Silience

No it’s not a typo, but a word for the forgotten or unnoticed artistry all around. In the incidental, it is abundant.

This is the second instalment in the collectives conceptual writing project. Link coming soon.

Silience- the ghost of an Japanese Maple leaf.

Is Hauntology dead?

untitledObviously not! At least from the perspective of Jacques Derrida, who theorised Hauntology.

Derrida’s deconstructionist argument, that no one thing can ever obtain full presence over something else – that which isn’t referred to always (sub)exists, exists in traces an example of deconstruction (when we say the word ‘man’, it is always in relation to the word ‘woman’, which haunts like a ghost word. The word ‘man’ cannot be thought of without that which isn’t mentioned: ‘woman’) – is elemental to a critique of many of the certainties placed down in the history of Western philosophical thought, and cannot be a passing trend in philosophy.

Hauntology refers to what exists precisely because it has been ‘absented’, from words, language and culture. Derrida’s most famous example of this is when a political idea (or an ideology) claims it has triumphed over all others; the ideas, beliefs and attitudes of that which has been ‘absented’ haunt, because their absence is conspicuous (a time traveller from the 1920s to the 1990s, in England, would be left dumbfounded, looking for ‘Marx’, or for socialism, within the then newly opened shopping malls in post industrial towns).

If I haven’t made a good enough impression of what hauntology is it is because I have perhaps been more involved in its latter usage. A wholly justifiable employment of hauntology that sprang from Derrida’s ‘Spectres of Marx’; the idea that what Francis Fukuyama called ‘the end of history’ ( as liberal capitalist democracy moved into the spaces left by the collapse of the Soviet Union), became a self-fulfilling prophecy, as, consequently we became a culture unable to imagine anything different from what we already existed in.

The most important writer, and inspiration for the ideas of hauntology in relation to this historical period, was Mark Fisher. Mark Fisher diagnosed our times as afflicted by ‘capitalist realism’; where not only had the ideas of the market penetrated far more parts of our lives, but none of us were able to conceive that things might be otherwise.

Fisher, who was equally at home writing about music, film, and novels as on politics, argued that there was a growing trend of repetition of styles and formulas in the arts, that seemed synchronous with a trend towards increasingly computerised, media-focussed technology, and the increased emphasis of individual market-based competition, over previously existing forms of social security (what most of us found easier to call neoliberalism). Fisher saw that what was once dynamic, and constantly breaking norms in the arts, especially for Fisher in 20th century pop music (which either himself of Owen Hatherley defined as ‘pop modernism’), had evaporated in sync with a feeling that it was impossible to imagine a future tense different to the tense we were living within. Fisher, and ‘Franco (Bifo) Berardi’ argued that the triumphalist feeling that surrounded ‘the end of history’ had ushered in a sense of malaise, exhaustion, and eventually a depressive realism, in what they both called ‘the slow cancellation of the future’.

Becoming a devout follower of Fisher’s outlook, that in the early 21st century, we were surrounded by ‘ghosts’ of lost futures (in the ‘failure of the 21st century to arrive’, in the omnipresence of music that could no longer be identified as belonging to a certain time), I began to see ‘ghosts’ all around me; things that ‘didn’t quite fit’, that were ‘eerie’ because, fundamentally, we were in a moment that ‘didn’t fit’.

A few of us eventually set up an artist collective in the name of such a cultural experience: the Retro Bar at the End of the Universe. Our projects were ‘haunted’ by ‘hauntology’, we became expert pub-seat observers of our cultural ‘condition’, obsessed by our personal lost futures (most of us, after all, grew up amidst those very promises of a culturally-determined individual self-fulfilment, in the heady early days of the ‘end of the history’; the 1990s), constantly wondering if an ‘afterwards’ will ever come. What could occur after the end of the future, what music could surpass the already zombified ‘Vapourwave’, for example?

