The Public Secret (Dispatches No4)

I struggle to articulate what I mean by the ‘public secret’. Maybe that’s the problem; we all feel this pervasive, intangible ‘thing’ without the vocabulary to point and call it out. What ever we say never seems to be quite right and gets stuck in our throats. We seem to be lost in a state of frustration, confusion, and isolation.

I suppose that’s the main reason for the exhibition and the accompanying Instagram experiment. To emulate a familiar format like social media, or a bar, or a city, but also create a new space within the Neo-liberal framework that allows for honest contemplation and conversations which are met with empathy rather than embarrassment, or derision.

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An anonymous submission for ‘The Public Secret Experiment’ Instagram account.

However, there have been a  few other elements that have run through my mind over the past year whilst ‘The Public Secret’ exhibition, and my work for it, has congealed into a solid mass. I’ll try and run through some of them now.

Commodified Self Worth and Individualised Mental Health

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Passage from ‘Out of the salon: female counter-spaces, anti-colonial struggles and transversal politics’ by sophie schasiepen

The symbiosis of the internal and external; the individual and the community is complex. What I do understand is to have a healthy connection between the two there has to be mutual support and respect. Late-capitalism blocks this communication, leaving us isolated and toxically dependent on the sugar rush of commodity.

Advertising, social media, retail therapy (“retail therapy”!!!) all play on the ‘be a better version of yourself’. The feedback loop for this commercial-self relies heavily on the not-quite-good-enough. For you to buy into it, it must first make you feel shit about yourself.

 

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Advertisement from Nissan. Your basically a loser,that nobody cares about, unless you buy this car.

Self-worth comes from within, but we’re seeking it from false external springs that fail to nourish us internally – physically and mentally. We’re constantly seeking validation by comparing ourselves to others and its making us sick. How have we ended up in a time where we are having to have serious studies into ‘Facebook depression’?

Sadly, I don’t think we have found a sufficient way to talk about all this sincerely enough yet; its either too uncomfortable, or too sickly. We carry on regardless where it is familiar and safe and we can continue with our self-medicated therapy.

Gentrification

Richard Ford is a guy who came up with a way of predicting up-and-coming areas by looking at a regions current demographic – the Bohemian index and the Gay index. Two indicators that a geographic area will culturally bloom and become very lucrative to home owners,  business owners, and  property developers (think Berlin and San Francisco).

Post-industrial cities seem to becoming more notorious for cheap property development and depleting local authority budgets – making them more susceptible to gentrification.

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Billboards for redevelopment in Sheffield. The shapes, colours, and wording are very childlike and links self-worth to commerce. A lego trail, ‘Bricktopolis’, was used as a promotional campaign aimed at children and families.

Social and affordable housing are at crisis point, due to a mix of government legislation, recession, and some other stuff I don’t understand. Local budgets are desperately low, leaving authorities in a position where they have to sell assets (or in some cases, like with art galleries, rent buildings for free). With that, private ownership – typically in the shape of landlords – goes up, along with the price of rent.

Another effect from central government’s hands off approach is the prestige projects. In an effort to attract business and leasure tourism, local governments come up with multi-million projects in a bid to make some money (they tend to flop spectacularly, leaving the region with a bigger deficit, and a weirdly designed building they have to frantically think up a purpose for. I’m looking at you Sheffield Hallam University Union Bar née National Museum of Popular Music).  Also, these projects get passed with very little input from the community. Planning permission favors profit over social contribution.

Whether public or private, developments offer Utopian-like dreams – green space, blue skies, culture, fresh bread, dream jobs, unadulterated ecstasy. But its social mores are cut loose when economic value overrules social worth. It is not accessible for everyone (I’ve reminded myself of ‘city ambassadors’ shooing the homeless out of sight every time I go to The Winter Garden in Sheffield). The original occupants tend to be pushed out of the area due to raising living cost. The only jobs available are zero hour, or on a temporary basis only. The cost of living inevitably further isolates the already marginalised. And we’re back to the commodified self-worth; we are what we get paid to do.

 

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Billboard for a new development on Whitehall Road, Leeds. Again linking purpose with work.

Mark Fisher and Acid Communism

Mark Fisher weaves through almost all of the work and discussions at the Retro Bar. Acid Communism particularly strikes in us some kind of hope for the future of the people on this planet (whatever the timescale). It is an idea Fisher, sadly, never fully completed. I can only offer my interpretation. Put briefly, acid communism is the reconsiderations of 60s counter culture; the raising of the collective conciousness, and sharing of experience as a form of chipping away at the capitalist monolith. I wouldn’t necessarily say this means we all live in the woods, tripping on acid, whilst tattooing inspirational quotes to our eyelids – however appealing that may be to some. I think it just means care more. Listen. Think. Empathise. I think Fisher is so popular with us because he spoke in a way that was sincere and didn’t make you cringe.

