December 30 2016. I sit in The Retro Bar at The End of The Universe, this time in Sheffield.- it’s focal point the kind of jukebox that gives you performance anxiety (nobody dare choose the ‘wrong song’ at the end of known world). Iconic rave-era track Voodoo Ray plays out, followed by The Buzzcocks’ Ever Fallen in Love. Apparitions of a sunshine, of a world alive, in the deep autumn of our social reality, our civilisation…our world.
2017 looms like a year that threatens to make us remember it. After all, the consistency of 2016 has been akin to a pea soup (a liquid mush aided by smart-tech dependency) with no taste left to it at all. Yet it was the only meal left on the menu.
2017 will be the 100th anniversary of the October Revolution, and who could argue that this moment hasn’t shaped and scarred all imagine futures more than any other? If you can still dream whilst a 20th century deja vu affect haunts every move you make, then you may well be able to help us out of this mess.”
“For if it’s the end of history. It’s frozen and still. There is no other pill to take……”.
After the slow unravelling of the symbolic structure in 2016, will 2017 see a violent regurgitation of the pill ‘….that made us ill’?
I actually smirked when George Michael died. Not a ‘lol’, but a wankerish and smug ‘I told you so’ kind of grin. And before an emotional cyber-lynch mob hunt me down, let me stress that the smirk over his Xmas day death wasn’t because a human being had died, but was due to the fact that this day is usually one for ignoring the pain of the present and indulging in a day that is supposed to remain immune from history – acting out of time. Yet this year there was too much to remind us of the permanent ebb of the present.
And it’s not coming back…
As harsh as this will sound, maybe what is really upsetting us isn’t that too many celebrities have died in 2016, but that too few celebrities died? We want to end this terminal illness that defines these times, and maybe that can only happen when all the remaining figureheads of our 100 year old love affair with the consumer spectacle die? Perhaps we subconsciously want queen Elizabeth to pop her cloggs before the year is out; for Ringo and Paul to go, leaving no more heartbeats in the Beatles?
Or if that is an overly audacious expectation/wish (a wish for all to be longing for an end point to this decaying culture), I wonder whether we at some level are surprised that the figureheads we lost in 2016 were still actually bloody alive in this body-wastage-stage of late capitalism! As we seem to have noted their passing in the way we would note the dying out of a family lineage, surprised that some old relative is still alive. And this is for good reason.
A recent article by George Monbiot talks about how celebrity serves as the familiar human face to an impersonal and rapacious machine. These familiar famous faces both distract us from our deep-seated alienation, and lessen the pain it causes. Now, these postwar icons may have been a challenge to the paradigms of the status quo’s of yesteryear, but they were still always components of the ideological superstructure. This isn’t to discredit their art, and the shimmers of potential futures that may have laid within it, but is to basically say that you can’t be both famous and remain outside the consumer spectacle.
But they are not being replaced!
Monbiot, I sense, had in mind more the present day figureheads. All the ‘new’ celebrities are not new at all; they are so flat that they may as well be holograms of those from the 20th century. Perhaps the dying off of the iconic figurehads is so sore because we are losing any trace of the familiar beyond our own online avitars, and nothing to alleviate the effects of deep-seated alienation.
Left with nothing but our own reflections
“We lost our MEMES this year!” reads a text message, sent from John Wright, jestfully summing up the year that’s been.
Sat in the pub, I am joined by friends Bek and Ben. We discuss MEMES. Partly because we ask ourselves what is funny in 2016? Ben talks of how comedy has actually been replaced by the MEMES that crop up on feeds we access in loneliness. Their focus on the situational, Ben suggests, give us a connection point with other people seeing them in loneliness. We ‘lol’ due to thinking others are ‘lolling’ at the same time – as MEMES aren’t really that funny at all.
The meme quotes are so 21st-century-everyday that we can all relate to them. They largely use imagery from film and TV from another time. Most important is that memes are dead objects – all we have for comedy and icons is dead objects. The evident break up of global political certainty, and the continuation of dreadful situations around the Middle East and the Mediterranean, is felt more sorely because all we have is the past. Perhaps within the passing of these figureheads, we feel the anguish of lacking the tools to act on the present.
I repeat that, within the symbolic power of the death of icons that represented a century, there may appear the space for something new. But although we have nothing to lose from the dead world, the potential nightmares that may well be unfolding onto it threaten to make life unbearable.
But when the figureheads abandon us to a godless barbarism of a capitalism doing its best to survive by any means, how much longer can we inhale the air of a zeitgeist of disbelief (a term I came up with to describe a present day that was brilliantly pieced tougether in Adam Curtis’s recent documentary Hypernormalisation)? My depressed idealism scours the landscape for signs that a social spirit, so dejected and broken up, reacts violently against that process.
Violence being the important word, as I don’t want to imagine that a major revolt can only occur when the economic and political circumstances become that desperate for the majority they no longer have a choice but for violent revolt – as history has shown us that such circumstances usually create oppressors our of the liberators.
But history is now the important word. As the sheer bulk of historical awareness, even if in soundbite form, that rests on today’s hyperconnected generations, does sometimes appear to be not only what is making us feel so “stuck”, but is also making us unwilling to undertake acts that could ape the acts of historical violence that many of us are reminded of daily on our news feeds.
Enough people are already suffering (the army of homeless is proliferating on the streets of the cities of this so-called ‘developed’ country). enough people lack any clear idea of a future, and, although all are connected, enough people are mentally sick of the state of affairs that there is surely still room for optimism for imminent forces for change? Maybe there is room for optimism, even under Trump’s cock waving nuclear threats, that a transition can be made to something beyond the capitalist scarcity model, without a decimated global population? History in the 21st century has locked us in a depressive view of ‘human nature’ but it has also made us acutely aware of that which we should never let happen again. But what we still lack is what to do next…
…the most valued stuff that I spent my life on during the months from January to December. I’d love to be able to announce an ambiguity to the numbers that dominate our society, but I am a self-confessed walking hourglass of a human, who watches the passing of years with sad eagle eyes. Anyway, what makes me feel more brighter is looking at what I’ve done from within this socially-constructed perception of time… I don’t even want to think about 2015 right now.
Progress… (100X150cm, ballpoint pen on paper)
A Privatised Implosion (21X28cm, ink on paper)
Just The Noise… (exhibition)
Whilst We Were All In The Eternal Now…. (ballpoint pen and collage on paper, 95X125cm)
Untitled (ink on paper)
The Mary Celeste project (The Scene of The Crash) video-work
Feverish (ballpoint pen on paper, 90X140cm)
“I Believe in Capitalism”, biro on paper, 160X120cm
Installation for The Working Artist exhibition
The Logic of Neoliberalism, ballpoint pen on paper, 110X70cm
The Tide of Society exhibition
A Final Acceptance, 4X8ft, mixed media on board