This is our video documentary, crafted and produced by Connor Matheson/DEADIDEA Productions. It accompanied our recent exhibition. Please take a look.
We were all really pleased with how the works played off one another; a coherence of many preoccupations that made up the reasons for having this exhibition which addressed political pessimism, the age of disbelief, austerity and the overlooked areas of the UK.
Whilst John Wilkinson’s paintings addressed the damage done both by once worker-hungry industries, and then their disappearance in a global market economy that then told these workers to become entrepreneurs of themselves, Connor Matheson’s photography documents these very areas a generation on, a landscape with little more opportunity than call-centre dead-end jobs. The Dearne Vallery, Sheffield, Rotherham, Barnsley, Wakefield.
John Wilkinson’s paintings also deal with the post-colonial nationalism that chokes the UK’s horizons, clouding out a future that would lead us from making the same mistakes and get us out of spiraling destructive cycles. Amidst these paintings is an installation by Corinne Deakin, which, more than anything, I feel looks either like flotsam and Jetsom in-the-making or something in decay that refuses to accept it; a empire built on maritime dominance that refuses to give up its ghosts and in process drags everything else down with it.
I wanted to put works into the show that both addressed the mood of the land and looked at the geography of the area that connects up the Post-industrial Yorkshire towns intrinsic to the Fighting For Crumbs project. First off I wanted to get the poet Jonathan Butcher involved. John’s poetry is subtly political, a gritty realism and focus on the landscape he has seen community disintegration and lost futures from within. I worked with him to make a way of getting his words into an art exhibition. Growing up on Hall Road, in the Handsworth area in the eastern suburbs of Sheffield, I tried in to incorporate some of my memories of seeing the nearby Manor Estate in a state of dereliction, with the fact that the Sheffield Parkway trunk road slices Hall Road in two, to make a place for Jonathan to write his poetry that visualised community/social disintegration.
I made a installation centred around a large memory map of The West Riding of Yorkshire I undertook in 2013, mainly focussing on Barnsley, Wakefield, Leeds and Sheffield that documents the visible impacts of austerity next to feelings of confusion, frustration, alienation. I incorporated a other geographically-focused works that look at the mood of the country through the first ‘season’ of austerity, the run up to the 2015 election, and then the run up to the EU referendum. Always intent on tying together the areas where Fighting For Crumbs is based around, being held at (The exhibition continues 20+ miles north of Sheffield at the Wakefield Labour Club, ‘The Redshed’, on Saturday 13th). And I have installed some of my drawings in the somewhat smaller Redshed venue
Somewhat hidden in the corner is Rebekah Whitlam’s installation ‘Vanitas Britannia’ that talks about how the riots, kettling, protest and upheavals at the turn of the decade have been swept under a ‘handmade’ carpet of a ‘keep calm and carry on’ crafts culture, satirising the tactics of a nation that retreats into its mythical past, by playing on the morbid theme of mortality that occupies the Dutch Vanitas paintings. “As a textile artist…[Rebekah} feels a pressure of balancing a vision of socially inclusive creativity without undercutting [herself] and other artists financially.” Adding that as a craft-skilled artist it is hard not to become part of the problem when “as handmade, locally sourced business cashes in on developing the streets, financial and emotional security remains distant for their neighbours and the divide becomes increasingly widened.”
It connects up with a running narrative in the show about the gentrification of a few ‘hip’ areas in these post industrial towns to the cost of all the surrounding working class communitiess which become invisible in their struggles. The fact the there is no lighting in the room both seems to reflect the dark colours of the Vanitas paintings. and, I felt, becomes a satire on the ‘keep calm carry on’ ‘Blitz-spirit’, austerity = black outs, narrative etc etc. Just make sure the that fact the room is unlit doesn’t make you think it’s not part of the exhibition!
The exhibition doesn’t so much dwell on the past as look at the inertia of the present; the future we have forgotten in favour of ways to guide us through the day in hand. We seem to have forgotten that we need something to believe in. The world appears a place in a downward spiral of cruelty and sadness, but dead-end pleasure-seeking in a depressed landscape doesn’t quite hold its excitement for very long – it just sets in stall a pursuit of even more extreme pleasure seeking later on. Fighting for Crumbs somewhat tries to visualise a country that wake from a defeatist slumber that it perhaps doesn’t even recognise as being in.
<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>
At the Redshed, Wakefield on Saturday, 1pm onwards, we will be showing our Fighting For Crumbs documentary, which will look at all the artist involved. We will be showing the brilliant documentary Sleaford Mods – Invisible Britain, and JD Taylor will be giving a talk. JD Taylor is the Author of Negative Capitalism: Cynicism in The Neoliberal Era, and Island Story: Journeys Through Unfamiliar Britain
Images of Redshed show
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).
