My Shadow Dispatches for ‘The Public Secret’

Punch-Drunk Utopianism


The Public Secret is a project our artist-led collective the Retro Bar at the End of the Universe held, starting Friday 31st August, in a warehouse on the south west side of Leeds.  For this we all contributed a dispatches – which you can find here. This is my long read which I have omitted from the collective’s blog, because of its length and personal detail.

As an artist collective, something binds us. Speaking frankly, I don’t think we even share the exact same ideals, life goals, or approaches to creative practice, or even a shared understanding of what creative practice means. We really are a motley crew. But this motley crew have converged through finding one another’s company comfortable enough to have honest reflections on what seems to be the grand unspeakable.

Basically, what has brought us together is the public secret: everybody knows this thing we…

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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)


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.


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.


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.


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.


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.

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.




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)


#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!

Neoliberal Me (The Exorcism of)

Map of Sheffield in the year 2011

sheffield 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

Darton 1996




Meeting at Blackwell’s 05/12/2017 and the Showroom 09/12/2017

This meeting saw Ben, myself and John gathering in the Costa Coffee within Blackwell’s bookshop near the University of Leeds. This was a rapid meeting on the fly and it occurred in three parts,  later that week in Sheffield between Bek and John and then with Dave. The first section of the discussion, in Leeds, resulted in a brisk walk in the ever increasingly cold weather! This walk became  journey down the hill towards the inner ring road and Woodhouse car park. The ultra functional 1960’s brutalism of this, highly specific, section of Leeds is the result of a convergence point. This convergence of city centre, to what used to be terrace housing, with the addition of an ever increasing university architectural splurge. Its a borderland and John discussed its nodal properties and ‘uncanny’ nature after dark.

Main Conversation points.

-Ben’s moments of clarity, Ben was thinking about recording and ‘mapping’ different languages and speech-acts through composed scores. This would be performative, we will think about what space and place would be most suitable. Ben then came up with ‘Half the conversation is going of in my head’! the idea of disconnection of language to thought that happens and how the systems seem to be exaggerating this disconnect.

-We talked about the very real movements towards Post-humanism regarding Sophia and Facebook/Google AI. The un-restrained race to embrace what could be a risk to our humanity but equally is possibly its only hope against ecological disaster.

-The problem of language and consciousness.

– We agreed that January would be excellent for both the mental health strike and the canal walk.

Mental Health is what we all have in common

Meet up with Bek, try to explain why I’m late, trying to get out an incredibly busy train station (Sheffield station has really small walkover), only attached with xmas song ear-wasps in the foyer. Bek talks about how angry her bus journey seemed.

I talk about how difficult it is to critique xmas. Bek says how people only pick up on certain words when you bring up discontents revolving around it, which results in them either calling you a ‘scrooge’, or actually joining in as if all it was was festive grumble-along.

When, in fact, you see so much unnecessary stress around this period, what you really want to communicate is that THIS ISN’T WORKING FOR THE GOOD OF US. And I guess this sense of health and general well-being is what starts the conversation off.

I’m meeting my friends for drinks in Manchester later and stress I’m in no real rush, because I can’t really do day-drinking any more. Bek Says she only had 3 pints last night, but yet feels quite ill. She said she had to stay at her friends and sleep on the ….”ceiling?”, I interjected for some reason. Giving us this idea that Lionel Richie may no longer be dancing, but he’s still on the ceiling….and he’s not coming down!

The rest of the talk is on the audio file ‘mental health is what we all have in common’….

These recordings are part of the same conversation just in different places at different times. These parts are between Dave, Bek and John Ledger.

Click here for Dave and John

Click here for Bek and John


Meeting at The Social – 16/11/2017

This meeting consisted of member Dave Hooppell, John Ledger, Rebekah Whitlem and myself. The main focus of this meeting was to consolidate the meta-mapping thematic which had taken hold on the collective. We agreed to form a series of events/happenings/ exhibitions over an unspecified length of time. This would be as organic as possible without putting false time limits upon everything.

John mentioned that he and Ben would be compiling the videos and documentation from Baildon into an ‘afterlife’ installation for the Saltaire Arts Trail. The concept would be that ‘nobody’ turned up to visit the show because of its geographical problematics. This video would perhaps put a close to that part of the project.

Bek positioned some thoughts stemming from her recent enrolment on an MA Arts and Cultural Management in Sheffield. Looking at projects of ‘gentrification’ wrapped up in ‘the social good’. Bek is proposing a mock heritage trail of the city which highlights all the failed prestige projects which have just created a set of ‘nowhere’ and ‘anywhere’ places which are increasing the state of alienation which we are experiencing in late capitalism.

I am currently working on a mapping project of collectives working in Leeds. It is tied into my reseach for my phd along with these notes and posts from our meetings. I am linking them to plotted meeting on Google My Maps and hopefully open street maps for the project.

We decided collectively to plan a canal walk which part of the data gathering for Dave’s mapping idea. The parameters could possibly be the LS postcode and could take on other cities and villages along the Leeds-Liverpool canal.


Meeting at the Duck and Drake – 02/11/2017

It was a brisk November evening as, John Ledger, myself, Dave Hooppell and Ben Parker arrived to enter into discussion about the direction of The Retro Bar at the End of the Universe collective. We gathered with our beverages onto the rear fare end table of the pub in order to not disturb the other customers. There were several elephants in the room (so to speak) to discuss as events had transpired within global discourse in the preceding weeks. The Harvey Weinstein scandal had broken and Brexit was yet again reaching new levels of absurdity. The government’s position looked increasingly precarious and Boris Johnson had made a monumental mistake in diplomatic relations over the journalist Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe.

Main Points:
-We discussed the overall meta-project of ‘The Map’ which we had collectively decided to begin.

-We discussed the scarcity model collapsing and the emergence of populist politics.

-What would happen when the Queen eventually passes away?

-The languages of the now are incredibly dynamic and they are exceeding the structures with which we have in place to govern. This friction is coursing the immense upheaval we see in the western world with the crisis of capital.

Here is an extended edit from the discussion, installation photographs taken from The Baildon intervention. Click here




…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…?


weekly online 'FOMO' Rota

Maps for the Coldest Week of the Year

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.


leeds november

leeds november 2