Friday, 25 May 2012

News, Futures, Paths

My Phd proposal was accepted at Royal College of Art, I'm just waiting to find out if I'm going to get funded or not.
It's pretty exciting, by next week I might know what I'm doing for the next five years or so.

Sunday, 20 May 2012

Production and the art of the left. Two questions.

I'm struggling a lot these days.
I don't mind, that's not something anyone can really get that bothered about, having things to consider, to work out, to work on.

The things I'm considering right now though are such knots that has been bothering me for a while and they both boil down to the question of how one's politics might fit in one's art.

There is an assumption that those of the oxymoronic "creative industry", those "knowledge workers", those writers, artists, and that whole scree that is, but can not quite admit that it is, yuppie society are politically of the left.

They would certainly never admit to being Tory, some may go as far as to support Boris but a brief survey will likely show you that those that admit this are more politically and social naive than actively making a statement of politic.

Yet my first issue of the day, my first knot of shitty twine tying my ankle to the plumbing, keeping me in this introspective space and, even more than usual, a deeply unpleasant man to be around, is the whether, and lets be specific here, art professionals can be truly of the left?

A while back, before going to ground for a month Wayne wrote this  which in both the main article and the comments touched on the status of the amateur in relation to the professional and the politics incarnate in both.

This might well have been the point at which something that had been at the back of my mind for a while but which I had dismissed as yet more chemically confused rage had started to bubble away again...

Capitalism, specifically neo-liberal post-fordist western capitalism is an entirely abstract engine with an Ideal state of complete separation from material reality. This almost doesn't need saying but it's where this arithmetic of mine needs to start. Mathematical Economics, is a nice visible point of this, a point at which quantities and quantifiable attributes are all that is required to model a situation and make predictions and decisions. The point of this that I wish to draw attention to is the Idealist form, the engine doesn't care what content is running through it, the goal of "more" is beyond consideration let lone change and factors which are not able to be quantifiable, or are excluded for other reasons, cease to exist.

Now look at some artists. Look at some musicians. Look at some writers.

Lets focus on artists because they're the kind of people I know best. I have actually spent more than enough time around musicians to discuss them, but in many way the situation is more complicated so lets just stick to the one example of artists.

I should clarify the sort of artists I'm talking about here first. The easiest thing to describe is less the artists themselves, but their career path, it goes something like this:

Art school > small exhibitions + other projects (education / public / commercial / etc) > large exhibitions > gallery representation + art fairs > Museum exhibitions > Biennials > infinity  

Now the ordering might change a little, people might have different things in their sights at different points, these days and MA is certainly something that happens early on in this trajectory, maybe a PhD too, there might be deviations through curation, through events, through publishing, through slip streams of other areas like music, literature, design, even ecology. Essentially though, this is the kind of artist I am describing, people that follow this model, which is what we today are going to call the Professional Artist.

The Professional Artist, is engaged in a commercial activity. They are perhaps trying to sell their work. They are perhaps not trying to sell this work right now, but instead are trying to get to a level of prestige where they can sell their work. They are attempting to develop contacts what will allow them to get to a position where they can sell their work.

Now everyone has to eat, everyone needs to survive. I'm not suggesting that we shouldn't allow artists to sell their work, or to do things that are a career move toward selling their work. What I am suggesting is that this structure need be acknowledged for what it is. To see what this is, you need only do one thing, look at someone buying art at an art fair, look at someone who owns a gallery, look at someone who runs an art gallery. Now there will be exceptions, but on a comfortable average, you're likely to be looking at pretty fine example of the bourgeoisie.

Now I hate the middle classes with the kind of passion that actually quite disgusts me. That makes my blood foam and spit and my finger nails grow out from the ends of my clawed hands as if bamboo shoots searching for the light that can only be found behind the eyes of agents of gentrification and oblivious oppression. But that is beside the point, so today I shall imagine that I do not, I shall pretend that I am oblivious to the damage they cause to those around them as they are to their own privilege.

The question is this though "how can professional artists claim to be in any way leftist when what they do is sponsored by, dependent upon the patronage of and influenced by the opinions of such people as are in controlling positions of the 'art word'?"

Now I can already see the next protest to this this question, and that would be "what of the public funded galleries? what of the arts council?"

And I would ask, what is the line of separation between such public institutions and the commercial galleries? The social currency that gets artists exhibitions at such institutions, that gets their work purchased by such institutions is won by their exhibiting at the commercial galleries and upon the paths which lead up to the commercial galleries (these paths include the artist-run spaces, the warehouse shows etc). The careers of those working in public institutions are tied to the commercial institutions, the next move, the previous move, the next show, the next artist, they are all naturally interlinked.

