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)
Just a few thoughts on JD Taylor’s article Spent: capitalism’s growing problem with anxiety. It’s anything but a comphrensive analysis. But I thought it best these small notes being shared rather than being forgotten about, as so many of my notes/thoughts-on essays do.
Spent: capitalism’s growing problem with anxiety is all incredibly agreeable; along with Mark Fisher he puts the issue of the mental illness epidemic right at the door of neoliberal financial capitalism. But there was one particular part, under the subtitle Anxiety Machines that generated the “yeah-I’m-glad-someone-else-thinks-this” reaction in my head.
A rise in the cases of allergies, and obsessive compulsive disorders over the past half decade. Yes, I’ve been keeping a eye-that-often-wishes-it-could-be-blind on this too. A Psychosomatic whirlwind, where fakery and truth are no longer discernable – neoliberal financial capitalism makes us anxiety machines.
“These might all be conditions of modern life: rates of allergies like hayfever and eczema in the UK population have risen to 44% in 2010, whilst rates of depression have similarly soared. Rising recorded levels of these ailments may signal a greater awareness and ability to self-diagnose these conditions, one could argue; but this alone doesn’t sufficiently explain why anxiety disorders began rising first of all. Anxiety and fear are psychological marks of domination in all social structures, but a specific anxiety and fear emerges in financial capitalism through the accelerating demands and pressures of working and living in the neoliberal era. Greater insecurity in the workplace or school leads to an intensification of individual failure that is also manifested in the growing trend of bullying, which further reinforces the cycle of stress, depression and suicide. I think this insecurity is also expressed through the very media used to communicate and function in everyday life. By this I mean the intensification of information technologies into domestic and personal life, what Paul Virilio calls a ‘tele-present’ world. From home computing for leisure, to the Internet, hand-held communication devices, and social networking sites, in the last two decades there has been an unprecedented intensification of technologies that continuously connect users to hyperactive news streams and a disembodied form of social interaction, whose psychosocial norms deserves deeper analysis.” JD Taylor.
If one could describe neoliberalism as a project, could it not be described as the darkest of psychological experiments imposed on a human being? Seriously, imagine a participant in a scientific experiment, (perhaps an adult from the 1950’s/1960’s) donning head-gear that simulates a neoliberal society, perhaps inducing an accelerated state (like in a dream) so that they feel acclimatized to it in no time at all. Then, is it not entirely plausible to imagine their body language changing, with an increase in nervous twitches, an increase in anxious self-analysing and diagnosing? Take a look around you (and a long look at your own habits), is not the case that in workplaces, city streets, and on the social media interface, that there has been a sharp increase in anxiety-ridden behaviour in the past half decade since neoliberalism was ‘doubled-up’ in response to its dramatic failure?
Is the sharp rise due to this double-dosage? Or is it just one part in a revving up of the then less-intense general problems of pre-crash neoliberalism, that most of us (if we’re truthful) thought would go away, as we used to feel about climate change, and the stop-start-stop-start escape from low paid jobs that Ivor Southwood termed ‘Non-Stop inertia‘? Come-what-may, I think it is wise not to dismiss anyone in our lives who seem to be ensnared by life-restricting issues as ‘moaners’, ‘pessimists’ or even ‘fakers’; I think that where we stand right now, we can all potentially be classed as sufferers of mental disorders without any wild exaggerations. As I said above, just look around, and give yourself a long hard look.
“we must keep feeding the beast in order to keep it calm”, ink on paper, A4
I’d prefer not to have to state that this title is meant to have an irony to it, but I probably need to, as part of the reason I chose it is because if it was used for a similarly-composed landscape drawing made 50-70 years ago I believe the title could have been used without irony – and legitimately-so. Today, however, capitalist growth no longer has energies, which were usually oppositional, incorporated in it or pulled alongside it, that could fuse capitalism’s energies with progress, making for a better civilisation.
The opposite could be said to be true, since we moved firmly into this era of global financial capitalism, legitimised by neoliberal (market fundamentalist) theory. A relentless eroding-away of the social contract that was built up over the last two centuries in the first industrial states to protect individuals from the extremes of capitalism’s boom/bust cycles and market dynamics. Alongside this is an almost universal disintegration of a picture of a future worth inhabiting (something that wasn’t the case in capitalist societies 50-70 years ago), as the violence of profit-thirsty growth brings human life into conflict with itself, the environment, and internally, through the invisible mental illness epidemic.
