The Retro Bar at the End of the Universe – A Manifesto

On the 23rd of June 2016 the world held its breath to see what would unfold during the UK vote to remain or leave the European Union. The markets had been momentarily inflated, in the hours leading up to the beginning of the result. Sterling had risen to 1.4883 against USD, as trading closed on the evening of 23rd of June 2016.[1] The markets had been buoyed by polling data which suggested a slim majority to the Remain campaign.[2] As the voting closed and the first results trickled commentators began to suggest that the result may have shifted to the leave campaign. This situation was compounded by Sunderland’s majority decision to leave during the early results.[3]

As the picture became clear and the magnitude of the result struck the nation. The aftermath began! The markets plummeted to a record low, an estimated $2 trillion wiped of the stock markets and Japan momentarily stopped trading with the UK.[4] This event not only had economic reverb around the world but it began to affect the political and social spheres. As the Prime Minister, David Cameron resigned on the morning of the 24th of June 2016 the political infighting became public and the ugliness ensued.

It is this level of uncertainty spreading throughout Europe, which is threatening to completely destabilise the global outlook. To highlight all the complexities leading to this situation is not possible within this manifesto, as one would be here for an age. However, what is apparent is the referendum, with binary opposition of in or out, has manifest as a Super Massive Event.

Super massive events, such as the EU referendum, can be traced throughout history akin to nodes or junction boxes. These discursive events can result in cultural ‘ripples’ which exert a force upon the interconnections between; cultural spheres, subjects and fields.  Dr Gillian Rose is a pioneer of the human social geography which aims to discover the often ‘hidden’ spatial components to social phenomena. In her book, Feminism & Geography: The Limits of Geographical Knowledge, Rose argues one such hidden aspect is identity or more precisely how one positions oneself to one another.  Rose forwards, ‘that identity is relational’. [5] Further she suggests that identity is dependent upon how one perceives oneself to be similar to someone else or how they may differ. Social Geography’s account of the space within society and in particular how human agency can distinguish one space from another, along with creating different spaces, is an important theoretical structure for analysing super massive events, in particular by focusing in on the space in which they immediately occupy, or the locale (ground zero).

When considering the primary cultural space with which the referendum occupies, one must focus on the binary nature of the event simultaneously sparks an overt level of division and then deconstructs itself. Argument and counterargument begin to unravel as one can discern positives within negatives and vice versa. One example of this is both ‘sides’ agree there is a need for some kind of reform within the way power is distributed. The Remain campaign wants to reform laws and the UK’s relationship within the EU. Similarly, the Leave campaign is not happy with the status quo and wants to change its relationship by severing the UK from the Union. Ultimately, this is about control they both want the same end, it is just the method which differs.

These binary oppositions and complexities amass under the surface, they constitute the event. They are partly the reason why social media, traditional media outlets and broadcasters have been able to ‘market’ and ‘promote’ the event to such a wide audience. On the surface the debate seemed simplistic, a simple in or out. As a result, the referendum went viral on a global scale and a Super Massive Event developed.

It is socio-political discourse, or perhaps deeper a shift on an epistemological level, which has sparked the cultural conditions of which we now find ourselves a collective. This collective entitled The Retro Bar at the End of the Universe (TRBEU) aims to impress its agency upon this state of play.[6]

This Project is part of a research-led investigation into the ‘state of play’. The investigation consists primarily of a dialogue between artist-curator John Wright (I), artist John Ledger and more recently D S Jarvis. This dialogue has come to fruition under the umbrella title The Retro Bar at the End of the Universe. It is an investigation into the profound state of precarity and ‘stuckness’ which we experience within contemporary life. This is articulated by Ivor Southwood. Southwood takes a comprehensive look into the situation of the “deep paralysis of thought and action” caused by the “ideologically constructed” landscape of precarity.[7] This affects mainly the younger generation of workers, but it is increasingly dragging even more people into a role, which economist Guy Standing suggests is the ‘Precariat‘, replacing the older term for the working class, the proletariat.[8]

The aim of the project is to create a space where artists and creatives feel comfortable and can come together in collaboration to realise projects which often become pushed out of mind for multiple reasons: financial, need of space or lack of curatorial help. The aim is to open a dialogue to help realise and foster their ideas and conceptual longings.

Super Massive Events become part of TRBEU’s subject matter; the referendum beyond, the binaries of negative or positive, maybe the closure of a particular historical discourse which doesn’t suggest an ‘end’ but a movement to a different cultural space.

 

 

 

[1] Pound Sterling live, Historical Rates for the GBP/USD currency conversion on 23 June 2016 (23/06/2016). <https://www.poundsterlinglive.com/best-exchange-rates/british-pound-to-us-dollar-exchange-rate-on-2016-06-23> [accessed 22/07/2016].

