Dead Ethics Hysteria (2017, 125X95cm, mixed media on paper)
The driving force behind the direction of works like Dead Ethics Hysteria has its roots in a cold winter almost 7 years back.
I remember my anticipations of the ‘austere age’ as we entered the winter of 2010. Back then my head was lead-lined with heavy expectations of imminent ecological collapse, peak oil, and freak weather patterns as a pending normality. The freezing snowstorms of that winter were close to confirming these expectations as if we were, at that point, breaking into a new horizon.
But it never really felt like we broke into that horizon. Of course I’m fully aware of the growing evidence to show how human-made climate change is upon us. But what I’m saying is that it seemed like from thereon-after nobody physically had the time to care, and not only that, but that this constrained capacity is linked to what I misunderstood about what this ‘austere age’ would entail.
I expected a social landscape of less. And, certainly, there is less for the spiraling number of those without homes, those dependent on food handouts, and for regional councils with less to spend on infrastructure and services. But I expected less shopping, less cars on the roads, less costly fads, less frenetic energy pushing us along, whereas the exact opposite occurred. A preoccupation with ecological limits meant I foolishly mistook this sort of reality for what the reality of ‘austerity’ would be: a more, not less-capitalist society.
Such anticipations are evidence that I’d already arrived at a realisation that the dynamics of capitalist relations were leading humanity down a dead end. But perhaps I hadn’t quite understood what this world would look like when the shit started to slowly disperse into the air from the direction of the fan.
As I found out, the belt-tightening we were made to do for this austerity program was actually more so that our trousers wouldn’t fall down whilst in full-flight. Whilst the cost of living rose, the bar for what were the mandatory social standards was raised, and we were forced to run faster and more frequently, as the sense of being in an all-v-all competition bit at nearly every breath we took. The space for empathy, reflection, and actions developed out of that, seems to have been significantly squeezed (as is evident in the general loss of concern about the biggest threat to our survival on this planet). But why? Surely the vested interests of the 1% alone cannot fully account for this hysterical, and masochistic sort of self-preservation?
Many economists talk of how capitalism as we think we know it died in the 1970’s, but the writer Carl Neville explores the cultural implications of this in his essay-book No More Heroes. He suggests that the whole of Western Culture from, say, the mid 1970’s until 2008 was sort of keeping itself in suspense from its natural demise through artificial stimulants, as the extraterrestrial rationality of finance capital was mirrored in a culture of steroid-pumped superstardom (Neville uses Arnold Schwarzenegger has the ultimate embodiment of the entire neoliberal countrevolution) and a stimulant-fueled culture in general.
This leaves you to wonder where the hell we ended up in the wake of 2008 financial crash? The system, and the values upon which it feeds, have long since run out of time, and only seem able to survive by trapping the whole of civilisation in a hyperspace artificially negated from organic time. It needs to go, but what do we replace it with? I think that we all secretly wish that we could stop now. But we can’t; a huge itch inside our skins seems to be keeping us running, faster and faster.
Running is a word worth staying with when the streets of northern English towns now seem to more like a ‘California without the sunshine’ (to paraphrase Mark Fisher), as thousands of us, certainly including myself, pour onto the streets, alone together in our IPod races against only ourselves. It’s probably no coincidence that the music of the last, maybe final (?) counter-cultural moment is what I’d wager most of us choose to listen to on our loops around the block.
In many ways, rave, as a generational movement, stood for a people on the hinterland of becoming something Other; perhaps post-people (perhaps becoming-cyborg?). But their horizon never arrived. What arrived was a knee-jerk civilisational refusal to give up the ghost; the ghost of capital, the ghost of wage labour, the ghost of a system of ethics that no longer corresponded to a world we were now beginning to endure rather than enjoy. In fact rave, ecstasy culture etc. is now a strange sort of self-medication used to wed us to our slavery to the capital machine, in this weird situation where body perfection is a control mechanism self-employed to ensure maximum functionality and assimilation into the work/work-leisure sphere.
The whole thing can often begin to look like one of those contemporary sort of zombie films, where the undead are closer to Olympic athletes than mall sloths, as they chase the last humans past abandoned Starbucks cafes (another subject brought up by Carl Neville in his book Classless).
But I wouldn’t make these drawings if I felt this dead end of capitalist reality has to be a dead end full stop, and it can often be darkly spiriting to consider that this slowly unfolding giant nervous breakdown may break us into a new horizon that doesn’t have to be one solely of climate change catastrophe, but one of potential abundance over scarcity.
Which brings us to an number of theorists, and economists, most notably Paul Mason, who talk of postcapitalism has an inevitability. In his book, titled Postcapitalism, Mason lays out evidence to show how the current technological revolution, the information revolution, and computerization of the workplace, is not feeding capital’s fire like the tech-revolutions that came before it, and is in fact significantly contributing to the terminal downfall of its modes of production.
As things stand our relationship with these technologies looks pretty-much the antithesis of a postcapitalist world. Born into a culture ruled by the scarcity logic it is creating a right old toxic mess of the social body, our private lives and well-being. But, perversely, this too may be contributing to the demise of the system that engenders this reality.
