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).
Lost for words
…not strictly, but they are wrapped up in a thick cloud of confusion and contradiction. But I’m putting out there EXACTLY how I’m feeling in the wake of last week’s referendum vote.
Is this the nervous breakdown of a country? It’s becoming an unavoidable truth that what I’ve seen happening over the past few years has gone into overdrive since 23.06.2016. People around me having some sort of meltdown – something I suspect is happening because the strain and the pain of DECADES of Thatcherite Britain has suddenly become unbearable. Brexit, like it or not, seems to have worked it like an accidental alarm-switch.
Was Brexit an unexpected exercise of a country’s nervous breakdown, long overdue? And was this unexpected exercise the last, skewed, but true exercise of democracy we had left?
It is without doubt that there are people in places around the world enduring a hell the English (as this is mainly regarding the English) cannot imagine. But has this country, the first capitalist country on earth, finally broke down under the experience of late capitalism? Has life under this faded-glory-stained neoliberal project hit saturation point?
Last week I was off work, but, after failing to set up a postal/proxy vote, I wasn’t confidently care-free enough to miss voting. So I decided to spend my days off work heading a bit further than usual. It seemed the right thing to do upon a terrain that could, so to speak, be shifting under my feet.
On Tuesday I cycled all the way from Barnsley to York (exhausted, dehydrated, thus all the more porous to the Northern Europe-like feel to North/East Yorks – the red-tile rooftops could convince you there was no body of sea between Yorkshire and Denmark). YORVIK . On Wednesday I went to London, endured a far-more than customary level of alienation at Frustration at the all-out ‘Remain’ consensus congregating around the Kings Cross-based leafleters (even though I voted Remain myself). I felt wounded and inarticulate in a London that felt self-congratulatory-soaked in something that was promoting a cause that had no idea of the type of wounding I was feeling, a wounding I KNOW I’m not the only one feeling, because the wounds are slumped in the city’s streets corners when it bothers to acknowledge them. An anger rising up through the drains of Thatcherite Britain.
But I had too many friends with too many SENSIBLE reasons to vote Remain and too many frightening reasons not to vote Leave for me to take such a reckless leap for the cause of the anger I’ve been feeling for so long now. And on Friday morning I was stunned into inertia just like everybody else.
Aren’t we all lost right now? Heads boiling with a million voices all at once. Looking for blame victims. But I won’t blame 17 million leave voters by calling them stupid or racist. Calling people stupid for what for them is a genuine concern leads to nowhere, except a self-congratulatory flurry of Facebook ‘likes’.
“The Cunt with the gut and the Buzz Light-year haircut…calling all the workers plebs” (The Sleaford Mods)
In recent British history nothing has been as divisive as the destruction of the working class base, built over years of struggle, fucked over by Thatcher, and the market fundamentalism then driven between us all. Yet we overlook ‘the war between all’ conjured by this, and we parrot the words of a more affluent less trapped metropolitan elite for whom issues of race and gender are solely moral issues, and nothing to do with class stratification. The result is what you see in the video above. A top down, media perspective, which doesn’t even need to be based in London to be London-centric, looking at all those intolerant, stupid places like Barnsley -cherry picking the mixed up and politically incorrect voices.“Oh why, oh why can’t they be like us decent London Folk?” A slowly bubbling rage.
“I work my dreams off for two bits of ravioli and a warm bottle of Smirnoff “
So, these places where the majority voted ‘Leave’ – what do we do with these people who refused to do “the right thing”?
In 2015 the documentary Invisible Britain followed the music group the Sleaford Mods on a tour of towns not on the ‘cool-list’. Not just ignored by other music groups but also by the London-centred gaze of society. Invisible Britain is perhaps the only contemporary documentation of the great ignored that hasn’t stuck to a preconceived, condescending stereotype, laden with mockery or contempt. Expensively-educated Sacha Baron-Cohen springs to mind…
When you hear the Sleaford Mods, the lyricist Jason Williamson’s anger, if you ask me, is like a momentary placing of the head back on the shoulders of the decapitated and disempowered body of working class rage. Williamson’s seething anger at the alienation and humiliation of a contemporary life experience many can relate to gives a voice to this rage when the world is made to feel so unaccountably chaotic that the only tools for understanding it available are tools to blame yourself with for the hell that surrounds you. But, as the film states, they are still largely a lone voice.
