Here are photographs of my exhibition ‘Under Digital Rain’, curated by John Wright. Held at the Bowery Gallery, Headingley, Leeds, it runs until 29th July.
Gallery opening times
Monday – Saturday 10:00 – 18:00
Sunday 10:00 – 17:00
54 Otley Road
The World-Wide Oneupmanship (2016, 8X4ft, mixed media on paper)
Title of work below: £$[We]€$[Can’t]$£[Take]£€[Any]$€[More!!]$£ (2016)
Titles of works in image below (from left to right): Gimme Shelter [Closure No1] (2015); The Self[ie] Under Siege (2015); “Sad, LONELY, Frightened” (2015); Drainage System (2016); Tired of Life/I Want to Leave Myself [Closure No2] (2016); NoteToSelf2016; The Capacity to Care (Closure No5) (2016); A Cognitive Austerity (2015); A Deep Paralysis (2016); Hunger Games Darwinism (2016); Bound up in Binary (2016); “Can We Stop now, Please?”; I am Becoming Nothing (Closure No3) (2015).
The World-Wide Oneupmanship (2016, 8X4ft, mixed media on paper)
It’s pretty unlikely I’ll get anything else done this year now, as I’ve hit my New Year-period wall prematurely, from which I can never imagine the possibility of making anything new again – until I make something new again. Perhaps I do my own yearly roundups because I somehow feel that I’m unjustifiably forgotten about. When I regain my bearings from the egotistical gravel pit, I recognise that it’s likely over 90% of us feel this way. But all the same, no choice but to play The Game.
So here’s a list, in a more or chronological order, of the best bits of what I have done in 2015; and believe me, there’s a lot of bits I’d rather regret. Regarding the visual works, I feel THE LONG NIGHT OF A NEEDLESS STORM is my strongest piece, both in visuals and title, it’s the best attempt I’ve made all year of interlinking all the problems of today indirectly back to the dominant political agenda.
Not Humanly Possible (A4, ink on paper)
A Cognitive Austerity (A4, ink on paper)
Five MORE Years… (A4, ink on paper)
“Hardworking Tax-payers, Inconvenienced” (A4, ink on paper)
Pain is Barred an Outlet (A4, ink on paper)
“Sad, LONELY, Frightened” (A4, ink on paper)
Everybody’s Fracking (95X130cm, mixed media on paper)
The Self [ie] Under Siege (A4, mixed media on paper)
“Can We Stop Now, Please?” (A4, mixed media on paper)
Debtland (2015, 110X77cm, mixed media on paper)
Artwork for Wear Your Band T-shirt to Work Day (explanation here)
Sounds that made up my year…
“the rotten soil of nowhere land”
Zomby – Where Were U in 92′
Real McCoy – Runaway (Tory election victory-sting-soother)
The Fall – Frightened
New Order – The Village
Goat – Let it Bleed/Gathering of Ancient Tribes
Sleaford Mods – Double Diamond
Wu Tang Clan – C.R.E.A.M
Sleaford Mods – Mcflurry
Sleaford Mods – Jobseeker
Sleaford Mods – Tied up in Notts
DMS – vengeance
Sleaford Mods – Teacher Faces Porn Charges
Rufige Kru – Menace
Congress – 40 Miles
Chumbawumba – Tubthumping
Sonz of a Loop Da Loop Era – Far Out
The Chameleons – Don’t Fall/Second Skin – (again)
Am I currently working on a drawing called The long Night of a Needless Storm which I wanted to be ready to show now, but it isn’t and I don’t like showing incomplete works, so here is the rest of the psycho-bile-build-up from the past 5 years. I for one cannot endure another 5 years like this.
“…GIVE ME A BREAK!?!!..”
A Privatised Implosion (2014, A4, Ink on paper)
The Index For Child Well-being (2011, mixed media on paper, 100X100cm)
I Want None of This (2011, mixed media on paper, 180X105cm)
A Psychic Timebomb (2013, mixed media on paper)
Achieving and getting Things Done (Installation, Sheffield 2011)
In The City… (2011, ballpoint pen on paper, 115X100cm)
Just The Noise… (2014 exhibition flyer)
The Planet’s Mental Illness (2012, ballpoint pen on paper, 105X150cm)
…Coils Tightening (2014, mixed media on paper, 100X125cm)
A Cognitive Austerity (2015, ink on paper, A4)
Untitled (2014, ink on paper, A4)
Mind Camp (2013, mixed media on paper, 105x155cm)
Disintegration (2013, A4, mixed media on paper)
Feverish (2014, ballpoint pen on paper, 135x95cm)
Untitled (2013, ink on paper, A4)
Not Humanly Possible (2015, ink on paper, A4)
The Place of Dead Ends (2013, mixed media on paper, 100x125cm)
Hyper-Malaise (2014, ink on paper)
Global Ghetto, 2045, Marks The Centenary of The Defeat of Fascism (2010/11, 105X140, ballpoint pen on paper)
Whilst We Were in The Eternal Now... (2014, mixed media on paper, 95X125cm)
The Mary Celeste Project [The Scene of The Crash] (2014, video)
…the most valued stuff that I spent my life on during the months from January to December. I’d love to be able to announce an ambiguity to the numbers that dominate our society, but I am a self-confessed walking hourglass of a human, who watches the passing of years with sad eagle eyes. Anyway, what makes me feel more brighter is looking at what I’ve done from within this socially-constructed perception of time… I don’t even want to think about 2015 right now.
