Tuesday, July 24, 2012

Objects of Sleep

a solo exhibition by Patrick Hourihan

Room of curiosities (acrylic on canvas)

27 July – 8 August

Private view: Friday 27 July at 6pm
with a poetry reading 
by members of SLAG ~ Surrealist London Action Group 

Vibe Gallery
Unit N001 The Biscuit Factory
Tower Bridge Business Complex
100 Clements Rd
London SE16 4DG

Gallery opening hours: Tuesday – Saturday, 12 noon – 11pm

Nearest tube: Bermondsey Station (Jubilee line)
Directions from the tube station to the gallery are on the flyer (pdf download)

Friday, July 20, 2012

Richard Andrew Wedgwood Steventon presents:


A Collection of Works on Paper and Canvas

Personal Experiences of an Existence in 21st Century England
[And Beyond]

A Gathering of Nightmares, Dreams, Truths and Dares

From the series Arcadia (oil on paper, 2009-2011)
From the series Arcadia (oil on paper, 2009-2011)

Friday 3 August 7.00pm
until Saturday 18 August

All is not right with this world (oil on canvas, 2011)

Artwaves CIC
Nile Street Studio
Nile Street
Stoke on Trent

Wednesday, July 18, 2012

The Alchemy of Dolts

See them running through the streets.

One carries a flaming brand, surrounded by hierophants protecting it from any adverse reaction. This is bad magic, an attempt to cast a web of toxic filaments across the country, to create an unbreakable mesh that will tie us down as sacrifices to appease their gods. Acolytes carry the flame in a symbolic burning down of our homes around us. Each thud of their dulling feet nails us down a little bit more securely.

Their procession glitters with representations of the noble metals they hope to win by this ritual. Governments fight amongst themselves in a circle of crushing misery. Governments fight for the honour of staging the gladiatorial contests. To win this purported prize means handing over more than they can possibly afford simply to appear magnanimous and important in the eyes of their rivals. It is a suicidal high status potlatch with every nation offering up its own inhabitants as the gift. Victory grants each government the possibility of crushing its citizens ever more ruthlessly and effectively to pay for the spectacle.

It is an alchemy of desperation.

By this ritual sacrifice of their inhabitants governments are attempting to demonstrate superpower status. Like the Games themselves, this is a brutal attempt at transmutation. Brazil is raising the stakes already, committing its population to paying both for the Olympics in 2016 and the World Cup in 2014.

And look what it’s won already! Brazil has eased ahead of Britain in GDP ranking even while the cold cruel flames of the Olympic torch are playing across crumbling British ruins. That’s triumph enough, justification enough for the slum clearances at gunpoint and a rising poverty that has seen Brazil fall behind such glamorous titans of affluence as Kazakhstan and Albania on the Human Development Index. The Games give countries the chance to compound years of systematic neglect with a new brutalisation of those same areas.

The procession and the advance throat-slitting are only preliminaries to the ritual itself. The communion will conclude with two weeks of eyeball-to-eyeball, toe-to-toe gouging, biting, savaging and maiming. The measure of the alchemical process will be the exchange of tokens of metal, and from this the false magicians will conclude that they have now secured riches.

This is the alchemy of idiots.

All those noble metals that have been usurped will now be redistributed. During their passage through the host country, like bacteria through the blood, an alchemical process will occur. With the power of the Olympic torch there will be a reverse transmutation: the gold, silver and bronze, distilled with the skin and bowels of the unfortunate victims, will be transformed into excrement which shall remain for years to come, coating the landscape around all those unable to reverse this "magical" process.

The rings that cross over one another but never really touch are the shackles of this new order, which very few will escape unscathed. Athens, Sydney, Montreal … governments queue to amass debts on a similar or greater scale. For this demonstration of national wealth and happiness, each host country will ratchet up debts it will carry on paying for decades to come, mostly with the skin of the dispossessed and bestialised.  Don’t you just love competition and sport?

Against this transmutation of noble metals into shit there must be a real alchemy. Their ugly follies must be transformed into our magical cities.

There will be gold, but it will not come from their alembics.

Our streets will burn again, but not with their flames.

Monday, July 16, 2012

The Second Time as Soap Opera

Like a retired colonial official living out his twilight senescence in a nursing home, the British ruling class has no new glories or power to conjure. Instead, in its shuffling, piss-ridden decay, it is forced more and more to turn back to its glorious past, to create a bri-nylon copy of its former landed brilliance. The Olympics offers another opportunity for the post-tumescent ruling class to fantasise once again about its country houses and land enclosures. This hackneyed and fictional vision hardly met widespread enthusiasm first time round, so in its period of decline the ruling class needs some help.

