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.
The Place of Dead Ends (2013, biro and collage on paper, 120X100cm)
“In the last three decades of the [twentieth century] the utopian imagination was slowly overturned. and has been replaced by a Dystopian imagination” Franco Berardi (Bifo) – After the Future (2010)
For some years now I’ve had this feeling that things cannot carry on in the manner in which they have been doing. Furthermore: that we are watching the slow collapse of our civilisation. The feeling is closer year by year. It’s a broad-reaching feeling that dampens/taints the appearance of the world. I cannot switch this feeling off; there are traces of it in every thought. The only world (reality) we know seems to have reached a dead end. And because it cannot allow us to move forward, the past (or rather its past) takes control; it’s darkest ghosts re-emerge as a reaction to the huge problems we face; the dead come to rule the living. We run to the past for protection from the darkeness unfolding in the 21st century – right into the arms of the archaic forces that rise amidst such confusion and threaten to drag everything down back down with them.
The idea for The Place of Dead Ends fixed itself together whilst I was walking around the park-lands of Greenwich, London (a place saturated with popular history), in the autumn of 2012. I stumbled across the Queen Elizabeth [the 1st] Oak, a tree that the Tudor queen is said to have often taken refreshment under. Queen Elizabeth the 1st reigned over an historical period that played a crucial part in the formation of the British Empire, and (of course) the modern industrial world.
What I didn’t realise until then was that this tree had actually been dead for well over 100 years old. Yet the tree trunk remained; laying heavy upon the ground. Always having the gravity of the 21st century stalking my thoughts, I couldn’t help but see this dead relic as a metaphor for a world which is being ruled to ruin by ideas and beliefs that belong in the past; a result of a civilisation that is unable to look to the future.
In the past 5 years we have seen the massive failure of the neoliberal economic system (or global financial system); yet, because we are unable to picture an alternative/unable to picture a future past the ‘end of history’ announced with the inauguration of global capitalism, ever-more extreme neoliberalism is being enforced onto the world. Neoliberalism is dead as a idea, nobody believes in it, yet it rules in an almost zombie-like manner (using thoughts expressed by Mark Fisher in his Visual Futures lecture). This bad medicine is being inflicted by a global elite structure whose dominance is beginning to be dangerously similar to the archaic feudal rule the kings and lords once had over the population. At the same time as this, we are made witness to scandal after scandal amidst the ranks of those people, institutions and companies we used to see as the pillars of society,. The entire belief system has failed, but still governs us; we are ruled by the dead.
In the drawing the pillars of (a) civilisation have fallen across the route, like dead trees blocking the path. In this landscape protests are being made by many who desperately want to change the world into a better, more just place, but these pillars have landed on the protests, trapping them, making them unable to move – unable to make a difference (the most well-know example of this would be the 2003 protests against the US/UK imperial war on Iraq, where millions filled the streets world-wide, and were utterly ignored by the decision makers). On the rotting of the tree-like pillars grows all the forces that feed off the death of a future; runaway finance with no grounding in theory, and jingoist patriotism that feeds off the fears of global uncertainty.
The rest of this blocked route is occupied by people who have given up on the belief of a better future, and have given up fighting ; they live in a never ending avoidance of truth and empty feeling, condemned to the pursuit of immediate pleasures (drugs, alcohol, sex), only to spend much time in stupors of dissatisfaction and depression. I am not excluded from such a scene; I am both the protester and the individual drunken and frustrated roaming the evening streets, trying to forget reality. Every figure is interchangeable in my drawings; no individual is solely to blame and yet everybody is complicit.
Each side of the road are the barriers one faces when they try to think of a way out: the violence of the nation state, which becomes more ruthless and repressive the more it is threatened; and at the other side one faces the even worse plight of the poorer parts of the world, and the parts of the world already suffering greatly from changes to the global climate brought on by this governing system. There seems to be no way out. Clouds envelope preventing us from imagining another kind of world; they are both the very real human-made pollution we are failing to tackle, and the blotting out of imagining ourselves somewhere different; the clouds are full of the faces of ‘dead stars’, the icons of 20th century capitalism, who died and became immortalised in our collective hearts, having an ever greater ghostly presence that seeps onto the skins of us as we run backwards from the current world, in search of better times.
Drawing, for me is as much as a controlling (or management) of my darkest thoughts in which everything seems out of control. Yet, I hope my work can reveal the modern world to viewers in a way that is constructive to a collective demand for a better world. As much as I struggle to picture something more hopeful, the dead end is not the end of the world; only the end of a world, a world humanity surely must transcend in the 21st century else it may well be the end full stop.
Global Ghetto, 2045, marks centenary of defeat of Fascism, (Biro on paper, 140x100cm, 2010/2011)
My expectations of a future under global capitalism are bleak. Whilst imagining a future, the date 2045 seemed to stick with me. This is because it would be 100 years since the defeat of fascism, a date which we all look back at where good won over evil, and we were told that such human suffering must never be allowed to happen again.
With the defeat of fascism and the end of war, despite the threats of the nuclear age, people alive in 1945 had a belief in a future that would continue to bring them a better life. At present we see the future in the opposite sense: things are only going to get worse if we carry on like this.
In my darkest moments I fear that there will not be any of our “great cities” left in order for the global ghetto, predicted in this drawing, to be actualised. But the future date of 2045 was very important to the idea of progress; 100 years since the widely assumed end of the Second World War, it stands as an historical landmark from which ‘evil’ was defeated and ‘good’ would now make the world a better place. But this idea, which still rests solidly in the hearts of all those indoctrinated by western ideas, has turned horribly sour.
This piece intends to be seen as an extrapolation of the present; my grim expectation of the fate of most of the people as the world continues to be driven by capitalism. It also just solemnly looks backwards and bluntly asks “What went so horribly wrong (in order for our future to end up looking so bleak)?”
Fascism was like a tragic car crash, from which the ruling powers of the time were never really held to account for their reckless driving, and, thus, have continued to drive recklessly. It isn’t alien to our own ruling system; they share the same roots, like cousins. Likewise, our system has the ability to fall into dictatorship, if put under severe stress. I have intentionally tried to put elements that we are currently familiar with into a landscape which is terrifyingly worse than what we know now. But such a world may be actualised, as deterioration is all we can now expect under global capitalism; its welfare state period is dying, the planet’s resources are becoming more and more expensive as they dry up; the future for humanity can only get worse on this route. The system can now only deliver a slow erosion of democracy and a dystopia which the prophetic writers of the 20th century would have struggled to imagine. The future we may once have expected has taken a horrific u-turn.