal landscape, a landscape that offers no niceties, no signs that would point to false hopes, nothing that could find soul and and prise out this inability to cope with life. On the long, quiet roads, where I couldn’t see where they ended, it felt as if I was walking up to the moon/never coming back down to the town below, and that was some sort of comfort I suppose.
(Giant, by The The)
(This Is Day by The The)
That point me to another day
………They keep calling me”
The music seemed to create a euphoria of despair, which made all the trouble in ones life to be darkly savioured, as documentation on why one ought to feel this way.
A couple of years later, one further flirtation with the possibility of having a partner, seemed to set in the stone the truth about my inability to deal with life and relax into the world, as the chance vanished the more my desperation and neediness of a safety net shone through. A safety set for my life, in the face of a more informed and growing expectation of life getting bleaker and bleaker as the 21st century dragged on, is what drove the hopes of ‘being saved’ from it ( I was still being fooled by an instilled consumer-mindset day dream; knowing otherwise but believing that these good things will certainly come to me).
The crash didn’t just coincide with the end of my university course, and a helping-handed feeling of “going somewhere” (which university provides), but I had just finally found what I’d been looking for, regarding my artwork: what I had been wanting to do/say had finally been pieced together. A tutor, who seemed to have an eerily good knack of envisaging what one was trying to say before they had even realised what it was they were trying to say, suggested to make climate change the main thing my work dealt with from now on; as opposed to what it was at that point; a stop-start-try-again jumble about my own mental state, worries about society, and climate change.
But the interesting thing was that by turning to focus on climate change, the large landscapes of ecological nightmares I began to make simply absorbed the entirety of these issues, embodying the whole. He (the tutor) seemed to get what was burning away at me which, by helping me focus on the large scale (the environmental), was shown to be the entirety, big and small. I was now at where I was always trying to get to: making a case against life as I saw it as a whole. (a realisation that came to me years later after reading an essay called Nihil Rebound: Joy Division from the K-Punk Blog, where the blog’s writer Mark Fisher says how Ian Curtis’s’, seemingly naive lyrics from earlier Joy Division/Warsaw tracks about the atrocities of war, despotic leaders of men, were parts of the case he was making against life itself, as the horrors of the 20th century, and the slow tragedy of the defeat of the working class, washed us up on the nihilistic shoreline of the so-called ‘end of history’. Indeed, I’d say that this essay possibly provided me the open doorway to realise that my early 20’s obsession with this band wasn’t something that can be signed off as immature morbidity – the way that many people refer to the adored music from their so called ‘angst years’ – but is music that appeals very much to the way, not just me, but many of us experience the world, existing whilst the amoral brutally of industrialised forces takes everything away from us, and gives us a uncomfortable meaningless back in return – hence their rising popularity as the industrial capitalist machine drags us further and further into hopelessness).
This breakthrough, felt like it should have been permanent, like I could have been in in forever, because nothing could really come afterwards. And other things I hoped for were vanishing, in a normal course of things that I just couldn’t deal with. I was in free-fall again. But I couldn’t dabble with suicide again, as the desublimination of stomach pains the next day were a warning that you cannot escape so easily and so purely. It doesn’t end easy, it lingers on. Just as the horrors of the 20th century didn’t end so easily at the dawn of the so called ‘end of history’, at beginning of the 1990’s – they are still happening; history didn’t peacefully end and fold itself nicely into an holiday package; we are fooled by the images we are shown of truth, forgetting that reality isn’t quite as streamline as this.
The emotionally exhaustive summer of vanishing (what I foolishly thought could be) certainties, a summer metaphorically and literally clinging onto bottles, had weakened my sense of who I was and what I was capable/incapable of, to the extent that I was accepting any guides’ directions on how to live my life; forgetting the mental minefields of mistakes, caused by a void when it came to the task of enjoying. I agreed to do something I would never have felt such nessecity to do if my routine had been ruining smoothly on the inside my mental barriers: I went to a music festival.
For starters, I struggle spending time in other peoples’ company for full days, especially when the people stretches far beyond ones vision – I get paranoid, exhausted, wanting to walk off for a good while, then paranoid about what people think of me for attempting to do this. Then there’s the fact that I have a very low tolerance for noise when I’m tired; I need a muteness to, and a dimming of the world when I’m too tired for my barriers to protect my wellbeing as they do in the day. When tired, after a while the sound begins to feel like violence. But it was the paranoia about things that made this event what it became.
