Our next major event…

What is your experience of 21st century life….?

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The Public Secret (Dispatches no1)

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“We don’t need another Hiroshima, because it is happening in our heads”

I wrote the above sentence for the purpose of describing the ‘dark optimism’ behind my last major drawing projects. I feel I need to explain, in detail, what I mean, because I feel it is a good place to begin my understanding of the projects based on shared experiences and radical care that The Retro Bar at the End of the Universe is currently undertaking under the title of ‘The Public Secret’.

When I can’t help expressing my distress about my experience of this world, a few people have pulled me up and pointed me towards the work of the scientist/author Steven Pinker: his works on how our world is on average less violent and more safe than it has ever been. Begrudgingly accepting of this truth (although I’ve never read his book), I had to figure out why I remain loyal to my convictions.

Today, with the resurgence of the politics of rage (symbolised by one person’s name already dominating Google searches enough to be spared from this blog), it is beyond doubt that something is disturbing our experience of contemporary life. I instinctively disagree with the idea that people are never satisfied and always have to be angry about something; I argue we are in distress and that this distress is contextual, not time-immemorial.

There may be less war, death, etc, overall (as if the fact there hasn’t been killing grounds on the scale on the first half of the 20th century makes today’s blood shed fine and dandy), but I reject this opinion as a conversation closer. Additionally, we needn’t even have go into the vast studies of the social ills brought about by the slow return to vast inequalities within countries in the global North (vitally collated by Richard Wilkinson and Kate Pickett,) to get to the crux of my very own wager on a shared experience and why I feel it is so important.

An article from the Irish Times by Fintan O’Toole has been shared around social media of late. I can’t disagree with his argument that Trump’s [sorry, I did say I wouldn’t feed that word into the algorithm belly] actions, and non-actions are trial runs for fascism. This scenario is certainly looking likely. We tend to think of algorithms in regards to echo chambers of consumer tastes, without realising that consumer taste itself has long been allowed to creep into all aspects of life, averting us from anything we may or may not already like. The hyperconnected age as we know it has allowed the forcefulness of consumer choice to be in every moment of our lives (it was Mark Fisher in Capitalist Realism who said when we sleep we dream of capital), to feed us what we already know and feel comfortable with, from conversations, beliefs and adverts themselves, giving us meme-fixes in an (unsurprisingly) increasingly sad and lonely world. If it has engendered echo chambers, then intolerance and fascistic tendencies to shut down different views are, and are proving to be, the natural next step.

I felt so down after reading the article, and knew my hard-faced self-defensiveness to its likelihood would only lead to feeling tired, and thus wanting to be drunk, as I always do when I can’t affix a positive to anything tangible. Yet I have a riposte; not to O’Toole himself, but to the sense of doom that this likely scenario instils. I want to return to the above words….

‘…The Hyperconnected age as we know it…’

For this is speculatively an oxymoron, if you stick with what I’m about to suggest.

We have entered an age of information abundance through a consumer capitalist reality; despite the idealism and hopes of 21st century progress placed on this certain abundance in the final moments of the 20th century (which still haunt us), we entered the age of info-everything from within a culture dominated by the mechanisms of consumer capitalism, which are designed to maintain a reproduction of feelings of lack, inadequacy, and a unending desire to be more than what we already are. But the ‘fear of missing out’ (fomo) that has exploded with the onset of communication technology doesn’t just inform our so-called dumb and stupid needs, but also out needs to know more, to be informed, to know ‘the truth’.

All of this has propelled an entire civilisation into an ‘always on’ state of over-exposure to the ills of all-time.  In an age that we thought would be so beautiful, the hell of yesteryear manifests itself in a psychic, private trauma (“Hiroshima reoccurs in a fractalized and mental form”). The traumas and injustices of all time have all risen to the surface all at once, and no cognitive walls or levees can fully keep them all out of sight.

In cultural ecologist Joe Brewer’s viral 2016 article ‘the pain you feel is capitalism dying’ he shed light on the very public secret where the political compromises that once made capitalist society bearable for a big enough number of people still assert themselves, despite that lived experience having broken down for the vast majority. Because this experience remains a public secret it is experienced as personal failure, a daily shame millions carry around with them, and this is perhaps most painfully felt in the countries where standards of living have either stagnated or fallen over the period we most commonly know as neoliberalism (but, what I prefer to call ‘endgame capitalism’).

