This is only the 2nd large scale work I’ve produced outside the Barnsley district in the 10 years I’ve been making them; the Planet’s Mental Illness (worked on intensely in a New Cross hall of residence) being the other. 6 to 7 years ago I would have felt it necessary to try explaining what this work is about. In UK2015, I don’t feel it necessary.
THE LONG NIGHT OF A NEEDLESS STORM (2015, mixed media on paper, 125x100cm)
100 years ago war finally broke out between the dominant empires and rising empires of the day. In Britain, war with Germany had been a much-expected, anxiously-anticipated reality right through the 20th century years leading up to 1914 (and these feelings were probably mutual within Germany). Then, one day, it ceased to be a looming threat, and people found themselves actually living through it.
Through the 21st century years leading up to 2014, another kind of pending catastrophe has loomed over our heads, nestling in the back of our minds. “What are we going when climate change begins?” is what you can almost see people silently thinking to themselves. Suddenly we have awoken to find ourselves living through it; climate change is now. The voices in which we place our trust in telling us ‘what’s happening out there’ – news reporters, train station tannoy announcers – are repeating the words “extreme weather” or “adverse conditions” with an increasing frequency. However, it should no longer be seen as being ‘adverse’: this is it; this is the way it is going to be now.
Of course, it has been the reality in other countries, poorer countries in the global south, for some years previous; but over here, although it was on our television screens, and we knew it was happening, we never actually believed it was happening. The belief system/the dominant ideology was still functioning without cracks in its force-field. Because we largely kept the feelings about a looming terror to ourselves, we didn’t realise that everybody else was probably having very similar thoughts; and the mainstream media would report on the environment like an innocent that knew what had just occurred, but without the ability to relate it other occurrences and thus report on why it had occurred. This is what the theorist Slavoj Žižek using the ideas of psychoanalysist Jaques Lacan, refers to as ‘the big other’. ‘The big other’ is an ideological function, where any given individual believes that the other (everybody else) is thinking the opposite. Thus, distrusting our own thoughts, what we believe (as opposed to what we know) remains in line with what we think everybody else believes – “surely catastrophic climate change can’t really happen to us?”. But Žižek reminds us that ‘the big other’ does not exist. This year, right here in Britain, climate change suddenly seems very real indeed – ‘the big other’ doesn’t exist.
Something seems wholly different about the world when we step out of our ‘private bunkers’ and onto the streets. It suddenly comes to be recognised as a submerged world. Both literally, as the flood waters show no sign of residing (“will the floods ever leave now?”), and also as an analogy for a world that is suddenly so heavy with ominous anticipation for what may happen from one second to the next. Is there any light left in a submerged world for a soundtrack to run through your head? If so then it is by the artist Burial, the music of exhaustion, let down and loss; people’s heads weighing heavy as they make their way through storm-ravaged city streets. All other music, anger or anxiety-driven, now remains in the anticipatory, but not lived-reality of yesterday’s world.
Societies will adapt when there’s no choice, that’s for sure (or the ruling class, and its state apparatus, who stand in the way of adaptation would find itself at war with the rest of country), but whether individuals within that society are able to adapt psychologically to a new reality remains to be seen. According to Alt Sheffield, in an article in the city-based Now Then magazine about the necessity of growing as much food as possible within a city’s borough: “Britain has only about 3 days’ supply of food at any given time”. But it encouragingly says that “the community-level social interaction of allotments can dramatically improve peoples lives”.
This is just one example of many potential ways in which society would have to adapt. However, I think it remains to be seen whether individuals within a society would find a new reality more fulfilling (where we would have a society with a similar level of well-being to the often-mentioned high level of well-being brought about the necessity of communities pulling together during the big wars of the past) or whether society would be a landscape of beaten people, entombed in a state of painful disappointment and loss; people who had been mentally wired-up with the mores of what Jodi Dean calls ‘communicative capitalism’, who just cannot transcend the dreamscape that’s been fed into them. This dreamscape is part of an ‘anxiety package’ of drives that keep capitalism legitimate. The package includes acute unhappiness with the way things are, but the unhappiness often becomes a perverse enjoyment from inside the window of the western belief system, and may struggle to deal with itself with the coming collapse of this belief system. This will collapse happen; but it just remains to be seen whether or not there will be a catastrophic reaction caused by this within many peoples’ lives – what Franco Berardi calls a ‘psychic timebomb’.
