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.
As part of ‘Will The Last Person To Leave The 20th Century Please Turn off The Lights?’, The Retro Bar at the End of the Universe presents ‘Writings From HMS Brexit’: a ‘live’ performance.
Myself, poet Jonathan Butcher, and the writer JD Taylor (author of Island Story: Journeys around unfamiliar Britain) have made spoken word pieces for the event to be held this weekend – the voice of Merepseud, hauntological diarist, and former resident of nearby Shipley, may well be heard also.
The location is a disused pub, looking back over a dislocating time; an erosion of time and place; a vacuum filled by unfulfilled ghosts from the past. Always in homage to the late cultural theorist Mark Fisher, this series of prose speeches is strange due to the absence of the speakers. Only their half-finished endeavors will be visible; half finished pints and coats flung over the seats – as they proceed to dissect a body that has become to be known as ‘Brexit Britain’.
The events are on Friday 6-11pm.
Below is a map that shows easy access, via footpath, from the station to our event!!
Here’s a selection of images of the art and exhibitions I did this year, and links to best blogs I’ve written. This year has largely been occupied by a large collective project called ‘Fighting for Crumbs (Art in The Shadow of Neoliberal Britain) – for which you can see our documentary, produced by DEADIDEA on the video section of this website; an intensive exhibition early in the year called ‘Under Digital Rain’, and on-going work for the collective ‘The Retro Bar at The End of The Universe’. I feel there’s enough content within the writing and art itself to save me having to sum up 2016 both on a personal and worldly level.
List of written work, including writings for The Retro Bar at The End of The Universe
I’ve finally finished reading JD Taylor’s brick of a book ‘Island Story: Journeys Through Unfamiliar Britain’ published by Repeater Books. Admittedly I missed most of the section on Scotland, due to a large pen leak defacing most of the section – but there again, being a visual artist, who carries everything he needs even when he makes a short journey means rucksack spillages happen against best intentions. But I read most of this 450 page brick (although it’s probably more fitting to liken it to a piece of sedimentary stone, carbon dated to the British Isles in the second decade of the 21st century), and although it’s a large book, it’s pleasurable reading.
I started following JD Taylor’s blog after taking an interest reading his 2012 book ‘Negative Capitalism’, published by Zero Books. In 2014 I realised he’d been undertaking the sort of project that had become close to my heart in the last few years: assessing the social spirit of the times by traveling the land, and getting close as possible sense of what it feels like to live in the towns and cities of this country. I caught up with the blog literally just after he had posted about traveling through the area from where I was reading the post! And I was intrigued by what he was saying from then onwards.
JD Taylor didn’t go around the Island telling folk what was and wasn’t, he actually listened to what they had to say. Listening isn’t an easy thing to do, and I’m as bad as the next person for making interruptions before somebody has finished a sentence. I don’t think it’s ever been easy to sit down and let somebody else explain how they see and feel about the world, but certainly not in times where there is an intense social pressure to compete against each other for economic survival. Listening thus requires our want for empathy to win over our gut feelings to get our opinion over before others can. But for those wishing for a future beyond the current inertia, telling rather than listening possibly entrenches the necessary one-upmanship of a social model based around scarcity.
I asked JD Taylor to come speak at a recent art and film project I was involved in undertaking. ‘Fighting For Crumbs (Art in The Shadow of Neoliberal Britain)’ was somewhat a response to being asked to show my artwork in the Wakefield Labour Club (commonly known as ‘The Redshed’) as part of its 50th anniversary events. I’m not in the habit of carelessly flinging works up on walls, and I was keen to do something that spoke of the political mood and social spirit of these times, to contrast with what my friend, and Redshed stalwart, Sandra Huthinson, said was the spirit of 1966; one of political optimism, in spite of the troubles in the world. Taylor seemed not only to speak for the same generation as my own, but I thought his findings upon the roads of this island were closely in tune with the aims of our project. I’ve never asked a writer to speak at an event before so it was an initially daunting task, but thankfully Taylor seemed more than happy to take part, and it became part of a larger tour promoting his book.
Within the island-round journey taken his book unearths forgotten uprisings to challenge the assumption that our collective story is one of putting up and shutting up. There’s a disconnect between Here and There, that seems to become an Us and Them. As a northerner there’s a tendency think we are the worst treat by the powers that be, with the locus being London. This isn’t an unreasonable feeling, especially when looking at the half-century’s worth of diabolical infrastructural neglect over this region. But it’s not necessarily true, and Taylor’s accounts of Kent, as he comes to the end of his travels, leave me quite moved. As it seems that many of the people populating a county most think of as England’s green and pleasant land are as struggling and confused as anywhere else on the island – possibly even more so due to lacking a strength through identity that still gives many in other regions spoons full of spirit every now and then.