Well, in 2020, amidst events that everyone seems to be calling ‘unprecedented’, suddenly the sense that ‘the futures of the 20th century haven’t arrived’, that clung to everything in the 2000s and 2010s, no longer seems relevant. Our past decades seemed to be laced by two contradictory sensations; one of anxiety about what tomorrow would bring, and one based on the sense that things won’t ever change. Today, amidst Covid 19, it feels like everything may change, often from one day to the next, whereas 3 months away feels like could bring anything as unprecedented as a police state or the end of capitalism as we know it.

It truly feels like we are within what the documentary-maker Adam Curtis called ‘the Desperate Edge of Now’, an experience people in war-torn, famine ridden countries will know too well, but one, we in the West could never imagine happening again. Yet, as much as words like ‘war torn’ can only ever terrorise our imaginations, what we face is a cliff edge of Now-ness, beyond which it feels anything could happen.

As much as I do not want to follow in footsteps of other ‘triumphalist’ proclaimers (and wouldn’t it be the ultimate irony to proclaim that an idea that nothing can ever be fully absent, is now absent!?), is ‘hauntology’ as we know it, dead?

This is a thread that I both wish my fellow collective members to chip in on, and others too. Please add some constructive thoughts on this. Thanks 🙂

“When We Woke it Was Spring”

 

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(Title is taken from Patrick Keiller’s 1992 film ‘London’)

And so it was.

I realised this as I looked up at sunlight piercing through the grey sky between the Poundland store and the former BHS. A lone tree bares blossom, reaching above the white cladding. The 21st March.

“No, to the apocalypse” isn’t perhaps the most cathartic inner utterance to murmur up from my cold, uncertain flesh, but it’s an adequate reaction to the thing I could have chosen to highlight, as I begin to mentally retrace my steps from here, outside Poundland, back through the 1990s shopping centre, and to my studio in an red brick Victorian building.

The building is just over the rail-tracks from the football stadium, and, what was most likely the sound of tyres of the road surface, became the sound of a crowd cheering. I was expecting to hear what we’d so complacently call ‘normality’ for a Saturday afternoon in a northern town. It’s true that it feels like a ghost has walked over your grave when your habitual state of mind receives a reality shock.

The shopping centre, although still being used, gave you enough of an impression of what it would be like if humans had vacated it. However, nothing did as much to shock, probably all of our states of minds, than coming face to face with the reality of all the pubs, bars and restaurants being closed.

Nothing, I believe, could make us feel like it’s the end of the world more than seeing all the pubs closed. Irrespective of the nuances of drinking habits specific to our post-industrial age, whether the pubs are ‘shit hole’s’, ‘hipster’, or ‘local’, England without pubs evokes an absence akin to a hole left in a life by a recently deceased lover.

What made this more eerie, was the presence of smell, of spices and cooking fat; the habitual state of mind looking for reassurance that ‘normality’ will resume very soon.

Stay cautious, yes. Stay respectful of the situation, yes. But, scared, not really…

This doesn’t have to be the apocalypse. It’s why I refrained from photographing ‘the signs’, the eeriness. After all, I’m just thinking of the endless end of days films we’ve consumed as a population over the past decades;  I’m Will Smith in an empty town, I’m the disembodied eyes watching a human-less world, as the animals take back over, I’ve spent too long looking for ‘signs’.

Spring is here, and can I not find something better to occupy my thoughts?

Many places depend on Springtime for optimism, hope. Not because it promises the beginning of the very same cycle, but because it always promises that the cycle may be different. Every new cycle gives us the chance to imagine how things could be different. Winter will come, we will all one-day die, but this virus for the terror it promises, may allow us to think of renewal differently.

Who knows what things will be like in a few months. We only have predictions, based on the amount of people who could die. It’s anxiety provoking because we are still in an individualistic culture, where anxiety is the flipside of “I want this, I am this” ( it seems that when we are left to our own devices, within a larger cultural narrative, we are more likely to behave like children, helpless to the greater forces surrounding us).  But out of it all, we may re-find some things we collectively lost, and new things entirely, that just won’t fit with the old ideas of ‘business as usual’.