[2] BBC, Referendum Poll Tracker <http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-politics-eu-referendum-36271589> [accessed 22/07/2016].

[3] The Independent, EU Referendum Sunderland Result < http://www.independent.co.uk/news/uk/home-news/eu-referendum-sunderland-result-vote-brexit-leave-live-latest-remain>   [accessed 22/07/2016].

[4]  Wearden, G; Fletcher, N, The Guardian, Brexit panic wipes $2 trillion off world markets – as it happened   <https://www.theguardian.com/business/live/2016/jun/24/global-markets-ftse-pound-uk-leave-eu-brexit-live-updates > [accessed 22/07/2016].

[5] Gillian, Rose, Feminism & Geography: The Limits of Geographical Knowledge (New York: John Wiley & Sons, 2013). p.5.

[6] The Retro Bar at the End of the Universe (TRBEU) – The title is homage to Douglas Adam’s, Hitchhiker’s guide to the galaxy, in the series a restaurant is located at the end of the Universe. The retro bar, in this case replaces the restaurant. The absurdity, of this entity is a metaphor for the current age.

[7] Ivor, Southwood, Non-Stop Inertia (Oxon : John Hunt Publishing (0-Books), 2011), p.4.

[8] Guy, Standing, The Precariat: The New Dangerous Class (London: Bloomsbury Academic, 2011).

1990’s as Super-efficient Con-Machine.

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1990’s adverts on YouTube. Scripts I haven’t recited for gone 20 years, but know off by heart. Those moments when you realise that much of the pop music that seeped under your skin from an early age was first heard on TV adverts selling cars, holidays and other shit. A moment that makes you feel like the replicant Rachael in Blade Runner when she is told that her precious childhood memories are, in fact, implants, and not her own,

 

 

 

 

 

 

A Visit To ‘Sheffield and The Nuclear Winter’ Exhibition, and a Whole Lot More…

John Ledger

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So today I walked into Sheffield Central library, and in the remaining 30 minutes before the exhibition ‘Sheffield and The Nuclear Winter‘ closed, I found myself facing a certain series of reality prospects that had been somewhat buried under an half-decade of an unwanted montage of self-consumed anxieties, based on age-based frustration, the unending demands for identity (re)construction in our ‘always on’ [no]times, and the entrenched sense of competition in life caused by this phony-austerity agenda.

Vallen-Nuclear Nuclear War?! There Goes My Career! – Mark Vallen

“Under the general weight of it all.”… and trying to maintain a sense of dignity (the Self[ie] under siege!], I have literally thrown myself into my art-making. And it’s stronger than it’s been for years. But I’m not quite sure why I’m doing this; because I don’t think I have it as ‘career’ in my mind (I can’t picture a…

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The Strokes, and The Retrofication of 8 Bit

Just a small snippet of a blog, that really doesn’t need elaborating on right now, yet is better off on here than Facebook (I get so tired of waiting of completely misinterpreted responses on there)

At least until the time of their breakthrough, The Strokes were the most Self-consciously Retro band. However, is it just a self-conscious retrofication styled on past bands, and the accompanying fashions? Or is there also a massive absorption of other now-retro cultures, such as 8/16 bit computer game tunes? Games which were beginning to be seen through the retro-gaze roughly at the same point (the early years of the new millennium) as when the strokes appeared. How can one listen to songs such as this one and not to come to this conclusion?

Additionally, I must add to the equation the timing of the coming of the Strokes both into my life and (persuasively arguably) into culture in general. Why? Because the timing of their retro-remedy was almost uncanny.

I first heard their retro-remedy Is This It? no more than a week after the ultimate horror-show spectacle of 9/11 – the event that simultaneously reinserted the horrors we (until then) 90’s-revved-naive-westerners thought were confined to the Pre-Berlin-Wall-Collapse 20th century, whilst being the genuine starting moment of the 21st century. Just as we were looking for the potential New, a seismically mediated horror-event sent us scuttling back for a perceived-as reassuring past.

Yes, a post-modernity of re-used aspects of modernist culture was already well under way before 9/11, but this event accelerated the process. When I first heard the Strokes I was an unexplainably-shy late-teenager in search of a safe-territory, in some type of 9/11 post-traumatic-stress-remedy that I believe many of us endured (which is why nothing we see after the 2003 Iraq invasion shocks us anymore). In retrospect (what an ironic word to use) they were but a jaw-bridge to a dangerously-backward-looking land. However, back then they really did feel like a god-send. Their self-consciously retro look was initially reassuring; nobody had any idea of the type of retro music frenzy that would ensue once we opened the drawbridge that was Is This It.