Dispossession: The Great Social Housing Swindle is a no holds barred, explosive feature length documentary exploring the decline and deception behind the social housing crisis in Britain. It will be directed by Paul Sng, maker of the acclaimed cinema release Sleaford Mods – Invisible Britain (2015) and the award winning film & television director Lee Skelly (BBC, Channel Four).
I have donated an original print of a new work I have made after filmmaker Paul Sng asked me if I’d like to be involved in helping support the crowdfunder for this project. This will be an A3 print of my latest work Rot_in_Silence_2016.
I am also donating a print of a drawing I did almost one year ago, in the wake of the Tory general election victory, as part of a perk for the crowdfunder that includes a selection of postcards featuring different artists supporting the project. The drawing in question is possibly one of my most pivotal to what I’ve been working on during the past year.
As part of a collective, I have embarked on a Crowdfunder project myself, in order to raise funds for an art show and documentary called ‘Fighting For Crumbs (Art in The Shadow of Neoliberal Britain) (Please read more about it here). Very much inspired and informed by Paul Sng’s last film ‘Invisible Britain’, Paul has been very supportive in helping our project get off the ground.
On the eve of last year’s UK General Election (May 7 2015, to be specific), I embarked on a reflective ramble through the villages myself and my rambling companion, Michael Hill, grew up in. I guess, in a sense, to reflect on lost dreams, lost ways, and lost futures, with an acceptably small sprinkle of nostalgia inevitably chucked in.
It was, in some sense, like testing the atmosphere. On this uncertain eve, we were using the landscapes of our childhood as a terrain to ponder upon; to think of what could be, and what might very well be, the next day – unsure if the election results would make any real difference anyway
…But they did.
This specific ramble, more than any other I’d recorded, was paying massive homage to Patrick Keiller’s London, a beautiful lament through the capital of a Tory-ruled country in the spring of 1992.
I sort of based it on the same theme, as the pivotal point in Patrick Keiller’s London is the 1992 General Election outcome. One in which the Tories were expected to lose to Labour, but one in which the narrator was force to conclude that:
It seemed there was no longer anything a Conservative government could do to vote itself out of office. …[T]he middle class in England had continued to vote Conservative because in their miserable hearts they still believed it was in there interest to do so.”
As we headed towards early night time on the kind of spring day that initially sprinkles optimism onto your horizons, a sinking feeling set in, and I knew, even before one of my mates starting messaging me a series of texts, all beginning with “fucking hell”, that, yet again, the politics of pessimism had won over.
I was recently speaking to a friend about the mood on the street on Friday 8 May, and she described it as akin to a funeral procession. Nobody celebrates a Conservative victory apart from the party itself – or so it seemed, as straight away you could sense their joy in the sadism they could now systemically inflict now they’d shook the Lib Dems off their back.
The above drawing is called Five MORE Years…, and despite it behind significantly smaller than most my other works, it is one of my most cherished. I set upon it within a day or two of the 2015 General Election outcome. Never before, and not since, have I felt my work strike such an emotional chord with those around me. I almost felt part of something, as if, through the dysphoria of the following couple of weeks, common ground appeared between far more people than I expected, making our political differences seem tiny.
It occurred to me how much a political change would have to rely on a mood in society, its spirit even, for people to get involved en mass. Because in the ‘miserable old man of Europe’ (Britain), every now and then there’s a sense that it doesn’t have to be so miserable here.
I have been caught within a depressed framing of the world for most of my adult life, and although I accept that changing is something only I can do, the times when it has felt truly possible to leave this framing behind are when I’ve sensed the opening for the possibility of a social change, a two-way-process so-to-speak. I described it in Lost Bus Routes and Pre-General Election Rambles like a plant in a desert that only flowers once a generation. After a rather turbulent beginning to 2015, I found this feeling on on the early eve of May 7.
I just hope it doesn’t take a generation to find it again…
The above link is for the current exhibition I am involved in making happen. Fighting For Crumbs (Art in Shadow of Neoliberal Britain) is an attempt of artists to take an honest look at the depressed spirit of Britain. It has been informed by life in 2015, the glimmers of a different type of world, and the dampening of many of those glimmers. I guess we are looking at how the spirit could be changed, before it gets too late.
Please take a moment to check it out.
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)
I’ve been on and off with the idea for this piece of work for almost 2 years now, with the initial idea for a work called Debtland coming to mind traveling to Leeds via train on a cold February night I 2014. So I’m glad I finally got around to putting it all together. Sometimes the ideas for my drawings are instantaneously in the right place, and I get on with making them straight away. Pieces such as Debtland sort of grow into so etching worthwhile in the background for a year or so.
Debtland (2015, 110X77cm, mixed media on paper)