<p><a href=”https://vimeo.com/225750903″>Milly-Molly-Mandy gets Loaded and Other Stories</a> from <a href=”https://vimeo.com/user68633656″>Rebekah Whitlam</a> on <a href=”https://vimeo.com”>Vimeo</a>.</p>
Video work by Rebekah Whitlam based on her installation for Will the last person to leave the 20th century please turn off the lights? an exhibition staged by our collective The Retro Bar at the End of the Universe
Thanks to Adam Weikert for the soundtrack (and TLC).
A mixed media installation exploring a nations 21st century come down from 20th century neoliberal hedonism. A new generation of adults become petrified in 90s juvenility. Numbers in anxiety, depression, ADHD, and liver disease have doubled over the past 30 years. We’re broke, confused, and desperately scrambling for the exit.
Writings From HMS Brexit was made for our exhibition ‘Will The Last Person To Leave The 20th Century Please Turn out The Lights?’
Although this pub conversation only consisted of 4 (absent) speakers, this dissection is approached from very different angles.
Thanks to all involved.
<p><a href=”https://vimeo.com/223045399″>Dont Look Back in Grandeur (2017)</a> from <a href=”https://vimeo.com/user60125733″>John Ledger</a> on <a href=”https://vimeo.com”>Vimeo</a>.</p>
Don’t Look Back in Grandeur (title by DS Jarvis) was a videowork quickly thought up for the introductory section to the ‘exhibition space’ in ‘Will The Last Person To Leave The 20th Century Please Turn out The Lights?‘ – an event staged by the collective ‘the Retro Bar at the End of the Universe, in a disused pub within the eerie and unidentified West Yorkshire metropolis.
This introductory space became a quick response to the sense of structural ‘unraveling’ occurring around us in the months of May and June. Across from the videowork is an installation of blog-article ‘The End of The Long 90’s’, posted by Rick of Flipchartfairytales in the week we had a potentially game-changing General Election, and the farcical and despicable tragedy at Grenfell Tower in London.
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I really wanted to make more of this project before the election day, but the things I had been documenting spread into a project I felt I couldn’t reasonably complete in the time space left. I had been making narrated maps and compiling photographs from the 7th May onwards, but to post them all now would just the equivalent of showing the teacher all the ‘hard work’ i’d been doing in the past month in the hope that I could pass the GE2017 exam, and not have to face the tidal wave of bickering sounds that’s building.
I begin with the series of maps I made during the last month, and conclude with a short piece of writing I have cobbled together within the last week, as I tried to make sense of the chaotic, month, year, century leading up to now.
In a Barnsley Wetherspoons the ‘Love Manchester’…
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ENDS (Stories From Time-locked Space)
(March evenings , 2017)
For nearly 2 years one of the gateways into the centre has been shadowed by a broken bridge. But although it may not hang waiting on Brutalist Death Row for much longer, what it accidentally embodies seems destined to remain.
Like many boom towns of the early stages of capitalism, that now find themselves forgotten by all-important mainline routes to a parasitic capital, Barnsley is a town that they forgot to finish. Like a child stunted by an unanticipated ration, it’s too small for its own feet. This once-potential capital of the Yorkshire Coalfield is still a bus service hub for all the ex-coal-conurbs it promised to cater for, and we still flock here like stuck automatons of a stolen time, expecting destination but finding terminus – as the town, like the bridge, ends just as it begins.
But ‘the broken bridge’ isn’t just about this infrastructural abandonment. It’s about a pervasive sense of paralysis. The frustrated and aimless nature of so many young people here, whose anxiety-inducing shoutings rain down on the town’s transport interchange – desperate for destination (like their upwardly mobile contemporaries appear to have). There is an invisible block in the way of hopes and desires, and we fold back into depressive and destructive pleasure-seeking. I have no game to win, no gain awaiting me, no hallucination of some fantastical bohemian haven from ‘the narrow minded’ – just a critical need to speak of all that is under a sick sun. But I am paralysised too. Unable to build bridges, I collapse into quick fixes.
