Sunday, 6 November 2016

Fungus Foray and Rhizomatic Living

The Fungus Foray and Rhizomatic Being

Before setting off on today’s fungus foray I’d been thinking about memory. About how memory is perhaps not simply within the brain waiting to be picked up off the shelf but rather is in the objects around us. I was standing in the back garden looking at my neighbour from hell’s ladder. I found it hard to look at the ladder without relieving the various kinds of abuse we have suffered at his hands. (Thanks to a police visit he seems to have gotten the message that everyone has a right to live without fear of abuse). Still I was ok and it seemed to demonstrate how objects in the outside world don’t just trigger memory they help embody it.

Ever since attending a lecture about consciousness by Marcus du Sautoy (Professor for public understanding of science at Oxford University) at The Barbican I’ve had a sense of unease about the way we conceive of our consciousness from a machine-like perspective. It’s similar to visualising the cosmos with the earth at the centre. Technology and the systems it creates to maintain cybernetic stability force us further into picturing ourselves as individuals or outward looking roving units. This is not good for mental health and not good for world peace. At Marcus du Sautoy’s lecture a lot seemed to be made about access to higher definition of neuro-imaging. I thought then is this really going to help us understand the mystery of consciousness? It's still like looking at the brain as if it's a machine albeit in finer detail and higher definition. Still this is all just base camp background to the fungus foray.

 I went with my mum and we waited in the tearoom at the nature reserve with other fungus fans. There was a shelf of cheap books, which led me to ask my mum if she was reading anything good. (Something about the Jeremy Thorpe scandal and a book on Dawn French as it happens). I mentioned a book I’m reading called Proust was a Neuroscientist that I had picked up in a charity shop on a visit Harry Pye’s in Ramsgate. The book takes examples of how artists pre-empted the discoveries of cutting edge neuroscience - namely that there is no mind/body divide – remembering creates memories – memory is fluid – humans are essentially random junk code. It still puts neuroscience in the driving seat – this is what neuroculture does and this neuro-centricity might, may I add, be what prevents us escaping the repeated traumas we inflict on ourselves. Being is not a series of static analysable coordinates but an onflow of experience. Perception is ambiguous and the battle of science to make it unambiguous is false. If, in Proustian fashion, real memory can be a mixture of fact and fiction then lived experience is a continual process of imaginative engagement. Thankfully in the world of real practicalities no one asked to see my membership and we were ticked off the list of attending fungus foragers. I do have membership by the way, I just forgot to take it. set off en masse into the nature reserve and at first things didn’t seem too promising. It felt like a fairly fungus free zone. Everyone had the requisite walking shoes and cagoules making it hard to spot our guide Morris Moss but at our first stop it became obvious as he subtly became the focal point. The first stop wasn’t until we’d cut away from the usual route and headed off to the walnut grove.  As soon as Morris started to talk about the fungi you sensed his connection with the ground. His clothes felt lived in and practical not signifiers of his specialist (outdoor) prowess, which is so often the case with specialist clothing. Early signs of expertise were a little unsettling and Morris struggled to enlighten us with the names of the initial specimens. “My poor old memory” he said at one point clutching a very well worn guide to Fungi. The Mycena genus alone seemed to have dozens of variants that all look the same so I could understand him being slow to offer up the exact names.

Walking this way into the walnut grove however seemed to bind us together in the act of looking at the edges of the path. I normally find striding through the nature reserve produces a sense of well-being but this was quite different. I started to enjoy getting my tongue around the various technical names that began to sputter out – scleroderma bovista the little ball-like mushrooms in the edges by the rough of the neighbouring golf course. Did you study Latin a fellow forager asked me? I did I say but at a comprehensive. I just like the sound and the absurdist fun of connecting that to the object. As the group shuffled on, stopping every few yards to examine a new specimen, Morris’s memory seemed to hit its stride and his confidence grew. His tone became clearer and the anecdotes flowed – one variety with a typical dense dark set of concentric rings was called King Alfred’s Cakes (for obvious reasons!). Morris handled the toadstools and fungi like a craftsman; he seemed to know just how they were made up. Some, which looked soft, were rock hard (you can sometimes stand on the artists fungi – named because of the white blank underside) and others, which looked alive, were dead and therefore impossible to name (my only off piste discover). So Morris seemed to be demonstrating the link between memory and the objects outside of us that don’t simply trigger the memory but embody it as if we are casting our minds into the world and catching what returns. Looking at each new specimen in Morris’ palm or betwixt his thumb and forefinger was transfixing. The path was transformed into a voyage into the indecipherable and random world of the ineffable via the vagaries of fungi categorisation. Clearly the Latin name is a devise for putting science in the driving seat but Morris Moss’s passion and expertise meant he was happy to leave some examples as undefined. 

