Writings From HMS Brexit was made for our exhibition ‘Will The Last Person To Leave The 20th Century Please Turn out The Lights?’
Although this pub conversation only consisted of 4 (absent) speakers, this dissection is approached from very different angles.
Thanks to all involved.
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).
This is a spoken word/video version of notes and mapmaking from earlier in October this year, over the weekend the Tory Conference was held in Manchester
It is part of a series that has thus far have largely centred around times/spaces where gatherings/events have felt like ample territory for my thoughts on the past (my past), present, and longings for a future decisively different from the present.<p><a href=”https://vimeo.com/150320900″>Manchester and The Morning After (Stories From Forgotten Space)</a> from <a href=”https://vimeo.com/user18137640″>john Ledger</a> on <a href=”https://vimeo.com”>Vimeo</a>.</p>
Here is a spoken word version of my May blog, Lost Bus Routes and Pre-Election Rambles.
An account of myself and Michael Hill, walking around old haunts (Around South/West Yorkshire), conjuring memories, and futures of the past, on the eve of the 2015 UK General Election. Taking routes where long gone bus routes used to take us.<p><a href=”https://vimeo.com/144591777″>Lost Bus Routes and Pre-Election Rambles</a> from <a href=”https://vimeo.com/user18137640″>john Ledger</a> on <a href=”https://vimeo.com”>Vimeo</a>.</p>
It’s always around these cumulative moments of exhibition staging, seeing my works together, that I realise I’ve been putting exhibitions on/yelling about the same things/physically knackering myself out with similar endeavors for the best part of a decade. Yet it is only in that my large drawings show duration that I am able to observe the time that has passed. I often fear I live in an eternal present, as I can’t often remember the here and now, and constantly look back over ten years to when it felt that memories and experience stuck, rather than blew away with every given day. These half-truths of stories based around cognitive mapping processes, are an attempt to counter this sensation. This section deals primarily with the 4 Yorkshire cities/towns I spend most my days in.
24 September 2015
“In the village I was raised in, a distant cousin stands across the road, noticeable by the high-vis jacket he’s wearing. Not sure why he’s stood that side of the road, as by crossing that road you literally leave the mining-settlement-overspill I know as home, to face the farmhouses and barns that predate that former, and in a sense it is a different village entirely. The high-vis vest now alludes to something very different than the sense of pride, or at least place, afforded to the sight of the 20th century miners once present here; for what the high-vis vest signifies is a lack of pride and place – just another number in the global flow of labour, and affords a 25+years local little respect, lacking the worker solidarity of their forefathers, in an aged of ‘LinkedIn’ endless careerist-congratulating, it’s all seen as individual failings/shortcomings – no matter how many of us end up joining the high-vis ranks. I walk past the bookies, which I’ve never stepped foot in, and then the Working Men’s Club, which I haven’t been in since I was 6 or maybe 7, and down the back of the convenience store, crossing the road that literally cuts this settlement into two incompatible pieces; one of council houses for the former miners, and one for the commuters who came once the M1 motorway cuts through here.”
“Sitting backwards for the last leg of this all-too-familiar rail route. I’ve spent what seems like my lifetime, or somebody’s lifetime, looking out of train windows at the same section of the country – a glare never set loose from the feeling, impounded in post-30 life, of being on borrowed time, even if that simply amounts to an awareness of wasting a small wage packet on train tickets. “Don’t Just sit there, do something!” is what the atmosphere on these carriages says to me, as young professionals who seemingly float upon the gaseous quality of this dominant agenda, hijack my window-gazing-solace and force me to listen in to their sharing of next year’s sweetly-poisonous vocation plans. It all sounds so rehearsed, like they’re on a BBC documentary, and I know some of them are imagining shooting themselves in the head whilst they talk, but yet they still carry on making the lie, and make sure the rest of us are beaten down with it. I deal with it by clenching my fists and gnarling my teeth; the only possible response for the unprepared native as he faced the colonisers – and in a way yuppification is colonisation.”
“The night is closing in now as I get on the Supertram. Always like getting an opportunity to travel via Sheffield’s tram system. What is it about it that appeals to me? At a glance, from these sideways seats, it conveys a potential (and the longing that such potential creates) which is what lures me into this city centre, only to be faced with the fall out (and build up) of a neoliberal reality that this city seems to suffer/endure badly more than the other regional cities. Leeds and Manchester seemed to have prospered somewhat in this age, despite vast swathes of their respective populace literally being left in the gutter. But in Sheffield, the homeless issue (for example) stings that little bit harder, because the adaptation to this imposed-agenda here seems so ‘unnatural’, or unnecessarily dominant , like an entire city reacting badly to a medicine it’s been forced to swallow.”
“Langsett View – the tram stop I get off at that refers to the peak district area not far from here. As within Sheffield there is always a possibility of reaching plentiful people or total wilderness at the same time. Perhaps the city is an accidental exemplar for how we should be building our 21st century urban world?”
“Shy and unsure, I find myself slinging my rucksack onto just one shoulder; my default porcupine-posture formed in High School. The steep suburban streets of the uneven sprawl of Sheffield conjure a longing for a good life I think I can recall, but can’t be sure if it’s memories of expectations rather than memories of experience. A distinctly autumn night, perhaps the first of the year. Something that feels like it should be a given right is constantly out of reach. It’s those “avenues all lined with trees” over and over again; those broken promises of, what in hindsight was, a 1990’s cultural counter-revolution against the sci-fi futures of previous decades. I find myself fond of this city, and these leafy, lower middle class suburbs. And I’m unwilling to compromise my meandering to a inadequate substitute – something called ‘life’, but not so.”
“Graveyard train pulls into Wakefield Kirkgate at 12:10am. Frailty borne of fatigue makes a usually familiar UK town seem all-the-more daunting at midnight, amidst the orange lit concrete of its most unfashionable part. Which is why I’m startled, only to become angered, by an over-officious automated voice program, whose distorted car-park warning-info catches me out at the best of times. Disembodied voices with warning-info just impound the sense of distrust in an area you find yourself in. The town is cold, the first cold of autumn. Although nobody is visible, voices that sound best-avoided call out from somewhere. Should I head for one more drink in one of the late-opening bars I would never usually set foot in? Why would I do that to myself? Yet there’s an impulse to do so. As I approach this such area of eternal nights out, Westgate, it takes my fatigue-based inability to show any more compassion to street beggars, to sway me away from it all, as I head up a side street. Just “want to see people and want to see lights” now, no more inconvenient truths tonight. But this female inconvenient truth pursues me a good 50 yards, repeatedly shouting “excuse me” until I can no longer pretend I didn’t hear – she must be that desperate for money. I turn and give her about 25 pence, but I have nothing more, financially or emotionally, to give away tonight.”
25 September 2015
“I cycle past Carlton Community College on my way to Cudworth, one of many that have silently sprung up around the borough in past half decade. The place looks all neat and tidy etc, but I can’t figure out how it’s a merger of two schools, as it doesn’t look big enough. And it’s not a college, it’s a secondary school – as in this country the word college still predominately means 16+ education. I’ve no real idea if it’s a better or worse state of affairs than what went before it, but there’s way too much smoke and mirrors to find such schemes trustworthy. As I turn towards Carlton industrial estate, I remember that the HS2 project is supposed to cut this jumbled up landscape. With Royston’s Monkton coking plant visible in the distance, this area looks like the impression most people who’ve never been to Barnsley seem to have – one which is normally decades out of date. Whist cycling, my young-adult staple A Northern Soul (The Verve) plays out on my IPod. This band more than any other I can think of caught the imagination of many of the semi-professional bands to emerge out of this town during the past 20 years. The Verve were from another mining area, over in Lancashire. I often think of mining villages as not that villages at all, but more like shards of city suburbs cut loose and slung into farmland; because mining communities are of a proletarian not rural mentality. The Juxtaposition between rows of terraces, council estates, working men’s clubs and large rolling corn fields and windy country lanes, brings two things together that would otherwise never meet, and I wonder if this sensibility is what informed The Verve, and is what informs those from similar places as them.”