Step forward the World of Art™, corporatist champions par excellence.

Step forward those hacks willing to make a few bob passing their nationalistic bullshit off as an oh-so-ironic comment on the state of Britain. Possibly the most insulting part of the window-dressing for Cameron’s car boot sale being put in place by the likes of Danny Boyle and Simon Armitage is that it invokes something of Romanticism, whether in the faux arcadia of the Olympic ceremony, with its astro-turf grandeur, or in an ostensible criticism of imperialist onslaught that only reasserts Britain’s credentials as the reasonable voice of neo-colonial plunder.

This shouldn’t be so surprising. Romanticism, the great spirit of revolt, has long been prey to recuperation and co-opting in the service of the nation state. There is a long arc in Romanticism, from Hegel to Heidegger, Goethe to Riefenstahl, Blake to Boyle. From an analysis of the world’s changes and their revolutionary sustenance to the most vacuous and vicious support for the brutal suppression of any further revolutionary change, Romanticism has been pressed into the service of everything it arose against.

This recuperation of Romanticism has not happened without a struggle, without a denunciation of such acquiescence. Shelley, a revolutionary to the end, wrote to Wordsworth that by abandoning his poems of truth and liberty ‘thou leavest me to grieve, Thus having been, that thou shouldst cease to be’. Armitage may once have followed the Auden and MacNeice trail across Iceland, but when push comes to shove he’ll still be a probation officer.

But the triumph of these forces is not inevitable. Romanticism, for all the problems and pressures, has continued to encourage the awkward and the furious: Sade, Blake, Lautréamont. The only possible revolt against co-opted state Romanticism today rests with those awkward and furious revolutionary Romantics of Surrealism, the apogee and negation of Romanticism. ‘Surrealism does not accept all that shines in Romanticism, but only those aspects of it whose lighting terrifies. And it has a lot to reproach Romanticism for’ (Nicolas Calas).

Today the recuperation of Romanticism takes the form of a layer of ‘professional radicals’. Safely ensconced in the bosom of the establishment, such figures claim that their comments and criticisms are subversion from within while they can barely make an effort to conceal their adaptation to the existing order. They also find a willing audience amongst people one would have thought would know better.

A lot of bloody sheep

Their attempts to cover for the complete erosion of all revolutionary potential involve a cheap copy of earlier manifestations of Romanticism in new conditions. As one of the great heroes of revolutionary Romanticism (Marx), writing of another (Hegel), noted, ‘all great world-historic facts and personages appear, so to speak, twice. He forgot to add: the first time as tragedy, the second time as farce.’ Such is the degenerative pressure on these recuperated self-styled radicals that the farce has become ever broader and less funny. The repetition is now taking on the character of a domestic soap opera.

Which brings us to Danny Boyle, whose whole career has involved presenting apparently gritty facts of social reality as a way of satisfying the desires of a complacent middle class to feel radical without having to change anything. Ooh, heroin! Ooh, Indian street urchins! Open another Pinot Grigio so we can discuss that over dessert, like a gritty storyline from The Archers.

It’s The Archers, but without even the connection to reality of that show’s agricultural advisers. Boyle’s cretinous tableau for the Olympics of a rural idyll with real sheep is the degenerated view of pastoral bliss as the foundation of Englishness, the most backward echo of early Romantic visions. Not since John Major fantasised about old ladies with warm beer cycling across village cricket pitches has such a rank proto-fascist vision of national life been advanced, but such is the recuperation of figures like Boyle that the only public response to his vision was concern for the welfare of the sheep.

Fuck the sheep.

Eat the sheep.

Let the sheep go.

Where is the outrage? Not about the sheep, but about the vacuous invocation of a pastoral Englishness being passed off as a subversive Romantic statement? These people have not only given up on the possibility of transformation, they have turned instead to a superficial parody of Romanticism that can only fuel and succour a rabid reaction. Turns to the rural, to fanciful notions of a peasantry at the heart of the nation-state, were limited enough even when they had some progressive content. Now, even in the name of anti-globalisation or some such radical-sounding idea, they’re just backward rubbish to prevent change.

