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.


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


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.



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.


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.


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.



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.



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



Stories From Time-Locked Space. 4

In Another Country… … …

December 2016


“7:10am. That very point where you sense an internal fist-fight with dread. It occurs about 5 minutes after you wake, when  ‘The Everyday’ slaps you in the face with a post-nuclear protestant work ethic gone zombie. The initial morning opening turns out to be just a lonesome sachet of fresh air before an engagement from which you can’t escape without the sort of hallucinations/inebriations you’ll have to wait 12 hours for. Phillip Hammond is today’s mug of the moment – beaming back at me with bad news. If such a future moment arrives from which to remember such mugs, his mug will fit a zeitgeist of disbelief that has been entrenched by the retreat-from-the-world events of 2016. Yet I have to lift that lid on the laptop screen, it’s in my Westernised veins to bow down my little head to allow today’s dose of scarcity logic to penetrate me and propel me into my daily races. Another fucking day….and I’m not even  ‘working‘ today.”

“2016 has seen me in a quagmire of a malaise-fueled torpor. Fueled by a lifelong obsessive persona, my late arrival into the age of smart technologies, ‘liquid tech’, has deeply effected my ability to organise my life. I find myself chasing time, literally, as I run to meet Michael at the lay by in Darton – parked up and waiting for our planned trip to the Humber estuary. I fear total dysfunction. Time no longer makes sense, at all. Yet I’m still chained to Greenwich Meantime. I’m a tiny connection point in a matrix heading full speed towards dysfunction, but yet whose life’s responsibilities are his own.”


“As we reach the M1,the overly familiar tones of BBC Radio 4 are like a reassurance as if the past 15 years never even happened. The ‘concerned’ middle class voices, crowing over potential errors appearing in their family-unit blueprints-for-the-future, come over the waves like hallucinations of Blair Year ‘we’re all middle-class now’ plans gone right. This detached discourse is tell-tale of the freezing of thought in a free-fall time. The M1 has grown into a super-motorway as it gets ready to welcome the M62, upon which we will be traveling next – greedily taking over a land that would rather hallucinate itself as fields and flatcaps.”

“Our window view is of an unnamed M62 corridor in the dying days of 2016. It’s a cold word; a blue landscape that puts any mini-ice age Decembers of yesteryear to shame. Michael is a man who embodies action, activity – yet he like me he ain’t a fucking clue how to talk in any way but dismay about a world leaving 2016. It’s a spot-the-Dystopian sort of journey to the Humber, cherry-topped by the strangest of half-finished service stations, where we seek much-needed caffeine – to no avail.”

“This half-finished place reeks of robots rather than workers. Within our choice of words resides hidden traces of the equally hidden traces of Utopianism within this near-total Dystopian horizon. But it’s a dreaming that fades fast in the sight of a building that appears to us like a cardboard-Colosseum in a construction site that looks as much to be made of Lego as it does a mini-Ceaușescu palace for another world than thought it could never fall apart.”

“The gateway to a forgotten country.”


“What do we mean when we look out into the Humber along two different points on this trip and talk of this ‘other country’? Because initially we talk of how in a land long-aggrieved at the city on the Thames estuary (a river that drains political power from far wider than its own drainage basin), an estuary 200 miles further north drains as much, or if not more of that land that calls itself united. I’ve never actually been here before, maybe I saw the Humber bridge at some unmarked childhood moment, but I’ve never before stared into this drainage basin for all I’ve known from the land-locked life I lead. The pursuits, the cold sweats, resent, failed hedonia, the piss-ups, regrets, the poetry… – it all bleeds into the sea from here.”

“If things had been different…. and power hadn’t seen its natural home as lying along that southern estuary….who knows…?”