Progress… (100X150cm, ballpoint pen on paper)
A Privatised Implosion (21X28cm, ink on paper)
Just The Noise… (exhibition)
Whilst We Were All In The Eternal Now…. (ballpoint pen and collage on paper, 95X125cm)
Untitled (ink on paper)
The Mary Celeste project (The Scene of The Crash) video-work
Feverish (ballpoint pen on paper, 90X140cm)
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.
That my life doesn’t seem to grow and change is because time itself doesn’t seem to move things on anymore.
Oh yes, things change, but it’s as if the entire world is speeding up its exchanging and obtaining of things already bygone. And when all that happens is that things are circulated faster and faster, little of it seems to have any substance. When one thinks of our present time and what could be seen as new, one thinks of applications, social-media sites; they don’t bring anything new into the world they just stretch out and speed up the circulation of everything that’s already happened in our civilisation (recent technological advances merely turn the world into one giant tin of old photo’s, and all we do as a culture now is constantly browse that tin).
I have never found myself able to allow myself to leave my teenage physique and demeanor behind. Reality would show that I have left it behind, but it doesn’t stop the need to maintain what has already gone.I cling to a past that retroactively becomes more and more massive, as a future never seems conceivable. The more I speak to others (although it is played out in different ways) the more I realised it wasn’t specific to myself.
That I make sure that I can still fit into (some) size 30 waist jeans is merely reflective of a culture that continuously makes sure it can still riff on the past. According to The independent newspaper, the United Kingdom, in terms of soft power (or cultural capital) is ranked as the most influential nation in the world, and if there was ever a nation that has continuously managed to riff on its past (whether the royal spectacles or re-hashes of the same British rock group formula every 5 or so years) it’s the United Kingdom.
+We are trapped in a cultural logic that believes nothing can be done to shape and make a new world. Because of this we are held to ransom by the logic of a system that told us its world is the only world. Our culture has nowhere to turn, and as this systemic logic brings the world into farce, we look further and further backwards, in order to grasp something that we feel we can control, in order to stay sane.
I would speculate that with every crisis the capitalist system has produced this side of the year 2000 that it further entrenches this immersion in things of the past (albeit with modern devices that we rarely try to rationalise). The legitimacy of the system has been smashed by farce after farce; we know we it is failing us, but we cannot perceive away around it, so our world is built out of a past that we can control and predict.
Because we can’t face up to the present, or even acknowledge it, time feels out of joint. This disjunction between time and our experience can be unnervingly evident in the aftermath of the 2008 financial crisis. Dotted around every urban settlement up and down the U.K are, what I call, ‘Mary Celeste‘ Developments; never completed housing estates, barred off by metal barriers, and skeletal structures which are frozen in their foetal position. Precisely because we are culturally unable to face up to the present, we usually walk past these spaces and instantly forget about them. But if we make a conscious effort to observe them we are confronted with the disconcerting fact the the financial crisis began half a decade ago, when it doesn’t feel long ago at all. It only feels like it happened a few weeks back, and everything at these construction sites stands, waiting to resume business, as if it were only a temporary blip.
Because we have found ourselves at our cultural dead end (or at least at a blockage in the pipelines of time) the world hasn’t been able to come to terms with the truth that the world has been irreversibly changed from that day on. We can’t really picture the world as it actually is, now, because it gives us the sensation of already being dead, and having an after-death experience. So we wait for things to return to as they were; we wait and wait, and only rarely realise just how much time we have spent waiting.
It’s like we are the new Pompeii, but haven’t realised that we’ve been turned to stone and burried by the normal functioning of time. At times when we can passively flow through this world, without observing or experiencing the world-wide suffering that confirms that the world is still alive, one can be forgiven for at least imagining that the end of the world has already occurred, that we are literally spectres going through the motions unaware of being so, like the fate of the Characters in the film The Others, who do not realise that they are the ghosts haunting the living.