That which informs racist anger isn’t born out of fresh air. Nor can those who spout it vanish into fresh air – which is what I often feel many on the diminishing liberal class long for. Out of mind out of sight.
What do you do with these people, then? “Get rid of the buggers? “. Create two separate States? One called ‘London‘, for the ‘tolerant’ ‘open-minded’ folks and ‘the rest‘? Actually, doesn’t this petition already exist? The ‘I’m alright Jack-multiculturalism’ mantra conceals an hidden contempt.
The Leave result has clearly blown everything else out of the water. And as denial against it kicks in, the truth of what has simmered underneath the seeming tolerance and liberalism of the past few decades is coming out. It’s nasty, and I’m sorry to say the most upsetting things aren’t just coming from ‘racist idiots’ but from the younger section of the Remain supporters, chatting away in the cooler parts of town. Behind the ‘coolness’, their inherited social Thatcherism is rearing its ugly fucking head. Their contempt isn’t for the migrants, it’s for Britain’s socially immobile who will “probably never leave their home town never mind live in another country” (actually heard!). It’s an hidden hatred for the existence of those who “clearly haven’t tried hard enough to better themselves” and join aspirational and cosmopolitan Britain. It’s not a contempt for people from other countries, it’s a contempt for the working class of this country, and it’s equally toxic – if not more due to its invisibility.
I’m sorry to say this but they may have just sunken your cosmopolitan dreamboat…
I can’t help but be convinced that, even though what evidently galvanised the victory for Brexit was a deep concern about immigration, the anger isn’t really meant for immigrants, but for the ruling class of this country, as inarticulate as the anger was. As self-harming as Brexit could potentially be to everyday people – it’s an anger about being ignored, overlooked and even looked down upon. And I’m not saying I don’t now find it all scary as fuck.
The same present day top-down reasoning bemoans the ‘loutish’ English for their seeming preference to take to throwing chairs and punches at other football fans than taking to the streets like the French. But after nearly 40 years of destruction of class consciousness and a narrowing of political horizons, creating a state of stuckness that Mark Fisher calls ‘reflexive impotence’, Brexit is a seismic working class revolt, even if it ends turning against the working classes.
The Ignored is geographical in nature, but it is fundamentally underpinned by class.
“The sorrows we suffered and never were free” Decades, Joy Division
In an article looking at why white working class children, out of all ethnic communities, perform so poorly in the school exams they sit before joining the adult world, Paul Mason says that “Thatcherism didn’t just crush the unions, it crushed a story”. Far from pitting different working classes against others, Mason looks at what happened to a specific story. This was a story of a long history of struggle, from the satanic mills and mines of the 18/19th century, towards an increasingly equal and better country for the working class, propped up on paternalism and solidarity. But, he adds, “suppress paternalism and solidarity for one generation and you create multigenerational ignorance and poverty”.
Left to endure the hell of ‘prole-life’ with no explanation to the pain felt, or meaning to guide you through it, it’s clear that migrants, who are nearly always thrown into the very same Ignored-lands, are mistaken as being the cause of this pain rather than being effects of the pain being felt.
After 30 years of misdirected rage towards the neighbours, the headless zombie of working class rage reacts in a destructive manner. I’m not saying what has just happened is a good thing by any stretch of the imagination, but the limits of my own imagination saw that something like this was bound to happen in the UK at some point. The cause for either a leftwing Remain or Leave were not being heard because they appealed to how they thought people should think rather than how they actually felt.
In a competitive world everybody wants to speak, but nobody wants to listen.
Blair and Cameron’s Britain…so much to answer for…
… a Negative Hedonistic Britain
Humiliation. Aimlessness. Shame. Anxiety. Anger. Dead-end pleasure-seeking.
