“What’s the bravest thing you ever did?”
He spat in the road a bloody phlegm.
“Getting up this morning,” he said.
– Cormac McCarthy; The Road
This is not a ‘think piece’. When I think for too long about politics, society, the environment or the future I feel overwhelmed and powerless, small and afraid, confused and bombarded. Reading an endless stream of other peoples’ thoughts, ungraspable statistics and numbers attached to every situation. Just when I might be about to settle on an opinion, some new article comes out casting doubt over my shaky views. I turn the computer off. I walk down the street and am assaulted by image and sound, by the illusion of ‘free choice’ and endless questions. Where does all this plastic go? Who dies to make these clothes? How much oil is left? What are my actual options? Who owns my consent? What the fuck am I doing, making performance art, in the face of climate crisis and capitalist insanity?
This is a daily experience. It is exhausting yet it drives me and informs the work I make. The geographical backdrop to this experience is Glasgow. A failed social housing experiment, massive service cuts and destroyed industries don’t make this city unique. Like other cities with the same scars, it maintains a vibrant and furious politically-driven artist community.
Today, as I write this, Glasgow City Council has announced plans to cut 3000 jobs. . The people who this will affect, in the lead up to Christmas, will be powerless to stop it. Again.
And yet, for those living on Glasgow’s very own ‘Millionaires Row’ in the Southside of the city, with their mansions, land and wealth, Christmas might not seem that different for them.
This is the same city that is currently pushing forward a plan to demolish the Concert Hall steps, a frequent gathering point for demonstrations and protests, notably during the 2014 Referendum on Scottish Independence; a vindictive assault on one of our few remaining public spaces.
This is the city that voted YES to change and social progress for its people, but whose council makes frequent controversial demolitions to its services, space, and culture. This city has a reputation for drugs, violence, gangs, poverty and shocking life expectancy statistics. It is also home to a diverse collection of nationalities, scenes, and experiences. Whenever I tell anyone about Glasgow I always say, ”Whatever you are into, you will find people here who are too”. This city, like so many others across the UK, has been ravaged by the loss of a proud industrial heart. I have lived here for some 14 years and in that time I have observed Glasgow to be a electric, violent, battered and art-filled place. It is a place and a people who survive, who batten down the hatches and get on with things, just like many millions of other people in many other places.
This is just one city, in one country. It’s not unique. It’s savagely normal. Like everywhere else, as our natural resources are ravaged and divisions between people grow. I am constantly perplexed by how much debate goes on within party politics about ‘nations’ and ‘identities’ when we are ALL living on the same earth.
For a long time in Glasgow, I noticed the vast number of building sites and commonplace demolitions that seem to erupt all over the city. I kept picturing myself crawling over piles of broken rubble – a lone Sisyphean task. Like the struggle of trying to survive in a city which seeks to destroy you. So often I see the future of modern world this way. I am obsessed by apocalyptic visions, images of The Road by McCarthy, the collapse of the environment and the spiritual malady that seems to affect so many. I watch the images of people all over the world experiencing apocalypse every day – war, natural disaster, addiction, greed, isolation, fear. Humanity is at a tipping point. We cannot sustain how we have somehow come to live. And it might not be a biblical end for us; no great fire or flood or disease. Perhaps our end is already here, happening by insidious acts, one by one.
When our mines closed, they were replaced by call centres and ‘business parks’, these new dark satanic mills. Where our steel works were demolished, the land lies empty and barren. When our factories closed, they were replaced by budget slave labour clothing, charity shops and pound shops. The recent closing of The Arches was devastating for the city, and more recently the controversial Red Road flats drew thousands of people to watch it blow up. Where do people go when the places they live are destroyed? Where do we all go when our habitats are eradicated?
In terms of the fallout from The Arches, the artists themselves will not stop making work, but such well-established venues, highly equipped and offering a nurturing infrastructure, are harder to come by. Buzzcut Festival, while not a venue, does offer nurture, enthusiasm and support, and has grown remarkably in its reputation. Unfix Festival of Ecology and Performance began this summer in the CCA. It offers a thematic approach to curation that was successful in bringing a diverse range of performance, holding a debate with members of the Green Party, National Collective, Buddhist scholars and artists to discuss The Big Picture – that of environmental crisis, both global and personal: ecology for the heart as well as the earth. The festival cast a net where a wide range of people could come to share and talk about the great big terrifying issues. I was happy to place my work in all these places. I am one artist and I can take my work to various spaces, as can a festival.