Leeds Festival is notoriously not one of the most laid-back festivals; as well as the entire event sometimes seeming more like a Topshop fashion parade (losing sight of friends within a sea of unfestival-like manicured girls, wearing hot pants and shades, and guys wearing leather jackets and Pete Doherty-inspired straw hats; so many people, at once, looked advert-friendly-perfect, aloof and identical) it also seems to have a feeling that something could kick off at any moment, due to there being a football hooligan-like tribalism.
Then there’s the drugs. It’s not the pressure to take them in itself, it’s the sense of complete alienation from groups of people, when they are on them. “And you’ve got 4 days of this alienation mate – that Strongbow won’t suffice, that’s for sure”. Low on sense of self, I got convinced that legal highs would be a OK alternative for someone who doesn’t take drugs. Again, due to being low on sense of self, I felt a much more acute need to fit in to the group I would be spending 4 days with. I’d be lying if I denied that the first herbal high I took felt very good, but, due to this, and the relentless noises outside, I had no sleep. Got up next day having had no sleep, and paranoia started to kick in. Only slightly, but everything seemed a little more tinder-sticks to me, like it would take just one false step for everything to blow its top off.
Nobody is to blame for the general deterioration of things from this point, my inability to cope with a life lived eclipses any claims that people who knew me should have discouraged me to do things, and taken into account that their own free choice may have alienated me: like with the young lady mentioned above, this was young people doing what young people come to believe they ought to be doing; trying to have a good time, thus wanting everybody else to be joining in in the good time that they are having, by doing the same things to confirm the legitimacy of the reason for having this good time – but music festivals are a staple of the mass design of how to enjoy life, which not everyone can assign themselves to. Over the course of the next day it was becoming clear that sleep wasn’t coming, and this fact itself caused me further anxiety and worry. After spending a very uncomfortable time around a camp fire, I made my way back to the tent. I was becoming more paranoid. I can never relax (caused by a perpetual unease instilled into us by capitalism’s constant rebuilding, reshuffling, re-demanding that creates a society based on precarity, where your foremost desire to inhale oxygen and then exhale carbon dioxide is nagged to death by the reminder not to “get too comfy there, mate”) so how I expected to enjoy an event that demands relaxation or a right old mess is completely down to my loss of sense of self during the summer of 2007.
Walking back to the tent there was these human-shaped sleeping backs on a banking. Security was hovering around with torches, talking on radios. It looked bad. I got back to the tent. Couldn’t sleep. I was getting stupidly paranoid by this point. I thought the friends I’d gone with to the festival were about to run into the tent and beat me up. Why did I think this? Because they had been ever-ever-so slightly off with me in conversations earlier. My paranoia expanded this to an illogical extreme. I thought drugs had sent them violent. They’d done nothing of the sort. Every sound I heard sounded like them coming to get me; the noises I heard were being twisted by my mind into other noises to do with me.
When I went back towards where I have left off in the early hours, the place where the bodies in the sleeping bags had been was now a spot of grass surrounded by police barrier tape (something which was seen by other eyes as well as mine, but, for some reason, was never mentioned in the local news). This was the most awful feeling, and I couldn’t forget the shape of the sleeping bags the night before – a shape that was in between that of a butterfly pupa and a body of someone who perished in Pompeii. It sent my current state of mind into overdrive. Something felt damaged in my brain. The words ‘dead bodies’ were being repeated over and over again in my head, like a film real of words taking my mind into canyon inside itself that it never should enter. My anxiety grew and grew.
I was hearing all sorts now. Every time I heard a reveler at the festival speak, my mind altered what they’d said so that they were talking about me. I Kept on walking trying to shake it off. Didn’t want to find my friends, because my mind was convinced that they were after me. Kept on walking. It kept on getting worse. This was, what I could only describe later as hyper paranoia. Everybody in the festival was saying “John Ledger, John Ledger” in my ears. The more worried I became, the more I panicked the worse it became, until it started to feel like I was in the middle of my own real-life version of the trippy Disney film Fantasia.
I eventually ran out of the festival. And after being scared out of wits by noises in a local village that came from no rational source, I finally found a bus back to central Leeds, and then a train to Barnsley. That night was spent at a friends because I thought I was going permanently mad, and didn’t dare go home for that reason. I thought this was finally some kind of end. It felt like everything that I’d tried to wall myself up against was bursting through all at once. The day after when I went to the hospital after several days without sleep, I wasn’t looking for help back to a sort of normality as much as I was handing myself in, as if I was saying to them “look, I’m a walking disaster, Ive failed to live a life – give me a break” as if the hospital was an arm of an all-controlling authority, and being at breaking point I no longer wanted to be my own person, I wanted them to make me from now on, to make me do what they tell me to do without having to question (which is why this memory of walking into the hospital reminds me of the fate of Winston Smith, towards the end of George Orwell’s 1984, when, in the middle of having the humanity smashed out of him in room 101 by Big Brother, he eventually found himself in the arms of his torturer, O’Brien, as if he was his paternal guardian, weeping for it to end, whilst O’Brien momentarily cuddled and consolidated him – I felt my character couldn’t withstand the way of the world anymore). But after sleeping pills and a Valium, this time issued by the doctor, I was yet again reminded that it doesn’t end so easily.
In retrospect, many knowing voices have told me “you were just having a bad trip man” (which I hated to start with, as if I’d have had sense of self at the time I wouldn’t have gone near pills, legal or illegal), but this doesn’t take into account all the other factors at play, which culminated in this complete mess.
I was a permanently bruised atom in a rotten whole, which exacerbates its illness by refusing to accept its own mortality – this is my predicament within the capitalist system’s predicament. Something I couldn’t quite describe in words at this point, was now making itself clear within my large scale drawings. The tracks towards the politisisation of myself and obsessive dissection of the governing system were originally laid by the breakthrough that my large-scale drawings gave me, but the events of these years made it the only way I could go.
Experience has left me with no choice but to be anti-capitalist. Its offer of no future, save weekly piss ups, is because it offers humanity no future worth living in, which has crippled any vision I would possibly have had for my own atomised future. This was being played out in my walking disaster of a life I was having whenever I tried to live it. Yet I didn’t know this at 21 or 23.
It was only when I luckily stumbled upon a job working as a gallery attendant, just 1 week after the mess I got in at the festival, when I was confronted with an array other peoples’ career goals (which is in no way a criticism or to claim that their goals are futile) that I was aggressively confronted with my relative aimlessness/no-space-to-move-forward-into reality, making it much more pressing, as I began to watch workers come and go as I stood still, that I felt it an urgency to sensibly home in on what I felt were the causes of this entrapment. This feeling was coupled with a expanding inferiority complex about my general lack of knowledge, in comparison with most other people I worked with. But this I began to feel positive about. Whether I was pushed or jumped, I needed to take this plunge into the world of books.
I knew what I didn’t like in much clearer terms than before. But, whilst further hardening my inability to think long-term/think career plan due to a now growing cynicism to the whole language of aspiration within capitalism (knowing how all consuming of even the arts it is) it did nothing to help my sense of self whilst within social situations. Thus the career goals of those around me, continued to remind me of being left stranded; “no chance of that safety net of a partner now – nobody wants a person who is going nowhere”. And it isn’t that I think all careers are bad or destined to be doomed, it’s just that I have come to realise that I cannot see a future past my next artwork/next exhibition, of which is intended to be the aforementioned case I have been building (which is why since I things changed when I started working I now have most of my lowest moments after an exhibition is over, when life caries on and still nothing feels “confirmed”). Any thoughts that try to go further than this hit a grey screen in my mind.
Nevertheless, for a short time, working for a wage and then making my own work in the evening was, although forming a event-less splodge of time, OK – not too bad. A small resignation to nihilism I suppose, but not too much. The lyrics from the first Strokes album, which embodied a quintessential “yeah, but it’s not that bad” kind of nihilism, seemed perfectly fitting (as they did for me before my ‘sigh’ turned into ‘gasp’ between the 9/11 terror attacks and the 2002 world worries)
I suppose that I am back in (or never left) the existential situation I was in during anorexia. The situation that is explained so brilliantly by the sample at the beginning of 4st.1b by the Manic Street preachers (if one makes the subject wider than that of food)
My mental rooting system is too entrenched in ground that, although is slowly killing it, is stopping it from instantly toppling over. Which one is the worst is debatable, but ones natural instinct is to side with the former rather than the latter. As well as not even knowing how to, I’m pretty sure that this is the force which is preventing me breaking free of my now barred-up, passive (going nowhere) existence: an instinctive awareness that doing so could be fatal; making a big mistake, such as putting my utter trust in something or someone, giving myself to them only for it to leave me where it left me before, but with less naivety/optimism to pick me back up each time it happens, which is why I now don’t dream of finding a partner, and actually wall myself up away from the possibility, consciously now denying the one thing I thought would ‘save me’ and revving up the motor of my routine again, industrialising discontent as a force to keep going.