Drink to take the edge off the pain. Drink to run away from the pain. Drink to locate the nature of the pain. Drink to find a way out of the pain.
Sooner or later you can’t see anything else. And I’m not even alcoholic – I just can’t deal with it all once the sun goes down.
I’ll be honest, I’ve hit a point in my life where I don’t think I can carry on in this manner much longer….I’m hearing you England.
Regarding the past ten years I can’t yet express the pain at the deep regret at the world I’m supposed to function in. It bursts out in drunken self destruction- it’d be articulated in sober tears if I hadn’t become so walled up over the years.
“Keep calm and carry on”.
It’s very hard not to internalise negativity. After all, it’s encouraged by a process that has seen this island become increasingly private and lonely over the past few decades.
“Feeling uneasy? then stick your headphones in and drift into private inertia”.
But with each passing post-2010-year I’m finding that what I thought was MY Story – that my struggle with depression has felt to have been caused by a loss, and REVERSAL of a sense that the world was becoming and fairer, more tolerant, less cruel place – was actually lots of other peoples’ too. It’s just that it was experienced in loneliness. It turns out that through the last decades of the 20th century many of us thought the millennium would be the harbinger of something better, and the cost on general well-being from the reversal of this conviction must be so huge.
Post-Rave. Post Britpop. Post Binge-drink Britain… what next?
And so to Friday 24 June…
As my train traveled through Manchester, and as a country tries to function after the morning’s news, I look up at the hills that circulate the world’s first modern city. This is a nervous breakdown! It sort of comforts me in some odd sense, because I feel like I’ve been heading towards one for a long time, and it looks like the rest of the country has found its rightful place beside me for this mass collective breakdown. Things could get very dark very quickly, if the racist incidents being caught on film are anything to go by, but I’m in a Kate Bush-methadone right now, as I listen to a slightly slowed-down version of her Wuthering Heights. It seems to always stir a deep conviction of there being something better beyond, for which the pennines (whichever side of the pennines) seem to become a more than adequate threshold to. Some of us can’t give up on Utopia.
LET IT BLEED…
Hearing that the English national football team had lost to a country with the same population as the Wakefield District (and I think the problem is mainly just about England), it felt like a symbolic act of surrender on a much larger scale. The country needs to collapse into a weeping mess, because if it pretends it isn’t having a nervous breakdown than the pain will just be extended and aggravated. Let this ‘pumped up’ ego-bloated nation, deluded about its place in the world, deflate, otherwise the pain will intensify.
This is as much a note to my easily beaten self as anything, but: right now, in the midst of what currently seems Dystopian, let’s not be swayed by the common rhetoric over the foolishness of Utopian dreams.Beneath my pathos, the pain I showcase idiotically at times is a unflinching dream of that better world.
A Deep Paralysis (2016, A4, mixed media on paper)
This is probably the last piece of work to be finished that will feature in a joint exhibition with artist Alexandra Gallagher @ The Bowery, Headingley, Leeds, next week. Alexandra Gallagher’s section will be titled ‘Humanity’s Intellectual World’. My side of the exhibition is titled ‘Under Digital Rain’ and is curated by John Wright – as part of an ongoing project we are engaged in called The Retro Bar at The End of The Universe
21st May – 29 July 20-6pm each day
PERFORMANCE & PREVIEW
20th May 6-8pm
John Ledger and curator John Write presents an interactive performance to engage and enhance Ledger’s wall drawings.
Drainage System (2016, A4, mixed media on paper)
I am Becoming Nothing (Closure No3) ink on paper
£$[We]€$[Can’t]$£[Take]£€[Any]$€[More!!]$£ (2016, mixed media on paper)
<p><a href=”https://vimeo.com/195082910″>The Mary Celeste Project (The Scene of The Crash)</a> from <a href=”https://vimeo.com/user60125733″>John Ledger</a> on <a href=”https://vimeo.com”>Vimeo</a>.</p>
This video work takes my previous video-work The West Riding of Yorkshire: A Psychogeographical Account and makes it more concise whilst taking certain aspects of the video further.