(Double-additionally: the fact that the band hailed from the very place where the horror-show spectacle had occurred intensified the potion; that is without a doubt.)

(Stories From Time-locked Space. 1)

Leeds Under Pre-Digital Rain (2016)

“Always a higher level of caution in your gait when arriving in Leeds on a Saturday – 52 times a year, not including Xmas and bank holidays – as if I’ve walked over a picket line for piss ups, which is far less unnerving if you have a designated piss up waiting for you. So I take the sleek, but silent south-way entrance. As if it grew out of an hallucination, it never seemed to arrive (although it opened this year) and its architecture enters your vision like the easy-come-easy-go liquidity of CGI. Yet it still remains impressive, as if it arrived from a time beyond the present, whilst otherwise Leeds remains so time-locked in a late 2008 gaze for me. Where did 2008 go? Those days when I rediscovered Orwell, Huxley, Fritz Lang and Roger Waters, mixing it with late 20th century synth pop as a means of gaging a Dystopia in Disguise I’d slowly come to feel within post-millennial Britain. I was looking back to find a truth about The Now unaware that The Now was turning to liquid CGI under the frozen picture of the crash I stared at; a seizure in CGI that I only recognise now because I’m swimming in it too – my fucking Android.”

“The city is pent-up because it’s raining. A rain-phobia-fever takes over the Saturday pleasure-seeking. Only the homeless seem acclimatized to a weather pattern that is supposed to be the essence of this island, unable to buy into an hallucination of Californian weather stuck on repeat. “Nice weather for ducks” says one homeless man I give 50 pence to outside a Currys/PC World store, as I try to smile, catching a reflection of my hesitance to exchange friendliness, as if at some point I’d come to see open generousity as something to be ashamed of. Double-sided-shame, out of which you become aware that merely tossing 50 pence at a problem is a get-of-clause solution.”

“Anyway, I catch up with John outside the Corn Exchange, and we walk under the railway bridge, following The Calls. This traffic artery is always faster flowing than those at the other side of the railway, but there’s an added tension that is no doubt due to this rain. John senses it and stresses “for fuck’s sake, it’s only a bit of rain!”. But we agree that a few things are at play here, making the contemporary sensibility of this island so incompatible with the age-old unpredictability of its weather patterns. Is the amnesia towards an uneven climate synonymous with our amnesia towards the larger problem of uneven geographies under the supposedly flat-earth 24/ 7 contemporary global capitalism? Is this incompatibility part of a flattening of perspectives to fit the needs of 24/7? Not only to be able to have a flat-earth playing field for unending work/leisure demands, but to be able to look/and perform at one’s best all the time? A sensibility that would be likely lost on an older stage of industrial Britain – whereas getting drenched every now and then was part of life, now it seems a locus of personal humiliation, most commonly associated with the poor – society’s ‘losers’ by current standards – who have less means to enter places to get out of the rain. “The poor never seem to carry umbrellas”, I say, unlike the canopy of umbrellas John describes seeing on his work trips to London, watching a largely business class, commuting to and fro. The contradictions in our expectations of a flat-earth playing field for our work-life are impounded as we approach the river Aire, spotting a sign notifying pedestrians of the ongoing “Leeds Flood Alleviation Scheme”. This riverside suffered badly in winter floods at the tail end of 2015; and such seismic historical events such as climate disruption are repeatedly discredited by a culture that requires an eternal flat-earth playing field upon which to do business. We talk of an ‘Instagramisation‘ – because, if social media sites Twitter and Facebook are emblematic of the flattening of conversation, then Instagram is emblematic of that very flat-earth-look; that everyday-is-some-glorious-holiday-snapshot look. And we wonder if there is a lull in Instagram uploads when the weather’s shit.”

“John talks of how he likes the canal because it cuts right through a bustling centre whilst possessing a significantly lower level of energy than the rest of this compacted urban space. In agreement of how different the canal is ‘other’ to the rest of central zone, I talk of how the central zone seems to spring out of nowhere, as if it grows out of no urban rootage system. Leeds-city is a pumped-up investment-devouring area, looking to expand more south of the station, which makes me wonder if a large banner in favour of leaving the European Union, draped from an old docking building on the canal (specifically citing Cameron’s “Damned lies”), is somewhat embarrassing to this city at large. The rest is history; Cameron is history. Yet more than ever we seem to be floating in a deep fog, void of history, from where the rising political discontent seems to be more of a wish to break through the fog, rather than a Guiding Light in itself.”

