A Grief That’s Been Gagged and Buried (2016, mixed media on A3)
I don’t know when you could say such a time began (maybe at some point during the past decade or even earlier?), but I sense we are overdue some grieving time. And that’s because our civilisation (specifically our faith in a capitalist model – one based on exponential growth – to bring well-being and prosperity) has died. Grief is a natural process in order that we can rehabilitate so as to move on to the next stage of life, but it has been emphatically denied us. Its existence has been denied, and the denial has been played out in a turbo-charging forwards with the persistence of now-dead beliefs. And look at the pain that it is causing; to be forced to work harder for something deep down we know is not only going nowhere, but is in a process of perpetual deterioration. It has made knowing-zombies out us, an anxious-undead, clutching our Iphones, trying to climb out of the daily dread. But it has to give-way at some point. More and more of us are suffering under the psychological strain of knowing we will have to work harder and harder for diminishing returns from a dead/dying system, and all around you can see people cracking up. Nobody knows what this outcome will finally lead to, but there is potential for a rebuilding, not so much physically, but culturally. However, right now we are in need of an healing process.
This work will feature in the Wakefield Redshed section of Fighting For Crumbs (Art in The Shadow of Neoliberal Britain
Fighting For Crumbs (Art in the Shadow of Neoliberal Britain) is a group of artists from Yorkshire working amidst the after-effects of Austerity Britain 2.0.
The project was inspired by the film ‘Invisible Britain’ (based on the work of Sleaford Mods) that looks at overlooked UK towns and cities, and motivated by a request to contribute to the 50th anniversary celebrations of ‘The RedShed’ (Wakefield Labour Club). The event is based in Sheffield and Wakefield and explores the position of art, and artists, in a period when we are all being pressured to ‘strive’ for crumbs – a time when wages are low, and the market dictates creativity
Monday 8 August: Opening night. 6:30 – 9pm
Friday 12 August. Music and poetry night. 6:30 – 9 pm
Saturday 13 August. 1Pm onwards. Film-viewing, and talk by JD Taylor
Normal gallery opening times: 8 August – 13 August, 7-11pm (call 01924215626 to check room is not in use).
On the eve of last year’s UK General Election (May 7 2015, to be specific), I embarked on a reflective ramble through the villages myself and my rambling companion, Michael Hill, grew up in. I guess, in a sense, to reflect on lost dreams, lost ways, and lost futures, with an acceptably small sprinkle of nostalgia inevitably chucked in.
It was, in some sense, like testing the atmosphere. On this uncertain eve, we were using the landscapes of our childhood as a terrain to ponder upon; to think of what could be, and what might very well be, the next day – unsure if the election results would make any real difference anyway
…But they did.
This specific ramble, more than any other I’d recorded, was paying massive homage to Patrick Keiller’s London, a beautiful lament through the capital of a Tory-ruled country in the spring of 1992.
I sort of based it on the same theme, as the pivotal point in Patrick Keiller’s London is the 1992 General Election outcome. One in which the Tories were expected to lose to Labour, but one in which the narrator was force to conclude that:
It seemed there was no longer anything a Conservative government could do to vote itself out of office. …[T]he middle class in England had continued to vote Conservative because in their miserable hearts they still believed it was in there interest to do so.”
As we headed towards early night time on the kind of spring day that initially sprinkles optimism onto your horizons, a sinking feeling set in, and I knew, even before one of my mates starting messaging me a series of texts, all beginning with “fucking hell”, that, yet again, the politics of pessimism had won over.
I was recently speaking to a friend about the mood on the street on Friday 8 May, and she described it as akin to a funeral procession. Nobody celebrates a Conservative victory apart from the party itself – or so it seemed, as straight away you could sense their joy in the sadism they could now systemically inflict now they’d shook the Lib Dems off their back.
The above drawing is called Five MORE Years…, and despite it behind significantly smaller than most my other works, it is one of my most cherished. I set upon it within a day or two of the 2015 General Election outcome. Never before, and not since, have I felt my work strike such an emotional chord with those around me. I almost felt part of something, as if, through the dysphoria of the following couple of weeks, common ground appeared between far more people than I expected, making our political differences seem tiny.
It occurred to me how much a political change would have to rely on a mood in society, its spirit even, for people to get involved en mass. Because in the ‘miserable old man of Europe’ (Britain), every now and then there’s a sense that it doesn’t have to be so miserable here.
I have been caught within a depressed framing of the world for most of my adult life, and although I accept that changing is something only I can do, the times when it has felt truly possible to leave this framing behind are when I’ve sensed the opening for the possibility of a social change, a two-way-process so-to-speak. I described it in Lost Bus Routes and Pre-General Election Rambles like a plant in a desert that only flowers once a generation. After a rather turbulent beginning to 2015, I found this feeling on on the early eve of May 7.
I just hope it doesn’t take a generation to find it again…
The above link is for the current exhibition I am involved in making happen. Fighting For Crumbs (Art in Shadow of Neoliberal Britain) is an attempt of artists to take an honest look at the depressed spirit of Britain. It has been informed by life in 2015, the glimmers of a different type of world, and the dampening of many of those glimmers. I guess we are looking at how the spirit could be changed, before it gets too late.