Using (overly) familiar places, components in an eclectic and discontinuous urban area spanning the old West Riding county.
Using this landscape to examine near pasts, lost futures and dead dreams to understand the wider contemporary social condition.
The work focus’s on two lost futures and the un-locatable present, the condition of the 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 utopianist gaze at the (then) coming new millennium. The un-locatable present, here refers to a specific intensification of life under digital capitalism, looking at the severe disorientation of the passing of time since the 2008 financial crisis.
The video-work and wider, ongoing project has been inspired by the beautifully calm,yet highly politicised films of Patrick Keiller; Mark Fisher’s writings on Hauntology, and Fredric Jameson’s essay on Cognitive mapping. They have also be inspired by my own feelings of loss of narrative and of being out of time, amidst a feverishly neoliberal reality. Indeed the growing weight of this sense of being ‘out of time’ is what differs the original West Riding-based video-work with The Mary Celeste Project (The Scene of The Crime).
The title of this video refers to an iconic ‘blip’ on the skyline of Barnsley town centre: a building that was abandoned half-way through completion due to the 2008 financial crash, as if the constructors had simply been zapped out of existence, and now exists as a ghost ship upon the inner ring road – haunting us with faded the utopianism of the 1989-2008 exuberant new capitalism. But the title refers to the entire subject of the film; that of a sense of a future that has vanished, leaving an empty shell of itself.
Exhaustion in The Face of Everything, A5, ink on paper
Mind Camp (2013, biro and collage on paper)
The title of Mind Camp is taken from a very ignorant error I made when I was somewhat younger; believing it to be the English translation of Mein Kampf, Adolf Hitler’s notorious book. Of course, Hitler’s book is actually translated as ‘My Struggle’, and the remaining connection here is that which I always thought my interpretation of the title referred to: the occupation of the human mind by ideas, doctrines, logic, as a means of making them socially compatible with a system of power; that is, power that doesn’t only (or doesn’t even need to) insert its influence externally, to make sure we are compatible entities within a system, but internally (what I would later understand as what philosopher Michel Foucault termed Biopower).
The theorist Franco ‘bifo’ Berardi refers to the current stage of capitalism as ‘semiocapitalism’: a system no longer driven by mass industrial production, but by signs/communication, which is all the more evident now human life is almost completely orientated around digital communications. Berardi writes that “semiocapitalism puts [our] neurophysical energies to work, and submits them to the speed of electronic machinery. It compels our cognition, our emotional hardware to follow the rhythm of net-productivity” Capital has synchronised itself with our conscious and subconscious. It is proliferated by the “digital web…” which “…spreads and expands by progressively reducing more and more elements to a format, a standard and code that makes different segments compatible”. In such a world, brands/logos have a seemingly unlimited reach over the imagination – as we can now see all too well. , Precisely because it is internalised, Capitalism is so culturally extensive and intensive that it is hard to consider that anything may be outside of it, so that “when we sleep, we even dream of capital” (Mark Fisher, Capitalist Realism).
But this means new styles of exploitation for a new organisation of power. Franco Berardi believes it is important to see the global worker no longer a proletariat but a cognitariat, as capital puts more and more of our neurophysical energies to work. Michel Foucault’s reference to the Panopticon (an architectural structure built to allow total surveillance over the ‘inmate’s to maintain order and control) as a analogy for a whole form of maintaining obedience to a power structure, is still alive and well, but perhaps need only now be used in certain circumstances, when the internalisation of power fails to work. Most of us are now governed internally, a biolpolitical intrusion of all the flows and anxieties of the political economy, depolitising us in the process, as we become the guard in the watchtower of our own lives.
Franco Berardi describes the Life of the cognitariat: “labor has become fractalised. With the end of large industrial monopolies, new workers, now delocalized in the global peripheries, start resembling computer terminals, cells in the circulation of the commodity-sign”. The worker is condemned to be a component in the constant production and consumption of signs/information.”Each individual is a cell put in constant productive connection with others by the web, which ensures a deterritorialized fractal, and fluid sociality. The cellular is the new assembly line, deprived of any carnal sociality”.
