So here we are, at the end of the 2010s…
Despite my ambivalence towards today being Christmas day (ambivalent to the point of having my heart and mind changed by future happenstance), dates have always held their symbolic sway. Perhaps, you could argue, too much.
Nonetheless, we are about the leave the 2010s, and I want to tell you why this is important to me.
10 years ago I would protest how “anti-Christmas (!!!)” I was. Now I wouldn’t use such words….
I realise I only superficially rejected Christmas on the grounds of a ‘woke’, anti-consumerist, ‘rejection of herd mentality’ position, to hide the fact that I didn’t know how to engage with joyful experiences, outwardly show happiness; and at such times when it is sort of a social custom to do so (which, in itself is certainly an aggravation of the emotional distress many experience) I was secretly filling up with an anguish that I could only think to counter by saying ‘fuck your ‘socially sanctioned’ happiness’.
As you can imagine, this superficial ‘woke’ tactic didn’t work…
This will not happen again, not on my post 2020 life…
As the snow laid thick in the murky final days of 2009 I envisaged the future as one permanent winter.
‘Tighten your coping belt’ I told myself ‘because life will only get worse’.
Yet as I left the first decade of this century, aged 25, I still held onto a vague conviction that the future would arrive for me. In-spite of all the things like a seemingly inevitable climate breakdown, in a world of ever-diminishing returns, I had a future, and this future would be defined by ‘being saved’, saved from the external world, and more importantly, from myself.
This ‘saving’ would be done by a woman (‘of course’ haha), of an even more vague a description than one given by my beer goggled-self who would consequently continue to lunge from bar to bar in the following decade, ever more desperate to be saved than before.
This is because a 25 year old has no idea what a 35 year old will feel like.
This is obvious really…
But not so obvious, it seems.
We can project our present souls into a future space. What we cannot project is our bodies, our ageing, less youthful, less glamorous bodies, into a future space. Try it…it’s impossible.
It’s why we love the morbid pomp of a Dystopian odyssey like Blade Runner, but suggestions that today is a (boring) Dystopia don’t feel so morbidly fascinating, because our bodies are involved. We recognise ourselves, our discomfort in our own skin, our joint aches, our stoops as someone more glamourous, more youthful, or materialistically well-turned out, brushes past us like we are leaves in the wind.
Two artists Burial and Sleaford Mods were loosely my ad hoc soundtrack of the 2010s (although the former made most of their most acclaimed music in the decade that came before).
Whilst Burial’s ‘archangels’ melancholically haunt a undesignated inner-city space of futures that never materialised, let down in a perpetual Blade Runner-like deluge, the Sleaford Mods never allowed you to forget that you ‘still remain’, ‘putting up with it’, in these ‘weekends that give you a kicking’.
In 2009 I had yet to discover the writings of Mark Fisher. His term ‘capitalist realism’ described a world where economic and technological advances grew in sync with a growing cultural sense that there was no alternative to capitalism. He spoke of a ‘slow cancelation of the future’; that from the 1980s, but especially since the 2000s, there had been a drying up of a sense of possibilities both in popular culture (especially noticeable, he argued, in music), and possibilities of how life could be lived. There are ‘no more shocks of new’ as he says in ‘capitalist realism’.
Fisher’s writings were a guiding light, not just for myself, but it now seems, for a hidden generation of young(ish) people who were stumped for ways of describing the condition of the world they were in, and how it affected them, especially their mental health.
Reaching my 30’s, was like running out of life credits just as it seemed I needed them the most (and I say this carefully; I am infinitely more fortunate than many; I speak from some privilege, where I can speak almost entirely about this as emotional experience, and not as a literal fight for economic survival, as it has been for many in this decade).
In 2010 I envisaged the incoming ‘austerity’ as something more akin to an ‘eco austerity’; that all belts would be tightened as we braced ourselves for less available resources. Not that I’d prepared myself for this, but I certainly also hadn’t prepared myself for an age where the fusion of the immaterialised high maintenance of social media use would merge with lived personal materialist standards. I suddenly felt out of date, scruffy, and, admittedly, more overcome with my own feelings of personal failure.