So I log off here with a daft sketch for something I told myself I had to give up: drawing. It seems that creativity finds its way very much like life does; both crawl like the blind, often convinced that they will no longer find a new way, but then we clasp a new form in our hands, and it begins to form new inner landscapes.

Ouroboros, The snake eating its own tail, is here speaking of the cycles of societal trauma, one after another, eventually destroying themselves. Yet each time the cycle begins, there is just a chance the it will be different this time.

 

The Monkey Mind and/as The Sentient Experience

HELLO, THE RETRO BAR AT THE END OF THE UNIVERSE AND BEYOND! 

Finally! After years of false promises, I’m finally getting round to solidifying some of my points of view into the claustrophobic straight jacket of written prose! (how delightfully kinky!) I’ve decided that the most appropriate voice to use on this platform should be my ‘most authentically me’ voice – which seldom displays the quality of ideological rigidity and academic seriousness. Therefore, I would imagine that most of my content should be read with a qualitative empathy and knowing nature that allows for poetic licence, subjective expression, and the undefined limbo where writer/reader interpretations lurk silently in their eternal infinity. That is not to say my content won’t be sown together with academic support from culturally acclaimed voices across the vast landscapes of human knowledge when the time calls for it, but I’m not in the business of selling you my world views as facts either; it’s here for free. Take what you will, and leave what you won’t.

The Monkey Mind and/as The Sentient Experience

I started psychological talking therapy in Summer 2014, and it has been one of the greatest things I’ve ever thrown money at. Throughout my counselling journey, the common theme of Driving has manifested itself in my metaphorical analogies when trying to make sense of my experience of the world out loud. After graduating a degree in music composition about 4 years ago, I was struggling with a lack of motivation to achieve anything that I’d planned for my life after graduating (still an occasional issue it has to be said… LOL). When discussing this with my therapist, I said something along the lines of:

“It’s like trying to get to 70mph in 5th gear! Only, I’m currently going at – like – 5mph, and when I realise I cannot achieve the momentum necessary using the only gear I have (5th), it’s as if the clutch becomes disengaged, and the engine (mind) begins to rev much faster. Only, the energy being used to revolve the engine has no application or effect on the rest of the car (body/outer world), because the engine isn’t connected to anything.”

When my therapist asked me what the experience of driving felt like once the clutch had become disengaged, I said something like:

“It’s like a membrane of white noise that just sorta glazes over my entire being. I’m just not present in my worldly situation. When this happens, people can talk to me in English, and it can sound like a foreign language I’ve never heard before. The sounds have gesture, contour, and musical line, but no literary meaning.”

I’ve since come to know and realise this to be a psychological defence response called Dissociation, and it is something that I have gotten much better at being aware of and inoculating the disorienting effects of when its psychological fragrance arises within me. Actually, I’m being too polite. I’m a fucking pro these days mate… and I’m all about you doing you, boo, but all I’m saying is: Go to talking therapy, bitch, and become your own psychological AirBender. Why? Coz it’s cool.

Later into my talking therapy adventures (circa. early 2017), I read The Dhammapada, and began to indulge a personal curiosity surrounding Buddhism. This lead onto reading articles, journals, and watching video content around Buddhism and similar topics. During this particular phase of my World View Development Program 3.0, the concept of The Monkey Mind kept popping up in field research. In Buddhism and surrounding philosophies, The Monkey Mind is the name for what I experience as the spinning sphere at the epicentre of thought; the unfiltered, raw, perpetual drive of cognitive momentum. It is the singularity that will magically manifest the symbols of pink Elephants, when you’re told to not think about pink Elephants. It is the liminal orb that manifests non-linear symbols for the egoic lens to focus into some sort of familiar, digestible narrative.

