Feverish (new work). Ballpoint pen on paper
It seems to me that the crucial thing to do right now (individually, socially, and internationally) would be to pause for deep reflection on the situation neoliberal economics has brought us to, as if we could reach a consensus to slow the treadmill back down to walking speed (at the very least). Ironically “pausing for reflection” is perhaps the one act that is fundamentally anti-neoliberal – and actioning this when its agenda dominates decision-making across the globe seems unfathomable. Yet this is what is needed if we are to even come close to stalling the rise in right wing populism, frightening levels of inequality, state surveillance, cyberspace misogyny, and (lest we forget) climate change.
When a lone human being hits a crisis point, they only recover after slowing down to the point of almost total entropy, often having to become so disillusioned with daily social reproduction, that society’s feverish demands of them become inaudible as one becomes (metaphorically-speaking) submerged underwater, in a state of ‘depressive withdrawal’. Beaten, bruised, and perhaps finding oneself back at the beginning of a rigged-game of snakes and ladders that constitutes life in such a competitive system, but nonetheless able to reflect, without respiratory unease.
I have often found the dark optimism of theorist Franco ‘Bifo’ Berardi’s potential solution of ‘depressive withdrawal’ from cyberspacial capitalism an inconceivable solution whilst the majority of us are put to (unpaid) work within cyberspace in order to hopefully track down a relatively worthwhile future for ourselves – especially as the unpaid labour we give extends far further into life than traditional job-seeking endeavours. With a process he calls ‘semiocapitalism’, Berardi tals of how our entire cognitive and emotional energies are appropriated into the reproduction of the system, and that this demand of us is in a state of perpetual acceleration. “Semiocapital puts [our] neuro-psychic energies to work, submitting them to mechanistic speed, compelling cognitive activity to follow the rhythm of networked productivity. As a result, the emotional sphere linked with cognition is stressed to its limit”. My own recent experiences of ‘trying my best’ via cyberpsace (interpreting and taking part in political discussion via social media platforms, whilst simultaneously trying to ‘career-hunt’, promote my art, and – wait for it – even considering Internet dating) has made me feel so disorientated, and unable to gain understanding of situations, due to the speed at which information sources bombard you, that I am now writing this after slowly coming up for air from month-long spell of depressive withdrawal.
Life is increasingly mediated via cyberspace – a mixture of platforms tending to and enhancing our panicky aspirations, our need of social approval, and depressive pleasure-seeking that results from the exhaustiveness of all that precedes it. Regarding trying to play a traditional participatory citizen’s role via Cyberspace, I have found myself bombarded daily with calls to stop TTIP, challenge the threat of UKIP, Boycott Israel, and help gain the Green Party the media limelight their policies deserve. Yet I feel bowled over, electrodes hitting me from all sides, ticking boxes of things I haven’t read, just ticking boxes of my pre-set ideas of what is just and unjust, not gaining a clearer understanding of anything, except a growing disbelief in the dissemination of information.
Yet social reproduction is incredibly claustrophobic once it is echoed from every device capable of connecting to the web. Our souls are put to work feverishly, trying to get places, gain things, learn things, yet learning nothing really. As the journalist John Pilger said in a recent lecture, the world is experienced as a “a tsunami of unexplained horror through the media”. Contemplation is squeezed into narrowing pockets of time, promoting its opposite: pure emotive reaction.
The ‘social-disease of neoliberalism’ has taken over 30 years to reach its current austerity-age fever pitch level. When the profit motive eclipses everything else, reflection isn’t required, or given a chance; just the emotive reaction. No matter how much information disseminated about the truth behind Farage’s UKIP (for example), its emotive pull creates such a huge din that reason becomes unreasonable. Neoliberalism forces down upon us an emotive populism, from Xfactor-style television to UKIP-dominated current affair panels. Thought is compressed into tactics on how to gain ground in a race to the bottom reality, whilst the quality of our lives is evaluated via media-interfaces, often only leaving space for the grubby residue of life’s wealth – what Paul Verhaeghe calls ‘depressive pleasure-seeking’.
We have found ourselves living under a strange Autocracy of Populism. “Everything must be entertaining, everything must entertain”, and we are expected to be constantly performative (and with success). an exhaustive psychic shutdown and depressive withdrawal is inevitable to many of us; yeah, we start from scratch, but it always strikes again.
And all the while the so-called protestant work ethic has intensified in response to the increasing difficulties of getting by. With each of us working our hardest, hoping the system will spare us (and grant us the leafy and comfortably-off 2.4 children lifestyle) the survivalist instinct has become feverish, repeatedly reinforcing the dog-eat-dog social reality. Since the austerity-age reality adjustment of the past half-decade, the work ethic has become hysterical in society. To challenge hard work is seen as heresy. In fact work isn’t even good enough, you need to be striving to move onwards and upwards constantly. Yet this hysterical work ethic only registers paid work as legitimate; all the unpaid exhaustion of energy that constitutes our so-called leisure time isn’t recognise one bit.