Individual Blame and Corporate Responsibility

I also think this isn’t just applicable to the introspective individual, but applies more and more to corporate responsibility. I see so much blame, anxiety, guilt and shame being put onto individuals to take responsibility for their own actions – and yeah, sure. But compare this to the actions and the impact corporate irresponsibility has to our planet and our communities. I’m sure you recycle, and I’m sure there are times when you cant be bothered. But do you incinerate millions of pounds worth of surplus clothing to keep your brand exclusive? My point being, the sum of our individual actions can sometimes feel measly compared to the damage being done by multinational businesses – its exhausting and you shouldn’t feel guilty for just chucking everything in your black bin. But please don’t give up.

Shared experience and Intellectual Property.

I’ll tell you what I love (and i sincerely mean love) about being a member of the Retro Bar and why I want to share the work we do with you.

The way in which we work, from initial meetings to actually seeing the ideas come to fruition is based on open conversation, shared ideas, and mutual support. I love when someone suggests an idea – even if its for their individual practice –  and we all get hyper about it. I feel like I have found a place of nourishment and inspiration, of purpose, and hope for the future.

And I wish a happy and healthy future for all DIY spaces and artist led groups. We dwell in temporary and precarious places, which can be a breeding ground for competition. But, can also be a place of pulling resources and creating stronger networks of collective care.

Thanks for listening.

Bek.

More.

I’m by no means as well read as the other guys. My ideas are shaped by snippets of this and that roughly selotaped together with badly placed punctuation. But I’ll include some of my sources below if you want to check anything out.

As well as the above ideas here are some other sources of inspiration to me that have contributed to the work I have made for the ‘Public Secret’ Exhibition.

  • GRISELDA POLLOCK on Edouard Manet’s, The Bar at the Foiles Bergere, 1882. I saw this video quite late into the process, but I found Griselda (and Manet) articulated something I was trying to say far better than I ever will and she has helped me to frame my work.
  • EDWARD PAOLOZZI – I really like this artist and his critical irony through collages of mainstream media, imagined cityscapes, and bright colours.

It's a Psychological Fact Pleasure Helps your Disposition 1948 by Sir Eduardo Paolozzi 1924-2005

Its a Psychological Fact Pleasure Helps Your Disposition, 1948

Bash 1971 by Sir Eduardo Paolozzi 1924-2005

Bash, 1971

 

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Right place, right time: Bleaklow by The Stranger

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Most of my musically discoveries are made on YouTube. I don’t have any streaming subscriptions and found there to be a pretty good selection of weird tracks posted on YouTube by artists and their fans. It was in the “up next ” sidebar I first spotted An Empty Bliss Beyond This World, an album by The Cartaker a.k.a. Leyland Kirby. I was drawn in by the sleave art by Ivan Seal (his disturbing paintings always capture the tone and character of Kirby’s music perfectly) and those first few reverb-ed brassy notes of All You’re Going To Want To Do Is Get back There.

Around the same time and through conversations with members of The Retro Bar I was also introduced to Mark Fisher’s books on cultural theory and was particularly captivated by The Weird and The Eerie and Ghosts of My Life (for reasons I’ll cover in a future post). This is a Weird coincidence as Fisher and Kirby were clearly very interested in one another’s work, Kirby released a charity track in 2017 in Fisher’s memory a year on from this death. The Quietus, who have long been tracking Leyland’s rising career wrote this article analysing the conditions of “Take care. It’s a desert out there…”

In an interview with The Caretaker for the June 2009 edition of The Wire magazine, Fisher rightly hails the musical genius of Bleaklow, an album created by Kirby under the alias The Stranger. Much of what The Caretaker composes is hauntological, being concerned with memory loss, recall and foregone cultural moments which echo endlessly into the present. Bleaklow however, is more concerned with place– specifically the moors around Bleaklow in North Derbyshire, a 30 minute drive from my front door in Sheffield.

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I made this discovery late last week and began toying with the idea of buying Bleaklow and listening to it for the first time in the landscape that inspired it– Bleaklow itself. Yesterday as I was voicing this idea, I decided to pick an auspicious day in which to perform this walk on the moors. It was then I realised that tomorrow (i.e. today, 9th April 2018) would be 10 years to the day that Bleaklow was released on Bandcamp by The Stranger. An utterly Weird coincidence.

Driving by Lady Bower Lake and through Snake’s Pass we turned on the radio adapter and began the album so that the low, spectral moans of “Something to do with death” wafted out the car speakers. We parked up and began our walk, listening to “Exposure” on headphones as the rythmic thuds and airy, spacious drones danced on the dead heather in time with our steps. The rest of the album is equally spell-binding however we only made it so far before succumbing to hunger and doubling back in search of a pub lunch. Nonetheless it was a totally engrossing way to appreciate this accomplished musical work for the first time: Walking on and on, seemingly forever, occasionally punctuated by stops to appreciate the ectoplasmic frogspawn bobbing in the ferrous-red streams or the ghostly snow-mounds stuffed like shadows into the corners of the moor.