“Meadowhall train station. Flowers stuck to poles at railway platforms seem all the more common these days. I’ve become somewhat prepared for such occurrences on the many occasions I pass through a station, as it’s always on my mind, somewhere. As things stand, I’ve been fortunate enough not be around when anything like this has happened.”
“Get off the train at Sheffield and cycle up past Park Hill flats, more talked about now they’re largely unoccupied than when they were full of people. I rarely come this way, even though they’ve towered over the uncountable train journeys I’ve made in and out of this city for over 10 years. Yet another captivating view of the city from up here – imagine what it must be like 5 floors up in the flats behind me. Very few cities give you the chances to panoramically reflect on it as Sheffield does. There may be a few residents here, but by and large the flats look completely empty. The Yuppied section still only clings to one end of the block of flats, despite being given well over half a decade to colonise them. Large vinyl lettering shouts “space to let, space to play” at you; a rhetoric that aggressively says “don’t just stand there, become a professional!”. You’d have thought such language would appear crass now.”
27 and 28 September 2015
“the train slows down for some reason as we go past my old college, Honeywell. Now a distant memory, as even its rubbly remains have vanished. It’s one place I certainly placed much value on in this town, with it’s green breathing space from the town centre – an opening that certainly aided my artistic development. Apparently such value was valueless though, as all the courses got rehoused into a new shiny red box in the centre, whilst this area is likely to be given up for housing developments. And further down the same road so it seems that the last true bit of open space for 3 miles has been opened up to be eaten up by property developers. I don’t buy the ‘housing shortage crisis’ argument. What I see is an unending frenzy of quick-fix money-grabbing; creating endless dormitories for nearby cities and enterprise zones; filled with consumption-quelled frustrations, aggravated by an unwilling complicity in the making of endless traffic congestion – an hardback intensification of the last 2 decades, with an extra layer of disbelief we work harder to ignore via ever-more absurd retro-rehashing.”
“One noticeable change nestled in the ‘heart of Barnsley’. where the post-hedonist-cum-dead-end-intoxication-streets fork off from Peel Square is the presence of settled homelessness – whereas there’s always been a small visible collective of ‘down and outs’, I’ve never seen so many people laid out in doorway corners – this time it’s different. What makes it look weirder, is that the town is trying to recreate its market-town past, as the stalls have spilled out onto the pedestrianised areas, from their era long residence in the late 60’/early 70’s brutalist complex, that is being demolished; it seems to be heading in the opposite direction from the worry-some future these homeless have stumbled into; both look like they’ve been cut out of different times and pasted into the same place. I head up to the library, but they’re now rarely havens of “silence, please!”, and are now usually laced with interruptive reminders of the anxieties/hardships that so many of us usually so-silently share. Mobiles blurt out, and the ensuing conversations leave you in no doubt that this is another person in desperate need of employment/a wage whose giving is mob number out to as many agencies as possible. On this occasion the agency is only offering this ‘jobseeker’ temporary employment in a line of work he has no experience in.”
“Sat in cafe in Leeds, two young men with accent-less and upwardly-positive-conversational tones, talk proactively about networking, recruitment, relationships and traveling, without any apparent concern over the blurred lines between work and free time. I can’t help feeling affronted by it: “how can they seemingly flow through this age so freely like bearded cybermen? why don’t they sense this struggle and stuck-ness that engulfs me?” This is why I’m always on the back foot, viewed as a ‘negative person’, and this is why I am currently welding my pens above my sketchbook as if they were self-defence weaponry.”
“On Boar Lane, my ‘go-slow’ calm down attempts are ruined as a car turns towards me in a place which anybody could be excused for thinking was pedestrainised. But these days the Futurist bust of the 360 degree sight of Mussolini isn’t an ideal, but an hard-managed necessity. Now on my toes I overhear men laughing in that way that sounds like they are looking for targets to mock; professional alpha males who make you veer from the pavement as they walk in fours, side by side, unwilling to move; the kind of moneyed scum that a polished turdopolis attracts. Maybe I’ve reacted too harshly, but 24/7 self-defensive emotions tend to be harsh. How I wished Leeds accepted its dirt and conventional ugliness, and how better it’d be for doing so. I head into the station, with a “when you’ve gotta eat, you’ve gotta eat” poster in the window of the Sainsbury’s store commanding me to do just that, a control command that compliments the “safety and security” post-9/11 staple that greets me as I get on board this local stopping train that nobody would even consider bombing anyway.”
29 September 2015
“Arrive at Westgate station. Ticket barriers are open, but sometimes reality conspires to make it look like a snare, and if I tried to avoid paying I’m likely to be caught out. The Virgin train to Scotland pulls up on the other platform, hiding the foggy landscape behind. I’m certain the seating areas are more cramped on these trains – maybe the red paint pulls my attention to it, but they really do look mildly sardine tin-like. A man sits down next to me with the today’s Metro paper. ‘Rivers of Mars’ reads the headlines, and I become uncomfortably preoccupied with the fact that I’d heard about this already today, but already forgotten – “is nothing in the here and now able to stick anymore in this ‘always on’ age?” But perhaps it reflects what a friend said to me in a beer garden in Sheffield earlier this year (yeah, I’m sure it was this year…). She said how new scientific discoveries/breakthroughs just don’t seem able to attain the significance they would have gained in the previous century, and that this is likely down to the near total collapse in our faith in the idea that we are progressing to somewhere/something better, all-the-more impounded by the sickly sound the word ‘growth’ has when spouted from the mouths of our world leaders, etc. Whilst on the train the sun bursts through the fog as we pass through the lower Dearne Valley, and I remind myself about what I kept on reminding myself about earlier: a passage from John Berger’s Art and Revolution, on our ‘meaningless empire’, with his conclusion being that if we decide to live a life which isn’t in someway driven by a desire to see it overthrown, then we’re not living at all, and may as well commit suicide.”
I have retroactively made this the 3rd blog in a series of map-making’s of meanderings and musings that coincided with decisive events for the wider society. My thoughts on the past (my past), present, and longings for a future decisively different from the present loosely congregating around these events. With my writings this year, there has been a consistent eagle eye for traces of social change; I am not aligned with any specific party/ideology that opposes the current state of play, yet most certainly not averse to any either, as I’m aware that any jostling for something beyond this sink-hole-for-sanity is essential for my well-being as much as anything else.
Here is the first post from 9 May: Lost Bus Routes and Pre-Election Reflections
The second from 22 June: London Walks, and Anti-Austerity Musings
10 September 2015
“I’ve been approaching Leeds by train for years now (for the best part of the lost-decade, starting 2008), and it is the wastelands (especially the unappropriatable bits) that are its saving grace. It says something that the boring central zone obliterates. I change trains towards Manchester, sitting backwards as the train leaves Leeds. Dead feelings still cling on, yet I know they’re just symptoms of something much larger than myself – something that throughout these years has only ever really become clear to me when staring out of the window of a moving train or bus. Yet I sense movement; movement out of this ‘stuckness’ that accumulates moments of feeling like being part of the living dead. I’m not sure what is happening, whether the world will spin whilst I stand still, but I’ll make any minor manoeuvre to help loosen from being stuck.”
