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.

37762470_478910272582407_4221640156874014720_n(1)

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

20180823_1448251710886789.jpg

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.

 

CAR AD 3

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.

20180802_19345820180802_19373620180804_16014720180804_160258

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.

 

20180826_153406

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

 

Advertisements

The Public Secret (Dispatches NO3)

”As exchange-values, all commodities are merely definite quantities of congealed labour-time” – Karl Marx, Das Kapital, 1867.

The commodification of every aspect within society is an inevitable progression of a capitalist based economy. Marx expressed the potential contraction at the heart of this mode of production. The surplus-value, which is unpaid labour through production of commodities, is taken as profit by those with the means of production. These ‘means’ (which hold power) have been enshrined within society through centuries of class development and exploitation. We are beginning to truly see these contradictions played out on a global scale because the working classes (which includes a great generalisation of the stratifications in different societies) cannot afford to purchase the goods and services which they produce. As Marx pointed out this leads to constant boom and bust. Hence, the boom in the 90s perpetrated by de-regulating markets, improving production techniques to decrease the labour required to create products; and then the subsequent global financial crash in 2007-08 perpetrated by de-regulated markets selling to people who could not afford to buy services and commodities.

What does this abstract economics have to do with The Public Secret project?

The short answer is everything! The human concept of ‘value’ is at stake within this discursive web. What value do we place in relation to art? There is a long history attached to this question from Aristotle to Hegel and Svetlana Alpers to Claire Bishop the ‘worth’ of art, and subsequently its position within the ecology of culture and society, has been debated for millennia. This is a complex question as there is an obvious set of economic values including exchange-value and labour-wage value in the art market. These values are monetary and do not necessarily correlate with use-value or moral-value i.e. ethics. This distinction is important and the blurring of such boundaries within the collective consciousness of contemporary society is central to a gross public secret. Let me explain. The semiotics at play within the current form of neo-liberal capitalism, which is packaged in a gloriously glossy cellophane and sold to us on a daily basis, are neurotic.

My reasoning for the above statement is complex, and needs further discussion and debate beyond this text, and indeed plays out in the collective space created by the Retro Bar at the End of the Universe. I would like to add a pre-requisite at this stage, that, just as Marx and others have pointed out the processes at work within capitalist accumulation are not inherently good or bad. It is an empirical system, the problem occurs with its distribution, and the hierarchical systems of deep exploitation which has only accelerated with the neo-liberal ‘branding’ of capitalism on a global scale. It is to such an effect that a form of neurosis has occurred in which ‘we’ as a society attribute the word, ‘value’ almost exclusively to signify ‘monetary’ value. Indeed our motivations are entirely governed by such significations. Whether we admit to it or not, we are constantly comparing and weighing up the monetary value of commodities. This plays out in its most distilled form on the international stock exchange, built on risk -reward scarcity. It plays out on social media, particularly through Instagram, and the rising cult of the ‘celebrity life’ story, which is rewarded with increasing monetary value. The image = value = money.

Historically, there is a discourse within art which has opposed the capitalist system. The development of Conceptual art of the 60s and 70s, which aimed to de-materialise the art object not only in an attempt to deconstruct the forces of the art market, but also to finally liberate art from its own materiality. However, the forces of capital and a market driven art world managed to circumvent such a critique and re-appropriate its resistance into the commodification of ‘ideas’. The strangest, most outrageous coupled with the most banal was the name of the game. Figures such as: Sol Lewitt, Joseph Kosuth and Marina Abramovic became prominent within the art world and beyond. It is precisely this phenomena or the ‘cult of the artist as celebrity’ which the market could sell. It did not matter how problematic the theme of the artwork was or how ‘de-materialised’ the object; the art world was dealing on reputation and on endless novelty. Of course, many artists before and since have played on these notions of the art market including, Warhol, Hirst and Duchamp to name a few. Their practice was to recognise this problematic at the centre of the art world and not to resist openly but dance on the razors edge between appropriation and co-option.