All this remains to be seen, and will be seen. Because what is so clear now is that we cannot go back to yesterday’s world.
The sky is that kind of colour that seems to saturate everything with lifelessness. The kind of day when moving from one metaphysical bubble to another is very much advisable. Even better if you can drape these bubbles in enough shiny stuff as to make convince others that they are desirable places to inhabit. I suppose you lose a little dignity when you cannot do this at all; when the only thing that has colour on such days are the billboards/bus-stop-poster adverts that show a glamour that is seemingly always just out of reach.
Stuck in a room with no reachable community (in areas drained of community), where everything sociable requires purchasing power in order to be reached, in a country of people who have been told time again that the world has ended and that their own lives are now all that matters. So I step outside, with just enough money to catch the only bus out of this village to a nearby gallery – my mind needs it easier today, it’s not a day for staring into the abyss whilst sat in it.
I glance at the young people of this village, hanging around the top shop. A village that offers them nothing but street corners and empty roads to scoot down. They have reached that age when society slowly begins to humiliate them; slowly begins to wear the hopes and dreams down that it helped manufacture in the mind with orgies of images of glamour, the good life, and excitement. It now leaves them to stagnate in grey, underserviced housing estates. Of course they will look for distractions/sugary bursts that can help humour or keep in limbo those slowly-dissapearing hopes and dreams, and who can blame them when it turns into acts that are deemed as anti-social?
To suddenly see yourself as you truly are – socially trapped, with few prospects/a person well down the chart on the all-important ‘who’s-who’ list – must be one of the worst assaults possible on that necessary ego one needs, in this ocean of egos. Perhaps, at this point in time, now I find myself unemployed and lumped back in my parents’ house on the outskirts of an already-neglected town (after a failed attempt to move somewhere else), I realise the difficulty in retaining one’s dignity and a sense of self-worth, and not feeling humiliated whenever seeing other human beings who seem to be faring better. An immense amount of energy and mental strenth is required to maintain well-being and ignore the omnipresent signs that tell you you are worthless and a ‘loser’.
Everything that could have been done to make places more pleasant holes to exist in, everything that could have been done to create an environment that gives meaning and well-being to people has been shit on from a great height by the rights of free enterprise and private property. You either become somebody who is constantly in need of distraction (who have probably now become Facebook/text message addicts), somebody who has a skin as thick as a crocodile’s, or both. There is no real future that one is able to plan for.
Think of the 1960’s film, and cult-classic Kez (situated within the same borough as the village described, and culturally not as far apart as one would expect due to the amount that has changed since the production of the film). The protagonist, Billy Casper, enters the careers/jobs office at the Comprehensive school he attends. He is a young man who has sought constant distraction from his grim existence, to the extent that he cannot apply himself to anything – well, until he pets the Kestrel he names Kez, which gives him a meaning and freedom to life, only for it to be cruely destroyed by the culture he is trapped in. In the interview he cannot think of one job he would like to do; he obviously doesn’t have the capacity and strength to think this far-ahead. All he has in his mind is a desire to get out of that room as soon as possible, and get on with whatever gets him through each day, one by one.
To realise one’s true conditions of existence is, for many, a moment of sheer humiliation, followed by fear. One instead has to constantly spin the plate/keeping in balance the feeling that you “are the man, I am man”, whilst clearly knowing that they have been, by and large, sidelined by society. The best description I heard of the effect of the current government slashing of welfare is one of humiliation; as things get worse and worse, more and more will find it harder to maintain their dignity and a sense of self-worth. Within these coming years we are sure to witness extremities of all reactions to such humiliation; more riots, more drink and drug problems, more acts of random violence, more tribalism, more talent shows providing slim chances of success to ever-more desperate people, prepared to be in ever-more humiliating productions just for an end to the long humiliation.