More people now dress like people from the past than the people who lived in them time-periods did. People in the 1960’s thought we’d be walking around in space-suits, but we actually walk around looking more like them than they did. More 1960’s than the 1960’s; more 1980’s than the 1980’s; we are more or less living in a simulation of the past, which helps keep us blind to ‘the desert of the Real’. This is the world of simulcra/hyperreality, understood well by the philosopher Jean Baudrillard in the 80’s and 90’s. Yet he makes it somewhat fantastical/exciting to read; it doesn’t feel like the bleak haunted house our post-recession culture occupies. The ghosts of the past are running out of energy just as we crave them the most; the music/pub/night-out scene which embalmed our culture with cheap drink is now often the arena where you feel most like you’re in spaces haunted by their past (empty pubs).
On a personal level, my predicament could be clumsily described by the previous generation as that of somebody who is “30 going on 18”, but the situation is far more serious. Much of the previous generation often refuse to acknowledge the reasons for this cultural inertia, because they grew up in a time when culture burst forward faster than anything before, only to exhaust itself in the form of tragic endings for many young pop icons. I have to ask myself whether I will be still heading to the “indie music” bars, not knowing where else to go, when I’m pushing 40. Experience of my past ten years, living in a culture that turned up the volume on its IPod every time news arrived of another crisis/catastrophe, is that doing so may be a necessary coping-method.
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The piece is called ‘Who would want listen to this?’ because such big threats of an ecological collapse which would cause unimaginable disruption and destruction are often too frightening for us to think about (only previously seen by our eyes on cinema screens), so instead we pretend that ‘someone will sort it for us when push comes to shove’ or we even coax ourselves into believing that it can’t actually be happening (I’ve heard people, who once agreed that climate change was being caused by humans, go back on themselves saying ‘how can one species do so much damage to such a big planet?’ – comforting lies). We would rather not listen to it when a friend in our company starts talking about it, or when it is on the TV.
But we are not to blame for feeling so powerless to do anything.
As well as causing this problem, the human system of capitalism makes it seem impossible for us to do anything to stop climate change. It relies on competition between the most powerful nations in the world, rather than cooperation. And these nations are sewn together with the biggest corporations in the world; and corporations, by and large, don’t want us thinking that things such as climate change are happening, because to take any action to stop it would be bad for their business. And being the richest most powerful in the world, they get their way. As things stand THEY are in control of the direction the human world takes.
So we feel powerless, and try to focus on smaller thing instead, we try to forget. Climate change just adds more and more weight to the feeling that everything is out of control and feelings of powerlessness to do anything about it, which is the reality of living under the global capitalist system. So focussing on smaller things, focussing on how to get through life, day to day, in the most bearable way is what most of us find is the only thing we can do.
In the drawing every figure is wearing headphones. This relates to trying to block out the sound of things that are upsetting to us. It also relates a lot to the living in a time where we have access to so much technology to keep us entertained, or distracted, from the real world. I have mixed feelings about technology; I think what the internet offers to us as a species is amazing, and it could be said to be one of the greatest inventions ever. Yet accessories such as mobile phones, Facebook can throw us into a continuous detachment from what’s really happening in the world around us, distracting us, as we are constantly in trying to get other people to speak to us and like us through them, as the popularity of these accessories means people are increasingly alone, communicating from box rooms and lonely bus rides, and lonely people feel insecure and continually seek company. These figures, who are blocking their eyes to the problems around them, aren’t bad people, but are finding themselves more and more consumed in a technological world, that promises so much but never really fulfils.
The people behind the speaking booth-like things are the political/capitalist class. They are equally wired up, with head phones, communicating through cyberspace. They believe in the fantasy that capitalist ‘growth’ can go on forever, and they chase growth like addicts, smiling with Cheshire cat grins when they say the word ‘growth’. They are ‘supposed’ to be the people to lead the citizens to safety and better lives, but they are desperately clinging on to hopes that become more impossible every day. Feeling powerless, we leave it to leaders of governments and capitalism to guide us, but they are even more detached from the real world than everybody else, and they guide us towards a dangerous future. The need for distraction and denial of the truth keeps growing.
I wanted the entire landscape to look like a rock in an empty space, a bit like planet earth in space. But I want this rock to look to have a similarity to a human hand; a human hand that is veering into the dark, into a void, into non-existence. The closer one gets to the fingertips of the hand, the more the landscape is being destroyed, being torn to pieces. This represents two different moments in time; the moment which are at now, when it is the poorest people in the world who suffer the most from the effects of climate change, largely caused by the richest parts of the world (and the most power institutions which come from these places), and a future moment when this becomes the reality for all of humanity, if we don’t change course – direct the human hand away from its route into non-existence.