The police here, as much as in the US, strut and strike as a pumped-up, psyched-up occupying force, cuffing and humiliating, electrocuting and bullying and terrorising neighbourhoods where “nice” people don’t live and the “nice” people see them as their personal security service and they do this to enforce the boundaries, the differences, the variable opportunities, the access and freedoms that our system grants to the families of those who are already in charge, or those who service them.
Our democracy, institutions of power and privilege, our systems of access are not policed in the same way, here or in the US. Nice people, nicely spoken, nicely dressed, liberal, highly educated people sit in quiet studies and say 3 powerful words: Black Lives Matter. Well, they did this week.
And they say: It’s just that … I’m sorry but … very high calibre … unfortunately this time … a difficult decision … the right fit … you must understand … 3 powerful words.
They blight lives, exclude and act as gate keepers to defend their own supremacy.
Admissions tutors, arts administrators, hiring committees, social workers, teachers, bankers and civil servants.
To paraphrase Roy Batty: I’ve seen (and heard) things you people wouldn’t believe.
Cool shoes, smart casual, herbal teas … they do the same job. They don’t see themselves that way but they are the thug police.
They are defending Rhodes’ statue at Oriel College in Oxford … It’s been four years but now: Rhodes Must Fall.
And it must be the start of a new conversation and not the end.
Under a full moon the Chief Economist, High Priest of the Cult of Mathiness, crosses the obsidian abyssal waters of the flooded caldera of Mount Data to the Temple of Light to consult the Gods of Money and read the measurements from the great golden armillary sphere, literally made of money; bringing an offering — a poor human baby.
Busby Berkeley meets Albert Speer, Nuremberg meets Vegas on a sound stage in Hollywood.
Weird that such a cold intellectual conceit came fully formed and just needed to be executed. Just! Ha! Ambition is a terrible thing and biting off more than you can chew can choke you. Perhaps a bit over the top … so unlike me … why be subtle and nuanced … when you can just beat them over the head? … and stretching my skills beyond breaking point but … it seems to hold together and does reflect the pomposity and self-importance of the financial world’s “Masters of the Universe”, not to mention the misanthropic, libertarian homunculi in Downing Street.
Fetishising models means that the only ideas that can gain traction are those that can be modelled and an elegant model that bears no empirical, indexical relationship to the real world or simply ignores the fact that it refers to real living breathing people just like the ones we know and love is worse than useless: it is a weapon. Dominic.
Ancient Chinese astronomers of the Zhou dynasty were mathematical virtuosos and their measurements were amazingly accurate but as there is no causal connection between the way the arrangements of planets and stars look from earth and what happens here on earth, save for a supernova, it won’t help your marriage, win your war or guarantee a bumper harvest.
In 2003 I read Brian Greene’s Elegant Universe trying to learn about about quantum physics and string theory — I understood almost every word, and looked up the ones I didn’t. I read it from cover to cover hiding from the celestial fire in Canicule Paris but I didn’t understand string theory — I didn’t know what the words meant, I didn’t understand how they related to the real world. I can still repeat some of the phrases but they don’t make sense. To paraphrase Wanda: Apes do read philosophy, they just don’t understand it!
We use metaphors and models to help get a grip on complex ideas, so that we can grasp them in our three dimensions, turn them, animate them, look at them from the other side. We mustn’t mistake them for the real thing.
This morning I read about a guy called Toby Hall, a member of Glastonbury Town Council’s 5G Advisory Committee. He’s been recommending a device sold by BioShield Distribution for £340 to protect their parishoners from dangerous radiation from electromagnetic fields. But for all their talk of “relativistic time dilation and biological quantum entanglement at the DNA level”, the £5 usb stick does absolutely nothing. At least he is sleeping better and having more dreams, feels a ‘calmer’ feel to the home and still thinks the company might be able to develop a system to offer protection to the whole town of Glastonbury. Good grief. We have to find and ask useful questions, to get meaningful answers which will help us better understand the world.
To return to one misanthropic, libertarian homunculus in particular: it’s not about the details of what he did — it’s the fact that he did it; it’s not about the inconsistencies in his story — it’s that he thought he had a right to tell it when others could not; it’s not about the judgement he used in realtion to the imperatives he faced, it’s about his judgement of the nature of his position, that he thought he had a right to use judgement at all in this case. You can argue endlessly about how many angels can dance on the head of a pin until you face up to the fact that none can … full stop.