The upwards-driven spiral in this drawing is two things at once. First of all it is an imaginary chronology of capitalism on planet earth, violently veering off a path made-steady by social and civic idealist demands and onto a hyper (‘feral’) capitalist path, severing its ties from reality, whilst dragging us all along with it. As, even though this is clearly a critique of what capitalism produces (and reduces things to), looking back at where this ‘break’ from what before occurred (at a series of points during the 1970’s and early 1980’s), I really do think that, despite the horrors its ‘invisible hand’ induced during the previous centuries, if we had transcended it at this stage, humanity could have taken stock of the then zenith of material plenty under capitalism, and said “we wouldn’t have what we have now without it, but now it is time to go beyond capitalism” (pretty much along the lines of what Karl Marx meant, that capitalism was the best thing and the worst thing to happen to humanity).
But at this very moment when I firmly believe profit-motivated dynamics were no longer needed, (at least here in the west) a progressive program should have been introduced to help us beyond capitalism (and according to Doreen Massey, what is forgotten by history is that there was plenty of ideas about how to do this). However, a trick was played on social evolution. And in hindsight we can see that although individuals were demanding more autonomy and individual freedom, we (to use a Will Self analogy) had “accepted a Trojan horse” gift; the ruling class had staged an ambush. This isn’t conspiracy theory: it’s about one class (the ruling class) working collectively to regain the ability to organise society in the way they thought it needed to organising. What we thus received was an even more ruthless, sociopathic capitalism, with diminishing social alternatives standing in its way, globally.
The second thing this upwards spiral shows is the social and environmental gradient, that gets harsher and more brutal towards the bottom, where so much is reduced to waste, both in economical and ecological meanings of the word. The protestant work-ethic has an increasingly religious grip over us (a violent dislike of the unemployed has emerged); it isn’t a coincidence that this is happening the same time as so many human beings are becoming surplus to needs of capitalism, no longer needed to exploit their labour, and are falling from all security nets towards an existence of utter destitution and state-sanctioned repression. As economist Guy Standing pointed out in his talk at the Leeds Tetley gallery, the UK Tory MP, Iain Duncan Smith (a figurehead for this extreme enforcement of the religion of work, work, work) has in speeches more or less repeated the same words that, written in German, were above the gates of one of western civilisation’s most extreme outcomes: “arbeit Macht Frei” (“work makes you free”), which was above the entrance to the Auschwitz death camp. But, without forgetting that the vulnerable/voiceless always get smashed first in such a system (the poor, the minorities, plant and animals life), let us not forget, that with total collapse of civilisation, which the dynamics currently driving will sometime no doubt lead to, no one is spared; all in this drawing are vulnerable, eventually, within this upwards spiral.
Up is also down in this drawing. The system, as much as it accelerates – faster and faster , also just accelerates entropy. It only reproduces itself as it drags everything crashing down to a primordial ‘dustland’. Capitalism works fine, whilst putting everything else into crisis, until there is nothing left to put into crisis. Indeed, the only buildings/objects visible in the ‘dustland’ within this drawing are icons from a time when civilisation could be said to be progressing – when our past believed in a future; space shuttles from a time when our frontier was space and not the inverted privatisation of our biology; symbols of times when an alternative world seemed on the horizon; towers and buildings for cities for citizens rather than cities for finance and elites.
The use of red pen colour always seems appropriate when depicting a landscape that shows a civilisation/a humanity/a planet running out of time. Perhaps it makes me think of the ‘red planet’ – Mars; earth’s next door neighbour in the Solar System. Mars is certainly a red barren ‘dustland’ and is also what the originator of the Gaia hypothesis, James Lovelock, argues could be the fate of planet earth if we make it so that earth’s co-operating eco-systems are no longer able to enable that thing we we call ‘the living planet’.
In fact, keeping in tune with the talk of Space and the planets here, you could interpret progress… as capitalism (and the generations of humans at its mercy) embodied as a space shuttle; elevating itself on the planet’s stored-up energies; veering off track and dragging life (displaced and dismembered) with it, needing it as it bleeds it, like ripping a plant from the soil and then leaving it on the surface to starve of nutrients as ‘surplus to requirements’. And then add to this the powerful instrumental music piece evoking time speeding up, and then crashing, from Pink Floyd’s The Dark Side of The Moon, which will forever be the music that reminds me of the conception of this drawing, and you’ll maybe know, more or less where I’m coming from.