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The User/Addicts at the End of the Universe?

I believe the persistence of the unbearable is maintained due to its addictiveness. And one essential ingredient of the public secret of contemporary life is that most of us, not just the ‘spice’ users coiled up in city doorsteps, are engaging with life as users/addicts. This engagement with contemporary technology is a result of the continuation of consumer (‘fomo’) culture into an age where there are no gaps, no room for continuity. With continuity comes dream/desire-space; with fragmentation comes the pursuit of fixes, scores, hits. But because the addictions reproduce this fragmented life texture, it is very hard to imagine a way out.

Yet, again, it is also seen as a weakness to admit what all this does to our memory. In Mark Fisher’s Ghosts of My Life he says “the past keeps returning because we can’t remember the present”. Yet I have often been scoffed at because I can’t recall contemporary culture (whatever that is), and reference a period when my experience of life didn’t feel so fragmented. Amnesia for the present is very much an aspect of our contemporary public secrets.

I visualise the present moment as one of being crushed into a corner between the best and worst possible worlds humanity will have ever known, with our immediate reaction to this pain being to side with the worst option. We know so much, too much arguably, that it seems so logical to implement all this knowledge to make life more sustainable, fair and healthy for the majority. However, the deadlock, the locked horns, is generating an intolerable heat that is producing insane geopolitical situations and insane levels of internalised violence. Within this context, independent news sources can continue to expose the flaws and injustices of power; activists on and offline can continue to stand up to the demagogues, and preachers of hate, but they may well just be fuelling the fire out of which these figures sprung …and believe me, I say this with trepidation, and with full respect to those who do engage in the aforementioned activities…

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…After all, surely most of us would want to see a world where there is less suffering and misery…?

I don’t believe the aspects of today’s public secret that I have mentioned already are its primary features. But I do believe the aforementioned situational assessment I give is a justification to argue that working to create spaces for shared experiences and raising public secrets to the surface may actually be our only chance of collectively surviving the 21st century in any bearable and dignified way.  Because what we have at our finger tips, if only we can properly actualise it, is a new era where we aren’t just ‘aware’ of mental health, but it becomes the foundation stone for a new age which is built around structures of collective care. A beautiful future.

As a group of artists and thinkers, I feel it is time for us to give up trying to be smart, and think more about being earnest and honest.

I believe this means returning to putting our hearts on the line, being honest about our own hells within a context that doesn’t come across as simply indulgent.

When I’ve put many things onto the internet in the past, without admitting to myself that I was in need of empathic engagement, it is nearly always a regret due to interventive responses always being ego-based; either telling me I need to sort myself out, or just being angry with me.

It’s hard to find a way of talking about your own weaknesses in an age of anxious identitarianism, but if I explain that I am doing so from a place of seeing it as a necessary act of honesty for the aim of shared experiences, maybe I can be spared the aggro of unwanted respomses.

I can only reach out on the half chance that as I am finding it increasingly difficult to maintain a beneficiary mental state on a daily basis, then so too are many, or not most, others.

I have to make it explicit that my most honest reasons as to why I can’t, not only find well-being, but can’t find a self I can live with, are words expressed in the hope that others feels the same, as for that to happen it then becomes ‘political’.

Yet I don’t mean ‘political’ in the sense of one groups’ ability to gain self-determination in the face of another (oppressor) group; I mean a wager on the chances that this ‘political’ issue bleeds right through class, race, gender and geographical boundaries, whilst, still, simultaneously being a product of the reality those boundaries enable the existence of.

For the premise here is that contemporary life, with its assaulting information, competitive individualism, 24/7 security paranoia, and actually-existing climate change (delete, or add, as you see fit) is proving to be toxic to the average psyche.