If Cummings can’t see that he has broken the contract of trust and that means even more people will die unnecessarily when they feel free to ignore the guidelines, use their own judgement. And now rules which were brought in to protect us, while systems were established and perfected to crunch the threat, are retrospectively amended and ameliorated to accommodate his actions, senior figures in the government and the health system vomit faecal vacuities in his defence and undermine our trust in our guardians, then he’s an idiot or a liar or both.
The thing I find most contemptuous is that he has shown the rule of law is not, he has shown us that there are some people who are “free” to do as they see fit. And get away with it. And that the rest of us are subject to arbitrary power. This is what fundamentally identifies a slave.
He sees himself as one of the Masters of the Universe. I’ve met some of them and they are clever people — he’s not thick but he’s not in their league — he’s a dim person’s idea of what a clever person is.
But they too mistook cleverness for wisdom and they are not the same thing. And not what we need.
Ray Harryhausen’s Dynamation meets Ilya Repin’s Volga Barge Haulers, Poussin meets Hergé, ancient myth meets Mary Shelley.
Blind Orion drags the 200,000 ton mega rig, Berkut, into the Arctic Dawn.
Orion, earthborn, the most beautiful of the giants … the childhood of mankind. Innocent but insatiable: took whatever he wanted. Was blinded for raping Merope. Forgiven and restored. And still boasted that he could kill all the animals of the earth. Horrified, Gaia created a giant scorpion on which he trod. And that was the end of Orion.
Not that you could stretch beautiful or innocent to include Trump, Johnson, Bolsonaro, Putin or their moneyed master giants.
Everything must change … we cannot just go back … we will not just go on, we have relearned what we had forgot … sheesh, how naive can some people be. Don’t worry your little heads, they won’t let you get ideas. The people who created this disaster by dismantling even our prepared response, who had already dismantled so much, the value of which we are now rediscovering are spying new opportunities, new horizons as we hunker down, reconnect to our communities and fall in love with peace and quiet and clear skies and birdsong … though the boring, sour dough cruelty of lockdown has been denied to so many who had no choice but be our front line.
They knew they would not be forgiven for spending to avert a disaster but know they will never be forgiven for not spending to rescue us from it either — so they spend. The bill will be so much higher in money terms, never mind human, but so will the upsides too. Clear the decks, reset, game over, on to the next level. You cannot argue with a divine dispensation. But they didn’t just stumble because they were short-sighted short-termists. They are thick and stupid, greedy and selfish but they also do not care at all. If we die, if we get sick, if we go hungry, if we are fired, if we are homeless, if we are afraid, it simply does not register as valid feeling never mind pain. It’s not just that some animals are more equal than others, it’s a nineteenth century dichotomy: we have eternal souls, they do not. If it means anything at all to them it is a moral lesson to the dead — you, individually and in isolation, failed the rest of us, you failed your family and yourself. It must be so — black or brown skin, underlying health conditions, poor housing, hard work, low pay — these are lifestyle choices after all. It is right that you paid because everything must be paid for. Except what isn’t.
Baffled and frightened, angry and … helpless and just so fucking angry. Is it too drippy a retreat to wander the glades of Mount Latmos or wherever? I think I love Poussin because I am intrigued and entranced but not intimidated. And like Beethoven with Diabelli’s trite little waltz, you’re somehow liberated. Eee — you grandiose … Whatever.
I not been slacking, been working hard, just have no idea to what end exactly. Flotsam adrift on a rising tide of meaningless madness.
Politics, well, politicians, seem absolutely determined to make themselves irrelevant, terrifyingly terrible, twatty and tangential, redundant reactionary, solipsistic narcissists.
Left and right.
Hello? There are things need doing, need dealing with, need facing, there’s so much shit we never got done and you act like it’s all tweaking and finessing like plastic Tony Blairs or teenage revolutionaries or S&M nazis … voguing and dancing on the edge of a fucking volcano.
There is still one person sleeping on a street tonight, there is still someone, this afternoon hiding from a bailiff, there is still a man who fears he is about to be deported, there is still a woman who’s afraid to go to the doctors because she’s sure that what she suffers from isn’t covered by our universal health insurance, there is still a child who didn’t want to go to school today because she knew that bully would be there, there is still the person who was crushed by the man who dismissed them for just being what they were born, there is still the family who can’t pay the rent, mend the car, pay the leccy or buy enough food for tea, there are still people who live in fear and pain so that other people can live in decadent luxury and empty boredom and we fuck about around the periphery. All in one of the richest countries on earth. We all know these are just choices.