The problem with The Arches is that it was a fixed place; a place people took themselves to make and see work, to do drugs and rave, to eat and talk. The Arches held a reputation for radical work made by radical voices – I performed at what turned out to be the last club night – ‘Queer Futures’, curated by Aaron Wright of LADA, as did Christeene, David Hoyle and a myriad of exceptional artists. It was the night after the General Election and we dealt with the devastating shook of yet another Tory government in the only way we could – on the stage, on the dance floor, on the microphone. A huge wave of gratitude came over me when I realised I had the gift of being given a mic to scream in to and a huge PA system for my collaborator P6 to blast WW2 themed industrial sonics through. Release. P6 and I chose noise music for our venting. Noise music, for me, eradicates thinking. It flips the switch in me that’s in the brain that contains words, opinions, my ‘story’, my past, fears, place and time. It forces my body into the Here and Now – through volume, overload, power, hypnotic pulses and pressure. Stop thinking and become an organic machine. I feel free yet charged.
Everyone that night was charged. We knew a new darkness was to come to us all – as the months since have proven. This is a new darkness, vast and unforgiving; cuts, the deaths of those deemed ‘fit for work’, refugee crisis, big pharma claiming rights to our lives, and on and on. That night The Arches was a site of political and sexual freedom – dressed up and furious, gathered together with more purpose than just ‘having a blast’. In as bleak a time as we knew we were entering, having fun felt like a form of survival. That night was a small but significant act of resistance in the darkness.
“Caring for myself is not self-indulgence, it is self-preservation, and that is an act of political warfare” – Audre Lorde
This quote feels more and more relevant . Perhaps it might also include ‘caring for myself and others’. A spiritual recovery from capitalism, from wealth, from ideas about territories and boundaries and identities that divide us is vital. As a person in recovery from addiction it is my conviction that RECOVERY IS POSSIBLE for anyone, from anything. In my new work ‘NOWHERE//NOWHERE’ that I am preparing to bring to SPILL Festival Of Performance this week, I am working with the material of coal. I crawl over this coal in hope, in tribute and in conviction that another way is possible. Darkness is not inevitable. This new work is a welding of mediums – collage video, collage sound and physical action. A collage of adverts, news, consumerism and propaganda – together with an attack of sound; complex non-music, leading myself and others to a time of contemplation through my action. These actions are pushing and scrapping, on hands and knees, a line of coal – a natural resource and a evocative material from a dead industry and symbol of an earth in crisis. We are scrapping the earth of its last resources, just as we are being scraped our own minds, hearts and spirits, by Government, big pharma, fast food and fast fashion, unsustainable wars and divisions by wealth and force.
Aesthetically I am driven by images of pop culture, of TV and Hollywood – at once aware of the poison of these oppressive fantasies yet compelled to view. ‘We have been poisoned by fairy tales’ as Anais Nin wrote.This work uses a frantic video collage – images I did not look hard to find, of adverts, news, bombings, fast food – the bombardment of images we absorb every day, and places this with noise music – another kind of sensorial attack. I want the atmosphere of this work to be loud, visceral, physical – to make the mind stop for a moment and let the body think about its blood, its breath or lack of.
I have found a way to do this is through sensory overload together with repetition and ritual. I am concerned with issues of recovery, wound, aggressive healing, medicalisation and capitalism. My practice is spiritual, using meditation, prayer, blood, sweat and noise to communicate my belief that we are more than just the narrative we tell ourselves – we are more than the stories, more than our pasts; that we are all able to recover from trauma. But it takes work. This comes, at its roots, from being in recovery from addiction, working with others, and observing that people are capable of all kinds of transformation and rebirth. This work is something I visit in my performances where a task is set and I must attempt to deal with that task (such as gathering coal on my hands and knees or burning my personal possessions or singing ‘Over The Rainbow’ for 5 hours).
I choose the body as the site, the playground, the venue the tool, the battleground, the landscape to experience the paradox of living.I veer wildly through the days – at once impelled to live yet destined to die.
This constant flux is lived out in the body.I offer in my work my attempt to reconcile the extraordinary rhythm and violence of life.
I surrender my need to understand the earth I worship as I scuttle across.The sun continues to rise and so I do too.
Performance is the state of being where my conflict of living is, for an all too brief yet electrifying time united and soothed. It is my only way to remain alive in a sacred and profane universe.
Hyper colours, loud sounds, flashing lights distort us from collective truths; so I use these tools in my work, to share a sense that even in the insanity of modern fantasy we can still find ways to connect with others and heal, both as a collective and individually.
I offer my work as a tribute to a world in chaos – we are powerless.
I offer my work as a prayer to a world on fire – we are powerful.
Personal and collective transformation can be our reality. Recovery is possible.
I use art as my gun and my white flag.
NO WHERE // NOW HERE is part of Spill Festival. It will be on at Toynbee Studios on the 30th and 31st October. Book tickets here.