Please take a moment to check it out.
£$[We]€$[Can’t]$£[Take]£€[Any]$€[More!!]$£ (2016, mixed media on paper)
“They keep calling me”
Amidst the pretty stark turbulence I experienced as 2015 began I became obsessed with trying to write something about Joy Division’s eternal-presence in my life. But I never got anywhere, convincing myself it needed to be a project of a sizable, I-know-everything-about-Joy-Division, quality due to the task of writing about one of those bands guarded with pitchforked-opinions by musos. But it felt crucial for me to write something both for myself, and for the reason brilliantly articulated in Mark Fisher’s Ghosts of My Life: “If Joy Division matter now more than ever, it’s because they capture the depressed spirit of our times. Listen to Joy Division now and you have the inescapable impression that the group were catatonically channeling our present, their future. From the start their work was overshadowed by a deep foreboding , a sense of a future foreclosed, all certainties dissolved , only growing gloom ahead.” (Mark Fisher, Ghosts of My Life, 2014).
Ben Hewitt’s article Joy Division: 10 of The Best, in the guardian this week, gave me an motivational template: I’d use a selection their songs to expand on all this stuff about the band that I have been driven to tell people in pubs for the past 3 years. But I don’t have any desire to write about a fave song list per se: the album tracks I reference gain a great deal of their significance when listened to within the context of the entire album (this should seem obvious, but in the Ipod age, the ‘shuffle’ features heavily in the way we listen to music). I also wanted to use individual tracks to explain how the din of their resonance seems to get louder and louder the further we (in UK terms) descend further into the Thatcherite experiment that may finally be coming to end… “this dream it takes too long”. And although I found only managed to write about 7 songs, they were more than sufficient. Thus I have proceeded in writing the blog I’ve been wishing to write all these years.
In the past few years it seems overwhelmingly the case that we are looking back to a certain time for answers to a present day inertia. Yet we don’t seem to realise that this is what we’re doing, and so just continue doing it blindly. Cultural artifacts from the 70’s into the early eighties seem to be constantly at hand for reference on all media platforms. For example, Ben Hewitt’s article: although I think it’s brilliantly written in its own right (far more imaginative use of language than I could ever achieve), and it creatively touches upon material that relates to their ‘channeling of the present’, it also seems oblivious to it. When he writes of Dead Souls that “…Curtis sounds like he’s being pulled by ghostly apparitions, trapped in a place “where figures from the past stand tall / And mocking voices ring the halls”…” isn’t the most ghostly aspect of all in how this perfectly describes our relationship to Joy Division in the 21st century? Such articles and documentaries don’t seem to understand the motive behind their accumulative coming-into-being 35 years after Ian Curtis killed himself. Of the 7 Joy Division songs I have picked, I have tried, when possible to introduce them in relation to personal experiences, 1. Disorder
“Could these sensations make me feel the pleasures of a normal man?”
It must have been 2010; in that murky moment between something bad (New Labour) and something worse (all-out-Tory Class War-disguised as ‘the coalition’). Up until now Joy Division had been off my succession of cheap mp3 players for a few years – having told myself that the obsession I had with them in my early 20’s, some five years back into the thick of Blair’s Britain, had been a sign of immaturity, and that they’re subsequent increasing popularity was no more than a Topshop accessory. As the fall of 2010 arrived with the threat of immobilising snow storms entrenching a deeper existential inertia, it all reversed, and I found myself hurtling back towards some kind of early 20’s point.
We were drinking at a friend’s flat in the back-end of Barnsley- one of those new-build apartment complexes, squeezed in amidst unhappy-looking Victorian terraces still stained by the soot of a vanquished industry. A few cans downed and then it was time to head into town, myself regrettably still hooked the mirages of fulfilled hopes and dreams that coated the shell of the so-called Blair-year Party-times. But this was now descending into its zombie stage.
We came to an agreement that we needed a ‘going out song’, and we chose Disorder. The throbbing beat of the bass drum kicked in, and the trance-like state took over for the first time in years. This wasn’t a flashback, as I was back there again. The way my slightly inebriated friends were moving around the room, getting seduced into the whirlpool-like nature of Disorder when played at volume, made me realise that this wasn’t some “Lets all dance to Joy Division” indie-cool trend: this was real. My early twenties-daily dependency on Unknown Pleasures didn’t seem so weird any more. My friends may or may not have been depressed, but they existed, like me, in secretly-depressed times. At that point, despite differences in opinion of the severity the global and social issues outside the window, Joy Division felt like understanding of life that we all shared.
The insightful left-wing group Plan C convincingly argue, in their essay We are all Very Anxious that anxiety is the dominant ‘public secret’ of this current stage of capitalism (which doesn’t mean to say that other negative emotions have disappeared, just that this is the definitive one of our age). By ‘public secret‘ it is meant that it is “…something that everyone knows, but nobody admits, or talks about. …[W]hen discussed at all, they are understood as individual psychological problems, often blamed on faulty thought patterns or poor adaptation”.