There was a quality to the air, a loneliness that didn’t seem as noticeable before.
Yet, equally what I hadn’t, didn’t dare face up to, is to why I was out in those spaces, scruffily carrying all my daily necessities in a rucksack, in the first place.
I had spent the previous decade expecting to be saved from myself, and the world, because I couldn’t like or accept myself, I guess. Because I never felt good enough, I could never tell myself to go home, be at ease. I always had to chase proof that I was good enough; my low pay job equated to me not being good enough, so I would go to my studio, make art that proved I was. I still didn’t feel good enough, because I was single, or something vague like that, which equated to then going straight into town. And guess what? I never found it (whatever ‘it’ was), all I found, or (most accurately) all others found was a man with a rucksack, on a liquid tea, who, as much as they themselves probably had little critical judgement of, clearly couldn’t accept himself.
I often used Fisher’s analysis of the loss ‘the future because we can’t remember present’ to make the excuse that everything current in life was meaningless, or depressing and uninspiring. It was an excuse to hide the fact that because I didn’t like myself, and couldn’t accept myself, I also had no idea what I enjoyed. It was easier to say that nothing mattered in culture anymore, than to admit that I couldn’t make anything matter to me.
Fisher’s writings are still so important, powerful, beautiful, but the last thing he would have wanted (I can only imagine) is for people to employ his analysis against life itself.
Separating the right to like oneself and the right to be happy in a world that seems so fucked and cruel is something I have never managed to do. This decade I used a notion of a ‘Dystopia of the present’ as a wall to hide the fact I didn’t know how to live a life. Nobody, whatever their political standpoints should do this; most of all, because it is they who pay the most.
I feel I have paid for this through an odyssey of negative emotions and semi-addiction cycles in this decade. Recognising this in the past year or so allowed me to embark on my largest ever art project, a semi-fictionalised pop song/film biopic, about the life of ‘millennial’ called ‘Wall, i’, as he came of age in a post-industrial town.
‘Wall, i’, (with all the help I most gratefully received from good-hearted friends and fellow students who helped me for nothing more than petrol fuel and crisps) is possibly the one project I feel most proud of. And yes, I will confidently assert ‘I like this work, I feel proud of it!’ It’s my passing gesture not just to one decade, but to three decades of a life not lived to its true capacities.
The film was centred around what I call the most enticing yet consequently crippling and life-messing cultural command of that era: to “go forth and be yourself”; the cry to self-actualise that were emitted from countless pop cultural products in the 1990s and 2000s.
Yet, self-actualisation, isn’t a bad thing! It’s just if nobody gives you any tools, or any mild idea of how to pursue it, you just wait for the world to give you a self-actualised body, or you lunge at the world in a stupor, desperately demanding to be given it: I did both in the past 30 years.
But now I feel different. Or at least I know different.
In-spite of what, to my eyes, seems like a far more desperate political situation than ten years back, my personal message for the 2020s is different: I want to embrace life, not fear it. I no longer accept the idea my 25 year old self had that things have to get worse.
I may not ever figure this stuff out. I may always feel like I’m chasing my tail around and around. But at least I can know say to myself “I want to live a good life.”
But one last word: the dreams, and day-dreams, when your body isn’t weighed down by its self-consciousness responses to being in physical space; when you walk into that space and be that person who isn’t haunted by the ghosts of past and future self-critiques, but fully capacitated, from feet to fingers with the good will, joy, and fun, you wish to give and receive. If this self isn’t worth aiming for, despite all obstacles, then what is the point of life?
…2020 is going to be hard. But it doesn’t need to be miserable.
This month 10 years ago I made a breakthrough within my work. The disjointed, erratic visuals that I was using to give myself voice suddenly came together. It was the first term of my final year of my BA degree. I can honestly say this breakthrough, and the momentum it was generating, made this one of the most special, if not the most special point in my life so far. Waged work, and the inevitable social pressures such environments put on you have tested my sense of self worth over the following years. But although I may not own, or even rent my own property, have a highly valued job, or a partner in crime as I head further into my 30s, I’ve still got my artwork. It’s still ploughing on.
Novmber 2006 to November 2016
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