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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Ends (Writings From HMS Brexit)

ENDS (Stories From Time-locked Space)

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(March evenings , 2017)

For nearly 2 years one of the gateways into the centre has been shadowed by a broken bridge. But although it may not hang waiting on Brutalist Death Row for much longer, what it accidentally embodies seems destined to remain.

Like many boom towns of the early stages of capitalism, that now find themselves forgotten by all-important mainline routes to a parasitic capital, Barnsley is a town that they forgot to finish. Like a child stunted by an unanticipated ration, it’s too small for its own feet. This once-potential capital of the Yorkshire Coalfield is still a bus service hub for all the ex-coal-conurbs it promised to cater for, and we still flock here like stuck automatons of a stolen time, expecting destination but finding terminus – as the town, like the bridge, ends just as it begins.

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But ‘the broken bridge’ isn’t just about this infrastructural abandonment. It’s about a pervasive sense of paralysis. The frustrated and aimless nature of so many young people here, whose anxiety-inducing shoutings rain down on the town’s transport interchange – desperate for destination (like their upwardly mobile contemporaries appear to have). There is an invisible block in the way of hopes and desires, and we fold back into depressive and destructive pleasure-seeking. I have no game to win, no gain awaiting me, no hallucination of some fantastical bohemian haven from ‘the narrow minded’ –  just a critical need to speak of all that is under a sick sun. But I am paralysised too. Unable to build bridges, I collapse into quick fixes.

The attempts to resurrect a long-gone past in the face of a foreclosed future have had a strange side-effect on a town which has since suffered post-traumatic deindustrialisation disorder. The reintroduction of the much-missed markets that filled the high streets of yesterday has created a claustrophobic setting, constructing a crucible of the social pain around here. A fight breaks out between the feeble and frail as bonds rest on the fine line of the crucial next fix. The drug-taking would be in full view of the public, if there was a public, rather than pod-people, relying on battery power between places of consoling confinement. My battery has run out today.

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The Given is Giving way. Friends speak of the joy of searching the chaotic middle aisles of the European low budget supermarkets for budget surprises. But within such places I see the direction we are headed, and without a captivating argument against global capitalism’s distribution of things, the direction is downwards. Indeed, within these places you can see how the ‘Western way of life’ is slowly resembling the ‘Eastern way of life’. This unsaid truth is incubating a xenophobia against the European migrants, who are arriving in synchronicity with the arrival of a quality of life we thought was the fault of their failed Soviet dreams. Our souls are stained with the Social Democratic promises of continual improvement. It’s clear to see how The Migrant has become the unfortunate locus for the pain caused by this broken promise.

The staff and shopper look alike; stunned. Caught in limbo between a stain of a sense of civic responsibility and the disembodied disturbances that now greet them. The cause is a group of teenagers, whose bored baiting turns its attention to the shop windows, as they bang on them as loud as possible without the threat of breakage, before leaving Town End for the transport terminal. Nobody is sure of the limits to their search for entertainment. The anguish of the Liberal; their tongue littered with words that sound conservative and reactionary before they’ve even been released from the mouth.

Down at the railway station the word ‘contaminated’ has been written by maintenance engineers under platform 1. But it ends up make-shifting for so much more, replacing the inefficient language I struggled with back up at Town End. ‘Contaminated’ is testament to all I’ve been seeing on these midweek winter evenings. The landscape, and people alike – we’re contaminated with something awful, something corrosive. Wave after wave has swept through these exposed precincts, over the past decades, decimating us more and more. The social body smashed into little pieces, that then feed on each other as if we’re acting zombies for the social bonds that once lived. The new wave, the deterritorialised, who were born within Broadband, retteritorialised with frustrations and misgivings they do not even detect. They are the new enraged, rightfully furious as they stare at the closed horizons their elders refuse to clear. But will they ever know this?

The thing is, the contamination is dying – it has nothing new to feed upon. But we aren’t small mammals waiting in the dark as the sun set on the dinosaurs. There is currently no new sun which we can speak of.

But it is no consolation to think that this fallout is happening for the beautiful people-places as much as it is for us, because as I walk to the station my gait is still filled with the haste of someone trying to outpace the weight of living under the spotlight of under-performance and failure. Its aura bullies these places, cruelly never allowed to forget the trendy urban hubs, that seem populated by models who show no sign of the stress marks from the affects of the fallout.

The cold waiting area is swamped by the stench of the 20 pence toilets, and the breathing noise coming from the faulty fan system is hardly a comforting noise like the ‘breathing sea’ we listened to in last year’s Journey to the Forgotten Fun of Filey. In fact it just makes you hyperaware of your own anxious breathing. You can see the pain on the faces; my face, in the reflection from the glass, retarded by a self-consciousness that can’t escape its knowing. “What am I doing wasting more limited money on overpriced pints in nostalgic bunkers in Sheffield?!” I leave the station and walk out of town.

I look back down the road at the town hall which has relative prominence to any grand structure for a bigger place. This is a centre like any other. They all command a certain wider zone, eclipsing similar sized centres beyond, and only themselves confronted by the pull of the much wider centres further afield. You expect something from them, and ultimately develop a love/hate fixation, unless you live in the command of another centre for long enough to be pulled in elsewhere.

I turn around again, and go back towards town. It’s been a strange few weeks anyway. The city-world of the mind is a maddening rabble of things to the extent that the head feels like an overcrowded collider.  The drink is a problem in as much as an anguish unfolds once the day is done. I want light but relapse into the dimming – I cannot be convinced that the morning will arrive.

Every morning I ask myself “why did I feel like that?”. But I did. Each morning brings the prospect of a new horizon, yet every sunset sinks me into a nihilized state under a dead horizon. The world we currently have is going through terminal decomposition and, possible, re-composition into a new one. It is deeply traumatic for all, experienced as it is in little prisons of loneliness. Internally working overtime at the end of all work  causes a sort of mute panic, as the sun goes down. And ‘dimming’ sources are sought, once again. Just maybe tomorrow will bring the new horizon…