I would add that there are two public secrets; the anxiety we endure being the first, and the second being that we exist in ‘depressed times’, and many of us spend much of our lives rocking painfully back and forth from anxiety to depression. But what is incredibly important here is that Joy Division share the public secret with us, ‘catatonically channeling our present’ as Mark Fisher says. What makes Disorder so [Unknown]pleasurable is that it shares that publicly hidden anxiety with us. It speaks about something we normally have to hide. The guitar riff between verses is so riddled with panic it is intoxicating, it recognises the pain that is otherwise barred an outlet.
From 2010 onwards I remembered what this music did for me. How it’s darkness was often a life-saver. Perhaps a necessity as I stared down the barrel of a nastier, more Tory reality. As the drums continue to smash out in a death-drive whilst the rest of song exhausts itself into finitude, Disorder becomes an introduction to a record that makes no emotional compromises; doesn’t pretend things are OK; makes no effort to pretend it sees a bright side to life. And this is why from this point onwards it resumed it’s place as a make-shift prescription tablet ‘day in day out’, from 2010 onwards.
“I’ve lost the will to want more, but I remember when were young”
The mid years of New Labour were a weird time for those of us in our late teens and early twenties. So many people I thought were sorted were actually in a real mess, trapped between small-town college courses they had no interest in and bleak job prospects, propped up by bi-weekly drug or drink intake. I never put 2 and 2 together at the time. One friend from back then spoke of his recent depressive spell: “It’s like somebody flicks a switch, and I’m gone for days on end.” The minute-long opening to the track Insight has something of the uncanny about it. The soundscape of lift-shafts moving and doors locking is so close to epitomising the nausea-like continual-return of depression it’s almost an unreal sensation as the shivers go down your back and you think “fuck me, that’s exactly how it is!”.
I was pleased Ben Hewitt included it in his list of songs, although it’s with tracks like Insight that I come to realise that listing album songs merely for their individual qualities is somewhat lacking. Insight’s intro is the seminal moment in Unknown Pleasures. Even after the self-destruction of Disorder, and building terror in The Day of Lords, there is still potentially room for another world, another way. But Unknown Pleasures is the world of the depressive; once that door locks the depression sufferer knows all-too-wll what world we’re in; he/she knows that feeling of that ‘locked door’, once you’re inside “gone for days on end”. Insight plays the pivotal role in signifying that this is no ordinary record; you’re entering a specific world, at which point sufferers of repetitive bouts of depression have a moment of strength due to being able to invite others into it. It has much the same relationship as Heart and Soul does on their second album ‘Closer’ – the position of the sorcerer’s hand, dictating the overall direction of the record. Their producer Martin Hannett was clearly quite unique, his ability to conjure the soundscape around Joy Division’s tracks is so fitting the only word you could use in hindsight of what Joy Division became is ‘perfection’. It now almost seems like he was electronically connected to Ian Curtis’s emotional state, forcing him to be the cypher for our present day cyberspacially-fucked subjectivities.
Insight makes sense of what has been and what is to come from the viewpoint of clinical depression. But if we are to conclude that we live in a secretly-depressed time, then that sense seems far more wide-spread than merely being down to personal shortcomings. Insight really does channel something. The world they and their post-punk contemporaries saw/foresaw, one where social democracy was crumbling under a return of more powerful and relentless capitalism, where industry no longer needed them, no longer of value to society, well all that never went away. All that happened was that it was buried under the incessant command to be positive and proactive in the market fundamentalist economy that requires us to be market individuals, where opting out of the game is all but impossible without dying as it seeps into all potential waking (sleeping) moments due to computer technologies. This sense of having “no future” actually intensified, but was barred an expressive outlet amidst an intensifying downpour of aspirational dogma. I think this is why these days we so often find ourselves praising certain artists from the Post-Punk-New Wave crossover of the late 70’s to early 80’s, because that period seemed to be a ‘breathing space’ for raw emotional response to the early days of the Thatcherite transformation, before it became so entrenched that raw expression became so much harder to articulate; a ‘reflexive impotence’ (Fisher) that not only affects our ability for political engagement but also our emotional expression – “smile or die”.
I have previously written about this uncanny-like-relationship music from this period has with our contemporary situation. It’s like what happened from then onwards was some sort of icing over, and that we now stare at these voices as if they have been frozen in time, floating underneath the ice. I wrote previously of Kate Bush and Joy Division in particular. I think of the music video to Kate Bush’s Breathing (based on nuclear war – another issue that, although as relevant today, seems frozen into a 70’s/80’s time-pocket), and the images of her trapped behind the see-through skin of the bubble she is encased in seems to pretty-much visualise what I mean here. Perhaps the drive towards retrospection in this current moment is due to a slow-awaking to the horrifying future-less reality we actually exist in, finding ourselves with no choice but to push away all the hyperbole that disguised this truth to us from its onset there-on-after? 3. Novelty
“You’re on your own now, don’t you think that is a shame, but you’re the only one responsible to take the blame…so what you gonner do when the novelty is gone, ?”