“Sitting backwards means that I am facing the sharper, most hasty inclines that form Lancashire’s side of the Pennines that we leave behind as we near Manchester. I think what captivates me about landscapes, is that any given landscape is forced to become an illustrator for the most heavy of shit on my mind at any given moment. These glacial cuts between Yorkshire and Lancashire make me wonder if the water is starting to trickle under our socio-political ice age. But will the flow be guided, or will it burst out destructively? I need change anyway, coming to another town to drink has been a substandard substitute for a couple of years now, but it is beginning to wear thin.”
“Exit Piccadilly station platforms, and head up the escalators – not really sure why. There’s a banner for a TGI Friday’s eatery, based on a pastiche of mid 20th century American diners. The banner has those thin metal anti-climbing spikes all over the top of it. I can’t quite figure out why this would be necessary at all. But if I was in doubt, there’s also a CCTV camera keeping it company. It’s a coincidence, but it isn’t ironic: control is at the heart of every aspect of contemporary life, from controlled pastiche experiences of mid-20 the century diners, to maximum transport terminal security. No doubt the menu choice will tell you the calorie intake, so we can control that too. If not, I’m sure it will soon. I have to take a photograph, but I’m wary of the presence of an ‘officer’ nearby – as an artist was arrested last year photo-documenting London’s ‘ring’ of CCTV cameras. I exit the station and cut south avoiding the shopping area of Manchester, taking in the Victorian what-might-have-beens prelimery-skyscrapers, much more impressive than the reality given to us with the likes of the Beetham Tower.”
“Because my default memory of 2003/Blair-years Manchester is the one my brain reverts to every time I leave the city, I find all successive skyline additions surprising. Just past Oxford Road station on the way to Deansgate a huge blue-tinted glass phallus, complimenting the nearby Beetham Tower, has emerged from seemingly nowhere, with the name ‘StudentCastle’ hanging vertically down the side of the building. Talking of default positions, it will forever remain absurd to me that such a place could now be for student accommodation. It looks fit only for penthouses, Porsche owners, or for scenes from a Dallas-cum-Dubia-deal-doing-drama; not for those who I still (clearly erroneously) see as based at safe-havens from the dynamics of a system that they would be better momentarily safe-guarded from, in order to at least interpret it, through art, English Lit, Philosophy or whatever…..yeah, I’m definitely out of touch here, I guess.
“As I reach the view of Beetham Tower, further down Deansgate – hanging above what now merely resembles the atypical regeneration background imagery of red-bricked former industrial buildings – I come to the conclusion that Beetham Tower just looks like a virtual impressionist’s wet dream. And it may as well be, judging on how out of reach it feels. And I’m not talking about it’s relative height. The glass, the purported transparency of such structures is exactly what makes them seem so inaccessible. Across the road a block of private apartments has been named after the Hacienda night club. A city of so much promise – one I still look to (perhaps due to being an unreconstructed northerner) for promise, is now a city of signs that lead nowhere.”
Friday 11 September: Recovery, walking around my home town, assembled like dream-like collage of memories. … I cannot explain why this seems to be repeatedly occurring.
I miss things dearly. Especially those things that never got a chance….
….that in hindsight never stood a chance
Saturday 12 September: The Big Smoke (and Mirrors)
“Central Wakefield at 5am. The pouring rain doesn’t seem to impound any felt-miseries at such an hour, maybe due to the rarity of being awake at this time it is making me feel like I’m in a different climate/land. It must be said that I’m finding that there’s a way of looking at the world that seems specific to this time between night and day, possibly epitomised by the ghost train crawling through Westgate station back up to Leeds in preparation for today’s carting of people to and from London. It’s as if the empty train visualises a sense that I can see the inner workings of the ‘man machine matrix’ [Will Self] at this nowhere hour; like seeing the working arteries and veins of a living creature. It makes no difference that I know the train has to have staff on board, because their lack of visibility visualises this Metanomic servitude everything and everyone has to a system that tells us we are our own bosses. As our train pulls in, the man stood in front of me on the platform is so prematurely weak and frail (accident, degeneration recoverer?) that I feel a bubbling haste at the prospect of missing the train altogether, and can sense anger in me towards him, which almost immediately results in self-detesting; parts of myself I wish didn’t exist, but parts that are part-and-parcel of living in this age where an ideology of ‘rule of the jungle’ has engendered a growing fascistic attitude to our most vulnerable. Social change. It’s the necessity of a movement we can all taste in our mouths, to prise us out of such a miserable way to exist. To extinguish unnecessary ‘survivalist’ impulses riving and tearing through our bloodstream.”
“BBC Radio 4. Listening to the Shipping Forecast. Turbulent seas, maritime nation; so easily forgotten on the mainland; resonates so peacefully with the train’s humming electrical noises. Why does it somehow seem to be a component of a lost world (a better one in my opinion)? I’ve heard it said (somewhere) that the Shipping Forecast would be the last lone voice across the land at the dawn of a nuclear wipe-out. But this voice of the long night, for me, seems more a spectral trace of a parallel/or hidden-from-view world; evoking elements of a Britain that never took the tunnel of Thatcherism. I suppose it evokes the longing for the presence of a socialistic paternal force that is there in times of vulnerabilities we nearly all face at some point. These arable lands we are passing through in this point between light and dark resemble more hinterlands between two different types of world. The following news story suggests it is a forgone conclusion that Jeremy Corbyn will win the Labour leadership contest later this morning – maybe we are indeed in an hinterland between two different times?”
“With it still only being 8am (although 8am equates to 10am in this cinematic equivalent of all you know elsewhere in the UK) I wait sometime in a cafe staring out onto Euston Road. And I always expect to see somebody I know, as a place for me is a place, whether there are 1,000 or 13,000,000 people under its place name umbrella. I see a woman who looks like an older version of somebody my not-much-younger-self would day-dream about spending his days with, all-too-aware that I’ve been dumbly goldfish-like forgetful about how age hits us all, now I’m in a spell of my life where meeting new people gets harder and harder. Wake up, Boo! (The Boo Radleys) comes on the cafe radio. Couldn’t care less for it back in the summer of 1995, but I miss the vibe of the 90’s more by the year, and such songs evoke a freshness/sunshine that I cannot imagine now (and I’m more than convinced that our ‘always on’ times have hastened this colour-drainage). It’s certainly not just me who feels this way, when even people who can’t remember the decade are more-than-active in rejoicing in the unsheddable traces of it coating of the present. Good times are environing, not personal/private – even if such a time did prove to be all smoke and mirrors. But this era-based optimism cannot return under the current social reality which was still fresh and believable in the 1990’s. Now it’s just a dead idea-ruling. Perhaps a new age is dawning now; it certainly needs to be too, as the decade we’ve just gone through feels so lost, like a world under general anesthetic. ”
“After leaving the cafe, and with hours to go before a demo I’m supposed to be attending (I have to attend after spending limited funds on always-expensive train tickets), I turn right from ST Pancras into the Camden area. I manage to lose the macho swagger I use as a self-defense mechanism against the Euro-trotter-scape of St Pancras station, focused on the high-end shop Fortnum and Mason’s. The parks of London give the impression of opening up the seemingly endless chances at play in metropolitan life. Despite the ever-present tragedies of morning drinkers, these parks give out a certain romance, of something Unrealised – enhanced by the social housing surrounding them, but totally obliterated by the exercise machines, that have the presence of colonisers in such parks, disallowing anything but the Utopia/Dystopia of ‘mission: Self-Betterment’.”