This concept of The Monkey Mind was something that really seemed to resonate with me, and it began to give my own analogies a higher fidelity. In my driving analogy, The Clutch was now representational of my Ego: The lens that connected the outer world to my inner world, and gave me a sense of place in-between them both. The disengagement of the clutch was no longer just an arbitrary metaphor that fit the feelings I felt uncontrollably sweep over me. It was part of me – this Egoic lens – moving out of focus so that my insatiable monkey mind couldn’t observe the outer world and violently distort its true nature, like a hamster to a liquidiser. My inability to change from fifth gear also rendered a deeper meaning, too. I have always accommodated a highly obsessive and ruminating mind for as long as I can remember, and I never thought I had any other choice but to put up with such an aggressive tenant in this body. An authoritative tenant that expected me to be travelling at speeds that 5th gear was most suitable for; a tenant that was always primed and ready to see the world as either a great burden of responsibility, or a predator on the attack. I had never realised that I had choice. I never realised that I could agree or disagree with this Tenant’s interpretation of the world. Up until then, I either aggressively fought against the grain of the world, or served to please the world and its given responsibilities. A binary of extremes.

So that’s all great then. Fantastic! I have all these words and labels for things, and one near-perfect metaphor that fits with a wider logical truth… Problem Solved! Right? Unfortunately not. Knowing the mechanics of my car, is not the same as navigating it round unpredictable roads amongst another 7.8 billion people trying to navigate their cars too. Nevertheless, having a name for The Monkey Mind has allowed me to hold it as the tangible object. A tangible ‘thing’ that is mine and part of me, rather than the omnipresent reality that exists beyond me, happening at me without consent.

I have choice. You have choice.

In recent years, it has become imperative for me to learn the Monkey Mind’s behavioural patterns, its relationship to the outer world, and ways in which I can tame its volatile temperament in the delicate cradle of our shared, chaotic outer world – cos shits getting wavey as balls out there these days. That being said, I don’t doubt for one Planck length that all of us don’t already have everything we need in our un-manifested potential to become something of extraordinary benefit and value to ourselves, this world, and the souls we share it with. So shit yourself not babe: Listen to The Monkey Mind, it’s incredibly resourceful, but try and avoid being lead by it.

Safe Driving, Huns x

Wall, i

I have reblogged ‘Wall, i’ onto the Retro Bar at the End of the Universe, because it was developed through, and from many of our collective discussions, raised concerns, and learning experiences from our previous exhibitions

John Ledger

Precursor: I developed ‘Wall, i’ as a film intended for exhibitions, and independent screenings, but was encouraged to make it accessible online. The work covers a series of complex contemporary issues, so whilst the film is available to share, I just politely ask people not to share clips of it out of context, as, out of context it may unjustly offend (even in our are of stimulation-saturation!), So, please, share with consideration 🙂

‘Wall, i’, is a young male who is born into a world that tells him he can be whoever he wants to be, that the ‘old world’ of duty, discipline, division and drudgery has gone. Yet the promise doesn’t turn out quite how it was anticipated. In a new world of new technologies and self-help slogans, the past returns with anger, and ‘Wall, i’ becomes trapped inside himself. Unable to connect, he descends into a spiral of…

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A position statement as a member of the collective

Admittedly, this is actually a position statement I have just written as I (John Ledger) wrap up my MA Fine Art at the University of Leeds. But at a time when other members of the collective are either also finishing big academic commitments, or just beginning them, I realised that the position statement I have written for the course is totally applicable to how I see my position, and my use, within the collective.

Wall, i – An autoethnography on the ‘cult of self-belief’, and the desire for an exit.

The greatest revelatory outcome from the undertaking of this Masters course has been, to paraphrase Spinoza, an awareness that it isn’t so much a case of what it is possible for my mind to achieve, but a case of what my body can do.
What has a recognition of my past of obsessive eating and exercise disorders, an inability to emotionally connect with others, and a trail of alcohol-enabled regrets got to do with an art practice? Well, kind of everything…

I’ve never known what the hell to do with my body. The fact that I have limbs, a stomach that inflates when I eat or drink, and a face with a mouth that can speak, has been both a cause of embarrassment because others can see them, and anxiety in that I’m expected to do something with them, supposed to employ this body in a social field of forces which are far more powerful than myself. Nonetheless, it would be expected for me to be a recognisable self-actualised adult by the time of reaching 30.