A sense of loss. Novelty was actually one of the first Joy Division songs I ever listened to. Aged 18 (2002), it was a cassette featuring a Joy Division compilation on the one side, and Television’s Marquee Moon on the other. It signaled the end of teenage life. I was experiencing my first ‘They Live’ moment (where he puts on the sunglasses and sees the Real), when the comforts and sugary surface of the social construction fell away, leaving me shit-scared of a world my nervous system has no way of coming to terms with. It resurfaced into 2012 when my messy inability to adjust to a Masters course in 21st century London made me face the truth that I my youth had now come to an end, with no progression to another stage of life on the horizon.
I reference these two points because I think it is arguably most tragic of their songs, because it seems to document the point of loss – that point where a little something of you dies inside, from which ‘New Life’ proves impossible for many. Mark Fisher in his 2005 Kpunk blog The Nihil Rebound (published in Ghosts of My Life, and probably the strongest piece on Joy Division I know of) writes that “what separated Joy Division from any of their predecessors” was that their “bleakness was without any specific cause… …crossed the line from the blue of sadness into the black of depression, passing into the ‘desert and wastelands’ where nothing brings either joy or sorrow…Curtis sang ‘I’ve lost the will to want more’ on ‘Insight’ but there was no sense that there had been any such will in the first place”.
Yet I don’t think Novelty does this: it is even more tragic in that it evokes the act of loss. For me Novelty shares the same emotional space as The Smiths’ This Night Has Opened My Eyes (“and I will never sleep again”), the result of which Morissey sang he neither “happy or sad”, just numb. The songs evokes a point of departure. The Smiths, hailing from the same city, would (in my opinion) not make a song that came as close to the point of bleakness as this, whilst for Joy Division it signals the point of departure to “a bleakness without any cause”. 4. Digital
“Feel it closing in. Day in Day out”
As 2005 got messier and messier, I briefly entered a wider social group including of a group of lads from the incredibly-deprived former pit villages of the Dearne Valley (Thurnscoe to be exact), and a group from former mining communities straggling between Wakefield, Barnsley and Hemsworth. All of the places somewhat left abandoned after the pit closures, and which saw our area of South/West Yorks (Darton) as posh – a consequence of us getting the M1, and it becoming a split community of tepidly-affluent commuter houses at one side and council houses built for coal miners at the other.
Sections of this wider group would end up fighting and momentarily-despising each other (mainly over women), and each constituting a more-or-less ‘with it’ group leader and many emotional or physical wrecks. The Dearne Valley lot had no time for Joy Division’s near-death finale Closer, but were obsessed with Unknown Pleasures (and the album tracks most akin the Unknown Pleasures sound), even wearing the album-sleeve t-shirt. I would’ve thought it a fashion accessory back then, until I realised how much of a ‘fucked up’ generation I belonged to, and why such music may just appeal to these people.
“Let’s All Dance to Joy Division” was a track by a then in-vogue indie-cool outfit The Wombats (to which you WON’T find a link on here). It seemed to treat their surging popularity as something with a comical tint to it, as if we were all easy-come easy-go hipsters unaffected by REAL shit. But I saw no joke in what these tracks meant to me, at a very turbulent point, and even 25 years after they ceased to be. Before the death of small town student nights, the customary dingy indie night club would play non-album-track Digital for us every Wednesday, demanded as necessity and eventually granted.
If it weren’t so minimal the message would be lost. The song is like a drill piece, which, like the outro solo to Shadowplay, is violently unwilling to divert from it’s acceleration towards a dead end. It is 3 minutes of medicinal joy, an energy-release from the general continuity of mild-distress. “I feel it closing in”. If one sensation is necessarily put to the back of the minds of those who hit their twenties in the post 9/11/post Iraq invasion world of increasing cyberspace-interpenetration, it is one of being on borrowed time; where the future has imploded and is hurtling back towards us. ‘Stay young – what else is there anyway?’. With our hands perpetually hovering over our panic buttons, and our feet walking a tightrope above depressive dysfunction, Joy Division’s chaotic hell begins to arrange the look of the world in a way we can deal with. A way we could deal with, back then, when I for one most certainly relied on their music for survival at the most unstable of points. And yes, we did dance to Joy Division. 5. Decades
“Here are the young men, the weight on their shoulders”
Decades, the final song on their second (and last album) begins with a soundscape the feels like entering some sort of bone-yard-remnant of unquantifiable suffering- but a suffering being undertaken with total indifference. Again, Hannet’s soundscaping seems, in hindsight, so close to a putting the seal of inevitability over Curtis’s then-imminent suicide, that you often wonder if he truly was a man caught in the wrong place at the wrong time: a tortured pop artist, radical to the cause, caught in the crusher of one huge transformation paving the way for the a much worse world: one lacking a future. The chilling intro conjures to mind a scenario similar to the raising of the skeletal dead from a parched graveyard on one of the most unnerving of Ray Harryhausen‘s stop-frame-motion scenes in the 1962 film production of Jason and the Argonauts.
Decades doesn’t just seem to drag behind it the weight on the shoulders of the punk/post-punk generation, it seems to drag the ghosts of all previous proletarian generations, embodying the destruction of all that the working classes had worked for/fought for. Not only do Curtis’s vocals sound like the voices of the dead accidentally picked up on a tape recorder, but it is as if our forefathers are raised, bent and buckled by two centuries of exploitation, to see the future they believed they were building for their grandchildren crumbling into wasteland.