We can pick and choose, and sift through who is more deserving and undeserving within this global crisis, BUT LOOK: how can anybody argue against a fundamental rupture, or break out of the current situation being the only hope for everyone in long run? I’m not going give time to the pseudo-nihilism of ‘nowt you can do-ism’, because we all use that strategy for defense from time and time, and that is all it should stand for  …..fuck: what I’m trying to say is nobody is a cunt here, unless we’re all cunts and I refuse to take that position, because I believe it is a result of an acceptance of the world existing under a depressive realism.

I believe in symbolic moments, because I believe most people do too (there wouldn’t be so much hope raised around a successful world cup run for our national team if they didn’t). But, in spite of things that should have ushered this in (Brexit, Grenfel, Trump, whatever) we haven’t seen something big enough yet, at least from the position of peace, love and all that hippy shit from the last century, that is, actually, the goal, once we manage to pull away all the dead skin of cynicism from the past few decades.

LONG LIVE ACID COMMUNISM…..And on to the next collective member for dispatches no2!

Can symbolic acts manifest themselves within lived experience?

2018 was the year when I had to ask the question the above title poses…

Neoliberal Me (An Exorcism of) and #GE18 (The General Election of Governing Emotions)

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2008 to 2009 – I learnt a harsh lesson: devoting a year to mapping one’s inner and external fortified walls into one symbolic gesture (one which was nod to Pink Floyd’s concept album The Wall) cannot wish it into a transformative moment.

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Surely only an idiot would expect such a ‘Big Other’ moment transforming their life? Surely only an emotional wreck, somebody who wasn’t thinking ‘rationally’, would expect an higher body to come down, wrest its hand on their head and suck out their demons?

Maybe, but apart from being ideologically-highly strung and being obsessed with the poetry of The Event, am I that different to everybody else? If we were fuelled by rational choices, devoid of the sense of higher powers, good and bad, fine-tuning the grand scheme of things, why did so many people reject the more sensible options offered by the Remainers and Hilary Clinton in those infamous 2016 elections?

Of course we can take the higher ground. Cathartically rage at the bigots and culturally uneducated who fucked it up for everyone else, totally ruining something that just needed ‘tweeking’ here and there… “They aren’t like us…”

But who’s side am I on? My heresy is that I was so so close to voting Leave back in June 2016, and mainly refrained from doing so due to knowing I couldn’t back up my reasons in ‘rational’ debate amongst my more educated friends. Equally, I felt hurt the next day when the supposedly most neutral news broadcaster in the UK presented people from my home town as at fault for the decision to leave the EU; clickbait for the educated to share and condemn these undeserving citizens.

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I knew my reasons for almost voting leave, for wanting to press the ‘do not touch!’ button were deeply emotional. I knew that those feelings, personal to me, were also a justifiable reaction to the experience of the texture of life in this country 16 years into the 21st century. As the country became the most passionately divided and judgemental it had been for a generation, I saw people responding emotionally to their own experiences of the past.

Why am I focussing on this? Because it forced me to revaluate what sort of language my art practice was using. My work had always been explicit in showing my ill ease with life in an advanced capitalist world. But was it the fault of ignorant ( = bad) people for climate change? Were people who voted Tory my sworn enemies? Are the people going crazy on Black Friday personally to blame for the shame upon the human race? Are the people using derogatory terms in passing conversation inherently a set of scumbags?

What I have learned is that calling them so isn’t going to change their ways anyway…

7 years ago I would have rejected such a suggestion…

…but I’ve been pretty lost in those years since any youth-based substitute for confidence kept me airborne. I’ve become more at home sustaining sad-passions, drifting into dead-end pleasure-seeking. Although I’ve maintained a practice that I believe as depicted the experience of the past 10 years pretty fucking well, I’ve also been unable to find any positive to fix my identity on; my pride and self-worth has been non-existent, allowing my work only a reactive, compulsive, and inevitably fatalist response to contemporary lived experience. It became clear that I had no right to judge others on how they should and shouldn’t think and act.

But in 2018 I decided I didn’t want to be this shadow of a human being. Yet I also recognised that my practice could work through this.

Through the violence of language on and offline during the past 2 years I began to see trauma and lived-pain as the main things all the opposing sides had in common; ego’s formed out an entrenched sense of there being a need for self-preservation; hatred formed out of slow and sustained humiliation; nobody free from anxiety or bouts of mental ill-health.