More to the point, the larger overwhelming system of exchange is almost never examined.  Our God is Speed offered a description of art which on surface might appear to subverting this system of exchange by offering a material item for free. However this is not the case. In a similar manner to the free beer on opening nights, this work is merely an event which intends to recoup its costs in some other means, through prestige, through the mutual/competitive leg-up of institution and artist.

So my question again is "How can artist claim to have leftist politics, yet be part of this system?"

To clarify the potential confusion of my writing these words rather than speaking them, I am not asking a rhetorical question here. I believe there is an answer and should it be staring me in the face I would welcome someone to chick their fingers and draw my attention to just where I should be looking.

Also, if someone can explain to me how the actions and works of Claire Fontaine is anything other than assisted recuperation, then I'd be glad to hear that too.

I have a suspicion that to label anything as art nullifies its content.

The second issue I am currently struggling with is also within the sphere of ethics and it concerns production.

To begin with, lets look at the most pure aspect of production. This is the aspect of production which is not immediately assimilated and thereby returning the balance (of that interchange) to zero.
This is waste.

In the way in which I struggle to reconcile speakers traveling the world on airplanes yet holding a view climate change is caused by such actions or the the way that film and television productions show attempt to "minimise" their carbon footprint or local ecological impact, I can't help by ask why the larger model of action is not being changed?

If one was serious about not causing damage to ecosystems, or to producing huge amounts of carbon, one wouldn't produce a television series, and would certainly have a different attitude to aesthetics if one did so.

Huge sets and crews and transportation costs would be considered excessive, lazy and obscene.

The trajectory would not be toward a hyper-realist spectacle, but one that privilege economy over excess. In a true re-telling of Modernism, the means would be a vital aspect of the story, because the methods by which the fiction is woven would be made visible. The slim gap between actual events and the fiction presented would themselves be the art. Not only "I did this" but "I did this with this".

A full disclosure.

Likewise, the speaker would simple not choose the take the plane every other weekend to present their paper (and this is not just those who are speaking explicitly on ecology or rather anyone who believes in the damage to the earth caused by air travel. If you're not prepared to deny the causality and move your position to the right, then you really must question how you can justify getting on that plane).

Why not skype? why not employ another local agent to present your paper?

And so now I return this line to art.

Art is about solving problems (if only in the manner of discovering new ones to hold up) about generating new things, about twisting and turning and re-defining the field of play and opening up new avenues and spaces.

Yet ethics of art production rarely come into this.

If I can make art in any manner, how can I justify using a toxic material (and not unfashionably shift my political identity to the right)?

If art can be intangible, how can I justify filling the studio skip with non recyclable mutants of resins and metals and plastics?

I think about this quite a bit for the simple reason that I can't help but look at it.

In my home we have managed, with little effort or even design to place almost nothing in the refuse bin designated for landfill. Organic material is recycled either by the council or in our own garden. Plastics, metals, paper and glass are recycled by the council or else re-used. Some thing's are packaged in a way that is not recyclable and so every 4 months or so a small bag's worth of these will go in the black bin.

Outside of any ideas of climate change, this simply seems like living right, like good design. It seems lazy, even childish to desire the world just bend to one's unconsidered desire. To spend money with no responsibility for where that money goes. To remove inconvenience of seasons by eating the same food all year round, to wear a tshirt indoors all year round.

I feel like I'm not so enfeebled, delicate and unimaginative that I can't work with the flux of reality and still get things done.

I don't believe in a fixed idea that I must bend to matter to accommodate like the baggage train of Victorian's grand tour.

This does read like the self applauding lifestyle environmentalism which I loathe. But it's important that I connect this to my real life, because this is my problem, this is my question I'm trying to answer and therefor my context is important for it to make any sense to anyone else.

My aesthetics have now become utterly bound up in the material world. My concept of beauty is indivisible from the specific situation in question and the networks which tie to other networks.

How exploitative something is factors in its beauty.

How much damage and disturbance something causes is a factor in its beauty.

If something uses the materiality of a wasteful or toxic material which cannot (or will not) be returned to an inert state, this is not negated by whatever it does in the realm of language.

If something has to cause damage in the process of drawing attention to such dame, if one has to kill one organism to draw attention to fragility of the others, then that point has been made clumsily.

So the question I have been asking myself is, how can I make anything that can't just return to an inert and open-ended state upon its completion of use?

This is all just relative and subjective, there is no such thing as waste, as the towering cities of refuse and rot declare through the cries of the carnivorous sea-birds which encircle their battlements.

So the real question is, how can artist retain even their pseudo-leftist Guardian reading position and not factor all of the costs of production into their decision making?

And again, this isn't rhetorical, I'm hoping for someone to enlighten me.