“Then there’s the fact that Hull often looks to have more in common with cities across the sea as it does cities 60 miles back up the M62. If it wasn’t for the faces stained by our peculiar class system, that you can see from way across the old inlets, you could half-imagine you were in Amsterdam or Copenhagen. EU flags hang proudly defiant around the old docks, accompanied by a monument to the Union that looks like it can’t be over 5 years old. Around here the wish to celebrate such a bond is so explicit you have to remind yourself that the decision the UK made to the leave the EU did actually happen. A sense of sadness creeps over me, even though my reluctant Remain-voting self was neither saddened or shocked when this Island did choose to pretend that it had no bond with a land mass it split off from just 8,000 years ago.”

“But it’s a multifaceted sadness, which was already well incubated years before the referendum. It is somewhat put into words by the monument we now find right next to the river. It’s to the 2+ million people who used Hull’s port on their migration from the old world of Northern Europe to a United States that still shone as a beacon for a better world. “America was pregnant with promises and anticipation…” So was postwar Europe… Intoxicated by the bombardment of illogic, Brexit was still nonetheless a protest, a primal scream at a ‘modern’ world that has gone back on nearly all of its promises…”


“The ensuing pause caused by the long wait to cross the furious traffic on this ‘river road’ gives Michael time to think of his own personal dismay of a world that went back on its promises of a better future. Michael was in his early adult years when the rave movement emerged out of the bad vibes of Thatcherite Britain, emitting vibes of peace and love that spread into mainstream culture and joined hands with the relief of the seeming end of the cold war/the fall of the Berlin Wall. There was a shared-feeling that the ‘millennium people’ would keep the horrors of the 20th century well and truly confined to the history books.”

The rest is (non)history…

“We walk back into the centre, through a city park full of all the now overly-familiar signs of the forgotten post war dreams. Every city had such dreams, every city seems embarrassed by them. But maybe not Hull. It seems somewhat different to other UK cities, less like a place swapping identical props with other places to come up with the same thing;  Rubix Cube cities, all identical but showing a slightly different array of colours at a given time.”

“The city is one big building site, in preparation for it being the UK City of Culture 2017, which may give a more practical explanation for all its defiantly pro-EU iconography. But as much as cities cannot survive on celebrations of their cultural pasts and presents alone, and in-spite the dangers of gentrification, there are kernels of optimism in seeing cities that have suffered much decline being revamped and given the national respect they rarely get. But I guess I wish I could just believe that these things go somewhere! The sense of inertia ventriloqises everything; ‘article 50’ feels like a huge weight being held in artificial suspense, perhaps indefinitely; a sadness in shopping centres as we head back to the car-park makes us think of how the hidden spirit of consumerism is the assurance of more and more each time – a deeply troubled spirit for today’s reality of diminishing returns, indefinitely. Seismical game changers seem eager to inflict ‘their’ reality for good, bad and uglier, yet everything and every soul seems to be just hanging and waiting.”

“From the top of the multi-storey car-park we assess the Humber estuary one more time, with a sense of some gain on perspective, if anything. We now head back towards the West Riding Sprawl. We pass Drax power station, which more or less sits in middle of all the old ridings, and then past the infamous landmark the Prince of Wales Colliery’s old spoil heap (now a huge green hill), and back towards Wakefield.”

Trapped in a Time-Locked Torpor. This is The Everyday

December 2016

Bella Vista…

Where I stand is the interzone between two points of total immersion torpor. One, Leeds, has become an L.A hallucination, retroactively glamming up its postwar buildings, giving them an almost dating website-style makeover. Whilst Seattle is sleepless in Sheffield, restlessly rearranging everything into Retrobars, comforting hideaways from the cold world gauntlet between pubs. For what? Is this what civilisational dementia looks like, before the muscle wastage kicks In?

The Bella Vista, once a panoramic point in a pleasure ground for the privileged, now a 30 minute breather from the exhaustion caused by the existential inertia of the production of inproductive work. From here you can see into the borough’s of Barnsley,  Wakefield and Huddersfield, who’s total population reaches to just under 1 million. Yet the one alteration in generations upon the tip of the horizon is the wind turbines, that almost seem to jester in frustrated anticipation of a coming of a world they were supposed to bring energy to.