Precisely because total competition is the name of the game, social mobility has actually become harder in societies more saturated by neoliberalism, and the more we partake in our ‘daily races’ against one another, the more we exacerbate the dynamics of an every-man-for-himself system where the winners have already taken all. Yet, because of the “non-stop inertia” caused as the cognitariat’s libidinal energies are constantly wired/re-wired into the digital matrix, the anxiety of this enforced competitive state of being makes it sometimes feel impossible for us to withdaw from these dynamics; indeed Berardi speculates that only when we crash (depression/mental exhaustion) do we withdraw our libidinal energies from the reproduction of semiocapitalism. Alone together, protesting through inactivity.
Within the drawing I wanted to try to visualise mechanisms that function by appropriating these ‘neurophysical’ energies from the cognitariat, but then merely dumps them once the required labour process is over, as the wealth accumulated by semiocapital becomes the preserve of a small section within the social system, who own the rights to the sign language as “intellectual property”. The ‘cognitariat’ is in a state of constant becoming; once their mental energies have been used, they drop (perhaps mentally exhausted, in what Berardi describes as a state of depressive withdrawal), only to find themselves reattached to the constant and futile ‘career-climb’ (the prospect of falling out of reach is often unthinkable as the welfare systems there to protect the financially vulnerable becomes less and less existent).
It often seems the case that the more one sends cell phone texts, posts images/links on their Facebook/Tumblr/Twitter wall, in the aid of becoming more (more financially, socially, and identity secure), the more one actually dissapears/becomes less, as they invest mental energies in an infinitely expanding information web, whose increase in size means increasing fragmentation of identity and of communitiy, as media wedges itself between more pockets of time/space; also this expansion not only engenders further exploitation of our psychic resources, but of our material conditions, as an increase in connectivity for the financial plutocracy means a greater reduction in labour costs for profit maximisation.
As the system refines its mechanisms in this so-called recession (the global 1% highest earners have seen their profits surge during this ‘recession’ period), jobs become so scarce to the extent that more mandatory, low paid jobs are absorbed more and more into the competitive, ‘careerist’, ‘life-as-a-CV’ job market, which was initially only the reality of those who were willing the work the career treadmill in the hope of a top salary. You stand still in a world of unrestrained ruthless capitalism and the fear is that one will be wiped from the game. It is evidential that we are witnessing a race to the bottom for (to use the now-common terminology) the 99% of us, as the concentration of wealth/power becomes more refined, with a logical conclusion that renders the fiction of films such as the recent Hunger Games imaginable.
The bulwark of information that is disseminated from the concentrated power is structurally designed to divide and confuse the population it relies on to utilise mental and physical energy from. This is the the only source that passes from the top to the bottom within this piece of work. The mechanism appear almost like pinball games levers, knocking all that is below back down, whilst only allowing these ‘media bombs’ to drop downwards. Sometimes I find the mechanisms visualised in games, especially early computer games, useful metaphors for the procession of power relations in the world, especially in the digital age.
Within the brain-like part of the work (which also attempts to refer to something inflated, and still inflating; a bubble of the logos of semiocapital) all signs, all logos, all companies, all sections of capitalist reproduction are shown to be connected/dependent on each others’ existence. Just as no individual is exempt, no sign/no commonly-seen logo is exempt from a network of images that descends into the darkest networks of reproduction; some brands seem to float like little fluffy clouds in a guilt-free cyberspace, but they are just as much as part of the system as the most destructive corporations wreaking havoc to the social/environmental, and also the darkests forms of image production from violent pornography to the filming of murder.
It’s an uncomfortable truth that the language of our times that often seems innocent on face-value is part of the same logic that allows the most brutal forms of exploitation in the world. Within this drawing there is no solution, I admit this (although there is cracks appearing in the super structure). But, to quote Franco Berardi again, because I largely agree with his opinion here, “The task of the thinker [to which, in my understanding of art, would include the artist] – if thinking has a task – is not to breathe hope into hearts, but to help in understanding reality, because only understanding can bring forth new possibilities”.