“Half 9 and it’s not unbearably busy at the Oxford Circus/Oxford Road junction right now. On rare occasions I do feel so utterly detached from the world/culture I am attached to that I’m like an alien spectator of The Spectacle. If this could last, well then I’d probably be able to spout such “you-don’t-have-to-buy-into-it” cop-out-philosophy to all those ‘negatives”. Speaking of ‘negative types’ how do you tell if there is or isn’t breathing coming from these disheveled shapes coated in old blankets in these closed doorways (the army of homeless, of course)? How do you know if they haven’t died silently on these sleepless streets? The survivalist fever that funnels us into individualist obedience makes certain the we treat such uncertainties as ‘none of my business’. Next to one of the blanket-coated bodies is a virtual-reality advert-board offering the proposition of having your ‘selfie’ taken with hippy/venture capitalist, Richard Branson.”
“Down near Embankment now. The amount of bodies lying down in doorsteps/parks/under bridges, looks like the results of warfare. Which, of course, it is.”
“After confusingly walking back and forwards, over the river, I eventually find myself in Waterloo station. In a city of plenty, why does the panicky grip of scarcity take hold? A mentality that physically sticks you to the ground in a seizure of confusion. Reminds me too much of the humiliation of anorexia, so I end up just sitting and eating on a bench in the busiest station in the country. Waterloo leads to all that rests at the other side of uncircumventable gateway of London to where I’m hail from. I imagine what my life might have been if I’d have hailed from the other side of the gateway, in a land that cannot help but seem like a dreamy, green and pleasant mid-century England, due to all the children I’ve overheard talking to parents in the station sounding like they belong in Enid Blyton novels.”
“I get up and walk. Slowly get going again. Crossing back north over the river, a friend texts me saying Corbyn has won the majority to become next leader of Labour party. “You shouldn’t rest your hopes around things” – yes, but I can’t keep down a small smile that emerges on my face.”
“Always rewind to a default position of surprise when I pass Downing Street, surprised that it’s not really a street at all; more a half-way between Granada Studio’s Coronation Street set and an aggressively guarded compound. Whenever you see a photo/story featuring No 10, it only focus’s on the house, not the street, which is mainly constituted of massive Portland stone ministerial buildings that that sandwich no 10 in.”
“After over an hour of confused meanderings, useless, utterly negative, exhausted text-book scribings; unsure if this demo is actually occurring (I got the time/place muddled up) I finally encounter it flowing down past Trafalgar Square. I follow it down to Parliament Square, back down past no 10. The larger the crowd, the less alienated I actually feel. I eventually find some people I know. The demo has most certainly been strengthened by Corbyn’s election victory this morning, and that he is attending this demo shortly. When we get to Parliament Square he gets to the stage. You can’t hear a word he is saying, yet the uproar from the crowd gets rid of any uncertainty towards what is happening. “Always be wary of the crowd” – maybe so, but, trust me, as somebody who’s spent a lifetime feeling alienated from groups in the usual course of life, I feel there is much to be gathered from a large group of people sharing a disparate yet unified energy. It suggests, or even ascertains a potential for an alternative to the current state of play that seemed unimaginable in this country a couple of years back. ”
“It’s a quest to retain an optimism from which alternatives can be nurtured within. But too tired to deal with the growing atmosphere of lairyness that seems to be taking over the area close to King’s Cross/ST Pancras. Football fans heading home meet half-drunk pleasure-fix-seekers to make for an environment I never expect in London. But London is England; the shit, perpetual con-trick of our corporate culture, and the ensuing frustrations are all out to play here on a Saturday just like any other town or city up and down the country. Large swaves of London are still just the England-kept-provincial under Thatcherite occupation, but on steroids. After leaving an Internet cafe I need somewhere to sit with a pint for some time but can’t find a cash machine. I walk up and down, in what seems like miles judging on how tired I am now. I finally find one, only for it say it will charge me £1.50 for using it. Have to walk all way back again. Pass more homeless that I have to shut my head off to this time, drained of social compassion. A group of men mock a trans-gendered person in that abuse-disguised-as-laddish-banter style we all know well; “it’s water off a duck’s back, no doubt”, yet I doubt that very much – more like collateral damage. 13 million people and still they find time to pick on one of them. Eventually find a cash machine and a pub that is only just off the main road. So it feels so odd that it’s completely absent of the UKWEEKEND aura. Sit outside, nobody hassles me. I write and relax and find a potential in the city, and in the country again, for something different than this lost-decade I share with most. Things might be changing, but this is a long-long game, and I carry on in a punch-drunk manner.”
“On the train back I close my eyes. Intoxicated by the sensory overload of a London, that, these days can often resemble the hallucination of walking inside the World-Wide-Web, and, inevitably, alcohol. I am exhausted. I see pictures of things traveling so fast I can’t make them out – traveling faster than the speed of the train. The drink’s kicking in, and again I’m feeling I need companionship, and not just meaningless, nihilist bullshit; something that at least feels real. Tired of consuming the boring medication to endure the ‘Boring Dystopia’. How do I return to a point where things are fresh and can surprise again?”
“As I leave Westgate at 11pm, I misjudge my timing crossing the road. Yet I am certain the motorist speeds up. For sometime now I’ve been thinking how private vehicles encourage primal power trips, a driving force in us, unnecessarily so, due to the dog eat dog atmosphere we are forced to inhale. The driver, in a white t-shirt, may as well have been flexing his muscles at my slightly disheveled self as I scurry across the road. There’s so much work to do: the Tories more than anyone are masters at making us hate one another. But I’m so fucking tired of this game.”
It doesn’t feel like we’ve had a summer for years now. Climate Change may or may not be making July/August wetter, but this plays only a small factor in the loss of summer, if any at all. Even when the sun beams down the colour looks faded. The taste is gone.
All the more recognisable for watching the landscape from the tinted windows of a bus as it left Wakefield bus station heading through the summer fields of the hills that form the West/South Yorks boundary. A small, unreliable bus company who purchase old coaches; the tinted windows drain the summer colours outside to look like faded photographs, from a vehicle that provokes faded memories of holidays fooling some unlocatable part of me into thinking we are going somewhere coastal, and not just to our workaday drop-off points. Moving on Up, The M-People, was resonating off the tin and tiles of the bus station, as sounds always do. I make a joke to my work colleagues that now this mildly-annoying song is in my head, I’ll end up spreading it throughout the workplace. But I’m secretly trying to deal with this unending sense of an inner void that I don’t know how to fill; I was hardly M-People-fond, but at least it felt located somewhere in time; if it wasn’t for the faces (intermittently including my own) all staring at their phone screens, and the evident social pressure to look CGI-perfect, it could’ve been 1993, and, of course, it still is in someway, but without the taste and smell, no matter what that taste/smell was. Reality may as well exist on a computer screen if it lacks any tangibility, and we still roam around in a weird CGI-ied version of the last decade of the 20th century. Unwilling to share this truth, unwilling to share the pain of it.
Is it possible to rewind in an ‘always on’ inertia? If so let’s go back to the week following Friday 8 May. I shared a drawing I made in the wake of the Tories getting a majority in the general election. It got the most stirring response I’ve ever experienced in the 7/8 years of posting things online; people weren’t just saying “looks mint man” or “well done John”, they were sharing how they felt in the wake of the realisation of what another 5 years of the Tories’ sheer jubilance in carrying out the brutalities of neoliberalist economic realism would entail (as opposed to New Labour who seem to carry out the same measures through a sheer disbelief in themselves). I felt stirred, because I felt that others were stirred. You cannot be stirred for long if it’s a solitary experience. A sense of collectivity in enraged disbelief at what had just happened erupted. The summer looked daunting, looked like it could ignite – but at least it looked like it could be alive. I thought something new was afoot. But the same shit happened. The fire was dampened very quickly. It fell prey to the now-well-known amnesia and exhaustion of our ‘always on’ lives; psychologically overworked by the never-ending overtime of cyberspacial capitalism, we don’t recall the immediate because the here and now is fracked to death. Just like everything else that once felt like it required urgency, it suddenly feels far away. Was I fool for thinking that this was different to the other times? Maybe.