The attempts to resurrect a long-gone past in the face of a foreclosed future have had a strange side-effect on a town which has since suffered post-traumatic deindustrialisation disorder. The reintroduction of the much-missed markets that filled the high streets of yesterday has created a claustrophobic setting, constructing a crucible of the social pain around here. A fight breaks out between the feeble and frail as bonds rest on the fine line of the crucial next fix. The drug-taking would be in full view of the public, if there was a public, rather than pod-people, relying on battery power between places of consoling confinement. My battery has run out today.
The Given is Giving way. Friends speak of the joy of searching the chaotic middle aisles of the European low budget supermarkets for budget surprises. But within such places I see the direction we are headed, and without a captivating argument against global capitalism’s distribution of things, the direction is downwards. Indeed, within these places you can see how the ‘Western way of life’ is slowly resembling the ‘Eastern way of life’. This unsaid truth is incubating a xenophobia against the European migrants, who are arriving in synchronicity with the arrival of a quality of life we thought was the fault of their failed Soviet dreams. Our souls are stained with the Social Democratic promises of continual improvement. It’s clear to see how The Migrant has become the unfortunate locus for the pain caused by this broken promise.
The staff and shopper look alike; stunned. Caught in limbo between a stain of a sense of civic responsibility and the disembodied disturbances that now greet them. The cause is a group of teenagers, whose bored baiting turns its attention to the shop windows, as they bang on them as loud as possible without the threat of breakage, before leaving Town End for the transport terminal. Nobody is sure of the limits to their search for entertainment. The anguish of the Liberal; their tongue littered with words that sound conservative and reactionary before they’ve even been released from the mouth.
Down at the railway station the word ‘contaminated’ has been written by maintenance engineers under platform 1. But it ends up make-shifting for so much more, replacing the inefficient language I struggled with back up at Town End. ‘Contaminated’ is testament to all I’ve been seeing on these midweek winter evenings. The landscape, and people alike – we’re contaminated with something awful, something corrosive. Wave after wave has swept through these exposed precincts, over the past decades, decimating us more and more. The social body smashed into little pieces, that then feed on each other as if we’re acting zombies for the social bonds that once lived. The new wave, the deterritorialised, who were born within Broadband, retteritorialised with frustrations and misgivings they do not even detect. They are the new enraged, rightfully furious as they stare at the closed horizons their elders refuse to clear. But will they ever know this?
The thing is, the contamination is dying – it has nothing new to feed upon. But we aren’t small mammals waiting in the dark as the sun set on the dinosaurs. There is currently no new sun which we can speak of.
But it is no consolation to think that this fallout is happening for the beautiful people-places as much as it is for us, because as I walk to the station my gait is still filled with the haste of someone trying to outpace the weight of living under the spotlight of under-performance and failure. Its aura bullies these places, cruelly never allowed to forget the trendy urban hubs, that seem populated by models who show no sign of the stress marks from the affects of the fallout.
The cold waiting area is swamped by the stench of the 20 pence toilets, and the breathing noise coming from the faulty fan system is hardly a comforting noise like the ‘breathing sea’ we listened to in last year’s Journey to the Forgotten Fun of Filey. In fact it just makes you hyperaware of your own anxious breathing. You can see the pain on the faces; my face, in the reflection from the glass, retarded by a self-consciousness that can’t escape its knowing. “What am I doing wasting more limited money on overpriced pints in nostalgic bunkers in Sheffield?!” I leave the station and walk out of town.
I look back down the road at the town hall which has relative prominence to any grand structure for a bigger place. This is a centre like any other. They all command a certain wider zone, eclipsing similar sized centres beyond, and only themselves confronted by the pull of the much wider centres further afield. You expect something from them, and ultimately develop a love/hate fixation, unless you live in the command of another centre for long enough to be pulled in elsewhere.
I turn around again, and go back towards town. It’s been a strange few weeks anyway. The city-world of the mind is a maddening rabble of things to the extent that the head feels like an overcrowded collider. The drink is a problem in as much as an anguish unfolds once the day is done. I want light but relapse into the dimming – I cannot be convinced that the morning will arrive.