Yet this ‘inbetween’ area is also a hotspot for dead-end pleasure-seeking, a disease for what there is so far no cure. Slaves to sexual stimulation wait around here, in car parks and woods, in the dead of Winter. This creates an air of suspicion to me standing around using the undulating landscape as an attempt to draw out a cure. I just look like another addict at the end of history, who will do anything to get his next fix.”

“But the standing, and looking, sorts things. I feel like I can now ‘reconnect’. The primordial term ‘information super highway’ still seems to make sense, as I anticipate the easy completion of ‘to do’s’ with the false confidence of midday feeling.”

Leeds as L.A hallucination

“False confidence dries up in the concourses of railway stations, which will remain as points for internal discussion over direction in life, indefinitely. “Prioritise!” – an anxious assertion that I’ve definitely internalised but yet not been able to do anything with as it jostles itself to the top of an otherwise empty itinerary. A timid voice that only just just dare speak itself, retorts; “how do you prioritise in a world that has lost all meaning, without reconfiguring yourself to a form of meaning you already feel to have been debunked of meaning?” Who can honestly say they’ve successfully reconfigured? If my body’s rhythm is plugged into the machine, my soul gave up any idea of a future within it a long time back. It’s been alleviated by 12 years worth of biweekly piss-ups: crumb trails of fools gold, that suggested a quick fixing for the future. But all the time I knew it wasn’t really me that needed fixing in the first place. Now that the industry has become the individual my lonely voice of resistance has become my lone selling point, leaving the prospect of a seismic conjuction the lone hope.”

“But John’s attitude at the end of the world is one that allows a new one to become possible, even as he says “I think we’re fucked, to be honest” whilst laughing in the Waterstones café. Conversation with him is always an avenue rather than a cul-de-sac. But until those “avenues (are) all lined with trees” the feeling fades fast within the readjustment to my own company. I, who is stuck on daily repeat between these two cities; I, who’s message is always of a ‘lack’, forgets how much he depends on the energy of others, and now has two full hours of dead time before my next friendship rendevous in a cold world offering only alcohol in end of history havens as places to hallucinate its warmer times.”

Seattle is Sleepless in Sheffield 

2016. After The Sugar Rush…

The Tablet. The Tablet entrenched the torpor. This year seems to have been spent racing from place to place rooting for Wifi in the cities I once never needed it in. Fullstops between hours, days and months seem done with; in fact 2016 is the first year that hasn’t felt like one at all, literally dissolved by my first encounter with swipe technology dependency. But I find a pub in Sheffield that requires a code to log in, and I’m too tired, too obsessed with how this once normal-looking room is now like a stage-set for a Seattle-based sitcom, to bother asking anybody for it. Social media has had concrete impacts on everything, not least in the Instagramisation of meeting places into a hyperyesterday (I’m sat in one now). But the current ‘sugar rush’ that gets us staring into these screens more than ever is swipe dating, the most famous being Tinder. Ten years since MySpace and Facebook could hook us to a laptop screen with the anticipation of the next sugary social gratification, only to be as naturalised as running tap water, this could be the endgame sugar-rush. But it’s the end point of a process I no longer feel I have the words to describe.”

“Its because I’m a 20th century robot trying to keep myself in tune with century-less cyborgs. I’m going through the motions of someone in anticipation of a future that never arrived; an error of judgment (probably?) that entails an incompatibility with the present whether I wanted it or not. Sometimes I wish I could slip my subjectivity and swim the sleek cyberspacial surface of Now, in an attempt to take the cumbersome ‘in’ out of my individual. Make no bones about it, I’ve tried to live within the mere appearance of the world, but I’m too stuck in a previous tense when the ‘in’ was supposed to matter. It’s neither me nor these ‘swimmers’ who have ‘got it wrong’. Maybe I’m just analogue in a digital world.”

