Artists intervention at Leeds Art Gallery this Friday (18th July) from 1-2pm. Artist John Wright and I will be performing a philosophical debate. Visitors are encouraged to interrupt.
Here’s a piece of writing I have made regarding my take on the performance Non-Stop Inertia: A Stuck Record:
Non-Stop Inertia is a performance piece named after an Ivor Southwood book of the same name. Southwood’s book takes an comphrensive look into the situation of the “deep paralysis of thought and action” caused by the “ideologically constructed” landscape of precarity. This affects mainly the younger generation of workers, but it is increasingly dragging even more people into a role that the economist Guy Standing calls that of the ‘Precariat‘, replacing the older term for the working class, the proletariat.
But Non-Stop Inertia is also a psychological state as much as an economic one. The “deep paralysis of thought” is basically what anthropologist David Graeber is saying when he argues “neoliberalism [the ruling economical dogma of the present reality] is a war against the imagination”. The stop, start and (finally) exhaustive effect of what Jodi Dean calls ‘communicative capitalism’, that in the age of cyberspace communication extends into all realms of waking (and sleeping) life, is arguably the neoliberal model par excellence.
The little red Facebook notifications, the vibrating phone are more than analogous with violent rashes/itches that produce an inescapable mania over the body. No wonder, as J.D.Taylor shows in her essay ‘Spent: capitalism’s growing problem with anxiety’, that cases of compulsive/anxiety disorders have shown to have spiraled upwards since we entered an intensified stage of neoliberal ‘race to the bottom’ from 2009 onwards. The immensely informative book Alone Together by Psychologist Sherry Turkle, about the predicament and consequences of being “always on” in a world dominated by cyberspace technologies, misses a crucial causal factor in the becoming of this cold turkey-like dependency, and cyberspace’s mushrooming presence in our lives: that the social landscape which has been so ripe for it to flourish in is (at least, in part) ideologically constructed. What Standing and Southwood refer to as the ‘global precariat’ is the necessary 24/7/”always on” agent that makes cyberspace the teaming immaterial beehive that it is.
I [John Ledger] originally undertook this performance as part of an umbrella of artistic events under the name Pandemic, based in Sheffield in the autumn of 2011. Pandemic began just as anti-austerity direct action groups and Occupy movements were asking questions, and demanding accountability in Sheffield around the world. Its aim was to create other spaces for interpreting and expressing a desire for the possibility of ‘another world’, that supported but also provided an alternative to the more direct aforementioned methods. Since then the speed, quantity of information on cyberspace, and our dependency on it, seems to have sped up so much, in just 3 years, alongside the feelings of unpredictability in our lives, that spaces for such contemplation feel ever-more compromised. This makes Non-Stop Inertia, and our performance concept, increasingly relevant.
The performance attempts to mirror this ‘paralysis’, to illustrate just how the ability to understand the social reality we are amidst is continuously broken up. With this performance being in a gallery institution, the predicament of the gallery worker (out of all service industry workers) seemed most appropriate. Compared to many service industry jobs, it is surely a far more pleasant working environment. Yet, because a gallery is an environment that has evolved over time to be a space for contemplation and an absorbing of different ideas, the gallery worker (who remains there all day) is psychologically ambushed by contemplation, (over)thinking. Yet the job requires a standard spiel to be given out to every visitor who enters the gallery. The environmentally-enforced contemplation is continuously interrupted and sent back to square one. Indeed, visitors subjected to more than one of spiels given out often say “you sound like a stuck record“. For such a relaxing environment, one’s head can often feel like a crushed tin can by the end of the day. Due to this I felt this predicament in itself was almost an analogy for the wider state of Non-Stop Inertia.
Below is the sign showing suggested interruptions for visitors to make on Friday: