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.
That my life doesn’t seem to grow and change is because time itself doesn’t seem to move things on anymore.
Oh yes, things change, but it’s as if the entire world is speeding up its exchanging and obtaining of things already bygone. And when all that happens is that things are circulated faster and faster, little of it seems to have any substance. When one thinks of our present time and what could be seen as new, one thinks of applications, social-media sites; they don’t bring anything new into the world they just stretch out and speed up the circulation of everything that’s already happened in our civilisation (recent technological advances merely turn the world into one giant tin of old photo’s, and all we do as a culture now is constantly browse that tin).
I have never found myself able to allow myself to leave my teenage physique and demeanor behind. Reality would show that I have left it behind, but it doesn’t stop the need to maintain what has already gone.I cling to a past that retroactively becomes more and more massive, as a future never seems conceivable. The more I speak to others (although it is played out in different ways) the more I realised it wasn’t specific to myself.
That I make sure that I can still fit into (some) size 30 waist jeans is merely reflective of a culture that continuously makes sure it can still riff on the past. According to The independent newspaper, the United Kingdom, in terms of soft power (or cultural capital) is ranked as the most influential nation in the world, and if there was ever a nation that has continuously managed to riff on its past (whether the royal spectacles or re-hashes of the same British rock group formula every 5 or so years) it’s the United Kingdom.
+We are trapped in a cultural logic that believes nothing can be done to shape and make a new world. Because of this we are held to ransom by the logic of a system that told us its world is the only world. Our culture has nowhere to turn, and as this systemic logic brings the world into farce, we look further and further backwards, in order to grasp something that we feel we can control, in order to stay sane.
I would speculate that with every crisis the capitalist system has produced this side of the year 2000 that it further entrenches this immersion in things of the past (albeit with modern devices that we rarely try to rationalise). The legitimacy of the system has been smashed by farce after farce; we know we it is failing us, but we cannot perceive away around it, so our world is built out of a past that we can control and predict.
Because we can’t face up to the present, or even acknowledge it, time feels out of joint. This disjunction between time and our experience can be unnervingly evident in the aftermath of the 2008 financial crisis. Dotted around every urban settlement up and down the U.K are, what I call, ‘Mary Celeste‘ Developments; never completed housing estates, barred off by metal barriers, and skeletal structures which are frozen in their foetal position. Precisely because we are culturally unable to face up to the present, we usually walk past these spaces and instantly forget about them. But if we make a conscious effort to observe them we are confronted with the disconcerting fact the the financial crisis began half a decade ago, when it doesn’t feel long ago at all. It only feels like it happened a few weeks back, and everything at these construction sites stands, waiting to resume business, as if it were only a temporary blip.
Because we have found ourselves at our cultural dead end (or at least at a blockage in the pipelines of time) the world hasn’t been able to come to terms with the truth that the world has been irreversibly changed from that day on. We can’t really picture the world as it actually is, now, because it gives us the sensation of already being dead, and having an after-death experience. So we wait for things to return to as they were; we wait and wait, and only rarely realise just how much time we have spent waiting.
It’s like we are the new Pompeii, but haven’t realised that we’ve been turned to stone and burried by the normal functioning of time. At times when we can passively flow through this world, without observing or experiencing the world-wide suffering that confirms that the world is still alive, one can be forgiven for at least imagining that the end of the world has already occurred, that we are literally spectres going through the motions unaware of being so, like the fate of the Characters in the film The Others, who do not realise that they are the ghosts haunting the living.
More people now dress like people from the past than the people who lived in them time-periods did. People in the 1960’s thought we’d be walking around in space-suits, but we actually walk around looking more like them than they did. More 1960’s than the 1960’s; more 1980’s than the 1980’s; we are more or less living in a simulation of the past, which helps keep us blind to ‘the desert of the Real’. This is the world of simulcra/hyperreality, understood well by the philosopher Jean Baudrillard in the 80’s and 90’s. Yet he makes it somewhat fantastical/exciting to read; it doesn’t feel like the bleak haunted house our post-recession culture occupies. The ghosts of the past are running out of energy just as we crave them the most; the music/pub/night-out scene which embalmed our culture with cheap drink is now often the arena where you feel most like you’re in spaces haunted by their past (empty pubs).
On a personal level, my predicament could be clumsily described by the previous generation as that of somebody who is “30 going on 18”, but the situation is far more serious. Much of the previous generation often refuse to acknowledge the reasons for this cultural inertia, because they grew up in a time when culture burst forward faster than anything before, only to exhaust itself in the form of tragic endings for many young pop icons. I have to ask myself whether I will be still heading to the “indie music” bars, not knowing where else to go, when I’m pushing 40. Experience of my past ten years, living in a culture that turned up the volume on its IPod every time news arrived of another crisis/catastrophe, is that doing so may be a necessary coping-method.