The Mental Health Strike is part of a project I am building as part of the Retro Bar at the End of the Universe collective. The project is based on actions and moments that deposit social and political actions within the contemporary cultural landscape that would be seen as impossible asks, as if they are apparitions from near-futures where a completely different set of tools and demands are available to build a 21st century world where collective mental well-being is at crucible of social organisation.
The Mental Health Strike, which was set for the date of January 22 2018 (supposed to be the most depressing day of the year) is neither a case of ‘what if’, nor is it an actual strike that has been organised. It exists in the in-between, where it could become real.
The week before Jan 22 these placards were placed around specific areas in Leeds city centre. I chose the places the Jehovah’s Witnesses usually have their stands on a weekday; speculating that they had located the areas within each city which are the epicentres of spiritual neediness, the places where the most negative emotions prevalent in late capitalist life are felt on the street.
The above flyers were distributed on the night of the exhibition where I exhibited the audio-piece ‘(M.H.S) Sunscreen ’18’, an audio work put together for the project by myself and collective member Benjamin Parker.
Map of Sheffield in the year 2011
I have begun mapping years around a certain place. Certain places that embody a certain impression I got in that year, of the present and the future. This is the beginnings of a larger project that will be titled ‘Neoliberal Me (The Exorcism of)’.
A potentially strange, even self-indulgent-sounding project, ‘Neoliberal Me (An Exorcism of)’ places its conception at a festival organising the political organisation Plan C. In a Q&A at the end of a talk about the late Mark Fisher’s unfinished book ‘Acid Communism‘ , a man piped up saying how he loves acid (man!), but how would probably advise most people alive today not to do it due to the consequences of having to deal with of own ‘capitalist realisms’.
Now to possibly make the power of this seemingly marginal comment stand out, first of all its important to talk about not just how ‘capitalist realism’ was the term Mark Fisher used to describe a culture that is trapped in a belief that capitalism is the only possible reality, but how he later began to re-think this condition as one better described as ‘consciousness deflation‘: “where consciousness-raising pointed to impersonal and collective structures – structures that capitalist and patriarchal ideology obscures – neoliberalism sees only individuals, choices and personal responsibility”.
If we are to talk of a ‘capitalist realism’ we have to speak of the neoliberal project. Violently installed (through coercion as much as force in Western countries), this anti-ideology ideology’s aim was not only to destroy the social democracies that grew up in the Post-war moment, but to destroy the idea of that any else was ever possible.
An anti-ideological ideology inevitably requires a shutdown of any sort of consciousness-raising whether top down or bottom up, and perhaps Phillip Mirowski’s insights in to the hatred of ‘educating the masses’ at the heart of the genesis of the neoliberal vision is a good place to see clearly just how bitter and twisted its origins were.
However, despite how well known it is which prime minister instigated Britain’s ‘neoliberal journey’, my own project begins at a point where I felt a shift into a reality of locked-down horizons with only ensuing depression in the near distance. Within the ‘New Labour moment’, between 1996 and 1999, I sensed a splitting of something, and a sense of a naturalisation of a state of general nothingness, of being hermeneutically sealed in a dead space. If 1979 to 1990 was a slash and burn moment; the 1990’s onwards was the building of the neoliberal superstructure.
The split could have been within me; it could’ve been the ghetto-ising of the ‘aspirational’ and ‘educated’ remnants of the defeated working classes from those who were ‘undeserving’ soon-to-be ‘chavs’. But what has ensued was a painful sense of disappointment as the promises of the 1990’s turned horribly sour.
Yet as much as I’ve come to recognise my ‘personality disorders’ since this point as much a result of enduring a social construct as anything, it’s taken me until now (regrettably) to want to positively change myself. For a long time I felt hurt by the language of self-help gurus, because it seemed devoid of any social and political explanations for my experience of life. However, there is much argument to suggest that within a neoliberal reality where everything is either personal or it doesn’t exist, it is hard to shake self-identifying as being ‘depressed’ (etc.) because it’s the only positive identity that has ever been constructed for you, (Johann Hari’s interview with Aaron Mate for his latest book ‘Lost Connections’ discusses this in further detail).
To understand that the way you feel is not necessarily your fault is one thing, but if anything you have to keep fighting to be optimistic, because, yes the social reality is bleak, but to allow this to control your identity is to allow the sense of defeat to be self-fulfilling.
‘Neoliberal Me (An Exorcism of)’ is an attempt to do this dual exorcising of the spectre of defeat from within and around me. As things stand, all the visual art I have been making for the best part of 15 years has been brought to a point of closure; it’s too wrapped up in the aforementioned ego that needs putting to rest. And, yes, the premise of the project is essentially impossible, but it’s the intent that always matters.
Map, Darton Area 1996
I have been re-working this text and image work I made late last year in a sound/image piece. Last Resort To Forgotten Fun was part of a series of works called ‘Stories From Time-locked Space’, which we included in our first publication, published earlier this year.
<p><a href=”https://vimeo.com/248603349″>Last Resort To Forgotten Fun (Stories From Time-locked Space)</a> from <a href=”https://vimeo.com/user60125733″>John Ledger</a> on <a href=”https://vimeo.com”>Vimeo</a>.</p>
…Is where working with a collective, side by side with people/friends better at understanding statistics and spotting mathematical inaccuracies, and knowing which places already possess such data, can help me bring to fruition some of these mapping ideas I have.
Another early bird for the forthcoming projects…. but, surely, it’s onto something…?
The Retro Bar at the End of the Universe is in the process of creating an exciting project loosely revolving around the concept of maps, as a central theme to engage more directly in looking at a what sort of values we feel a future world should be founded upon, in reflection of the undisputable current political and cultural crises.
Meanwhile, I’ve been working on the visual style of my maps of the everyday. Here are 3 maps from the coldest week of the year so far.
These are works that are building towards a larger project, that if it sticks to it’s course, will be named ‘A Revolt Against our Ghosting’ to argue that the current (faltering) ideological reality de-centres and marginalises us all (to massively varying degrees) through processes that make the space we occupy seem beyond our comprehension, creating anxieties and encouraging privatised living. This project is part of a wider collective project, that will become more clear and present within these blogs in coming months.
<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.