Friday, April 16, 2010

Postcards from the Edge

A few weeks ago, I went to take photos of the empty boarded up houses in the Kensington/ Edge Lane area of Liverpool. We’re not just talking a few houses here, or even a few streets of houses. There is an entire neighbourhood (what used to be a neighbourhood) quietly waiting for nothing. An end. The demolition began a couple of weeks ago, after the last lingering resident was forced out of her home on January 16th (, and is scheduled to take around 6 months. The reason behind the forced relocation of Edge Lane’s residents and the demolition of these old Victorian houses is to widen the road; ostensibly this was in order to manage an expected increase of traffic from the M62 in 2008, the year that Liverpool held the title of European City of Culture. Ongoing legal action meant that this couldn’t happen, so instead the bizarre decision was made to paint brightly coloured pictures and generic inspirational/ meaningless slogans (“people” “creativity”) on the boarded up windows and doors. This felt uncannily like the Council attempting to wrap their mistake in a big shiny bow and pass it off as a gift, and indeed could hardly have looked any more inappropriate than a house sheepishly adorned with a lopsided ribbon. But it’s all neither here nor there now, really, because here won’t be there for much longer anyway – unintentionally ironic murals or otherwise.

(Predictably enough,) I have a bit of a thing for empty houses. I’m not sure exactly why, although it is undoubtedly a trait I inherited from my mother. I remember, years ago, us rushing in the car with a camera to take pictures of a big old house in the process of actually being demolished. Half of the walls had been ripped out, and it sat there, all its fireplaces and fittings exposed, with the same weird beauty as a dissected circuit board or the inside of a clockwork toy. Little rooms where people lived out little lives, and now there are no more stories to play out within them.

It’s like walking round a neighbourhood after the bomb. There’s hardly anyone about, and those few who are brave/lost enough to be here are wily enough not to stick around for long. It’s a ghost town; a vacuum on the outskirts of a busy hub. It feels sad. Not in a grand, epic, tragic sort of way – no violins reaching a crescendo, or rain falling from the sky and landing softly on my cheek, mimicking tears in pathetic fallacy. But then, the saddest moments are rarely so eagerly announced, are they? They slip you by, gently; until one day, you look back at an old photo and you realise quite how much you have lost.

I’m trying very hard not to get all soft-news-sentimental writing this blog, because I think that would be the easy route, and honestly I don’t think it’s necessarily a fair portrayal. To focus entirely on the obvious element of loss that is inherent in any such situation would be a bit of a cop out; it’s also a fascinating experience, to see how our human concepts of living space have changed in such a short space of time. It’s a scarred, post apocalyptic landscape and it makes me wonder a lot of things; like where did all the people go? Who used to live here? Can any home can be reduced to just a house, and then to a pile of bricks? Sometimes it all seems cold and frozen, dead-eyed houses caught in the perpetual almost-moment of their last fall. Other times, when the sun comes out from behind a cloud, the windows fiery orange and I wonder whether these old walls, transient as they are, could hold the flames for all that long – would everything just burn?

There are around 400,000 long term empty homes in Britain, a country which (as of 2005, forgive slightly outdated statistics) has 10,459 rough sleepers and 98,750 households in temporary accommodation. I won’t bother drawing the conclusion for you there because it seems pretty obvious. I will also add that there are numerous instances throughout the country when buildings that would have otherwise been left abandoned to slowly decay like so much old fruit have been successfully squatted, as places of residence, community centres or art spaces. (rampART blog, Autonmous London blog, cooltan arts centre) To my mind, it makes a lot of sense to make use of what we have, rather than throwing it away so we can get something newer but not necessarily better.

We have a terrible habit of destroying things that, once gone, can never be replaced. We value things based on ever changing criteria; no sooner have we built our towers so high they scrape the sky than we have pulled them down again. What we dream of today we forget tomorrow. I don’t think it’s healthy to forget everything that used to mean so much. I don’t think it says anything very commendable about that aspect of our culture, and I would rather we at least tried to keep some connection to our past, because once upon a time, it was everything, and that should count for something at least.

Thursday, April 08, 2010

The Times: "Gordon Brown pledges 'five more years' as Prime Minister if Labour wins"

Well, I'm sure that dreary prospect has probably driven away a good few labour voters. One suspects it might have been better strategy to keep that one quiet...

Sunday, April 04, 2010


actually, thinking about it, a website like tumblr (blogs entirely composed of reposts of thoughts, poems, excerpts from articles, quotes, photos, newspaper clippings etc etc etc) is the perfect format for late-capitalist culture to be expressed;

"everything is a copy of a copy of a copy."; Reality Hunger: A Manifesto; "Nothing of me is original. I am the combined effort of everybody I've ever known."; "I am a collage of unaccounted for brush strokes. I am all random."