“I guessed they died some time ago” (Interzone, Unknown Pleasures)
Joy Division were beyond a cause, and weren’t political, even when Curtis sang of the worst excesses of unaccountable power. But without meaning to or not, they remain a cypher for the collapse of a humanist future, the swansong of a post-punk movement that woke up to the depressive reality of the no-such-thing-as society-nihilism that was Punk’s rallying call; the ‘spirit of ’45’ had been buried and a new nastier phase was on the cards. Curtis’s own political leanings and obsessions were more collateral damage than anything, conveying a sense of despondency with the course being taken by humanity, who seemed too far gone to be able to threat any longer over rights and wrongs. As I said before, this despondency articulated by post-punk never went away, but has been largely denied a contemporary articulation due to appropriation of any idea of individual expression into ‘market individualism’. Consequently their legacy grows larger and larger. Collateral damage indeed.
Ten years later The La’s, a Liverpudlian band, fronted by Lee Mavers, who was hell-bent in trying to make the best pop album in years, closed their only album with two tracks that seem to be living through Post-Punk’s anticipated breakdown in a city smashed by the Tories, Failure and Looking Glass. After the defeat of working class solidarity by Thatcherism in the 80’s, The La’s’ self-titled album now seems to make more sense in 2015 than it’s more lauded ‘Madchester’ contemporaries whose energies were far more easily subsumed into a more omnipotent capitalism’s demand that we enjoy our servitude. Although stylistically following the late ’80’s guitar-band tendency of looking back to the 60’s for solace, the lyrics to the La’s’ Failure “So you open the door with the look on your face. Your hands in your pocket and your family to face, and you go down stairs and you sit in your place” could easily have found a fitting place within Decades. But the incessant demand to ‘dance, dance, dance to our servitude‘ of neoliberal capitalism is wearing thinner and thinner by the day. I think the increasing popularity of Joy Division with young people is a sign of this, even if there little self awareness of the motive.
“there’s a taste in my mouth as desperation takes hold/heaven knows it’s got to be this time …..avenues all lined with trees.”
It’s early 2002. I’m a anti-social 18 year old, plugged into his cassette tapes, still capable of day-dreaming in the learning centre of a now-demolished college. A tune comes back into my head from some early childhood point. This was a few years before the days where a tune could be found in just a matter of seconds after remembering it. If this could be classed as memory at all: as memories for me seem more akin to the pre-digital-tech cassette player, in how the original pitch of a track always seems to be lost in translation; a memory/cassette-tape error that allows for a unique relationship with a tune. This only really became apparent after I recently re-watched the film Donni Darko; Love Will Tear us Apart features on the film, and I am convinced that it plays at an higher pitch, which incidentally makes it sound like a cassette tape version.
The tune I remembered in 2002 was Love Will Tear us Apart. But it took me until the summer to actually manage to listen to it again. Thereon-after, as my teenage inertia was superseded by a young-adult inertia (based around what I would come to see as ‘Depressive Pleasure-seeking‘.), Love Will Tear Us Apart became an staple in The Retro Bar at The End of Universe; former bars would be replaced by future former bars, with their only continuity being the ‘stuck record’ of the ‘Indie Disco’. The hair-raising synth and drum outro feels like it could stretch out into eternity, due to perpetual dependency placed upon music that was new when capitalism’s ‘slow cancellation of the future’ was only just beginning. The ‘eternal present’ of our capitalist reality has to come to an end, in some form. But the end cannot be seen from within. But, my god, it is longed for.
As with Atmosphere and These days (written at a similar point) Love Will Tear us Apart and Ceremony (although properly recorded as New Order, after Curtis had died) share the same sense of painful longing for something that never materialises – “this dream it takes too long” as Curtis sings in 24 Hours. Ian Curtis’s lyrics may have been most directly attributable to the specificities of his collapsing personal life, but it is clear that there’s a longing here for something that stretches far beyond these confines, towards a promised world, perhaps? the dreams of postwar optimism, now falling into tatters in front of the atomised, lonely type of Utopia offered by Thatcherism. It is inconsequential whether Curtis voted rightward or not, he was caught in the headlights of a pivotal moment in history and expressed an anguish an increasing proportion of us identify with.
I listen to Love Will Tear us Apart and Ceremony with that sense of longing that other Joy Division’s songs do not allow for: the social world I long for, not the one being blown into atomized, lonely pieces by the end-game of neoliberal (market fundamentalist) political economy. It’s an in-the-making conclusion that I never thought I’d come close to making when listening to Joy Division; that there is a longing in some of their final songs that looks for an escape route from certain-demise, a last gasp of life. Ceremony’s “Heaven knows it’s got to be this time”, is a plea: that ‘I want another chance to live!’. “Avenues all lined with trees”, a social world of vitality, for our families, that we once saw as a guarantee. For me, in this past year, these lyrics have served as a mute wish I carry around with me to supersede this awful stage in something I have no embarrassment in calling ‘the human project’. You see, with all these documentaries, and articles, we are looking back to Joy Division to trace our steps back towards a future that was stolen. We want it back.