In comparison to most, Paul Mason is very optimistic about our future together on this planet. But isn’t it worth working with the likelihood that he may be right, what have we to lose?
As things stand there are clearly too many vested interests in keeping the whole damn thing going, to the bitterest of ends. But I wonder where the ends and beginnings of those who really do have vested interests in this thing really do rest. I don’t see many signs of mental well-being from bottom to top. Trump (to use a seldom-used example from the top) seems so psychologically unfit that he often appears on-screen like a nauseous genie, conjured by a legion of collective neuroses from a diseased social body.
From top to bottom, I think most are intoxicated by a religion of work and the logic of scarcity. It often annoys people fighting for the most exploited to suggest that the global rich may not actually be a happy bunch. But short of killing them off, what do we expect to happen to them in way of the system-transition we need? Because such a transition is crying out to occur, and will occur for good or for bloody awful, because burnout is imminent. The Laws of gravity are tugging at this botched-attempt at cosmetic surgery for an entire civilisation.
After doing a couple of exhibitions, and with it being the beginnings of autumn, before the assault of Christmas, I felt it appropriate to reflect on the works I’ve made in the 2015 so far. For whatever reason, I have always been obsessed with dates, and the passing of time, so I’m always looking at what I’ve done during a year. Some of the works I have made this year have been on a smaller scale to what I am used to working on, but I’m wondering if this is helping my work to be more succinct, in an age when most exposure is sought amidst the endless noise of social media sites. Here is a link to less visually instantaneous works, my book ‘Stories from Forgotten Space’, and the continuation of this project on my blog. So here they are from the first to the most recent.
Not Humanly Possible (A4, ink on paper)
A Cognitive Austerity (A4, ink on paper)
Five MORE Years… (A4, ink on paper)
THE LONG NIGHT OF A NEEDLESS STORM (90x115CM, mixed media on paper)
“Hard Working Taxpayers, inconvenienced” (A4, ink on paper)
Pain is Barred an Outlet (a4, ink on paper)
Everybody’s Fracking (95X130cm, mixed media on paper)
“Sad, LONELY, Frightened” (ink on paper, A4)
The Self [ie] Under Siege (A4, mixed media on paper)
“Can We Stop Now, Please?” (a4, mixed media on paper)
Over the past 2 week I’ve had my works in two exhibitions:
In Unity Hall Launch exhibition in Wakefield I exhibited The Place of Dead Ends, The Index For Child Well-being and Whilst We Were All In The Eternal Now…
And in Our Corner: Art as Political Expression, at Bank Street Arts in Sheffield, I exhibited …Coils Tightening
This may well seem a little indulgent. However, being just days from leaving my 20’s behind, my sense of self-worth is considerably less than secure, and I felt ambushed by a feeling of sheer inadequacy earlier today as I waited for a train at possibly one of the most neglected major railway stations in the UK, a feeling I felt I had to shrug. I have tried to shrug this feeling by ignoring what I haven’t done during the past 10 years, and what I have done. So here is a chronicle of things I have made during the past 10 years (some of the stuff I wouldn’t wish to show as my main body of work now, but it isn’t stuff I should try to deny was ever made also).
20 years old (2004)
The Grim Reaper Snowman (a character used for my Things To Worry About t-shirts)
In Balance written just before my 21st birthday; this recording made in 2007
21 years old (2005)
Images of my The Last Rainforest piece, possibly the first injection of irony into my work.
Loosing Bits of Myself As I Get further Back into the Social World
Everytime I Go Under I Lose More of MyselfE
Images from UltraMarket
22 years old (2006)
The Phone Sharks (preliminary Tide of Society piece)
Barnsley in Bloom 2020
Barnsley After the Sea Levels Rise (Unhappy Ending)
23 years old (2007)
Barnsley After the Sea levels Rise (Happy Ending)
Barnsley With a View of Other Towns
Self Portrait in Co-existence with Nature
The Underlying Pessimism of The 21st Century
The Revenge of a Discarded Friend
If You Don’t Get out and Walk
24 years old (2008)
Humans In Cages, art project. Drawing title: The Odds That Were Against us
The Hole in My Stomach Is Making The Hole in The Sky
This Hole Cannot Be Filled in a Carpark Overspill
The Sprawl (in situ)
The Healing Process installation, Hive Gallery exhibition
25 years old (2009)
The Alpha Forest installation, Emergence exhibition, Barnsley
Looking For Truth installation. Part of Truth and Tribute exhibition
Images of Tunnel Vision to Copenhagen exhibition, Barnsley. Set to coincide with 2009 Copenhagen climate summit
26 years old (2010)
“I Believe in Capitalism”
The Logic of Neoliberalism
A Final Acceptance
27 years old (2011)
The Index For Child Well-being
Image of Achieving and Getting Things Done installation from Globalsapiens exhibition, Sheffield
In The City…
28 years old (2012)
Who Would Want To Listen To This?