Every morning I ask myself “why did I feel like that?”. But I did. Each morning brings the prospect of a new horizon, yet every sunset sinks me into a nihilized state under a dead horizon. The world we currently have is going through terminal decomposition and, possible, re-composition into a new one. It is deeply traumatic for all, experienced as it is in little prisons of loneliness. Internally working overtime at the end of all work causes a sort of mute panic, as the sun goes down. And ‘dimming’ sources are sought, once again. Just maybe tomorrow will bring the new horizon…
Giving up The Ghost
“I nearly didn’t make this train, becoming 33 was so lonely it became messy, and I’m so lacklustre I fail to leave the slow train at Wakefield that connects all the nodes along this longing line that can’t be cleansed of their unflattenable mining identities – from the dales of the Dearne to Castleford. Nevertheless, I arrive in time to meet John W in Leeds and we catch the Transpennine route to Manchester.”
“I feel better. All journeys are pregnant with our hopes, even if made in January, even if we know we are here to drink in retro bars that act as mere shelters from the present, on a wage rate that cannot sustain this plaster much longer in a Trump-storm.”
“2016 was the collective nervous breakdown, the primal scream. But 2017 is the morning after, the reality of where that necessary SOS goes next. Does history repeat? My life certainly cannot, in life, and art – in the space of a few months the formula of 3 years gone is borderline defunct.”
“I’ve yet to meet a single person on this island who is in favour of the new president across the seas, but similarily there seems to be an slowly-found agreement that this is not a time where normal judgements stands tall. Life isn’t a game per se, but capitalism for employer and and employee is just that; a rigged game, a game you signed an agreement to participate in before you were even born, but nonetheless still a game. Most people, whether they know it or not, are sick to death of this game, because it seems pointless, and some of us are starting to think there may be much better participatory sports we could all engage in. With this in mind, I speculate to John that the Trump/Brexit votes from within the cheerleader nations for the neoliberal project may have acted in a way as one acts on a computer game, where they are tired of wading through low level fights, and just want to fight MR X. Brexit and Trump could be the final boss.”
“I suppose that’s the bizarre light in Brexit, Trump: could they be seismic shocks to the foundations of capitalism? Even if they are hardened variants of capitalism (aka fascism) – in this current stage of its life they could be lethal to its longevity? Big time boat rockers. It’s a speculation borne from desperation, as to how to move away from a collision course with horror. But this could mean the only way to avoid a collision course with horror is to take that very course.”
“But hands up who isn’t feeling frightened in the first month of 2017?”
“After we leave Piccadilly station we head southwards, with the intention of meeting Oxford Road, the so-called busiest bus lane in Europe, and stop-off in a personal pilgrimage, in a life dominated by the ghosts of my own failed futures. But where are we? This certainly isn’t the 1990s, it’s not even the early 2000s, but, despite warnings of parallels with the 1930s, it doesn’t seem to belong anywhere.”
“Are we in New York yet”?
“I stumble upon a memory as we approach the road, something I spoke about with a friend who’d had a recent bitter return to Manchester, commenting on the homelessness in this once-future city. Through the portal of thoughts of how our info-tech dependency is causing the flattening of experience (this arches everything) we arrived at a worrying proposition that the proliferating homelessness here is actually good for tourism, in a city where the dominant late Victorian urbanity shares more in common with New York’s preliminary skyscrapers than with London’s continentalism. Not only did New York overtake London as the world’s largest city in the early 20th century, but it also became the default for the excitement, romance and tragedy we expect from all big cities now. It’s part of the package.”
“Oxford Road once endorsed my future years before I even attempted to study here. This is when my sister was here, and when all was ‘chill’ in the tie-dye decadence of the late 1990’s; when the coming millennium was still a world of friction-free middle class lounging (soundtracked by the likes of Air and Morcheeba), when it seemed more like a rite before it became an aggressive imposition due to its impossibility.”
“But today it is absent – liberated as we are from its unlikely return in the new tides of 2017.”
“And anyway the exercise of old ghosts, as if they could speak more than I of the present, is cut short on the sodden streets of the city as it seeps through my shoes, making it hard to spend much time in the interzone of the Castlefield brewery and Princess Road on a miserable winter’s day.”