I came up with two project proposals that were fundamentally one of the same: one a symbolic point of closure in my own life, and the other, a wager on the premise that what I was wishing to put a closure upon what was, to a large extent, a shared longing: a wager on the premise that many features of contemporary life pressure us into emotional states and behaviours that feed negative and unhealthy cycles and close down our receptiveness to the possibilities around.

I can roughly describe this as an endeavour to put into practice a recognition that emotional and social/political transformation go hand in hand.

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I gave the introspective side the loaded, yet necessary name ‘Neoliberal Me (An Exorcism of)’. This work borrows from a body of work I have been developing over the past 5 years, in an attempt to but a closure on it – most notably, my work ‘the Mary Celeste Project (The Scene of The Crash), which I completed in 2014 , and ‘Stories From Forgotten Space’, a series of both psychogeographical and hauntological accounts that I made into a book.

The box in the work was ‘symbolically’ buried on the moors above where the work is largely focused (geographically-speaking), with its peaty mud it acquired giving it the look of something exhumed.

If it was a closure on a body of work which I would class as a kind of mourning process, of lost futures, both personal to me and socially felt, and greatly inspired by Mark Fisher’s works on hauntology, then the grossly oversimplified explanation of these recent projects is that were paying respect to the writers/friends who picked up the pieces of defiant optimism in Fisher’s later works before he took his own life; probably best encapsulated in the work on ‘Acid Communism’

But it was a post titled ‘A wager on a Shared Experience’ (since seemingly taken down) by an old friend who knew Fisher that gave punch-drunk emotions to a cause that was neither dogmatic or classifiable, but for something beautiful in the face of the ‘depressive realism’ Fisher critiqued so passionately.

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I was apprehensive, burnt-out by the prospect of engaging in political debates over the Internet, that I wanted to speculate that by and large the majority of us shared a common experience of trauma adjusting to the fabric of contemporary life, that outweighed political standpoints, and that here was the appropriate ground upon which to propose that my wish for a symbolic act of closure on aspects of my life was a shared experience.

This became an event held on June 21st called ‘#GE18, the General Election of Governing Emotions’.

It was premised on the idea that there had been a mental health strike earlier in the year, born from a collective agreement to mentally withdraw from our libidinal economy, because the contemporary conditions were making it all but impossible to maintain good mental health. The ‘what if’ strike was trying to reimagine the theorist Franco Berardi’s jaded belief that ‘depressive withdrawal’ may be the only way to grind the contemporary capitalist system to a halt into a proactive moment of collective consciousness.

#GE18 was motivated by a wish to build a participatory practice that makes political conversations seem like they aren’t political by holding them up in empathic structures, that not only locate commonalities but also create a real space for idealism about our life and society.
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The project was instigated by trying to put a call out for people to make cassette tapes based around their own take on a specific set of songs I held dear as ‘songs for my punch-drunk idealism’. I don’t have the most eclectic music taste, it is more one that is woven around my memories, ideals, lost futures. But I felt that others must surely have punch-drunk idealism songs; songs that [to use a line suggested by a friend] punch a hole in your heart that is both political and dogmatic/romantic; songs that put the fight back in you when life and times seem so dark. I asked participants to imagine making this cassette tape of personal moments as a gesture of good will to the nation for such an election night

 

The election night itself was held over two venues: Leeds Print Workshop and the Art Hostel, also in Leeds.
A series of prints wrangled with the difficulty of stepping into the unknown as personal and social transformation meet in political events, playing on the analogy of a cross roads point in a psychotherapy process: recognising we have the problem; that for the sake of ourselves and of others, we cannot carry on like this. However, the alternative seems far more frightening, because it is the unknown. 