Wednesday, 16 May 2012

"All The Holes in Your Heart"

Jesus christ, bank holiday Monday, where has it gone this weekend? Where has the week gone?
I started writing a review for you all of Diamond Suicide, the quad-disk octagonal album that Julian Cope, Prince and the New Power Generation produced in 1991 but I shattered my collarbone in a cycling experiment on Saturday afternoon and I can't change the records with one hand. I'm typing with one hand now which is more frustrating than in should be, plus the floating section of bone shifts every now and again. Codeine has shaved the pain off but it can't alter the sensation of bone not being where it should be which my brain interprets with a small finger of adrenaline inducing vomit through a hungry winding press to the sternum.

I can tell you that Diamond Suicide is a pivotal point for both artists, making the loss of self and the emergence of a collectivist attitude to music production, amoeba-like. The New Power Generation ( a pan lineal horizontal and open grouping), Prince (a title with inherent becoming that we know with hind sight was approaching abstraction and various pseudo-deaths) and (mystic) saint Julian are ultimately concerned with a re-staging rite of various moments of the French Revolution. This action is the simultaneous rise and fall of the revolution, ((the real revolution) (the whole wheel) (the industrial hustle)), all factions enmeshed with all others. An eight sided collective record born of two twin cities split by the Mississippi and the Rhymney. (and again by the Mersey, the Seine and the Thames and so on...).

Poll Tax Riots; a point at which Idealism got smashed in the mouth by material reality. “Engine of history” as an image, doesn't cover it though,. What we have instead is just pure negation. A step too far to standardise vicious order over messy treacherous things like human lives. It's not like things swung round, not like it really changed anything, but it was a jolt all the same, a stall that brought attention to the engine itself, if only for an embarrassing few seconds from the point of view of the driver.

Proletarian fop-rock, Agnostic gospel turned back in on itself, a road of Christianity that skirts the authority of the church and dog-legs back on itself through the the mystic's direct contact with the divine as a thing of expression (“look up in the air, it's your guitar”) and winds up somewhere pagan, glorifying the beauty of the ancient/modern/moment. 

Prince, like DeSade, a revolutionary out side of dichotomies of class, of sides, “struggle” as an intensity in itself. As I've said before, funk is about repression, symbiotic in its need for a thing to beat against, to be caught, to struggle. We can't have a smooth space without a little striation, just as can't have the space of a mine without a boundary of rock and wood, or architecture without the infection of the void.

It is quite telling that the liner notes feature a pair of pen and ink self portraits of Prince as Robespierre, one in which he is operating the guillotine and the other placing his head upon the block. The latin inscriptions in the background of each read "Emancipation through damage to the self" and "A mark on the jaw" respectively and one cannot read these now without feeling the foreshadow of later events in the artist's life.

“Clovius hoofus Cernunnos (-os)
I knew the devil before all o' this,
shake your body like a horny pony would,
shake your body like a horny pony would”

So who is Cope in all this? Some Jacobin Pagan?
Now would be time to try and wrest the Paganism of the revolution from its role as proto-fascist ignition, leading to the Berg Kino, the (worst applications of the) walks of Heidegger and pseudo-spiritual-nationalist-naturalisms. I'm clearly too ill informed for that mammoth task though. The ragged crack through history has on one side the universal access to an un-capitalised "nature", to the local seasons, to land running through all culture. While on the other side of this divide looks so very similar, but is always ever a front, a misdirection. Just as Social Darwinism hid one empire and just as Manifest Destiny hid another. That's the Nature with the capital N, the Science with the capital S. Cult anything you want, it will be still just be a cult, content doesn't matter to dogma. So how to separate "standing stones as beings" from "standing stones as symbol of Eternal Ideology"?  This question underpins most of the twenty tracks on Diamond Suicide and is largely the tension which holds the work together.

Prince, like Cope always struggled with the Ideal of identity, what it is for anything to be like itself. Moving closer to defining themselves. The walk on mic-stand, the questioning of how or why to be oneself. To mark that ground out and name, with the close label of a birth name, all actions under ONE. Yet at the same time the desperate design to be part of the community, the union, with another, with more than just another.

To be a generation is to be a lineal wave yet also a poesis, a spurting forth. To create new power. A power of what though? Sources suggest an abstract non-terran energy, the kind of deep abstraction that funk thrives on (an immaterial alien sentience from space, twisting and changing and always in between. Out there in the snow... The Thang). Outside both the physical and the space of language.
To protest, to be an (guitar) army. How to reconcile that desire for self-naming with the desire to be in a collective. Prince achieves it best, or at least as honestly as he can with the billing “Prince and the New Power Generation”. The self and the collective which is equal to the self. 1 = everyone else along side. Never going to be consumed, never going to loose one's self fully. There is be and there is you.