But I fell into being an artist – a side-step from the confrontation in self-actualising. Art became a vessel loaded with a catatonic euphoria in speaking ‘fuck you’s’ to the anxiety-generating command to be such a validated body.

Nonetheless, once art became my ‘skill’, I’d have to self-actualise through it. Yet this didn’t quite happen. I always avoided this confrontation and harboured a sense of doubt over not being a ‘proper’ artist. This is because in art’s professional guise of networking, teaching, business-approaches, I just found the same thing I was trying to escape – the same anxiety. In hindsight I recognise that my ‘intricate dystopian landscape murals’ were not the left wing statements even I came to think they were, but a catatonic euphoria in the freedom to momentarily nihilate the ‘magical voluntarism’ imprinted onto the body in a ‘cult of self-belief’ capitalism.

Yet I wouldn’t be writing this if I thought that this was a satisfactory message to not only others, but to myself.

‘Millennials’ are routinely labelled self-centred; yet in a post-industrial setting, where a sense of duty to the production line is no longer directly impressed on the body, a culture based around individual fulfilment didn’t just raise us, I’d argue it suffocated us. I use the ‘cult of self-belief’ to describe this era as one where at least on the level of cultural stories, the social, extra-personal has given way to a command to constantly believe in our own abilities. Yet what has at one level been a promise of enabling self-care and self-interest,  is also experienced as a message that our right to ‘self love’ is conditional upon becoming recognised as a success. self-centeredness becomes suffocating because of the limited space to be anything else.

Yet, conversely, what I’ve now come to realise, within our incredibly socially and politically divided moment, is that I’ve had to retreat from the idea that I should make bold political statements, to look back at myself, my experiences, my mistakes, not only for personal development, but because I believed this story would be a more genuine response to our current crises.

Professor in contemporary performance Dierdre Heddon opposes what she sees as a conventional idea that works that ‘perform the self’ are  ‘”merely” narcissistic, solipsistic, egotistical’, suggesting, rather, that ‘the majority of performers who play themselves display an astute self-consciousness’. Adding that ‘the self in performance is no easy subject’, Heddon gives a highly adequate reason as to why my year-long film project ‘Wall, i’ wasn’t merely some self-indulgent endeavour, but the most mature response I could find to negotiate such a partisan techno-framework through which we currently mostly communicate.

Equally ‘Wall, i’ is inspired by the Youtube phenomenon ‘Contrapoints’. Self-identifying transsexual Natalie Wynn, almost performs philosophy by playing herself, her many selves, which, unsurprisingly seems to be a major reason she is attacked by both left and right, accused of self-indulgence. Yet through performing herself she reaches out to many who others can only see as enemies.

Through performing me (in this case the actor Ben Crawford plays a version of a self, collated from my personal and pier experiences, to expand into a hypothetical self) I have tried facing up to things, no longer avoiding the icy validations I long feared. It’s not the only reason I employed what I’d call a ‘pop-form’ to this project,  but it is a way of seeking an answer to the dilemma of who the imaginary audience is in my mind whenever I conceive of an idea; am I wanting recognition from the curator, a political ‘side’ or the community of accumulated pub-conversations that still continue in my thoughts? With a pop song structure, ‘Wall, i’ tentatively tries to prompt such validation.

I admit to a weakness as a practising artist: I don’t play with form, learn haptically; a life-methodology I have observed as connecting to a more loving engagement with life. My highly conceptual all-consuming projects never behold their promised magic key to open up my fully self-actualised life. I recognise the difficulty in knowing how to act in the way I make – it often pains me for I can see a great handicap towards meaningful being.
Yet, as much as I recognise my rigid methodology as contributing to the feeling of life passing me by, we must admit the arts themselves are at the whim of a neoliberal superego injunction to be constantly ready to respond to new challenges: artists are also part of the ‘precariat’’. The dominant story of the past 30 years to ‘live your life’, is often indistinguishable from contemporary capitalism’s command to never miss a chance the market throws our way, making it easy to mistake what is good for capitalism for what is good for us (which also applies to many artist opportunities).