“The alternative’s an easy place to stop. Reaching the new is something extraordinary” – JD TAYLOR, ‘Island Story’

“As we walk further down the canal we spot graffiti that says “Fuck you all”. I speculate that in Sheffield such graffiti would read “Be the love”. This brings us to talk of the difference between ‘The Alternative’ and ‘The New’, as we engage in the all-too-typical comparisons between England’s northern cities. The easy inclination is to ‘dis’  Leeds in favour of nearby Sheffield. But the current essence of central Leeds, of money/material gain, in full show, is somewhat easier to disarm, and thus makes me somewhat more comfortable with what I don’t like about this city. What makes me more uncomfortable is how I like Sheffield, but how I’ve grown to find an unwarranted self-satisfaction lurking it’s ‘alternative lifestyle’ essence, which I find equally troubling and hard to argue against, as the negative-minded ‘small-towner ‘ falls over me when I find myself unable to get on board with it. I refer to Bristol, and how Sheffield  (in a somewhat less economically-privileged sense) may be close to aping that city’s “We have found the answer, why can’t everyone live like us?” stance. But NOBODY CURRENTLY HAS THE ANSWER! As things stand, as a wider human community, we are deeply stuck in the deep mud of a civilisation at its tail-end. An alternative is just that: an haven from it all. There’s nothing wrong with havens, but they aren’t solutions. What is needed is something NEW.”

 “As we exit the canal and walk back to the city we talk of how this rain isn’t the tropical rain of a future depicted in the likes of Blade Runner or a Drowned-world-Britain, but rain as the persistence of the past. The intolerable mundanity that ’24/7 ‘ aggravates by pretending it is no longer. After nearly an hour we seek refuge and end up in a Starbucks cafe. Although it is probably teeming with employees from the city’s the financial sector in the week, on this UKweekend day it is utterly empty, and in this sense it’s perhaps the only bit of Leeds-city that has managed to totally successfully mimic a part of a non-place London – any outsider to the ‘Big Smoke (and Mirrors) will be surprised find that ‘The City’ (as in the financial heart) is like a ghost town on a Saturday.”

“I can’t remember if we carry on from our outdoor talk or start anew, but we discuss how the prevalence of scientific reductivism has reached into deep the state of play, from where social bonds are located, broken down, and then made to reintegrate through the market. This has become most evident in the mess that ‘mass communication’ has made of conversation. Perhaps we lead on to argue that we are beyond the point of philosophy, and can now only be theorists of now, due to wondering what will eventually lead the way beyond the current inertia. But the conversation is upbeat, it always is with John, no matter the gravity of the matter. We get up and walk back towards the station.”

“It must be over a year since I walked down Wellington Street in Leeds, a tunnel for wind and rain today. Since then it’s evidently become an avenue of tower-blocks; Café Neros and upmarket chain restaraunts clinging to their bases and waiting for the people to come. John speaks of how this city didn’t take as long to adjust to the financial crash (8 years back!) as much as other nearby places, and there’s a feeling that whatever London’s taking, Leeds is taking some of it too. But it’s somewhat built on nothing, fresh air, and it can’t surely last forever. But so far nothing seems to have changed, not even by the nervous breakdown of Brexit.  I say goodbye to John and end up back in the station. Although unsure of my plans, the yells and screams of weekend pleasure-seeking make me hasty to form a plan as soon as possible.”

‘Another Lonely Night. Stare at TV Screen’

John Ledger

Relatively recent BBC4 documentaries regarding popular music from the 1970’s to the early 1980’s have once again got me fixated on that I would call the pivotal moment in leaving a world that believed in the future into becoming one that is incredibly despondent, yet whilst being lit-up with an end-of-the-world-selfishness to paper over the melancholia and sickness that prevails. If this sounds like an over-dramatic interpretation of our current predicament, I’ll try my best to explain why I increasingly feel this way, especially in my blog I’m writing regarding the recent showing of the Joy Division documentary on BBC4. However, this blog deals with Kraftwerk, specifically the 5 landmark albums they released in a row from 1974 to 1981 (Autobahn, Radioactivity, Trans Europe Express,The Man Machine and Computer World).

One really interesting thing I find about Kraftwerk, something talked about…

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Share the Pain

John Ledger

How the command to have perpetual good times causes its opposite

During the time I have kept this blog I have found myself annually writing a pretty messy and uncontrollably pessimistic piece around this time of the year, usually titled Crash-Landing of One’s Life at The End of The Year. This year [yes!] “to save me from [fucking] tears, I’ll try pre-emptive action, by getting to the source of the tributary that leads to Lake Breakdown. I have struggled around this time of year for as long as my post-millennial-mind can remember, yet what always makes it doubly hard, is that doesn’t feel like it is allowed the voice it usually carves slowly but surely out of the late-capitalist landscape. I know I’m not the only one, maybe even within the many, yet the banishment remains in place. As my mind labours throughout the day on this, blowing hot and…

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