To be successful is all. The biggest fear is to fail – to be systematically reduced to an ‘invisible’. Being socially visible, whether at celebrity or at group level is all – to be validated within the believed-to-be all-seeing all-knowing media (or social media), which the writer Carl Neville says has taken on the role of a “benevolent deity, conferring riches and status”[Classless, Zero Books]. Whether it is the high echelons of celebrity media, or cyberspace social media – it is the all-important decider.
In one of his essays on the erasure of class struggle within British cinema, Carl Neville says that “In Xfactor Britain, we’re all just one step away from being a celebrity. …that exclusive x factor, detecta ble only by those of truly heightened sensibilities such as Simon Cowell and Cheryl Cole [the media embodied], are your tickets out of the most degrading of all personal situations, anonymity”.
We’ve all been pitted against each other, all against all, in this daily exhaustion to ‘get out’, to escape poverty, misery, anonymity. No wonder video trends with names like Epic Fail are so popular on the one-versus-all battleground of social media. Is the Xfactor nation depicted in the 15 Million Merits episode of Charlie Brooker’s Black Mirror really so far from our current situation? Will our lonely and feverish plights to ‘get out’ get more desperate, and more ruptured by increasingly frequent depressive shutdowns?
Within this drawing every figure is initially frantic. The zombie-like look isn’t coincidental; once the pursuit of ‘LIFE’ becomes feverish, lived life itself feels like it has ceased to be; many a frantic moment I have felt undead. It seems appropriate to add then that when I’m in a state of depressive withdrawal, whilst I go into a state of psychic shutdown, I still require to be in motion. But not frantic motion, more endless urban meandering, and a wish that the train journeys would never end, carrying on into an endless night. The problem isn’t movement, it is when competitive forces dictate movement. And these competitive forces are crucial to neoliberal dominance.
Our current situation isn’t understood because the speed of daily life has increased as to cancel out the bringing in of new understandings. Our current work ethos belongs in the 1970’s at the latest; in 2014 it is driving us mad, literally. The only solution is a reduction in the speed, but the fever has our blood racing. But patronising individuals by telling them to chill out and relax is both futile and part of the very atomising structure set in motion by the neoliberal ideology – ascribing an unreal self-determination to people which places them in charge of something they cannot alter from an individual basis, lets our current social reality off the hook. A global consensus on the need to stop and reflect is essential. If one chooses to argue that perpetual acceleration is at the heart of capitalism, then I think we can agree on the root-source of this ‘planetary mental illness’.
My artwork features in this month’s issue of Now Then, an independent magazine centered on the Sheffield area. I am pleased to have my work featured in this magazine, as I have great admiration of it and its impact in the Sheffield area; it being an incredibly refreshing (free!) magazine, and which more often than not contains more relevant articles on contemporary world issues than t more nationwide media sources.
By Nick BirkheadI suggest that Ledger’s work owes something to the fantastical Hieronymus Bosch (1450-1516). Specifically, the Garden of Earthly Delights comes to mind, with its lush depiction of organic sin. The world famous and brilliant forerunner of surrealism was, in his day, unique and radically different. Today Bosch’s work could not be more relevant, taxing and fascinating, revealing the folly and hypocracy of man. Bosch was born during the transition from the Middle Ages to the Renaissance in ‘s-Hertogenbosch, in the Duchy of Brabant [Netherlands]. Why are his paintings so powerful and why do I think there is a common thread between them and Ledger’s more dour pictures?
Bosch places visionary images in a hostile world full of mysticism, with the conviction that the human being, due to its own stupidity and sinfulness has become prey to the devil himself. He holds a mirror to the world with his cerebral irony and magical symbolism, sparing no one. He aims his mocking arrows equally well at the hypocrisy of the clergy as the extravagance of the nobility and the immorality of the people. Hieronymus Bosch’s style arises from the tradition of the book illuminations (manuscript illustrations from the Middle Ages). The caricatural representation of evil tones down its terrifying implications, but also serves as a defiant warning with a theological basis.
|John Ledger | Ill Equipped|
The echos of these powerful works struck me immediately on viewing Ledger’s work. They were of a dark world in turmoil. Bodies and abandoned buildings were strew across the landscapes, which were more often than not cities; cities which had seen the apocalypse. These were pictures of a decaying world, where redemption was impossible. The doom presented itself as an all consuming and deadly force. There was a cruelty and even a vindictiveness which was apparent, and undeniable. Is this what Ledger thinks our world will be if we all continue on our selfish and consumptive ways? Or a portrait of the present state of affairs. To be honest, I don’t think there is much in it. If the date of his work, 2045, is anything to go by, I do not think much will change in the next thirty years..