There is still so much to do and we … I … try to make shit, make art. It is what I can do. My skill, my craft, my contribution. A fart in a strong wind.
The difference is that the right are in power all over the world and they’re poisoning our conversations, polluting our stories, shitting in our wells of wisdom, feeding our fears and numbing us with laser light show, gladiatorial glitz and vacuous apocalyptic glamour and horror trope nightmares.
And almost all of the institutions that we built to counter this shit (hello, BBC) have appeased and capitulated and lost themselves in irresponsible gurning, ironic, giggly posturing and suicidal anti-elitist role playing, we’re left to fend for and defend ourselves and our communities and our inheritance.
And so many fight, so hard and so beautifully and I laugh and cry and then curl up and die inside when I see how it flickers in the dark and is snuffed out. Or is just drowned out or not even heard or seen in our wonderful pluralist pathways and long tail logic, throttled by the algorithms of greed.
And so the brightest and the best (and I DONOT include myself in that list) disengage and focus on the craft, the art, the long game, the dreams we shared and keeping the flame alive, focus on their own, what matters and lock down.
And this is not the black death, the hundred years war, the slave trade or the holocaust, the genocide of the Wild West or the monstrosities of empire, covid-19 is not the Spanish Flu of 1918 and Andrew Windsor is not Harold Shipman … but it ain’t a competition either is it? And that’s not incense.
But this is our time, our responsibility, our world … what are we to do? Us, people? We do what we do. What we can do. Physical, psychological, social, economic, educational, temporal, emotional constraints being given. Well, we don’t give up, we live all our allotted days and then we die.
And I make pictures: it’s what I do. It’s all I can do. I’ve tried. And every hour I spend doing that is not spent feeding the insatiable machine of capital so I not making things much worse. And I like to see my drawings a certain size. One of the reasons I paint them. My computer’s monitor fills my field of vision at 50cm, my paintings take up about the same field at 150. So, if you’ve come here from Facebook or Instagram on a phone and you’re using a lap or a desk top, you’re in for a new experience … not exactly a surprise and not exactly transcendental either but, hey.
So I’ve made a sort of rolling gallery of my attempts, sketches, ideas — Here. I’ll update it as I make more stuff — please comment, argue, advise, check in regularly or look at my stuff on Instagram or just enjoy.
I have no idea what I’m doing, making it up as I go along, as are we all, but I do believe it matters. It will make a difference; like the beat of a butterfly’s wing. There will be consequences, however small. Maybe I just choose to believe.
Not comfortable with them. Don’t trust them.
That’s why I paint.
If you want to win an argument, if you want to change someone’s mind, if you want to change the world, you need words. I’m sure of that. And I stumble and forget and get confused but when I paint … it flows.
Art, music, a painting never changed anything. Never changed anyone’s mind.
The greatest paintings, individually, they’re 4 minute pop songs. With all the triviality of that and, sometimes all the deep connections and lingering emotional charge and potential of that. We hope.
But they can grab you for those 4 minutes. For those 4 minutes you’re not alone. We can commune. Us. Share. Dance together in our imagination.
And at my opening on Friday people kept asking questions … derr … of course you did … I would.
And so …
Take my piece: The Adoration of the Golden Calf.
I started with the “civil” war in Syria.
Guilt and shame tearing at me.
And I look to Nicholas Poussin’s painting.
Because it’s embedded in my cultural world.
Because it’s in “the canon” — so it’s embedded in others’ worlds too.
Because it’s shared in our stories, the stories that still, almost, bind us together.
Because, when I started on it, we were “commemorating” the end of the First World War.
And because it was Aaron what done it. Fucked up. But he still got to lead us to the promised land. How does that work? It was a little bit personal.
OK, so we need an altar, a plinth. And I take Edwin Lutyens’ cenotaph on Whitehall. An empty tomb (a kenotaphion).
And then I need Wilfred Owen’s poem, written during the first world war, quoting Horace: Dulce et decorum est pro patria mori (It is sweet and right to die for one’s country), yeah, right, whatever. English lessons at an English school. So it goes on the plinth.
