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London Drawings

Given my recent obsession with drawing – sometimes well and sometimes badly – I thought I’d share my latest effort here. A series of three pictures all inspired by the city. Not, I’m sad to say, in a particularly good way but given the way it’s being forced, and paid, to change it’s hard to find any optimism towards these streets.

Anyway, there was something in there about a feeling of rejection from the city I’ve always called home that I wanted to get out and until I find a way to write about it here’s the outlet I have…

 

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Spoken Word & Holy Squatters

While I’m waiting for the edit to come through on my next book I’ve been experimenting with a few side-projects. Including some spoken word stuff which I’ve been dabbling with today. More of a distraction than anything I’m not expecting a great audience for it but it’s nice to try some different mediums and see how the nature of a story changes in the vocal re-telling. Still in the dicking around stage at the moment and obviously I’m doing it on a shoestring budget so quality isn’t great but just to give you a sample here’s my reading of ‘Holy Squatter’, a story I wrote a few years back and which, out of the long list of them, got picked up for recording…

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Sanitised Inhumanity

Sterility is one of the true markers of our time. As we live, try to understand and to create we repeatedly assume that to cleanse, to add a polished shine is to imbue quality in what we do.

In cities we gentrify, bringing order to urban chaos in the form of kit ready assemblies to be erected over the rubble of human growth. That same human growth suddenly dismissed as almost bacterial, disordered and messy. It’s judged as bad, while newly erected chains and cut to template homes are held as pure and good. A concerted effort to appease an imagined middle perhaps, where any number of fears, uncertainties and phobias can be soothed by uniformity regardless of how thin the slice of humanity is which requires such complete psychological security to exist.

In culture even the darkest and most honestly chaotic experiences, truths and ideas follow the same path. Without an ounce of realised hypocrisy or awareness the most fractured and incomprehensible portions of our human condition are buffed to a camera ready sheen where the words might survive unchanged but the force is disinfected away to aid the digestion of the now deified consumer. To do otherwise, to offer the unadorned and un-gilded without comforting context or a soft focus is to break the laws of appeal. An ironic requirement which means even the most unpleasant of subjects need to be sold to an audience by a ready set of tricks, tropes and focus grouped obligations. And even where art ignores those demands and tries to force forward with honesty there’s the whole industry of marketing waiting to insert itself and do the job in the creator’s place. An overwhelming process which can turn even the most determinedly transgressive rejection of the polished product into a marketable asset without the option to resist ever arising.

In our news the same occurs. Unending and unyielding stories are distilled down to bite sized packages, a war is the story of the week and forgotten with the weekend, natural disasters blossom up in live feeds and tragic set pieces before magically being healed in the viewer’s unconscious once the cameras stop rolling. Nothing is so bad, so inhuman or so crippling that it can’t be subsumed into the calm waters of cleansed presentation. An unnatural act, like a story cut off before the final act and one which leaves the audience to wonder why there’s some gnawing doubt digging into them. The news moves on, but humanity doesn’t, even if the outline of events is forgotten the feelings they inspire aren’t. They just add to a never ending pile of oppressive anxiety and insecurity which grows with every rotation of the news cycle. A more bare boned honesty would seldom offer much more by way of resolution but it might at least highlight the need for thought beyond the first hit of action rather than proclaiming the past passed and leaving the results of it to silently fester.

Maybe this is the evolution of human control at work. Perhaps the desire was always to sterilise what we saw and how we saw it. Perhaps this is just the first time in our history where so much force – political, capital and social has come together to give us what we want though. Where before the drive to not see was a desperate aspiration maybe it’s now become a readily offered boon from a society and media which is finally in a position to both offer and profit from it. If that’s so then it’s us who need to shake out of our own overstuffed comfort zone and seek some sense of humanist masochism. We need to start rejecting the comforts of a story, world or home which is marketed to us rather than grown and experienced by us. Or we just need to reject the snake oil salesman whose potion has proven itself, in a way, to work. And if this isn’t our natural desire carried through to artificial completion then why do we have it? Why is such simplicity and razor sharp definition of our world being forced onto us and what lies across the lines beyond which confusion is being partitioned off?

Either way the side-effects of our anti-bacterial fixation are going to keep on mounting up and, sooner or later, we’ll need to face them or let them take a toll on us no less devastating than the messy truth itself would.

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Unnoticed Art

Sometimes art struggles, even very good art. It emerges from the source with pure intent, hopeful that it contains some value, some message or potential to provoke thought that can and will make a difference even as it’s shared as a passive act of promotion. But then it falters, it finds an audience that circles and murmurs, offering praise or disdain with a detached separation, happy to admire or dismiss but still unaffected by the work. If that was always the case then it’s even more tangible now. Take something like The Wire, universally praised, endlessly discussed and held up as a totemic awareness of the state of the communities depicted. Brandished as whip for scouring the guilty conscience and framing the villains of the piece. The real people speak, actors give lectures, the producer meets the President, the whole enterprise becomes a watchword for the injustice of a system which even in itself bows down to take a measure of blame when confronted with the representation of it’s own actions.

But then nothing. The real people speak and nothing, the actors give lectures and nothing, the producer meets the President and nothing, guilt is recognised and even in its clarity continues to be ignored. The issue at the heart of it, the driving force of it, the message of it is marginalised and all that’s left is the circling curiosity of the crowd. We all get to enjoy the purchase of awareness, we all get to know what the problems are and add the understanding to the inventory of our possessions. Another act of ownership made abstract from problems which no one ever admits their share in, at least not enough to do anything about them. It’s defeating and not at all unique. Almost every book, film, show, exhibition or talk which contains any form of unspoken plea for action and change becomes muted into an artefact to be hoarded. A prize for those who mistake interest for concern and awareness for understanding. All the while leaving the same handful, the same struggling few to actually work towards solutions.

That’s understandable in most. After all from such an absolute distance what can be gleaned from artistic enlightenment other than a rarefied sense of awareness? The message exists exactly because the separation makes the truth so incomprehensible and blurred never mind the limitations of waking up every day and facing a world which, even before understanding it, seems already to be defeating our better selves. For others though that explanation can’t exist, any more than whatever value they see in their own indifferent, or at least shallow, understanding. There are those who can act and don’t, those who should be driven and aren’t, those who should beat themselves for their own culpability but instead do nothing but smilingly nod at their guilt. I suppose, if nothing else, the good art creates a hammer to use against them. A reminder that, even though they fail through their own lack of effort, they were warned, they were shown and there is no excuse for what came next. That’s a familiar outcome though, not much more. Anger is already the currency we have, resentment is already the comfort and at least once it’d be good to see those underdog attempts at levelling the field replaced by a positive passion for what can be done and what is allowed to be done. Otherwise the art that attempts to translate loses value and what comes next will be beyond culture, for better or worse.

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