Life itself feels far away. Again.
Back into deep deep summer and an environing sense of depression takes hold again, like every fucking year to memory now. The possible exception being 2011, which I will return to. Whilst families still go on their holidays, the chain pubs promote ‘summer fun’, and Facebook piles up with photos in the sun, the mood is as heavy as to induce the mental equivalent of the Bends-effect once you try to out-do the environing depression and prise yourself into an proactive state. Mounting frustration; peak-time self-destruction.
The massive support for Jeremy Corbyn, as much as it shouldn’t be dismissed as mania, or as something that will fade into insignificance, is too little to late in regards to this year’s deep summer to provide any sense of a break from this shitty reality. At which point let me point out that I have never been averse to either socialist, anarchist, insurrectionist or reformist measures; any ways of making cracks/leakages in the global glacier of ‘capitalist realism’ with the aim of something better (what could be worse than the [no]future of diminishing returns it has in store for us?) has my backing. I am not aligned to any oppositional force, nor am I averse to any.
But more is needed. The only true summer moment of the past ten years I can think of was the English Riots of 2011. I’m not saying they were constructive (and what made them stand out more was that they were situated amidst a year of Occupy, the Arab Spring, and plentiful large-scale protests), and me, as scared of confrontation as I am, was as anxious as anyone about what could occur at the peak of their escalation. But they at least gave a sense of life to a country that has otherwise been in a coma under neoliberalism, to which no amount of ‘fun in the sun’ simulcra can make me feel otherwise.
The last few years have barely tasted or smelled of anything. I have been preoccupied with ghostly traces of a past that won’t go away. As deep summer rolls on I realise I’m just as stuck as I was the year before, staring at the appearance of the movement of people ‘getting on’, all the more impounded in this deep and depressed illusion of summer.
It’s all about being stuck
Maybe (in fact, probably) there are small and still-barely-connected energies at play, setting in motion the forces to build a continuity capable of shifting this neo-ice age of the neoliberalist political economy that coats the recognisable world (like rare creatures frozen in ice that could speculatively be brought back to life by science, the shared convictions of the 60’s and 70’s that the world could be shaped for the better still stare back at us as they float underneath this icy coating). But in spite of this probability, the sensation we still have to battle day in day out, on a Alone Together (a brilliant book which brilliantly manages to miss the elephant in the room) basis, is one of being stuck.
We rush around at a faster and faster pace, cyberspacial info swirls in and out of our heads, faster and faster. But it’s a trap; the more we try to evade the hell of being stuck the more we impound a very specific technological framework that serves to make the possibility of alternatives to the current state of play seem impossible. The more we rive and tear the more we become trapped. Or so it increasingly seems.
How have we managed to reach a point where we are both manic and deeply bored creatures at the same time? A Hyper-Malaise prevails. Disbelief, an inability to be excited by life alongside a Feverish chasing up on errands “surely it will all make sense once I finish the next task in hand….?” Anxiety and boredom are the ruling coalition, and realisation of this is so depressing on an solitary basis. Relief comes when somebody shares the same conviction, but it is thus far a rare occasion amidst the sea of commands to find the current state of play a deep forest of yet-to-be-discovered enjoyments, rather than what it really is: a wasteland of intoxicants to momentarily soften the blow.
Yet the depressed are potentially the ‘drowned and saved’ (to use the title of J.D Taylor’s blog – an inspirational writer of my generation if ever there was one), waiting to be joined together. They are thus the true optimists in-waiting, because the intolerable state of realistion they find themselves in makes for a deep deep desire and longing for a way out, amidst these deep deep depressive excuses of a summer.
I seem to be at a point of bringing quite a few important works to a point of closure. I and have Finally made my blog series, Stories From Forgotten Space, into physical book form. Despite a few frustrating errors made by Blurb’s book publishing program, the minor imperfections can’t take away the central position this book takes alongside my video The Mary Celeste Project [The Scene of The Crash] in my more recent body of work: I see the book as a work of art in its own right, and intend to exhibit it in my upcoming 2015 shows. However, although I can’t get it done cheaply (unless I find a willing publisher soonish) it can be bought from there http://www.blurb.co.uk/b/6306069-stories-from-forgotten-space
Predominately set in the former industrial heartlands of the areas constituting the former West Riding of Yorkshire, it extends into many other areas within the present day landscape of England. It takes a look at this country through the year leading up to the 2015 General Election…
A collection of thoughts whilst moving around the capital on the weekend 250,000 people came out against the government’s further assaults on social welfare and social life. It is related to a large blog project called Stories From Forgotten Space (using landscape as a platform for quasi-fictional storytelling based on genuine experiences, feelings) which I am currently compiling into a book.
Friday 19 June 2015
“Walking towards Shoreditch, nearly an hour into walking in the city. The self-conscious me is always looking for things to porcupine-myself-up with in a place of such beautiful cyber-people. Sometimes it seems like everyone looks like a more toned, more Photoshopped edit of a pop-culture figure from yesteryear. I pass somebody who looks like a ‘better model’ of The La’s’ frontman Lee Mavers; more like Lee Mavers than Lee Mavers.”
“The proximity of the DLR train to the crucible-cluster of deemed-important buildings in Canary Wharf forces their importance on you as you begin to instinctively stare up at them in wonder (only to refrain from doing so to hide from public their impact on you). I look up at 1 Canada Square (HSBC building). I give a powerless, punchdrunk smile as my eyes sink from the fluffy-cloud-skyline to the gentrified docklands below. Sometimes it all makes sense to me, and I then spend my time trying to explain my reasons that respond to this sense, only that it all fucks up when things inevitably conspires to undo that sense-making. And it is at these points that ‘the idiot’ appears.”
“Greenwich Park. Hot weather. Grass going all orangey/brown – like 95/96. Don’t think I’ve sat down on the grass since I was 12 – not properly anyway. Firestarter, The Prodigy [spring 96] is playing in my personal bubble. Feel 12 again. Want to cause shit/havoc (“Bad bad, bad bad behaviour”). All those “old school” shit-causers; they’re all knackered now, evaded swiftly by others in this anxiously aspirational age; ranting at people eating their tourist-orientated food, who no longer need headphones to be zoned-out to such a physical proximity. Head down the congested road on Blackheath; city traffic passing through summer fields. If I crop out Canary Wharf it all takes me back, somewhere. But just now I don’t need to crop it out, with rucksack on shoulder, ideas momentarily electrified, I feel Danny-Champion of Past and Present. But such a surge of self-belief is spurred on by the very thing that crushes it; the ruthlessly ambivalent city. It’ll get me, for sure it will, it always does. It doesn’t let me stand tall for too long. But right now, as I text myself these thoughts, it hasn’t.”