It’s this that makes Boyle’s shop-window mannequin arrangement so contemptible – not that it vacuously champions the landed gentry’s own idealised views of home, but that it does so under the pretence of a knowing and detached comment on them. Danny Boyle is just another Artist who has bought a vision and now expects us to pay for it. Boyle’s maquette, hilariously, looked like the entire careers of the Chapman brothers produced in 1/12 scale by Airfix.

No, damn you, no countries! No accepting the strictures of capitalism under the pretence of local progress! Enough parodies of a nature tamed and harmless! With Sade we insist that ‘Destruction … like creation is one of Nature’s mandates’. The view of Romanticism peddled here is one that condemns people forever to the prison of a Romanticised national past rather than offering them the way to break out of that into a new and different future.

‘A romantic stance towards Romanticism is today conceivable only through Surrealism’ (Calas). We’re not recreating the English country estate, the German peasantry, the slave-owning Greek democracy – we’re striving to overcome them, to be their negation. It is not good enough to make some clever-sounding detached comment about it: we have to take it all out of their hands stone by stone and build something new on their bones.

Friday, July 13, 2012

Mortal Engines

In Philip Reeve’s steampunk classic Mortal Engines, predatory Traction Cities roam a world that has become a vast wasteland, devouring each other and destroying everything in their path. The parallel with the Olympics is all too apt. Every four years the great Olympic Traction City lumbers across the plain to launch an attack on some new site, carelessly flattening the inhabitants as it hoovers up power and money from the local state.

The Olympic appropriation of money is insultingly obvious. The Olympic appropriation of power is perhaps more insidious. To complement the massive police operation, the full monetary cost of which is not yet known, the Crown Prosecution Service recently announced that it will be creating a special category of “Olympics offences” and operating fast-track courts that will sit for up to 24 hours a day – an innovation that is explicitly based on the “lessons” learned by the CPS during its brutally draconian response to last summer’s riots. Olympic sites are also being militarised, with the deployment of up to an estimated 16,500 troops – 7,000 more than are currently serving in Afghanistan – and the use of warships, fighter jets and surface-to-air missile units, including in residential areas. This is in addition to Locog’s own notoriously hostile security personnel, provided by the private security firm G4S.

All of this is for our own good, of course, and the triumph of Olympian doublethink is that the Games are viciously mugging us while pretending to be doing us a favour. The Olympic legacy involves a great deal more than just buildings and infrastructure: one of its more under-publicised aspects is the security legacy, which has been a key feature of all Olympic Games since at least the mid-20th century. Tokyo 1964 and Seoul 1988 both left a legacy of private policing; Sydney 2000 gave the police enduring zero-tolerance powers to move people on; and Athens 2004 left a shiny new security infrastructure, including an extensive CCTV system that was subsequently used against the city’s uprisings. The nature and scale of the 2012 security legacy is not yet (publicly) known, although it’s certain to include the privatisation of parts of the police force: G4S already employs about two thirds of Lincolnshire Police’s civilian staff. The post-Olympics British state will be increasingly privatised and increasingly authoritarian – all supposedly with the consent of a docile and grateful public.

The buildings themselves, however, are another story. It’s become a popular online pastime among Olympic sceptics to poor scorn on the notion of the Olympic Legacy by posting photographs of abandoned and decaying stadiums, especially the Athens site. These photos are usually presented as icons of failure and betrayal. But we prefer to see them as utopian windows. Such sites are atoposes or worthless places in the Surrealist sense, rejected or forbidden zones where strange encounters are fostered and obsessions acted out, where transformations take place and the repressed returns with a vengeance. When the Traction City finally discards London and lumbers away towards Rio, the physical wastelands it will leave behind will be full of utopian possibilities, a poetic munitions dump where we will be able to scavenge weapons for our resistance against the Olympics’ more enduring and dangerous legacies.

Atoposes or non-places are also portals to the nowhere of utopia. Even extant buildings are haunted by the spectre of their own ruin; chaotic fertility, vegetal abundance, anti-social deliria, ostentatious uselessness are all waiting for their chance to take over before the concrete is even dry. In this sense the Olympic Village is already pregnant with what Ernst Bloch calls the utopian surplus, the excess that spills over the limits of the status quo and reaches out towards the Not-Yet.


Finally, these decaying sites are also a reminder that the Olympic Traction City is a mortal engine, and its own rapaciousness will ultimately be its downfall. Destructive consumption is not a sustainable basis for society, or for life. The riotous assembly of worthless fauna and flora – among which we include humans of the future – will repopulate the wasteland, and plant a new forest of desires.