Friday, 9 September 2016

King's Place

Kings place.
Oh my god I’m back
You finally did it
How can I be so curmudgeonly as to deny the seduction at play?
Oh the pristine vintage cobbles
The plate glass fronted warehouse arches
Framing slim silhouete of new student
Who sips coffee
Totally amazing tote bags
University of the Arts
Tram lines flow encased at floor level
As archival patina
Of an industrious past
It’s all good
How can I fail to see that this is betterer
Double plus gooderer
I visit an exhibition of Soviet childrens books
Encased in glass
Remember the smell of mildew?
Its freezing here comrade.
I grasp and gasp
Hoping for the oxygen of something actual
The fleeting memory of a real experience
An actual event.
There is a hand printed lino cut cover
For A Russian book of Walt Whitman’s O Pioneer.
Is this it?
The moment that evaded the death grip
The strangulation by equivalence?
Asphixiation by reproductive thingness.
I think it is
And a part of me celebrates inside
Then I walk back onto the street
where victory parades are in full  flow
This of course entails
Perfectly arch  vintage window displays
Litter free cobbles
Perfectly assembled nutrious marginally overpriced fast food
And lots of trolleys pulled over cobbles
23 accidents on the escalators this year citizen
80 percent due to luggage
4 percent due to running
I break into a sprint
Laughing softly
Or perhaps I am gently sobbing
My chest heaves but at least
I am wearing appropriate foot wear (ten percent)

Sunday, 17 July 2016

Grow up

Growing up then
Is the move into a state of detachment
It is the move into the realm
Of subject and object
Where what was once real is
Redelivered as an orange
Endorphin promoting chance card
That niggles your synaptic network
Then and only then
When real life is a series of printed or onscreen equivalence
Can your grown up mind
Pen you into the rational domain
By telling you that the embodied life of felt sense is in the past
And therefore pure nostalgia
Which we all know is bad
And then it will continually feed you
Golden nuggets of vintage
Leaving you too woozy to care

Friday, 13 May 2016

Signal failure

The train conductors are now falling ill
The railway company says the strike is not necessary
It does not think - why are they striking?
Let alone
Why are they falling ill?
This is because the railway company thinks in binary efficiency
Empathy cannot be captured in units
Metric tables cannot explain why they are unhappy
Unhappy at being communicated with in binary
The railway company does not compute
The railway company is a vulcan culture
Magnetic data strip memories
The conducting people make bad jokes
They are humans after all
In the interests of safety
Please don't stand on the tables
Now they are falling ill
Being treated like a piece of data makes you sick
Unless you are sick already
The art school lecturers are falling ill also
Like the islanders drinking stagnant water
Wondering why they have the shits
They keep turning water into why?
The binary why brigade
History is the lives of individual people
Says the academic cultural materialist
Hurrying to room eb 1.03
Module ad5500
Running late due to temporary shortage of train crews
The strike is unnecessary
The conducting people are falling ill
Due to an unprecedented level of staff illness
There is a shortage of conductors
A temporary shortage of train crews
Bing bing boing
Listen for further infirmary
Listen for further information
Unprecedented levels of sickness at some of our conductor depots this
is resulting in ongoing disruption
Boing bing

Monday, 9 May 2016

edulution in the head

They are talking about education on the radio. I haven’t really heard enough to workout the specifics but the gist is about how we could change education if we could start again. I think they are saying that social relations ought to be made part of the experience. I just suddenly thought what an insane world we live in that we are able to convince ourselves that an education system based on competition is in any way an evolved way of organising our lives. This tells me that I am not a realist. I mean a realist would say, “that is the way of the world so we must prepare our children for it”. That was in a deep resonant alpha control voice in case you didn’t pick that up. The other thing we’d say is something about human nature and that we can’t change that. This all makes me realise the eternal paradox of being human. The enlightenment tried to help us evolve through the use of reason and higher thinking but that ended in lots of heads being chopped off and scientism trapping us in a realm of neurotic rationalism.  I really cannot see a way out for the occident. We are too far past the point where we once understood our relationship to the cosmos as poets. Everything the rational mind claims as its own arose from the nebulas state of pre-personal wonderment. Singing, making, playing, imagining. The problem is that now the rational mind sees the chain through the wrong end of the telescope – It has a job to think and test stuff and then if there’s time at the end of the lesson we can try staring out of the window or looking under rocks.

So education props up the power structures of yore. To succeed you can use education to be socially mobile. You can clamber and climb over others. You too can reach the top deck with the original privileged few. Instead education could be about doing away with the need for social mobility. This all comes down to our ability to spontaneously evolve and let go of the crutch of human nature (yes John Gray) that we think let's us off the hook of taking responsibility for ourselves as eternal bodies in a fleeting sacred moment.

Friday, 29 April 2016

Celts: Art and Identity

Celts: Art and Identity – The British Museum
As an exhibition this was a major influence of my Deadend works in how it openly struggled to present an ostensibly unknowable culture within the structuralist framework of received knowledge. It highlighted the problem of analysing (a) culture through the fixed parameters of current evidence based frameworks. There could be no clearer illustration of the distortion or impasse created by subject object separation. Each age projects an idea of itself onto the past – this is particularly apparent within the industrial Victorian romanticisation of the Celt. This apparent presentation of subjectivity as truth is what Cultural Materialism and Nonrepresentational theory redress.