This is why I sometimes think that my only possible place within life is – due to being unable to deal with the world as it is, but also unable detach myself from it in order to help to think of something better – to be a maker of works that highlight the hell we have made, not as someone to help create the better but to warn and inform those who may be able to go forth and do just this. And I think that, due to the feelings of alienation and messing up whenever I do try to be alive and live for the moment (as the ‘able’ anti-capitalisters would advise to me) always (as yet) winning over, this is my only way.
But the reason for explaining this whole inability to deal with life, isn’t to leave it just as my own inability, because this inability is caused by capitalism’s saturation of our lives, it’s relentless erasing of anything not subject to direct/or indirect commodification, whilst simultaneously entrenching itself within all paths of thought so that any unsaturated spaces we find we instantly tarnish with it so that what was once an alternative is now using capitalist reality to make itself look appealing. The claim by many modern philosophers that “it is easier to imagine the end of the world than the end of capitalism” is so much more cutting once one becomes aware of the sheer scale of the environmental issues that now face us.
We have a mass inability to picture a future worth living in. Some of us are better at denying it, and hoping for that cosy domestic life the system promised to us, but can very doubtfully give to us. But I think the inability plays itself out in the actions of so many of us; the weekly piss-ups instead of saving for the future; the general obsession with that pursuit of hedonism; the obsession with retro; the rising popularity of Joy Division with a generation of young people born years after the death of Ian Curtis. I couldn’t explain this when I was 21. I couldn’t explain this when I was 23. I still can’t explain it as I would like to here and now.
Just as the reaction that it is wrong to put this quite personal account on the net is missing the point, one is also missing the point here, if the reaction to this writing is to tell me how everybody has got problems, and one just needs to learn how to cope. The example used of my own depression/inability to cope is referred to here as an example of the co-ordinates of a certain depression/inability to cope which is specific to our late 20th century/early 21st century era, and is not just an age-old tale of how the young find their way in the world.
Whilst growing up, one also learned to believe that if you aren’t willing/or unable to play the (capitalism) game, then there isn’t much choice of a life left over for you, except one of loneliness and destitution, and that “it was your own fault” if this was the life you found yourself living. If you don’t aspire to strive up the career ladder; if you don’t attempt to immerse yourself in a consumerist fashion niche; if you don’t strive to be beautiful, clean and lean; if you don’t smile and say pleasantries to people when you feel like shite inside, “well, it’s your own fault” if the world feels like it has left you behind to fester in a no-new-messages-for-you-matey misery pit. All of these ‘learnings’ doubtlessly have a major role in the creeping mental illness epidemic of our times.
After each mini-breakdown period my artistic endeavours still drag me along, but more is demanded of me now than it used to be, both from myself and from others who are aware of the despair at capitalism which runs through everything I make or write. But I don’t think I can give what’s needed. The undercurrent motive for writing the events of my past 10 years is to explain why the demands of me now to participate more in activism against capitalism and for something else seem to be reviving the intensity of the feeling of everything closing in, and this inability to act seems to be precisely because cannot end up in back in the place where these events put me, as I have less reserves than I used to in order to get back out again. This is why the more awareness I have, thus the more the demand to act now I know much more, followed by the inability to act is making me revisit the experience of life I had when I didn’t know what I know now, but felt it: it is returning the need for the feeling of a suspension of time, in the landscape that seems to resonate with this feeling of having nowhere to go, whilst things are closing in fast; the hill tops west of where I live, and the need to listen to Joy Division (in particular).
But of course I agree with the collective beliefs of all those who are trying their hardest to take action to try to make a world not ruled by money, a world which is no longer in peril from the relentless attack on the ecosystem that sustains us (and there is truth, regarding the undercurrent motive for the writing of all of this, that I’m trying to explain this to those who know me and are perplexed and sometimes frustrated by my inactivity in the face of things I know full-well are destructive). If there’s one good that may arise from writing all of this, it is that by explaining all of this I might actually be able to let the last 10 years of my life now rest in peace, so I can move on; a hope that understanding it all will help me break through the grey-screen which covers all images of my future, a grey screen the events of the last 10 years helped to create. And, with this, I hope that with – what seems to be – a hell of a large amount of thinkers racking their brains on how we can move away from capitalism, now that the need is crucial, that this is also a point of letting our past rest in peace; let it rest so that our species can get over the false dreams capitalism gave to us and move on to something else, something better.