Massively relieved to get this bxstxrd of a piece finished. Sums up just about everything I have ended up agreeing about with just about everybody I am able reach agreements with for just about every day during the past 2 years. I have found the process of fracking to be such an apt metaphor for the broader predicament of a culture saturated to breaking point by a hyper-capitalism.
Everybody’s Fracking (2015, mixed media on paper, 95X130cm)
This is only the 2nd large scale work I’ve produced outside the Barnsley district in the 10 years I’ve been making them; the Planet’s Mental Illness (worked on intensely in a New Cross hall of residence) being the other. 6 to 7 years ago I would have felt it necessary to try explaining what this work is about. In UK2015, I don’t feel it necessary.
THE LONG NIGHT OF A NEEDLESS STORM (2015, mixed media on paper, 125x100cm)
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)
Stories From Forgotten Space builds on 2014 Mapmaking with the aim of taking the most prominent features of the project a little further.
The previous section of Stories from Forgotten Space can be found here: https://johnledger.wordpress.com/2015/01/31/stories-from-forgotten-space-january/
6 March 2015
“Passing through the Thornes area of Wakefield. Leafy, inner-city suburbia, with sun shining on rooftops. Like many things from a surface level inspection, it should all feel right/OK. But it just doesn’t.”
“Sat in a cafe made almost entirely of windows, in the 4 year old, yet seemingly still brand new, Trinity Walk shopping Complex [Wakefield]. A shopping plaza that after all this time still prompts the gut-reaction-word ‘Americanized’ within a UK citizen. The windows help give perspective, pause for contemplation. Sat here I can see as clear as possible the contradictions of the current state of affairs (and my own immobility within it), yet I am as perplexed as ever as to how this state of affairs could be transcended. Two women from the Baby Boomer generation chatter away on the table behind me. For all us 35 years and younger, largely services workers, locked into communicative capitalism, we are probably the most articulate, linguistically-competent generation ever. Yet we were sold down the line, by the ‘Blairites’ more than anyone else. We now perpetually fight the feeling of being ‘surplus to requirements’.”
“With my guard down more than usual, within a fleeting hope within a sunny midday point, I create a fleeting fondness for the young woman shop attendant giving me assistance with the damaged phone I possess. But how can it be anything more than a fleeting dream? For an emotionally-detached person, who lacks the ability to find ‘tastes’, ‘preferences’ and ‘hobbies’ to fill those in-between points in life, I’m more up against it than ever in a lonelier, more cynical world, where Internet dating takes precedence.”
“A young woman, clearly a victim of Anorexia, is caught in a moment of indecision over what food products to buy in central Wakefield’s 2nd Sainsburys superstore. Personal memory prompts me to envisage the anorexic subject as a perpetual prisoner to these palaces of excess choice. “Trapped between life and death” by paraphrase a Manic Street Preachers song on the same subject.”
“The train stops in the hinterland of Holbeck/Wortley whilst waiting for room in Leeds train station. Sun light in the window creates a false wall on the landscape. I think about this thing I just don’t seem to be able to get around: an invisible wall that, in turn, makes all alternatives to the place I’m stuck in invisible. But they must be there; I’ve seen glimmers of them throughout my life.”
“Leaving the Waterstones bookstore, the eyes of Audrey Hepburn gleam back at me from a photograph calendar. ‘The Dead won’t go away’. At the other side of the room, the smiling faces of celebrity chefs rebound back from production-line lifestyle cookery books. To me, this all wishes to end itself now.”
“Staring up the river [Aire] at a now gentrified landscape, yet consisting of appealing redbrick buildings all the same. However, the Bridgewater tower, hangs over the buildings like a giant upturned N64 or Internet hub system. It is a monstrous imposition, mainly because of the Dubai-like world it suggests. Serving as a constant reminder of the criminally-unequal logic of neoliberal capitalism that potentially still lays in store for this country. I run out of words whilst staring at the reflections on the night-time river; trying to look for clues – a way out.”
7 March 2015
“Haigh. On one side of the road there remains a slightly derelict red brick wall, which must have been something to do with the mine that once stood here. On the other side of the road, two bungalows are being built on waste ground. Private property – the only thing that seems to be built these days.”
“The adrenalin from running, mixed with that fact that I’m now within my most consistently melancholic period I can recall, makes everything from here on this vantage point ridge-way over South and West Yorks somewhat tragically symbolic. This sense of loss, of dysfunction feels so environing that it cannot simply be specific to my own subjectivity. And even if it is, my current inability to get out if this predicament, necessitates my need to write about the external as if it is so. There is a great view of the dark grey figure of Emley Moor Mast from here. It specifically seems symbolic of something missing, as if their aura can only be felt in a melancholic sense.”
“On Wilthorpe Road a middle aged man is clearly struggling with the weight of his rucksack. Regardless of his actual circumstances, thoughts on the forced-acceptance of low pay work, and general country-wide hardship abounds. Low pay enslaves us to work, making us more obedient, and leaving the top down conservative attitude towards work ringing in our ears all day.”