Undertaking this course has brought me many realisations for which the term ‘practice’ remains inefficient – creating an idea that the artist can separate themselves from the how they make their work. I hope it’s clear that whether by my own doing, or due to cultural conditions, I am dealing with both the art of life as much as the life of art in for which there is no easy answers, and no obvious successful outcome. Yet, in times where the near future promises little good fortune, ‘onwards and upwards’ remains the only reasonable practical philosophy.

Collective Microresidency Summary

On 31st August, The Retro Bar undertook a day-long residency with Schule Wampe, a subgroup of Midlands-based collective Kuhle Wampe. This was part of their 2019 programme to facilitate links between between exisiting groups and resources within Nottingham and beyond.

RB’s objectives for this exchange were:

  • To kickstart a new period of activity during a time of structural change within the collective
  • To make sense of RB’s social, professional and creative purposes and direct this energy towards collective production
  • To come to a better understanding of our relationship to The Institute™ and our functional purpose within an increasingly austere and atomised arts ecology

The two collectives took part in a problem-solving card game designed by Bek. This helped us to identify our discontents with the current gallery model, the biggest of which being its beaurocracy and obsessive professionalisation of the artist figure. Having determinded some of the structural issues to confront, we isolated several imperatives to act on…

  1. …the need for The Retro Bar to remain artist-led but never artist-only; the skills diversity amongst our membership means we have a healthy chorus of voices and sets us apart from other organisations.
  2. …a concern for the waning relevence of contemporary visual artists in the rapidly networked visual culture of late capitalism in which distributed media like podcasts, video streaming and image posting are increasingly becoming the main site of cultural reproduction. This prompted discussion on possibly shifting focus away from location-based exhibiting and towards the production of artefacts such as video and books which could have a longer “shelf life” and reach a greater audience.
  3. …the idea of a group activity which is social, creative and experimental; a low cost, recreational para-artistic event- a form of jam session- which might lead us down new paths of enquiry.
  4. …our shared appreciation for figures from online spheres like ContraPoints, who has a particular prowess for inhabiting contradicatory personas and exploring tensions between cultural blocs. This form of educational artefact neatly confronts issues of division and alienation, a goal we share as a collective. This combined with point #3 led us to…
  5. … the decision to organise roleplaying sessions in which we “wargame” possible futures, alternative presents and spectral pasts, with a cast of semi/fictional characters. This will initially take the form of a private RPG (system to be decided), with the main focus being to have fun, test new ideas and generate large quantities of research and creative detritus.

 

 

Becoming After MA Degree show

John Ledger

A4_MA Final Show Flyer[4245]

This blog page has become far less frequented, and seems to represent a different stage in my (artistic/philosophical) life – a time when I wasn’t so bogged down in the affect of words, not only on others but on how they rebounded onto me. I retain deep core ideals, yet also a muscle memory of mildly traumatic online exchanges, and an awareness that the legacy is arguably our deeply divided, sectarian world – a dividedness few anticipated with the advent of mass internet use.

Equally, part of this change has been a slight sideway shift in the way I make work. Indeed I’ve often recently found myself considering whether ‘making’ is the right thing to do at all, being that the ‘artist’ self-hood I developed in conjunction with coming of age in a neoliberal ‘cult of self-belief’ has often been problematic to say the least.

Yet, despite this constant awareness…

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Schule Wampe microresidency

Members of The Retro Bar, John Ledger, Bek Whitlam and Sam Read will be in Nottinham for a collective microresidency on 31st Aug with Kuhle Wampe, a Midlands-based artist collective who have currently taken over the Zebrarium project space at Nottingham Contemporary.

Contact us if you fancy an art date in Nottingham/studio visit from The Retro Bar Saturday afternoon as we discuss strategies for DIY organisation and collective production.