And then we need a golden calf. And so I take Arturo Di Modica’s tacky and revolting Charging Bull from Wall Street as an appropriate stand in. What drives this sort of international politics after all? Money … wars.
And we need a place for it all to be and so I steal the mountainous landscape from Poussin’s own painting.
And in the sky, tracer fire over Damascus.
And I put it all together and make a drawing. Lots of drawings.
And do you need to know this shit? No. But does it help? Maybe. Maybe it always did. It did then, in the 17th century. And maybe we shouldn’t forget the way our culture grew and consumed and subsumed new ones and can now welcome new stories and bind us all together in a shared dreaming.
Lovely day in Kassel, at about 4:30 am, workers from a local construction company began dismantling Olu Oguibe’s “controversial obelisk made for Documenta 14, titled “Monument to Strangers and Refugees,” (“I was a stranger and you took me in”: Matthew 25:35) with two heavy cranes.
By 9:30 am, the obelisk was entirely gone, strapped to a flatbed truck and sent to a construction site on the outskirts of the city (where it now remains).
Because the premise is a lie … was always. Because family feuds are worse, civil wars not and because antisemitism is not exclusive when it comes to who the semites are … because Trump is, Netanyahu is … not …
And so people die. And live without hope … and now less … if that’s possible.
And not to aesthetisise anyone else’s pain, and not to ignore the ancient greek’s misogyny … why is this shit still going on … I’m not naive, just sad and angry.
Real photographs, real film, mechanical camera thingy. Ay? Why?
OK, I’ve been thinking about this: it seems there are at least three things going on here. Three scams. Three cons. Three lies.
There’s the illusion of choice, there’s “democratisation” and there’s the delusion of perfectibility.
Consumer capitalism is predicated on the pivot of choice: you CAN buy this (can’t you? — look at this ad, this promo, this review) … or not. If you don’t buy; that’s your choice. Whether you can actually afford it is neither relevant nor irrelevant it is simply not acknowledged, accepted or even recognised … no other alternative exists.
So — I cannot afford a better camera but I can afford A camera and a lot of people can’t. End of.
To make images as memorable, meaningful and powerful; as engaging, exciting and charming; as art-historically engaged, culturally hip and politically pointed; as nuanced, as subtle and as emotionally engaged, as THEY do, all you need to do is: be true to yourself and buy our best kit.
You must not listen to the old fogies who tell you that there are technical camera skills you need to acquire, art history you need to study, people skills you need to hone and a socio-environmental-political stance you need to at least start to define. Not to mention the practice you need to put in, practice and show and listen (and sometimes reject or ignore what they say) and then listen again and do it again and loop round and round and round and so on and on and so on.
And who is this self we are supposed to be true to — do you know? I don’t. And I really don’t care.
But we can do this shit without buying anything at all. Bastards we are and we can learn and get better.
And sometimes just take a picture with a “different” camera in exactly the same way way we might with our bloody phone.
Then there is the perfect prime: the lens that can …
The perfect camera that could … or at least a better one …
There is always the plastic surgery that might …
The mind-fullness that … the wellness … the fitness … the will … ah, the will. The will to get x, to take y, to claim my birthright as a Randian Übermensch … or to just be a slave to a system that drip feeds us answers and solutions to our dreams and fears and cravings … or is it Soma.
When you send a film away, as we always used to, unlike the professional who always kept control, other people make all the decisions that are left and they don’t edit, they don’t choose but do choose how to print, how to maximise the information, how to present the “idea” — we’re left with a fait accompli — and does that leave us any less autonomous, empowered or embodied? Like we’re caring about this?
They are so focused on the con and the take and the rewards that they don’t have the time to worry about this shit, never mind the consequences. Would you, would I?
So we can say no.
We will use the tools we have at our disposal. And we will learn their limitations and their joys. This camera was really quite good when I was a kid and it still is. Ansel Adams couldn’t dream of … oh yes he could … and digital is just beginning to … and is this really what matters when we start to contextualise with Instagram and Flickr and Facebook and whatever … Whatever. If you speak with an accent is what you say any less valid?
Oh, and there’s something else too, alluded to in the way I scanned the photographs: they’re things, in the world, in our world, touchy feely lovely things we can hold in our hands, interrogate and, if we want: put on the wall — they are ours.
And we will tell our friends and our families our own stories.
And we will tell you to fuck off.