Actually, I would be quite content to live a life of retro-pastiche - in a society like our own which is so prone to conspicuous consumption and the ever-expanding cycle of creation/destruction which necessarily accompanies this, the sheer volume of creative output renders any complete innovation more or less totally obsolete. IF everything has been done before then it's impossible to do something new, isn't it? Or that's the general idea anyway. We can all just look to the mountain of culture that has come before us, and cut-and-paste to our own specification - doctoring glorious frankensteins of art and literature. So the artist becomes like a scientist, or a dedicated jigsawl-puzzler; but then, I think the implication is sort of, that is what the artist ALWAYS was, it's more that the plane of engagement between artist/output/external world has shifted from within the artist's own mind to a slightly more accessible space. Which I suppose makes sense considering how many hours a day we spend staring at our own reflections in the form of words on a screen or photographs; the self is rapidly becoming defined by the external in a different way to in the past and the plethora of cultural input (some worthy, some perhaps not so..[dangerous implication I know but lets leave that aside for the moment]) that screams at us from every angle can only serve to force that most personal and intimate of experiences, the creation of a self-defined identity, out of the mind and into a more public arena.

So whereas there may seem to be a world of difference between the 19th century watercolour painter, who sat before a vast expanse of blank white canvas and painted blue skies and tepid mountains, and the 20th century neo-dadaist exhibiting 11 identical canvases of the colour blue, and the 21st century engineer of cultural pastiche who constructs a collage of pictures from beauty magazines; the fact of the matter is that all are equally a response to the world in which they exist. All could equally claim themselves to be "the combined effort of everybody I've ever known."

It is simply that the post-modern artist, rather than accumulating all snippets of information and art and life and absorbing them through the act of experience, and then translating them in their own mind and into their own artistic vision, which can then be distributed back into the physical world in the form of their artistic output, has streamlined the production process.
So now, rather than having to face the troubling (impossible?) process of absorbing and rearrannging all the various raw creative building blocks of a society in which more information has been stored since 1997 than in the whole of recorded history up to that point, the artist can skip that step out and engage with this influence physically. A cut and paste approach, literally, where, using scissors and glue and intertextual reference one can create a picture far more descriptive of a reality which served as an ingredient rather than an influence. Does that render everything derivative? I don't know, honestly. I don't even know if I agree with everything I just wrote, but it was interesting thinking about it. But we are bombarded with life, with information, at every turn and so it is little wonder that so many choose to respond to it by switching off, and becoming numb, and refusing to engage. "It isn’t only the terror everywhere, and the fear of being conscious of it, that freezes people. It’s more than that. People know they are in a society dead or dying. They are refusing emotion because at the end of very emotion are property, money, power. They work and despise their work, and so freeze themselves. They love but know that it’s a half- love or a twisted love, and so they freeze themselves."

I have no conclusions to draw from this and I've just spent half an hour writing it when I should be essaying so I'm going to stop now. :) xo

Saturday, April 03, 2010

This post is purely to express my admiration for the internet - after my term paper on Hunter S Thompson ground to a screeching halt, for reasons not yet evident to me, on impulse I decided to start again from scratch and write something on Lenore Kandel (I will post a blog about her at some point in the future.) She is a fantastic but relatively obscure 1960s poet, and I was having immense trouble digging out any poems other than 3 fairly widely circulated ones... then I checked out for any posts in which she was tagged. Straight away, and with total ease, I was able to track down a further 4 poems (bear in mind that, apart from a very limited edition reprint of some of her work in 2003 by a publisher no longer in business, nothing of hers has been published since before 1970). I know that there are all sorts of downsides to the ease of access we have to information, and that as a populace we're supposedly being dumbed down and losing all of the incidental knowledge gained in the protracted quest for information etc etc etc etc... but, isn't it great that we potentially have access to so much that would otherwise fade away?

Friday, April 02, 2010

I find it really strange that we celebrate the alleged rebirth of Jesus Christ with chocolate eggs. Strange..... but delicious.

Note to self: blog more prolifically. (translation: find more to say)

Thursday, April 01, 2010

my generation

i've seen the best minds of
my generation running on empty,
super glued to the T.V.,
dreaming of prosperity,
talking incessently...
saying nothing

sleeping on platforms in train stations
sipping on chemical cocktails
alive to the universe
and dead to the world

hallucinating delusions of mediocrity and candied
desperate in the pursuit of cool
he's in a suit
she's in a straightjacket

7-11 nightmares at 3am

i've seen the best minds of my generation
caught up in the virtual reality of living
memorizing pin numbers and secret codes
swaying robotically to nonexistant rhythmns
flashing membership to clubs so exclusive that no one belongs



the city's all wrapped up in plastic like an electronic cocoon
if you lay in the street you can hear it humming
filling up slowly from underground
if you close your eyes you can observe the blue prints
the man-made DNA that spirals
breathlessly out of control
as synapses collapse
bridges snap
into a restless utopia

jesus said
lay down your arms
jesus said
children come home

my generation

- "Nutopia", Pigface