That's really the tension that Prince struggled with the whole way through, it's what all the legal disputes came from, the fear even of his own followers which led to attacks on fan sites and the like. The rights to his image, to hold it out for all to see, to touch, but utter horror at the realisation of what that entailed.

Cope is someone different, and his influence mellows the record considerable, assists in keeping it grounded, a bit more human, a bit more Hume. Cope still has his demons to work out and his conservative belief to the power of the guitar as sacred tool is conflicted with an often shockingly banal attitude to actually playing the thing, we won't dwell on that though. Luckily on this record Prince's production takes what would have undoubtedly been some enfeebled constructions and buttresses them in all the right places while pulling out excess organs and putting a few more holes in the rear end. “Leperskin”, with its profound poetry on the subject of transformation, growth and abandonment uses many of the same synth+drum machine checkerboard constructions that made Dirty Mind some rigidly wonderful. A wall of brass smashes the left channel like a parade of baroque clowns for what seems a well lived life time but is actually only 8 bars of what is just shy of a 13 minute song. Legend has it that the record company very nearly insisted on bringing in Allan Moulder to produce on the session “Leperskin” was recorded on and one can only imagine the kind of shocking snake shit that would have resulted in. The story continues that the band simply stacked Hammond organs against the inside of the studio doors setting the furious Moulder on a week long bloodlust which only ended when he broke into Creation records and butchered the final track of My Bloody Valentine's Loveless.

As it is fate has decided that the refrain “Mutantazoid, caucazoid, white cave bitch” chanted by the Sounds of Blackness Choir over staccato hits of a tape sample burst of distorted and hand manipulated orchestral noise is one of the most frightening pieces of sound ever arranged. A monument to the dying days of Neanderthal culture it expresses the true horror of death in a landscape of unimaginable scale, based in part on a story of a fleetingly mentioned character in a Jean M Auel novel. Listening to this one track now, 21 years after it was recorded one cannot help feel regret that Julian Cope chose to follow the misguided belief that stone circles and atavism had a lineage that led to the the sound of an electric guitar alone. “leperskin” showed most clearly that the feeling of stone and the whispered protest against annihilation that constitutes the ritual moving of such stone, is something far more rhythmic than it is textural. What Cope failed to understand later was that it isn't the sound of electric guitars the drive Funhouse (though they are sublime) but the rhythmic arrangement of any sufficiently brutal parts. 

This is not to say that Diamond Suicide is not ultimately a guitar album. The 2nd side of the 3rd disk contains just one track which is dominated by the droning noise of electric guitars (and two sitars). "Surf of Thunder" is a near solid bar of sound, layer upon layer of reverb means that shifts are never felt except in their passing. "Surf of Thunder" is glacial, punctuated by cycling manta's (which mark the only true Prince and Cope duet) and what should feel like guitar solos yet is simply momentary groupings and swirlings of noise, like a fossil curled in rock echoing the form of the great tidal Apocalypse that the song predicts.

 "You don't have to be afraid now, come and save your soul tonight"

Written as a reflection on the Reign of Terror from the point of view of the scaffold itself "Surf of Thunder" was originally meant to be the final track of the album (which explains the record is double-grooved on the final turn, meaning that like Sonic Youth's Evol, which the album's artwork explicitly refers to, Diamond Suicide will continue to play a disjointed repeating noise endlessly until the stylus is lifted), however an error in labeling meant that the disks are ordered out of sequence. As it is the title track is what closes the album, which despite its name is perhaps the most optimistic point of the whole twenty songs. A sonnet over phasing kick drums detailing the love triangle of Corday, Marat and David, "Diamond Suicide" is almost too sentimental but thanks in no small part to the sincerity of Sheena Easton's whispered choruses the subtext of collapsing skin and intimacy, of the group and self which has run through the entirety of this album crystallizes in the final moments perfectly.

"Turn the lights off, strike the candle,
No one you have ever known, knows how to handle,
All the holes in your heart"

Monday, 7 May 2012


Call for expressions of interest…

A symposium, performance, exhibition, workshop and gathering to investigate, discuss and speculate on topics specific to or peripheral to Resistance, Noise and Material and their possible relations.

This event will take place in London on Thursday 4th August 2012.

Contributions are invited which include any or all of the following: conventional or unconventional academic papers and presentations; performances of/and/or recordings; visual interpretations; participatory events; and other explorations of the themes of noise, materials, and resistance.

Time and space can be made available prior to the event for projects which are developed in situ.

Proposals from distance applicants which require delivery or realisation by a local agent or recording played on site are also welcome.

The event will be recorded with documents, images and recordings made freely available.

Initial expressions of interest should be directed by email to before 30th of May 2012.