 

At the voting booths, people were given 3 votes. Which asked questions both of how they, and society feels, and how they would ideally like themselves and society to feel.
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A good number of people attended, and the ‘votes’ are currently being typed up by a neutral source, to be revealed in some form in the next event to be staged by the Retro Bar at the End of the Universe, later this summer…

But what is the real result? If symbolic acts alone cannot be transformative, has anything been set in motion that is working towards empathic enabling? Both personally and politically there is a real desire to square a circle here, inside of which the symbolic moment still reigns supreme…

There is a deep struggle against waiting for the universe to align, it requires proactive development that years of aimlessness and what Fisher termed ‘reflexive impotence’ try to prevent at every move. Because we live in a neoliberal ‘ecology’, telling people to take responsibility of their own lives, and to ‘be the [fucking] change you want to see’, is received as a violent attack on ones negative ego that they’ve compromisingly had to build to survive such an hyper-individualist age. Even though such advice is delivered with empathic intent, it is received within this ecosystem as a right hook of one-upmanship.

The ghosts of yesterday’s near misses and own goals cannot be exorcised in one full swoop; the task is to challenge the stories they tell us as individuals and collectives. The symbolic exorcism was a wish to totally rid oneself of them. However, is a person banished of all ghosts nothing but a living blank?

Our ‘always on’ present relays these ghosts, even algorithmically sources the ghosts that retell the same stories. This isn’t to say there isn’t humongous transformative potential bursting at the seams in our hyperconnected age, yet the more potential the bigger the circle that needs squaring. It’s a huge task, because whilst ever the fabric of the present is so individualist, the challenge feels like a lonely one.

There isn’t a final outcome from these projects, there’s only an awareness that things (speaking more from a personal perspective here) cannot carry on like this, even as the resistance to change digs its heals further into the ground…

 

 

#GE18 (The General Election of Governing Emotions)

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#GE18 (The General Election of Governing Emotions) is an event occurring at two locations in Leeds on the Longest day of the year!
130 Vicar Lane from 5-7pm and…
Art Hostel, (83 Kirkgate) from 6:30-9pm.
Born out of intense debates around the global political crises, the mental health epidemic, and the online factionalisation of opinion, #GE18 asks to us to engage in a ‘what if’ general election where we get to vote for emotions rather than through them.

How would we ideally like to feel and behave in life? How would we really like the world to feel and behave like? Well come along to The General Election of Governing Emotion on June 21st and let us know…as well as seeing #GE18 art prints, cassette sleeves for a collaborative project called ‘Songs For My Punchdrunk Idealism’, and engaging in non-combative conversation!

The Great Emoter

An Empathic Address For [Emotional] Election Day

#GE18 -The General Election of Governing Emotions will take place on Thursday 21 June, 2018. Beginning at the Leeds Print Workshop, Vicar Lane, Leeds at 5pm, from 6:30 – 9pm you are then invited to participate in the election night, held at the Art Hostel, Kirkgate, Leeds.

Thanks to Ben Crawford for helping to make this short film.

 

GE18 Pre-election Analysis

A GE18 Pre-election analysis lecture, given by british psyche, 24 may 2018.

The General Election of Governing Emotions will take place at the Art Hostel, Leeds. June 21 2018, 6:30-9pm.

Make a Cassette Tape for #GE18

 

 

Make a cassette tape sleeve for an ‘election day’, called ‘Songs For My Punchdrunk Idealism’.

Is there a line in a song that punches a hole in your heart that is both political and dogmatic/romantic, that you will never forget? Is there a moment in a song that puts the fight back in you when life and times seem so dark?

Imagine being able to vote for what feelings and shared-experiences you wanted governing a whole society? Imagine making a cassette tape of personal moments as a gesture of good will to the nation for such an election night?

By submitting an album sleeve of ‘Songs For My Punchdrunk Idealism’, you will be contributing to the thought-experiment of a General Election of Governing Emotions (#GE18). ‘#GE18’ will hold it’s ‘election night’ at the Art Hostel, Leeds, Thursday 21 June 2018.

When submitting a sleeve give us 1 lyric from the album that ‘that punches a hole in your heart that you will never forget.

IF YOU WOULD LIKE TO BE INVOLVED, AND WOULD ALSO LIKE A CASSETTE SLEEVE POSTING, PLEASE GET IN TOUCH!! 

Note: the ballot box design featured in the video is courtesy of artist Sam Vickers. samvickersart.blogspot.co.uk