There is course a metaphysical trace in play to this narrative. Philosopher Jacques Derrida articulated this in Structure, Sign and Play (1966). Derrida suggested that, ‘the whole history of the concept of structure, before the rupture I spoke of, must be thought of as a series of substitutions of centre for centre, as a linked chain of determinations of the centre. Successively, and in a regulated fashion, the centre receives different forms or names. The history of metaphysics, like the history of the West, is the history of these metaphors and metonymies’. Derrida is referring to a history in which societies have always assigned an abstract anchor or centre for belief such as: Magic, God, Man, Science etc. in which to build their entire society. Derrida suggested that we are limited by the language of the past, of our ancestors, as we must constantly destroy and remake their systems again and again in different ways in order to create ‘new’ structures. However, the ‘event’ which Derrida is referring to is when we began to question the centre and the structure revealed itself to no longer be a structure but a system of substitutions of signs. This is particularly important to our current question of the public secret, as a growing secularity within societies across the world is resulting in religion being expelled from the centre of belief. It is for this reason that many people are simply motivated by the prospect of gaining more capital, more social power bought through the accumulation of wealth. As they are no longer subjected to the moral codes imposed by religion. This of course, is not the entire picture but nevertheless the importance of gaining wealth as a motivational factor is a vital discourse.

It is paramount that as individuals within a society we have a centre of belief, even if we know rationally it is not a ‘real structure’. This is essentially an ideology. Our collective wellbeing and mental health relies upon it, as the complete ‘free-play’ of significations, which Derrida suggested is taking place, implies possible infinities. As humans we cannot greatly conceptualise infinities, we almost gravitate to forms of structure and limitations with the goal of proposing forms of order. It is this fundamental pattern making, that is both socially and culturally ingrained within metaphysics. It is also why we accept models such as capitalism and socialism, as they impose some order which we can break and remodel to some extent without giving in to complete anarchy. Indeed the word ‘society’ implies a meta-structure to our human relations.

What is left?

In an episteme, in which time is out of joint and the past is constantly returning in ghostly and spectral forms. This state of play is both created and reinforced by the ‘consciousness’ streamed directly into our hand-held devices. We are always on and always sharing information in a never before globally connected way. Everything seems to exist simultaneously in this non- stop, neoliberal nightmare of a capitalist realism. However, just for a second, if we follow this logic then perhaps the ‘thing’, which can aid in managing this situation is already available. The key is recognising such a moment when it smacks you on the forehead.

For me, it is the collective- or, a notion of the collective. This notion of collectivism, what Gregory Sholette and Blake Stimson call ‘the new collectivism’, resists the full blown authoritarian form of state based collectivism implemented in the last century to devastating effect in both the then USSR and in Hitler’s Germany. This new collectivism, or ‘isms’, is your local ‘hacktivist’, it is your full blown terror cell and simultaneously your ‘freedom movement’- as we have witnessed across the Arab world. It forms micro community land trusts, which are fighting corporate and governmental ‘gentrification’. It also, coalesces to form activist groups, artist-led collectives, self-help groups, flash mobs and plugs the gaps in diminished welfare through charities and ‘junkyard’ initiatives. This new collectivism doesn’t identify with Marxism, Communism or Leninism. It is a product of global neoliberal capitalism, but at the same time it resists through a smorgasbord of the new and old forms of autonomy. These forms of collective activity are re-modelling a failing system- the distribution of power is beginning to see nano-shifts in its organisation. We are witnessing this shift in power through political events such as: Brexit, Trump’s America and Catalonia’s struggle for independence etc. These re-alignments appear random precisely because collective activity doesn’t have a one specific identifiable ideological basis. Each collective is different, however, they all share a trace. This trace is political, they are endeavouring to collectively change some element of the world we live in. This change is always ideological on some level, and they do it together, as a tribe. However, different they are as individuals, the collective can act as a form of catharsis against an increasingly individualised and isolationist structure of the neoliberal.

Collectivism may not be ‘the’ answer to the world’s problems, but it sure is a start. Personally, I find that the Retro Bar at the End of the Universe is increasingly becoming a support group constructed through mutual respect and collective endeavour to actively tackle social and political problems in society. It is a place, both physically and virtually, where I feel comfortable testing ideas and discussing issues. I feel my mental health is better for being a member, because I feel I belong to something greater than myself. Friendship and solidarity are loaded terms, but they belong in the Retro Bar. What is most rewarding within the Retro Bar is the unspoken role in which each of its members have undertaken. Everyone has organically taken up certain responsibilities. On a personal level, I have developed an exclusively curatorial role within the collective as I feel that is most appropriate both for the collective and also my individual practice.

Finally, the public secret is one of those oxymoron’s. It might even be the ultimate example of an oxymoron. It is through its contradictory nature that we might begin to address our collective failings and eradicate our toxic prejudices. Thus the value of art and the value of collective forms of art go beyond the fiscal. They are searching for the ethical, for a new set of parameters in which to create equilibrium. This is an unfinished project and it has a long way to go! However, the journey has begun.

John Wright

Right place, right time: Bleaklow by The Stranger

IMG_20180409_141632

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.

IMG_20180409_132321

 

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.