“In the sunlight of a midday that promises springtime, the town [Barnsley] suddenly feels rich with promise. Expansive. It is as perplexing as it is dispiriting how this changes into its opposite as the day drags on and the streets are slowly engulfed under a desperate search for some kind of stimulus/titillation before the new day.”
“As I stare at a poster advertising for male models, for an establishment specialising in styling male facial hair, in a ‘retro/vintage’ fashion. I realise that whatever it is I’m looking for, I won’t find it within this ‘cultural centre’ situated around Division Street. I’m generalising when I begin to wonder of in today’s world there is only space for two subjects: the hipster and the melancholic.”
“Especially in cities like Sheffield, I seem to be in an endless quest for something. But it never materialises. Or it is forever displaced. I walk over the hill, from West Street down to Solly Street.”
“5 years-worth of fading anti-austerity posters cling to boards covering up disused land next to Sheffield bus station.”
“As the train heads into the tunnel at Chapletown, the text on my laptop screen doubles up, reflected into the dark outside. I am reading George Monbiot’s 2014 article on our Age of Loneliness, which seems to me one of the most relevant pieces of writing around at the moment.”
12 March 2015
“From the bus window I can see into a living room in a mid 20th century, endless-suburbia-style, semi-detached house. There is a large abstract painting hung in the space, the kind you’d expect in a ‘homely’ environment that is used to build a future for your family. Expansion rather than contraction.”
“I almost choke on the smell of Ammonia emanating from the floor next to what was once the Royal Hotel [ central Barnsley]. I initially mistake it for the smell of vomit, but nothing so strong and un-shifting could emanate from a single person. I wonder, wildly, whether it is actually an ‘anti-social-behaviour’ deterrent tactic. The town centre has an incredibly high concentration of youths in a perpetually aimless state, which the authorities are always trying to disperse. The ammonia smell is still in my nostrils as I enter into the turquoise-coloured transport interchange; they go awfully together.”
“On the express train to Sheffield. My attempts to hide the drawing I’m working on from the gaze of other passengers fails as a man who I’m sat across from, who looks to be in his 60’s, brings it up in an unending-paragraphs way of speaking, that quickly moves over to his admiration for the “one off” talent of street artist Banksy. My initial thoughts about pretending to exit the train a stop prematurely (at Meadowhall) and then sneaking to the other carriage fills me with guilt, as I’d just be spreading this ruthless (anti)social virus of loneliness, that each generation suffers from, but some just can’t adjust to. If I’d have been reared in a less individualistic atmosphere, I probably now wouldn’t feel physically seized with the urge to try to escape what feels like incarceration (communication). Perhaps it’s also the realisation that in 30 years I could be this man, socially-stranded, and desperate to speak to other human beings in an age that secretly wishes that old faces would just disappear and stopping getting in the way of the ‘bright young things’. In truth he has a decent well-verse life story which isn’t too hard on my work-tired brain.”
“The woman I notice sat talking as I walk past the window of a bar seems to possess an essence of the city [Sheffield] that now seems forever displaced on the actual streets; something about the way she carries off her leather jacket look, conjures a working class confidence, and an inventive popular culture that followed its lead. The city of The Human League an Pulp that now seems no longer present. At least not in the centre.”
‘He’s not setting out to hurt people. He’s got a lot of love in him …He actually, I think, wants to do the right thing. So its more a question of, will power and self discipline and circumstances.’ The sample from the track Etched Headplate by Burial (a song that literally haunted my dreaming in 2014) is so timely as it comes on my Ipod, in how it encapsulates my endless-evening struggle with keeping my frustration with these circumstances at bay. I want to do good. I want to be civil. But there’s a destructive element that sets in many a eve.”
“Semi-Surbuban streets of ex-mining settlements at night – walked them so many times. I feel so faded and old, as if the perfume of youth has finally worn off. Always thought I’d had found my own ground (so to speak) before this inevitable point found me.”
13 March 2015
“The train stops in the usual hinterland just outside Leeds railways station. The majority of the buildings still derelict, sort of waiting in line for the infrastructural developments (especially the southern entrance into Leeds station); for the channels that allow the flow of ‘sparkling financial dust’ to spread virally, and turn it into the late capitalist blend of unending work-consumption, that greets you just north of the river Aire. As I stare at the dirty old railways bridges I realise we have left behind the first hour of the afternoon. From 2pm onwards the looming anticipation of the evening’s depressive lassitude hangs over ever thought/action. The 1pm hour is usually the one I find easiest out of all 24, upon the pivot of the see-saw that each day is.”
“Walking up a pretty tiring steep incline into Burley Park. The hard faces, heavy brows, weight-on-shoulders-look of the poor, which is so so hard to disguise from a world that offers no leg up to those who cannot hide these scars.”
“Overly familiar style of suburbia, and redbrick terraces further down, that possible only remain used due to our characterless, placeless present holding on to character and place from times that have gone. For all that quintessential Leeds-feel, the row upon row of warren-like terraces are certainly not an environment I feel has many positive impacts on your state of mind. A labyrinth-like nature which I’m probably more sensitive to at present due to being drained-tired and stressed from taking the wrong turn from Headingley train station. I mistook the size of these parts of the city, they go and on – a Victorian metropolis.”