The Democratic Umbrella
Heartbeat Gallery, Exhibition, Sheffield
Image of Mary Rose: we are sinking installation, from Borderline Ballardian exhibition
Image of Mary Rose: we are sinking installation, from Borderline Ballardian exhibition
Image of Memory Hole installation, from Borderline Ballardian exhibition
The Planet’s Mental Illness
29 years old
The Place of Dead Ends
West Riding of Yorkshire: A psychogeographical Account installation, at An Unofficial Alumni exhibition
The Place of Dead Ends, mixed media on paper, 100X125cm
The West Riding of Yorkshire: A Psychogeographical Account, video-work
Untitled, A4, Ink on paper
A Psychic Timebomb, A4, mixed media on paper
Mind Camp, 100x155cm, mixed media on paper
The West Riding of Yorkshire: A Psychogeographical Account (part 2), installation
Disintegration, A4, mixed media on paper
The Sk[ull] Is Falling in, A4, mixed media on paper
“I Want None Of This” biro and collage on paper
The Index For Child Well-being (biro and collage on paper)
The idea for Ill-Equipped was sparked by an article titled ‘pancake people’ in the Magazine Adbusters; a term used to described the mental make-up of humans being tossed around in the info-frenzied world of endless updated techno-gadgets: a wide, far-reaching, grasp of information (piling up on us at an insane rate), but empty of depth and context. Then there was a not very well heard of Novel named Feed by M.T Anderson, which perhaps portrays one of the bleakest futures in which consumerism in a super techno-advanced age runs amok; dumbing down an entire nation, making them incapable of deep thought and empathy, whilst the environment (the less fortunate parts of the human race) collapses around them. There was also my experience of becoming slowly saturated into the computer-run world of tasks and duties, where work becomes blurred with spare time, and, as Thom Yorke sings on his very relevant (to the first decade of the 21st century) album Eraser “there’s no time to analyse/to think things through”.
I became concerned that this ‘spreading-out’ of our minds, as too many things fight for our attention, would surely make us more indifferent, lacking empathy, thus unable to truly understand what is happening to the surrounding world, which is plagued by pressing issues, possibly never to have been matched in their sheer scale. We are expected to know so much about so many things; gone are the days when humans had a small collection of things that they could devote their selves to. The system convinces us that we need to be informed about everything, need to see everything, which usually results in nothing more than an addiction to gossip on mobile phones/social networking sites. This makes it very difficult to retain any deep-rooted beliefs and makes it an uphill struggle to prevent the thinning-out of our thoughts. Most information is also massively infiltrated by advertising, which begs us not to think of anything much but the material appearance of ourselves and our immediate cravings. But at the same time we are ‘advised’ to search for relaxation, whilst in reality the world of endless tasks (endless emails to answers, endless codes/passwords to remember) we are propelled into makes the caffeine-fueled life of Red Bull/Expresso drinking seem the like the only way of staying in tune.
Instead of pancakes, I wanted to use satellites for the heads of the people; wide, thin, great at transmitting and receiving information, but the information lacks context and depth. The figures stand on islands/or upturned boats in the rising waters, stranded and helpless; transfixed by the constant information they are receiving; blinkered to their pending demise. They are hardwired to all the information they could need, but are immobilised by years of being passive and are ill-equipped to deal with living in a world which requires deep knowledge rather than an information deluge.
And this points to what all of my concerns can be traced to: the destruction of the planet (climate change); it deals a severe blow to my hopes of us having the ability to perceive a new world and prevent the scenarios which would occur when we reach a tipping point. But, like Thom Yorke, I speak as as culprit/victim too. I also get webbed down in a physical world dominated by a hurtling cyberspace, sending text messages which seem ‘urgent’ at the time, needing caffeine-fixes to get through the day. As I fear the ‘thinning out of thinking’ I am also thinking of myself.
My drawings require me to under go shifts of manual labour; seemingly endless daily repetition. I could be almost undertaking a factory duty, and sometimes I feel like I am using a production method which rivals, in scale of input, that of the mass produce of the system I am trying to stand up to. For this task, the sturdy, bog-standard, office-like nature of the ordinary biro seems fitting.
The landscape of “I believe in Capitalism” shows the insanity of proceeding with a system which is only sustainable in the kind of dream-like world actually fabricated by the system to keep the masses as “Glazed-eyed passive citizens”. The collage of the richest cities’ skyscrapers looks for this very world. Reaching into the sky, its searchlight looks out for a place that doesn’t exist, whilst destroying the only thing we humans currently do have: a life on this planet.
Directly below the skyscrapers, The Alpha Forest – a habitat of rampant materialist individualism of a million voices all trying to be heard like a million trees all vying for sunlight – blocks out any alternative, making the citizens willfully accept that “this is the only way”. Below The Alpha forest, the consequences of this all-consuming system become more and more tragic, until we finally find the doom-laden waves which carry the Easter Island heads, reminding us of the tragedies that befell their island when its inhabitants outstripped the island’s resources, resulting in conflict and a deserted island. Are we recreating the Easter Island Catastrophe but on a global scale?