Saturday 20 June 2015
“Walking through the refuge of a wooded-park in the centre of Muswell Hill, after staring down at the horizon-reaching cityscape commenting on how only 100 years back New York was just beginning to take over London as being the biggest city the world had even seen. Still slightly drunk from the night before, and, thus, having a slightly-guilty sensation in an age of “keep young and beautiful; it’s your duty…”. Especially in an area like this where the “everybody’s middle class now” 1990’s rhetoric doesn’t seem to have become like a cruel joke. They run for reproduction, perpetual vitality rather than exhaustion – no sunken faces around here. These woodlands look ancient, even as the noise from the continuous stream of London buses penetrates them. They may just be ancient; this land certainly hasn’t been dug up for coal at any point like most woods have nearer to home. The failure of the 90’s/00’s freshly-veneered/total immersion-capitalism seems to have never happened here. Or so it seems. London-based TV series’s from the politically-passive late 90’s/early 00’s, like Spaced, feel like they could be in their 10th series around here.”
“The demonstration’s on The Strand now. One of those iconic London streets that I have only just located after a few years of frequenting the city more than before. This is a big demo. Surely too big to be bypassed by the media’s gaze…? It’s as big as the March 2011 one, to which it was preemptively compared. But the feeling is noticeably different. My lasting memory of March 2011 was of hearing a succession of bangs, which I initially thought were some sort of explosive, only to realise that a group named the ‘Black Block’ were smashing the windows of big banks and tax-dodging corporations 200 yards ahead of us in the march. Moments after the bangs a masked young woman cut through the march procession, only to have her arm grabbed in anger by a middle-aged woman in a Unison t-shirt, who shouted “cowards! why don’t you show yourself?”. Although I had mixed feelings on what was the correct approach to counter the much rawer anticipation of systemic wounding, in hindsight I realised the angry response from the then-seemingly-more ‘pedestrian’ protest-approach, was due to the possibility that many who said they were in the Black Block were actually Agent Provocateurs, working in order to allow an aggressive police response, and to whip up hostile sentiment towards the wider demonstrations. And it worked. Only five hours later, on the train back to Wakefield/Leeds a thuggish male, part of a group of football fans on their way back home, had his hands around the neck of a blatantly-peaceful protestor, due to an argument between them, largely sparked by the football fans accusing him of complicity in “the smashing up of the windows of Topshop”, which resulted in the police boarding the train at Doncaster. I, for one, was emotionally exhausted as the tinderstick summer of 2011 drew to a close, prepared for a new world where one would be forced to take sides. The tide of society would consequently dampen this energy, and leave many of us feeling like self-aware-zombies in 2013, 2014. But perhaps the clear lack of noticeable ‘trouble’ on this comparable 2015 march isn’t a negative? Maybe something has changed, tactically; a different collective response is afoot, more based on duration?”
“The only negatives we receive are perhaps to be expected, due to being received as the march reaches the tourism/consumerism zenith of the capital. First off, we are subjected to a barrage of slurs from a man-woman-man-woman quartet of weekend ‘leisure-seekers’, with one of the women repeatedly shouting “get a life!” as they cut through the march to the opposite side of the road, with bottles of unopened rose wine in their hands. The fact that they clearly deemed it urgent to utter this to us seemed more telling than any general disagreement with the causes being marched for; beyond the initial feelings of “why didn’t I say something back to them?” was a realisation that the demo clearly caused them great discomfort. I think I can see why: when life is narrowed down to a singular romance focused in on the weekend ‘leisure-pursuit’ and all the promises of happiness, meaning, love it has appropriated, protests begin to be representative of possible huge ruptures to that shop-a-day reality. And I say this as somebody who has had this very anxiety about ruptures to those routines-of-least-pain we pave ourselves in the narrowness of the late capitalist world.
Further on, as we near Downing Street, we sense an hostility from groups of muscular young men in t-shirts. But their gesture (which seems to be one of showing solidarity with the coppers by standing in a line with arms folded in front of buildings in this zenith of nationalist value within the capital) looks almost comical, and the absurdity has not gone unnoticed by everybody I spoke to in the march. Everyone was just thinking ‘what the hell are they doing?”
“My friends head back for their respective coaches back North and rooms in London. I aim for some reflective wandering of the city until my train back later this evening (bad memories of Megabus coach journeys back from my failed attempts to study in London still haunt me). After 30 minutes trying to find somewhere to piss, I end up in Waterloo Station wishing to write expletives on the toilet walls over the lack of public toilets – my biggest pet hate of life in the over-commercialised and privatised UK city. However, due to there being a fault on the pay-in barrier and the migrant-worker toilet attendant politely letting us use them for free, I would’ve have felt bad giving him any extra cleaning up work to do. I head back out into South London, and look for the river. I always feel I need to see the river. The helicopters monitoring the protest are still hovering above. The rain begins to pelt down, but it’s the first time in my life I am carrying a waterproof jacket – a sign of age maybe? If my mood sinks now, and we’ve reached the afternoon it isn’t so alarming, it’s bearable. The Thames splashes against the walls as the rain falls. At least we/I have the river, the murky holder on plenty of secrets, that can’t quite be gentrified – it’s ours whether we are from Bermondsey or Barnsley. I have swallowed the world today; it’s the comforting calm before the potential storm caused by surrender to it all.”
“I have walked full-circle, all way down the South Bank and back toward the Bank of England from where the demo initially gathered. The rain that teemed down as the official demo petered out in Parliament Square has all but gone. Yet, this dampened, largely-depopulated area (it’s normal for it to be eerily quiet on a weekend) gives it an unwanted feeling of the aftermath of a party. After all, one common utterance the stands out about this 2015 demo is to not let it be a mere catharsis amidst the carnage. Fading momentum is a huge concern for all of us as we stare down the barrel of deterioration. However, like my weary, now semi-stumbling self, acquiring a slightly macho-self-defensive gate as I slowly begin to see the tailored shirts, suits and bow ties reemerge, as if they were hiding in burrows whilst the protest was ongoing (“it’s safe to come out and play now!”), there is no resignation, not just yet. I walk just that bit further towards the Barbican.”
“Caledonian Street – the very name alludes to a once-felt physical connection of London to the rest of this Land-mass. Unlike today, where by crossing the M25 you almost feel that you’re in a different reality where everything you’ve come to know from your stunted Yorkshire towns/cities seems to has been given the green light to proliferate, uncontrollably. Which makes it all the more strange when I hear a Barnsley/Wakefield accent (very distinct the closer you get to them, very hard to differentiate the further away you are, geographically) coming from a man on a phone outside a takeaway, across the road. The utter weariness caused by the past 2 days (emotional as much as physical) means I literally stumble into the nearest bar that looks accommodating for a man who currently looks that scruffy that going into a more ‘aspirational’ bar would be to surely give my weary self a hard time. But my stumbling attracts the attention of four men with shaved heads, one of who’s glare is not friendly as I order a drink in a red t-shirt with a sketchbook in my hand. Once I sit down, unable to avoid overhearing snippets of their conversation, it is beyond a doubt that they are part of some far-right, ultra-nationalist organisation. There’s one, big hard-looking Ray-Winston-type-cockney (who evokes an image of more physically violent UK cities, the only aspect I don’t long for in the wake of gentrifying cleansing). Then I realise that two of the blokes are Barnsley lads. Oh yes, it’s beyond a doubt; that’s definitely my mother-tongue the one in the baseball cap uses as he drunkenly slides into chanting a bloody-thirsty appraisal of St George. And on a day like this!? A day when I wanted to feel comradeship with folk from my mother-terrain, and beyond, against capitalist onslaught. But I find myself hiding my face in case it turns out they recognise it from town. As today, there was (by all accounts) a far-right demonstration planned for Barnsley town centre, preceding a town pubs-based music festival, which seems to pull together folks of left/left-of-centre sentiment in the town better than anything else since the mines closed. I wonder whether there was thus a consequential poor turn out for the far-right, and they decided to head down to London instead? Anyway, I drink up fast, as I’m reminded of how the threat of real physical violence can still quite quickly rear its head in pubs, even in an age where we are more likely to yell in solitude into our cell phones. I head back towards Kings Cross station. Bland but less chance of aggro.”