“Drained-tired, I decide to stop walking when seeing a young woman at a bus stop makes me trust in frequent buses back to the centre. As I wait, 2 men who have the appearance of one made hard by life, look drunk, punch-drunk and passively-frustrated as they attempt the road. I mistake one of the mens’ decision to return back to the pavement I’m on as him coming up to confront me due to him seeing me looking at him. Despite this not being the case, this gets me feeling aggressively self-defensive. My accent hardens due to this, making the young woman find me undecipherable when I ask her about the next bus.”
“Sitting over a coffee now, I can almost feel the violence, fear, schizophrenia of the city drain out of me and fall from my shoulders, helped by the soft white noise of machinery within the otherwise quiet cafe. My discontent has, for all my post-grad years, largely centred on having an un-fading desire to have the social freedoms of the city at my beckoning, and my repeated failure in being unable to cope in such an environment.”
“Find myself in a brief cocoon of comfort within the ‘retromaniac’, pop-cultural bar, Jam in Wakefield. Refuge feels like the right word – against the anxious and desperate landscape that envelopes you outside if you find yourself looking at it for too long. This artifice of yesteryear is comforting. Champagne Supernova is playing on the jukebox; a now-20 year old song by Oasis, who seem more spectrally present in ‘indie bars’ the further we move from 1995. Yet again, it is one of those moments that you can imagine being on repeat forever.”
“Far too drunk, forget all else…”
15 March 2015
“With the Starbucks drive-thru (next to junction 29 of the M1) opening into the evening on a Sunday, it really does stick out within a UK landscape where such a sight should actually be far normal to us than it is. Despite any ethical reservations towards chain cafe drive-thru’s, the sight of it feeds off the conversation I’m having in the car about the immiserating unacknowledged social constraints with, specifically, evening-time UK pleasure-pursuings. In contrast to Europe, where pubs (which always contain the potential for frustration to be acted out) aren’t the only places dominating the town centres in the evening.”
“Something close to a physical confrontation appears to be brewing outside this Premier Inn-incorporated pub/eatery [in Barnsley] on this dry Sunday evening. Due to its location (within a ‘commuterist’ inn) it is both a non-place and of non-place-people – which makes the territorial behaviour that comes with drunken confrontations all the more banal.”
“The feeling of being stuck. That – despite what I know, think, see – I feel embedded in a rut that surely encompasses more than myself (yet is left to be dealt with individually). It envelopes all conversation to the extent that I become fixed on the surrounding environment, which when I think about it makes sense; due to looking for ways out. I am currently staring out the windows of the Glasshouse chain pub/eatery, over the terraces the cluster around the south of Barnsley centre. From here. they look like a tightly-packed labyrinth, forcing your eyes to look for exits. the conversation follows suit, and sometimes the landscape helps me think about, and explain the wider predicament so clearly – but it never alters the [my] general scheme of things.”
“Large bungalow off Cockerham Lane [Barnsley] that has that far-off feel, in that it looks like the ever-dwindling American Dream realised. Albeit in the UK.”
“From the corner of my eye I catch a glimpse of a middle aged man watching TV in the living room of a type of house that was initially deemed unfit to be anything more than emergency housing in the wake of WW11 and the consequential slum clearances. The TV has the sickly-coloured imagery for intro-credits to one of those X-Factor-style programs (The Voice…?). There is something almost porno-like about the colours and graphics of the presentation (one must be influencing the other, but not sure which way around). Regarding the whole picture I saw as I glanced over; the unsatisfactory quality of the dwellings and the unsatisfactory cultural products fuse to leave my feeling slightly disturbed.”
“Nearing central New Lodge/Athersley, just as the ‘peak-90’s’ club track Let Me be Your Fantasy [Baby D] comes onto my Ipod. This merges with the appearance of two lone males walking their dogs in front of me. Both look to be late 30’s-pushing 40’s. Both look disheveled from hardship, making the baseball caps they wear look like class scars rather than fashion items. Their drained look, prompts me to imagine their draining to have occurred somewhat in unison with the age of this club track, and its consequential genuine-feel-good alienness to the genuine-depression of our current period. That in the mid 90’s both these men and this track possessed a vitality that has since been slowly sucked out.”
“Kingsway, Mapplewell – largely a road consisting of post-war sheltered accommodation. I walk past a telephone box that now looks terribly stranded in an age of ubiquitous cell-phone communication. I remember in the mid 1990’s when an elderly man died of an heart attack in this phone box calling 999, due to being taunted by youths. I was half-shocked as a young teenager at the apparent joy in the malevolence shown to vulnerable adults in this particular conglomerate of villages. I have often wondered whether it was borne out of inescapable boredom, perhaps more acutely felt around this area due to nearly every space being swallowed up by property developers.”
“The bright light from a bus shelter I have probably frequented more than any other, which is probably personally a symbolic spot for all the failings, hopes. existential boredom and frustrations of my teenage-to-adult existence. Yet, in a couple of weeks I will likely rarely use it ever again.”