Cybervidualism is 24 hour image-based. 24 hour gyms. 24 hour beauty. 24 hour lives. Everyone can be beautiful in the care of an Iphone. Cyber-sexy-cool. The whole of life turning towards sex in suspense. A still world of selfies that show no intimacy, as we addict ourselves to the slavery of swiping away, reducing the all of life, including ourselves, to “I  would” or “I wouldn’t”s. Sleekly it slides both males and females towards a slot machine of sexual psiren-hood. But what other option do we have? Deprived of intimacy in an age of loneliness, these Venus fly traps seem like a necessary evil, but once the seizure of swiping secedes a truly cold world solitude awaits.”

“Beautiful people, beautiful girls. I just feel like it’s the end of the world”.

“PJ Harvey, you keep singing in this my head, 16 years on. And the world maybe no longer exist as we retreat into post-traumatic-torpors; they sooth while they suck us in and suck us dry.”

“But my dark matter will not shift, won’t let me switch roles in an instant. So I’m back under another solitary half-piss up in the city, engaging in this hallucination of the past. And in a time where nihilism encroaches on the collective spirit like black death in hot summer,  the Retro Bar is what we are all reach for as an anchor. Let it shed a tear for eyes that have been exposed to way way too much. The 1990s hallucinations entrench and grow stronger. They evoke a time when we believed in this ‘new spirit’ of capitalism whether we knew it or not (after all it never spoke its name). And we crave the teenage kicks it gave us back then, the more a world made in its image falls apart. In a Sheffield pub, pop group SWV’s Early-90s Michael Jackson-rework ‘Right Here’ plays out as an apparation of 1990s dreams. A false opening (a fools opening) that left dead dreams. Left embarrased as to how small point in childhood has been eversince replaced by a colourless lack. After those first ever ‘proper’ holidays by ocean-blue sea, a sense of restlessness dug into my skin in the dying days of the 20th century, from where it still lives. It’s not an urge to travel, but a need to keep moving. No holiday until Postcapitalism, I get up and think of going to another bar.”

“Amber Warning”

“We are all actors trained for a ridiculous play that has no real partsfor us anymore. Sheffield’s growing army of homeless appear from every corner like long-out-of-work actors begging for a part, but even the better-placed can’t find one. It doesn’t work anymore! Time is out of joint because if capitalism was historically justified neither Trump or Brexit would’ve ever occurred.”

“But surely you don’t have to be deep-fried in Marx to come to an independent conviction that capitalism is (or was!) a process for getting somewhere else. Its very essence, of an ever-increasing speed of production, lays bare its journeyman identity.  But maybe we grew to like it’s roller coaster a little too much? The previous century was the cinematic century, and perhaps it just wouldn’t leave our skins as it reached its final 15 years. We wanted to go around again and again. Harder, faster, harsher. But we are now all addicts to an extremely toxic fix.”

“Evening walks home from town are rarely pleasant amidst the sensory bombardment of constant traffic, but they nearly always provide the fruits of vitriol. “Welcome to the dogshit of the real”, I text my fiend, as we wrangle over ways of unravelling the out of date social agreement of capitalist ideology. A way of undermining its hold on ‘the big other’, whilst feeding a collective utopian spirit.  But that’s just the daydream-revolutionary emerging due to a certain rhythm in the walking and texting. I proceed to sink into my solitary room, become stuck by the sadness as it catches me, and crave the Alleviations once more.”

“But we can live in a retro hallucination, swim the seductive Cybersurface 24/7, leave the world in 2016, but changes are afoot that will cut through the amber that has encased us in a place that feels like a still from a famous TV show. We need to recognise this stuckness, but then realise that the amber colour means ‘warning’. The world may often appear frozen, but it is also unravelling at a fast pace.”

“This was what it felt like to be sat in The Retro Bar At The End of The Universe in a year that was dated 2016.”

“A false feeling of eternity…but will the last train always be to nowhere?”