The overall conclusion in Island Story is a sense of confusion but mostly defeat. I think he’s on the pulse when saying “young people are worst affected by the peculiar “nowhereness” of the moment” – I’ve heard this misdirected into a sense of personal failure in many who were traveling through their teens and twenties especially since the financial crash. However, the conclusion is not one of eternal defeat. Aren’t many of us more punch-drunk optimists than pessimists? One section of his conclusion particularly stirs my damaged optimism. Taylor says that
“this sense of inertia and in-betweeness suggests the accruement of desiring energies around the block. Gathering force yet unable to release, time is slowing into one interminable moment before the extraordinary happens, what few considered possible even a few moments before.”
Whether this is a good sum up of this great book, or more of a means of thanking JD Taylor for speaking at our Fighting For Crumbs event, I’d strongly recommend this book to both my like-minded friends, and my not-so-like-minded friends – after all, the conclusion I hope the book gives you is that wherever we are we all more or less desire and worry about the same things in life.
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).
Just a few thoughts on JD Taylor’s article Spent: capitalism’s growing problem with anxiety. It’s anything but a comphrensive analysis. But I thought it best these small notes being shared rather than being forgotten about, as so many of my notes/thoughts-on essays do.
Spent: capitalism’s growing problem with anxiety is all incredibly agreeable; along with Mark Fisher he puts the issue of the mental illness epidemic right at the door of neoliberal financial capitalism. But there was one particular part, under the subtitle Anxiety Machines that generated the “yeah-I’m-glad-someone-else-thinks-this” reaction in my head.
A rise in the cases of allergies, and obsessive compulsive disorders over the past half decade. Yes, I’ve been keeping a eye-that-often-wishes-it-could-be-blind on this too. A Psychosomatic whirlwind, where fakery and truth are no longer discernable – neoliberal financial capitalism makes us anxiety machines.
“These might all be conditions of modern life: rates of allergies like hayfever and eczema in the UK population have risen to 44% in 2010, whilst rates of depression have similarly soared. Rising recorded levels of these ailments may signal a greater awareness and ability to self-diagnose these conditions, one could argue; but this alone doesn’t sufficiently explain why anxiety disorders began rising first of all. Anxiety and fear are psychological marks of domination in all social structures, but a specific anxiety and fear emerges in financial capitalism through the accelerating demands and pressures of working and living in the neoliberal era. Greater insecurity in the workplace or school leads to an intensification of individual failure that is also manifested in the growing trend of bullying, which further reinforces the cycle of stress, depression and suicide. I think this insecurity is also expressed through the very media used to communicate and function in everyday life. By this I mean the intensification of information technologies into domestic and personal life, what Paul Virilio calls a ‘tele-present’ world. From home computing for leisure, to the Internet, hand-held communication devices, and social networking sites, in the last two decades there has been an unprecedented intensification of technologies that continuously connect users to hyperactive news streams and a disembodied form of social interaction, whose psychosocial norms deserves deeper analysis.” JD Taylor.
If one could describe neoliberalism as a project, could it not be described as the darkest of psychological experiments imposed on a human being? Seriously, imagine a participant in a scientific experiment, (perhaps an adult from the 1950’s/1960’s) donning head-gear that simulates a neoliberal society, perhaps inducing an accelerated state (like in a dream) so that they feel acclimatized to it in no time at all. Then, is it not entirely plausible to imagine their body language changing, with an increase in nervous twitches, an increase in anxious self-analysing and diagnosing? Take a look around you (and a long look at your own habits), is not the case that in workplaces, city streets, and on the social media interface, that there has been a sharp increase in anxiety-ridden behaviour in the past half decade since neoliberalism was ‘doubled-up’ in response to its dramatic failure?
Is the sharp rise due to this double-dosage? Or is it just one part in a revving up of the then less-intense general problems of pre-crash neoliberalism, that most of us (if we’re truthful) thought would go away, as we used to feel about climate change, and the stop-start-stop-start escape from low paid jobs that Ivor Southwood termed ‘Non-Stop inertia‘? Come-what-may, I think it is wise not to dismiss anyone in our lives who seem to be ensnared by life-restricting issues as ‘moaners’, ‘pessimists’ or even ‘fakers’; I think that where we stand right now, we can all potentially be classed as sufferers of mental disorders without any wild exaggerations. As I said above, just look around, and give yourself a long hard look.