I Want None of This, 2011, ballpoint pen and collage on paper, 180X110cm
In today’s world, people acknowledge that I’m no fool to the world, yet they simultaneously tell me that I see no sense. Likewise, I am often told that I am living in a dream world whilst they live in one big illusion – an illusion of the durability and the ability to deliver of this infrastructure in which we can all ‘specialise’ in a certain career path and allow all the other ‘specialists’ to do their bit so we don’t have to. This is my experience of coming into contact with a general logic that has gone insane in its elder years. We all have to capitulate to the insanity or sink into destitution. I find that I am eternally in deadlock, and it doesn’t end no matter how many times others tell me that I mustn’t be because ‘this is the way of the world and you’re not going to change it’. It is destroying the planet, eroding our harmony with it, but it is also blatantly no longer giving us the better quality of life, which it could previously have always claimed to be doing. But this is when we face its tyranny in giving us no option but proceed this way.
The child-like images of young people shouting out what they want to be when they grow older is an important signal for my own predicament, as nothing suits me, I have no career in mind, from when I was a day-dreaming child to a anxiety-ridden young adult, I never have done and never will. At a social level, this provokes ceaseless anxiety. I cannot move, but I feel that I am been pushed; the precarious, and (supposed to be) terrifyingly unaccommodating landscape is an attempt to picture this feeling. It’s not that I criticise others for having careers plans. I just can’t see a future for careers in this fragile world we are heading into. But I fear that I will sink sooner than the rest, as the social tide rises and am left baffled and stranded, before we all do in physical reality as the sea levels rises.
Why, I wondered, do I only notice Telescreens (the object itself, rather than what it is showing) when they are turned off? Looking up at the sleeping boxes as I enter the transport interchange, there was suddenly something more about their presence; they almost had a creepy presence as they hung above my head, and all the other heads on their way home. If they were switched on it would have been giving me information – what us humans gasp for, and can’t ignore, even if it bears no importance to our own endeavours.
Our lives are surrounded by screens. Something about the image on them, be it another humans or just simply text, has an authority over us. For example, just look at a conversation and how the communication going on in physical reality merely acts as an interval between the urge to get back to what really matters: text chatting on mobile phone screens. For another example, put a TV in a pub/bar and suddenly the place becomes like a theatre with a captive audience rather than a place for conversation.
But when the power goes off, we have these blocks and squares staring at us. And it feels really weird. It is as if our leader has abandoned us. “What the hell do we do now?” We can only hope they are switched back ASAP and that things get back to ‘normal’.
And still the screens advance! Barely any of us drive places without guidance from the sat-nav screen; we now read books on screens rather than carry real ones about; I also find myself feeling that my music player is incomplete if there isn’t the album sleeve of the currently playing artist beaming back at me as I stare down at it, whilst frantically clicking at its buttons (mind you, that’s also just a tactic because I’m scared of eye contact with the hyena-like gangs of teens running about in the transport interchange, to be rude to them and true to how they make me feel).
Ok, using screens in this way isn’t a bad thing on its own. It’s our growing dependency on them which is the concern, and it only seems to hit home when they are turned off, and we aren’t blindly (not literally of course!) obeying the information they give us. More than that, all this is run on finite energy, what will we do if we find no new way of powering it all and it stops? Will we do what Thom Yorke Suggested in ‘My Iron Lung’, “just hum”?
A bit of time-traveling was necessary to post this blog, as it just didn’t fit with the rest of the politicised blogs of 09/12/2011, and it fitted better amongst the more self-pitying blogs around 29/12/2010. So, I have sent this blog back one year, for the sake of the continuity of the blog and also because I am ashamed to still be the wreck that I am from time to time; there seems to be an expectation to grow out of discontent, leave it in youth as we begin our professional lives – I have achieved neither. So, lets pretend that this is 2010 and not 2009
I cannot see myself as a person who as done bad things. I know we are told to accept that it’s human to be bad/fo bad/accidentally hurt others, as we go through life, but I can’t abide myself doing this. I cannot cope if I know I have been incredibly selfish. I hate the feeling it gives me, knowing that my chosen actions may have hurt someone else.
It makes my life feel like something to get out of/escape from
Irrationality? Oh yes: here it comes again!
Also. If it’s just me and me only; totally alone to face a ‘Children of men’ style future, if that’s the most likely outcome, I don’t think I’d be able live.
What is the disease and what is me?
What is the ivy and what is the tree?
where does the sky begin
and where does the see?
Where are these barriers
that stop me being free?