Gundestrup Cauldron C150-50 BC

Thursday, 14 April 2016

Noises from the empty kitchen

Clunk stir clunk
Whir whir click
Swish swish thunk
Gurgle click whir clack
Spray sheeesh click clock
Stir twirl twirl sheeesh
Clunk stir clunk
Spray sheeesh buzzzzzzz
Clackety hummmmm
Stirry click tick tac gurgle
Tinkle tinkle drop drip
Gurgle gargle drip spurt
Clunk click hum mmm
Spray weeeesh prrrr stir
Stir stir
Beep beep
Beep beep
Clunk stir clunk
Whir whir click
Swish swish thunk
Gurgle click whir clack
Spray sheeesh click clock
Stir twirl twirl sheeesh
Clunk stir clunk
Spray sheeesh buzzzzzzz
Clackety hummmmm
Stirry click tick tac gurgle
Tinkle tinkle drop drip
Gurgle gargle drip spurt
Clunk click hum mmm
Spray weeeesh prrrr stir
Stir stir
Beep beep
Beep beep

Sunday, 27 March 2016


When the art is from the heart the viewer will always see what's in their own.

Long hand

my hand with this pen
this pen in this hand
declares my love
declares my love for you
my love for you declares
my eyes this pen perceives
my love for you declaring
for you my love declaring

This love for you I feel
Here on this paper
I feel love for you
Each looping letter on flowing
Full of love and longing
Your face and eyes I see
with my mind's eye seeing
As my hand moves
My hand moves across the space
Declaring my love
My love for the blissful worlds within
Your face reminds me
Not to refrain from longing

Sunday, 21 February 2016

The Knowledge of Princesses

Here is a link to a comic strip I've done with a long standing friend and interrogator The Aug Stone. I love Aug's affinity to a natural state of wonder, which made making the comic a total pleasure. He gave me free rein with clear instructions as to the setting. Writing a comic is much more than just filling in speech bubbles. Aug has created an existential miss-en-scene without breaking sweat. His visualisation of the scenario is genuinely bizarre and dreamlike without feeling contrived.
Funnily enough Aug thinks that the story is perhaps too obviously personal but I've been working on it a while and it still intrigues and niggles away at my unconscious. The story seems to lead towards a meaning but never wholly explains itself, which is exactly what I want from a tale, rather than a moral observation or rousing resolution. Click the picture to see the whole thing.

Monday, 15 February 2016

David Bowie Is

In June last year I installed my Doctorate painting exhibition at UEL. I don’t like to say it was about David Bowie’s song Life on Mars, though not because it wasn’t (it was) but because I’m not sure it was “about” anything. It was more an attempt to capture some kind of essence that I felt Bowie represents. One of the things I love about Bowie from that song onwards is how he captures the meaninglessness of modern life but fills his songs with meaning. The meaning, however, is not something easy to put your finger on. It is more like a feeling of yearning and hope in the face of… well yes meaninglessness.

You might think I’m being pretentious but this depth of feeling is what keeps us as humans dreaming that we can ultimately connect through creative experience.
That is partially what Bowie means to me. He can be viewed as the personification of Camus’ urge to live life as fully and creatively as possible in response to the Sisyphusian struggles we all face. But let me be clear I knew none of this when, in the Spring of last year, my friend Harry Pye suggested that we start to paint pictures of David Bowie together with another painter Gordon Beswick. We had great fun painting and chatting on Tuesday afternoons. Harry soon produced some lyrics for a song called Is David Bowie Happy. I thought perhaps this title was a reference to the exhibition David Bowie Is but I’ve never asked Harry. The phrase doesn’t occur in the song though.

Bowie talked about trying to define a new language in pop music. So when it comes down to it he was actually an Artist and sometimes said if no one bought his music he’d go back to being a painter. A painter is someone who thinks through making the work and I think that is another reason I love Bowie. I hope that is what Harry and I have done through the song. We’ve kind of melded our minds through embracing David Bowie completely. This version of the tune is produced and Arranged by Rob Jones, who more than anyone I’ve collaborated with, understands the mystery of finding out through simply making recordings. I think it’s the closest we could get to having Gus Dudgeon do what he did to Space Oddity for Bowie.

I recently found a brilliant interview with Marcel Duchamp in which he declares the artist to be a "mediumistic being, who in a labyrinth beyond time and space, tries to find his way out through a clearing". This, for my money is what drives us to make art and Bowie was certainly to be found wandering those shadowy hallways and dead ends. As I said at the beginning I really had no idea quite why, in June,  I was so driven to make a show all about Bowie and Life on Mars but I'm still reflecting upon the results now. 

Monday, 8 February 2016

White feather

As I lay on the black disc
of the 8 ft
in Demeter trampoline
entombed by netted walls
staring down the wishing well
of infinity curve blue
a small white cloud
was dropped
into the azure field of my vision.
Whereupon it became
A tiny fluffy white feather
thousands of miles above the earth
falling silently
like a speeding weightless bullet
onto the tip
of my right big toe.
What does this mean?
I wonder staring at the clouds.

Oh I give up.