“The bus we catch, happens to coincide with school turnout, and I reflect on how I grew up in a town that was near-total white working class. I remember coming here aged 19, and despite growing up in a house intolerant of racism, under a New Labour government, which if anything at all, lauded multiculturalism, I’ve since felt that there is something wrong, inadequate, embarrassing about my formative experiences, because they lacked the diversity of the Island on a whole. Could my initial instant reaction of surprise to multi-ethinicity reveal a racism in my bones I didn’t know was there? Could this be cleansed only by leaving my home town, and then looking back at it with a heap of condescending smugness, because better people ‘choose’ to live in more cosmopolitan areas, whilst the bad apples, the weak, the inadequate are left on the pile to chew over their inherent racism…?” It couldn’t have anything to do with how the nation’s inequality has merely ghettoised us all, could it? This is when this sense of inadequacy is suddenly exposed to the lions on the vast playing field of competitive individualism, and I haven’t met the grade, always a step behind. Coming in second. The sense of inadequacy results in the poker face of the everyday millennial coming of age. “Yesterday, I woke up sucking a lemon” sang Thom Yorke. But yesterday was 17 years ago.”
“Giving up the ghost”
“The tensions ease in my face over the first pint in a pub that touches on the Manchester, rather than Shoreditch simulacra. We idealise over an vision of a world where communication is liberated from the scarcity principle of capitalist life; where name-shaming, blame games, workplace-bitching, and tabloid life-wrecking is a thing of the past.The tiled green and white interior of the pub seems to rebound, or echo this longing. It’s fed by an optimism that I believe accompanies all afternoon-to evening hinterlands on a Thursday working day. An emotional anticipation of a Friday to end all Fridays; to end the working week for good, and allow all of us relaxation in the comfort of what we have been making for 200 years. Come on, now’s the time to give up the ghost!”
“Late 20th Century was late and just said yes or no / And was mistaken for sarcasm…” The Fall
“Manchester’s peculiar resistance to The Flattening process is due to it’s prominence in a prior stage of capitalism. The cramming of so much into a small space in that first industrial rush is still evident in the claustrophobia of a place, that, perhaps due to it being held captive by the steep inclines of the pennines, results in a cocky, if not aggressive northern-ness that has usually vacated places of such size in recent times. But if anything it reminds you that this isn’t New York, even whilst the venues that rely upon these sardined streets, populated with only the most conventionally beautiful and smart of people, could convince you otherwise.”
“Nihilistic graffiti. The type you find in areas where the weary intelligentsia-corrodes-into-cynical-career-seeking within the crumbling culture industries; an existential epitome for the retro bar refuge, that is the liberal’s retreat from duty as his world unravels outside. The scene here is a former Victorian Toilet, now the site of rock ‘n’ roll decadence and beverages that taste of a failed utopia of Continentalism here in Cottonopolis, now silently lamented. They’re a place of comfort from the feeling of endless ebb; they once were few, now they are many. Further back we saw an old old Retro Bar, beyond refashion redemption, and John spoke of how memory fails us when we try to remember when there were none. But there certainly was never this amount, surely…?”
“…surely it is high time to give up the fucking ghost!? The nihilistic comments are a sign of fatigue (come on, we’ve all written them on something before – so don’t shoot this messenger). The toilet door writers know too much to be as carefree as the words suggest we should be, but lack tools to deal with the coming situation in any other way but despair. Capitalism set down some of its first suckers here in Cottonopolis, but it now dies all around us and within us. We left our maps of the future in the previous century, but the future doesn’t have to be Trump, as we still can’t be sure if Trump could be the system’s red giant, it’s last power surge before fading away. Right now we aren’t giving up the ghost because, we can’t quite give up the shrinking sugary awards we’re granted, depressed by conviction that the alternatives would be worse. But the future doesn’t have to be starvation, nuclear war, and the Ministry of Truth.”
“Amidst the first ruptures of this conscious turbulence back in the days of 2010/11, a friend, in an utterance of the anguish over the scale of the challenge, said “alien intervention, John, that’s what many people are considering will occur”. But I’m beginning to wonder if an alien intervention won’t arrive in the form of some enlightened extraterrestrials, but from an untapped entity in this most social of earthlings. The pain and anguish of our current inertia, smashing against the confines of our craniums, could (just maybe) be a sign of such a process underway.”
“Before conversation goes the way of all beer, it’s back to the scourge of nihilism. John speaks of the impossibility and recklessness of embracing nihilism. In rejection of the abyss that humanity currently appears to staring into, he says “yes, the centre may not be there, but” with Jacques Derrida in mind “surely with our language, what we say, our thoughts, we create the centre? The Big Other exists because we make sure it does! Basically we’re just trying to be to good our fellow man!”.”