I am very happy to state that myself and John Wright have now put together a comprehensive summary of the performing of our piece Non-Stop Inertia (named after an amazing book by Ivor Southwood, which examines the “deep paralysis of thought and action” caused by the “ideologically constructed” landscape of precarity). We undertook this performance at the Espacio Gallery, in Shoreditch in January, as part of The Anti-Gallery show.
There are 3 sections to this summary:
First: the sound files and video footage of the performance, inventively merged together by John Wright; made into 3 seperate episodes.
Second: a recording of our subsequent walk around Greenwich, using ‘Greenwich degree zero’ (what the artist Rod Dickinson called his incredibly though-provoking installation) as a cradle for reflections, not just on the performance, but extending to the entirety of contemporary life, and OUR lives.
Third: (a blog I wrote in January in response to the 3 days spent in London) Reflections gathered from our performance in the Anti-Gallery Show, weekend 16,17,18, January 2015.
We hope diagnostic and remedial value of the current cultural conditions can be found from the project we have undertaken.
This text is a reflection on the performing of Non-Stop Inertia: A Stuck Record – inspired by Ivor Southwood’s book Non-Stop Inertia. Part of a wider collaborative project between myself and Leeds-based artist/curator John Wright, Non-Stop Inertia was played intermittently over a 3 day period as part of the Anti-Gallery Show, at The Espacio Gallery in Shoreditch, London. As this text deals purely with reflections during and after these 3 days, the explanation for the motives behind this ongoing work can be found here: https://johnledger.wordpress.com/2014/12/07/non-stop-inertia-a-stuck-record-the-anti-gallery-show/ . However, the writing uses other points within the 3 day period in London to talk about a larger project, in which Non-Stop Inertia is just one part.
A Psychological Experiment…
That I am in a well-and-truly-spent state the day after our Non-Stop-Inertia piece means that if it was as much a psychological experiment as it was a piece of artwork then the experiment was successful. The carefully-chosen texts we chose to read out were so fitting, but fitting within the eternal-now, ‘in the loop’ of the performance. Because the gravity of their content could as easily fall from mind as it could be put back there once there performance resumed. The content itself became looped; there was no further level of understanding. It was the poetry of a ghost trapped in the machine.
And ghosts trapped in the machine we became. Neuro-psychically electrocuted by the randomly occurring door-alarm signal, I for one can testify to the physical effect (in my manic body movements) that such internalising of the constant expectation of random interruptions can have. Certain lines read out from our texts would land in unison on the pulse-line of the subjectivation, at which point we’d look to each other as if to confer “yes, that’s what this is, exactly!”, but cognitively building on what was being said/read felt impossible due to this anticipation of interruptions. How can you build on things if you are in a perpetual state of siege?
The door alarm noise signaling our ‘calling’ to disseminate emotionally-laboured welcoming-spiel (language absent of life aimed at an absent customer) was, of course, implemented in a random-fashion by our own design. But the intention was to show how this unending anticipation of unpredictable interruptions of our thoughts is a constitutive part of contemporary life, which (we believe) is intrinsic to the inability of individuals and societies alike formulate, or even imagine, a way out of the current global cultural situation that consumes the hopes, desires and visions of alternatives with the same level of ferocity that it consumes the people and resources needed to constitute a future world full stop.
We came away from this performance with no answers to this, but this was the intention: to give poetic form to the very structures preventing us from finding the answers to the current situation. We believe that if the structures permeating contemporary life are dismissed as irrelevant to the task of building towards an alternative, then any kind of positive alternative is impossible.
No Desire to Converse
Whilst in London, myself and John Wright frequently discussed the difference between desire and drive: that, in an ‘always on’, no-future, hyper-competitive, hyper-capitalist world, desire is both short-circuited and disemboweled from drive. This leaves us trapped in a ‘nothing-left-but…’ state, where we often feel a zombie-like-entrapment to the motions of tasks, duties and habits and especially the end-game pursuit of sugary, narcotic, or sexual stimulus; that can often feel like being in a state of seizure due to inconceivability of there being anything else we can do “but pursue pleasure”. (an overly referenced section of Mark Fisher’s Capitalist Realism book, which I attempted to read out as part of the performance).
As well as the resulting post-performance-state leaving us in a state of incomprehension of what we could possibly do except going and getting alcoholically intoxicated in the city, the performance itself also functioned through pure signal-actioned drive. The words were spoken out of drive, rather than desire. This is why others who attempted to engage in the dialogue, and who weren’t used to the nature of the represented job-type to an extent that they could ‘go through the motions’ like we could, very quickly became frustrated (as was partly the intention). One of the participating artists in the Anti Gallery Show said he couldn’t see the point in trying to make conversation. What was the point of him trying to gain something from a conversation if he was to be constantly sent back to square one by the interruptions?
If we are correct in viewing this predicament as endemic in contemporary life, could it not be said that the breaking down of thought and communication to a sound bite-form isn’t merely the result of a reduction of our attention-spans caused by our immersion in cyberspace, but is actually caused by the lack of desire to engage in conversation due to the anticipation of interruptions slicing through it? We also argued that the increasingly competitive nature of contemporary life further reduces the room for conversation, because the constant sense of the self-under-siege within such a competitive world makes it seem an immediate necessity to get our point heard rather than allow the time for other points to be heard (I, for one, am very guilty of this). Indeed, what was left of our broken up conversations was used to discuss the breaking up of dialogue intrinsic to one of the largest social media platforms: Twitter.
All in all Non-Stop Inertia: A Stuck Record was successful – too successful perhaps; afterwards, the necessary walk (climb) back to Kings Cross station seemed almost daunting.
The (Un)realised Project
This inability to transcend, to get beyond the “this is so relevant!” point whilst we were reading the texts/debating perhaps makes Non-Stop Inertia:A Stuck Record pivotal to a wider sensation myself and John Wright are investigating. That, as numerically-measured time pushes onwards, and one’s skin slowly sags downwards, somehow one hasn’t merely become ‘stuck in a moment’, but that the moment has terraformed, re-landscaped the horizon so that the next step beyond this ‘stuck moment’ seems to have never even existed, and that the places that proclaim to have movement are merely just full of frenetic ghost-like actions, speeding up but going nowhere. The unending nature of the sentence I have just written embodies a unending struggle to put to sleep the ghosts that haunt me. After countless debates around this matter, myself and John Wright began an investigation, of intertwined stories (personal to me) and wider post-millennial cultural moments, that we aim to turn into a solid body of work under the umbrella title The (Un)realised Project.
Thus far it has been agreed on that one specific work, The Mary Celeste Project (The Scene of The Crash), will take centre stage within this body of work. The Mary Celeste Project (The Scene of The crash), completed in 2014, uses my own turf (post industrial areas stretching along the foothills of the Yorkshire Pennines) to examine near pasts, lost futures and dead dreams to understand the wider contemporary social condition. Focusing on two lost futures and the un-locatable present, the condition of which is largely caused by the loss of the previous, and their haunting presence. The first lost future is that of popular modernism, which died in the latter quarter of the 20th century. The second lost future being the naively optimistic early to mid-1990’s, and its utopian gaze toward the coming new millennium. The un-locatable present here refers to a specific intensification of life under digital capitalism, looking at a severe disconnection to the passing of time since the 2008 financial crisis. The Mary Celeste Project (The Scene of The Crash) is crucially inspired by my sense of a loss of narrative and of being out of time, amidst a feverishly neoliberal reality. But certain locations I spent time in prior to the beginnings of this project were crucial to reasons behind making of it.