|John Ledger | The Index Of Child Well-being|
From afar, these drawings are remote and almost picturesque; only upon intimate inspection do they reveal the tremendous horror of the truths they reveal. The macabre and the ironic and the droll all seem to be competing. Even more interesting is the methodology behind them. The fact that Ledger has chosen a biro as his instrument for these works is significant. If the biro is a symbol of anything it is transience. The throw-away nature of the pen indicates Ledger’s choice of atmosphere for his work; as if commenting on the idea that humans, like the tool he has chosen to depict, are useful but not permanent. As if the state employs us for a time, and then discards when we are empty. Such a picture of the world is not a pretty one. One which is filled with vices and death and decay. Physically, the pictures are very striking and the tone which is set by the biro creates great contrasts within the works. They are evidently a labour of love, and as I stood in front of them, entranced and appalled, I thought just how long and how much pain-staking effort it cost to produce such mesmerising effects. What on the surface may seem to owe something to the colourful and cheerful design of the Beatles’ Yellow Submarine is in fact a violent indictment of the corruption which we encourage with our lifestyles.
|John Ledger | In The City…|
The piece is called ‘Who would want listen to this?’ because such big threats of an ecological collapse which would cause unimaginable disruption and destruction are often too frightening for us to think about (only previously seen by our eyes on cinema screens), so instead we pretend that ‘someone will sort it for us when push comes to shove’ or we even coax ourselves into believing that it can’t actually be happening (I’ve heard people, who once agreed that climate change was being caused by humans, go back on themselves saying ‘how can one species do so much damage to such a big planet?’ – comforting lies). We would rather not listen to it when a friend in our company starts talking about it, or when it is on the TV.
But we are not to blame for feeling so powerless to do anything.
As well as causing this problem, the human system of capitalism makes it seem impossible for us to do anything to stop climate change. It relies on competition between the most powerful nations in the world, rather than cooperation. And these nations are sewn together with the biggest corporations in the world; and corporations, by and large, don’t want us thinking that things such as climate change are happening, because to take any action to stop it would be bad for their business. And being the richest most powerful in the world, they get their way. As things stand THEY are in control of the direction the human world takes.
So we feel powerless, and try to focus on smaller thing instead, we try to forget. Climate change just adds more and more weight to the feeling that everything is out of control and feelings of powerlessness to do anything about it, which is the reality of living under the global capitalist system. So focussing on smaller things, focussing on how to get through life, day to day, in the most bearable way is what most of us find is the only thing we can do.
In the drawing every figure is wearing headphones. This relates to trying to block out the sound of things that are upsetting to us. It also relates a lot to the living in a time where we have access to so much technology to keep us entertained, or distracted, from the real world. I have mixed feelings about technology; I think what the internet offers to us as a species is amazing, and it could be said to be one of the greatest inventions ever. Yet accessories such as mobile phones, Facebook can throw us into a continuous detachment from what’s really happening in the world around us, distracting us, as we are constantly in trying to get other people to speak to us and like us through them, as the popularity of these accessories means people are increasingly alone, communicating from box rooms and lonely bus rides, and lonely people feel insecure and continually seek company. These figures, who are blocking their eyes to the problems around them, aren’t bad people, but are finding themselves more and more consumed in a technological world, that promises so much but never really fulfils.
The people behind the speaking booth-like things are the political/capitalist class. They are equally wired up, with head phones, communicating through cyberspace. They believe in the fantasy that capitalist ‘growth’ can go on forever, and they chase growth like addicts, smiling with Cheshire cat grins when they say the word ‘growth’. They are ‘supposed’ to be the people to lead the citizens to safety and better lives, but they are desperately clinging on to hopes that become more impossible every day. Feeling powerless, we leave it to leaders of governments and capitalism to guide us, but they are even more detached from the real world than everybody else, and they guide us towards a dangerous future. The need for distraction and denial of the truth keeps growing.
I wanted the entire landscape to look like a rock in an empty space, a bit like planet earth in space. But I want this rock to look to have a similarity to a human hand; a human hand that is veering into the dark, into a void, into non-existence. The closer one gets to the fingertips of the hand, the more the landscape is being destroyed, being torn to pieces. This represents two different moments in time; the moment which are at now, when it is the poorest people in the world who suffer the most from the effects of climate change, largely caused by the richest parts of the world (and the most power institutions which come from these places), and a future moment when this becomes the reality for all of humanity, if we don’t change course – direct the human hand away from its route into non-existence.