It isn’t possible to look away from this, and these grey days demand of us that we see the world minus the ideological-enhancement-of our real conditions such distractions help maintain.
“The Show Must Go On!”, 120X80cm, biro on paper
“We must get capitalism back on track! The show must go on!” Who is saying this?
Whenever ‘growth’ is mentioned, in talk about when this recession will lift, it is seen as an absolute good. However, economic growth means growth in construction and expansion. Expansion needs space and resources, but everybody who has taken the time to think about this, knows that the earth, our only home, simply doesn’t have the resources or space to support more growth, without using up all the natural environment, leaving us with no food to eat and no air to breathe – enough said.
Who is encouraging growth and why?
This piece may look more like a medieval depiction of Hell, but the ideas are firmly based on the present. ‘The show must go on’ portrays the final outcome of humanity, if it carries on under this corporate Capitalist system, consuming way too much of the Earths remaining resources, leading to environmental catastrophe and war between nations competing for the limited supplies. All, except the rich elite who may buy their way out of disaster zones, are sleep walking into an inferno.
I have always portrayed the ‘rich elite’ as baby birds sat on a nest of money, ruthlessly competitive for as much as they can get, kicking smaller and weaker ones out of the nest, so that they can have all. They point the way up the stairway.
The law enforcers blindly obey the system, and only have eyes for making sure the system runs smoothly. I portray them as ‘surveillance beings’, nothing but cameras, monitoring the masses for the benefit of the powerful.
The rest of us are too trapped by time and our need for a wage to buy the essentials that are not available in any other way, to do anything but follow ‘the route’. There’s no room for a worthwhile debate on alternatives, there’s no room to act on our questioning of ‘where this is all going’. All we can do is drape ourselves in fashion accessories and do our best to express our individuality through the limited range of consumer produce. We may have concerns about where the system, thirsty for resources is going but we also feel lucky to live a relatively comfortable life.
This life is NOT available to all. In the ditches of this image, is a World purposefully out of view from the ‘consumers’, who occupy the clean stairway. Here lies the first World homeless and underclass, and also the Third World, ravaged by war, deliberately obscured from sight by the powers that benefit from an unequal World.
Here, the law enforcers appear again, only this time their methods are more violent, watching out and suppressing anyone and anything that stands in the way of Capitalism. Conflict over remaining resources and environmental disaster, hits here first, but it will also hit the first World sooner or later.
The resulting, long term effects of ‘getting Capitalism back on track’, to the production level of the past 2 decades (and more) would mean certain death for millions, possibly billions of people, from various outcomes brought on by a sickened planet. Of course, all this writing is very biased to my own views, and I know that I too am in no way a leader in sustainable living, but the presence of a certainty that ‘something isn’t quite right with all this’ persists within me, with every thought and action I take.
I want to live under system where I do not have to be wasteful when I need food and drink, a system where the idea of buying better clothes and other material gains isn’t directly linked with having a better life and being a better person. A system I can live under, where I can wake up in the morning, without the constant, niggling thoughts of ‘how long do we have until all this starts to collapse?’.
Though I have plentiful reason to believe that rampant consumerism on a sickened planet has rendered my person incapable of doing anything but expressing protest through artwork, the fact that I have energy to create work shows that I still have hope that our species can turn itself around from its collision course with both itself and planet Earth.
One has to believe that a fairer and more sustainable system will be born out of an adaptation which forces us to respect the Earth, and each other, more. One day, perhaps the ‘us and them’ could be better used to label the difference between a fierce patriot and a humanist, rather than the divide between rich and poor.
Also, I must add that my artwork is completely useless if people look at it and do not see themselves in these ‘landscapes of people’. We have to believe humanity can find a better way, Capitalism cannot work on a crowded planet, and the idea of the individual in a Consumer society is false, the chain stores and the commercialisation of television are making us less individual.