It is clear then that specific geographical spaces are very important to this whole investigation. Thus, with the rarity of two people from northern England planning to embark on the south at the same point, it was essential we had to go another very symbolically important location: Greenwich.
So what makes Greenwich so important? We’d arrived in darkness, and the specifically-threatening-looking silver Met police cars guarding the gates put us off trying to find a way in, so we circumvented Greenwich Park wall right down to the river. One point of agreement on that walk was pivotal to the whole text I’ll write thereon after: my ‘stuck in a moment’ fixation with a 3 month (yet 3 year-long-feeling) time spent in London, unsuccessfully trying to complete an MA in Cultural Studies just down the road in New Cross, prompted John Wright to say to me (in a supportive manner, of course) that I really ought to have done the MA in Leeds (I had considered doing the MA at the University of Leeds, the institution John had recently been awarded an MA qualification at), but we both instantaneously and almost simultaneously responded by agreeing that I had to go to London; that there was something much larger and important at play.
I’ve written way too much already about the mental state I found myself in down London that forced me to leave, and the time leading up going and the time afterwards is far more crucial to the project and the reasons for the usage of my experiences within Greenwich. However, there is one crucial line explaining my state down there that activated this entire project: I believed I’d reached a total dead end, that there was nothing beyond this spell in London.
During this 3-year-disguised-as-3-month-spell, I found myself at Greenwich quite a few times (even ending up with a part time job there, just a week before finding myself back in bed in the north), finding the momentary ease under the autumnal ‘avenues all lined with trees’ an embodier of the wish for a granting of indefinite residence in a place I never really wanted to leave – “I like it here can I stay?” as the lyrics from The Smiths’ Half A Person that weaved through all other thoughts within my room in nearby New Cross.
Something had occurred here to a degree that I was finding it incredibly hard to get out of bed in morning after 15 years of habitually getting up at 7am. The years preceding had seen a building up of both foreboding and understanding of the global cultural situation, to which 2011 felt like the zenith; a clicking into place of a new reality from which we couldn’t go back. And now I was here, in the last 3rd of 2012, and it truly felt like the eye of the storm; the “that’s exactly it!” masters course (that I wanted to last forever, not 1 year of pressurised performance); the financial epicentres seen from my windows; the potential of meeting the world in a world-city; THE HEART OF DARKNESS – as it really did feel like I’d finally found it in as if in an inversion of Joseph Conrad’s novel – because, as comical as it sounds, the plentiful Megabus trips down there looking for a home were symbolic of a wider feeling of being worn right right right down into a man in search of a resting place. And, after the year 2011, there appeared to be no way of going back. And at that initial point before it all went wrong it didn’t matter that there was no way forward.
But as the London-endeavour lead on it became unavoidably clear that there was a dead end rapidly approaching. Throughout the preceding years there had been so much effort to show how entangled my inability to perceive a future for myself was with the dead end that was the endgame of the course the world was taking, to the point where I was exhausted just as it all seemed to come to a head. But as I walked around Greenwich, a place arguably unsurpassed in symbolic importance to creation of the world as we know it, to the extent that it often feels like the meridian was the first line ever laid, it became very clear to me for the first time how our ‘always on’ global capitalist culture was trapped by the past.
Greenwich is a place symbolically laden with traces of ghosts from other eras that refuse to die; a fusion of what-might-have-been’s (lost futures) and unshifting-has-been’s’ (archaic tombs that won’t close up). One that caught my attention was the Queen Elizabeth Oak, an important tree for the Tudor dynasty (a crucial period in the formation of Imperial expansion and modernity). Yet the tree is 100+ years-dead, and has laid on the floor like a wooden carcass for some years now too. Trapped under the weight of the past, with no future to speak of, the speed of life/the ‘always on’ endless labouring within the infinitely accelarating capitalist technosphere, traps us in a frenetic eternal-now epitomised by the Non Stop Inertia project. But in such a Stuck Record state, the present is also a void without a perceivable future in its wake, meaning the past, especially the near past, seeps into the void left by the unlocatable present (think of how traces of the optimistic 1990’s seem to cling to everything); impounding the pressure between the new reality demanded in the wake of 2011 and the lack of ability to be able to even think beyond the current moment. This is well and truly an hauntological state, and through my endeavouring after abandoning London to engage on a cognitive level with the South/West Yorkshire landscape I lapsed back into, these past 2 two years have been profoundly hauntological; all that has followed as felt unrealised…undead.
Connections….Always Looking for Connections…
Of course if we didn’t deem all this crucial to some wider situation we wouldn’t have embarked on the (un)realised projects investigation, nor would we have bothered taking the bus to Greenwich on a cold, dark night. The very fact that I also ‘sound like a stuck record’ on this blog now is more to do with my emotional energies smashing against 4 walls, looking for a way out, than the indulgences of dwelling in the past. Or at least this is what I tell myself. I have to tell myself this, because I am profoundly sick with the way things are, and the conviction that I am not alone means that the current direction of my work is as much as political act as the works I made in my early 20’s that dealt specifically with the threat of climate change.
The closed brackets around the ‘un’ in unrealised, was John Wright’s idea, positing it as the hope that all that is hanging around in a ghostly form will one day be realised. Using Jacques Derrida’s differentiation between an Ending of something and a Closure of something, John and I discussed how this dead-end feeling doesn’t have to be (or at least shouldn’t have to be) the end in itself, but a closure of something that allows the beginnings of another. Of course, our usage of specific geographical locations was a way of simultaneously commenting on this as both a deeply personal and deeply global cultural state. Perhaps using landscape is one of the strongest methods or articulating the fusion of two issues that would appear very distinct on a surface level?
The Utopian Never Truly Dies
As much as we felt it necessary to travel to Greenwich after our performance on the Saturday, after our final, most exhaustive, performance on the Sunday, we deemed it necessary to spend time in the Barbican complex before we set off back for the train.
There is something truly special about this place, which gets beyond the facts of why it remained like this whilst other Brutalist utopian residential schemes failed drastically; that this estate was designed for the well off, the cultural elite, and thus corners weren’t cut in its construction (nor was it fucked up socially by mass job losses), is a seperate matter to to truth of the place which is that it exists as a realisation of the utopianist society that truly could have been. This place doesn’t even seem to have been bothered by the onslaught of Thatcherism; neoliberalism seems to have been kept at the gates of this fort-like-structure, and you can imagine the same being true in long night of fascistic, repressive governance if we don’t find a way of changing the course we are on. It may be a place of the communal/the shared for those who already have their fair share, but in that it actualises elements of the ideal, it shows that they could, and should exist elsewhere.
What I like about this place is what makes me realise that as undead as I often feel, as emotionally-turned-to-stone as I regularly feel, I am still deeply utopian. Utopian is different from a Utopia; arguably Utopia can never exist, but to be Utopian is to be an idealist in life, not to accept any given reality as ‘the way it is’ – such fatalism is dangerous, and has arguably made the situation we are in profoundly worse to deal with.
The Barbican reveals traces of the utopian in the past that was left behind when neoliberal economic theory and postmodernism galvanised the TINA (there is no alternative to capitalism) reality. We sat in the canteen (the only place I know of in contemporary life where the word canteen isn’t associated undesirable eateries), and just sat, without the need for more pleasure-seeking, drink, etc – just sat. As we moved on toward the station, making a closure on this situation still felt as far off as it did before the performance, in the Barbican we did at least get a glimpse of elements of a place that could exist beyond this stuck point. This point has to be moved on from; personally speaking, I cannot stay here any longer.