Year down

Cards again. Birds again this year – some folk-ish stylised hens and some that have got a bit out of hand, currently with referred to as the anarcho-chickens.

In the meantime, a year has passed in this house and while not much art has been done, the toilets are no longer leaking, the windows don’t rattle every time a car drives past and there is no longer a whistling draught blowing down the hall. The broken washing machine has been replaced, although we haven’t managed to get the cupboard door put back on, as all the holes are in different places. Six or seven rubble bags of vines and thorns have been dragged to the dump, there are pears and raspberries in the freezer and two boxes of apples, deep blood red like ones from a fairy tale, sit in the shed.

We know the place better now; where to park and who the neighbours are, when the bins go out and how to open the back gate when it swells in the damp.

I’m trying to enjoy living in this generous old house, with its garden and the absurdly gothic cemetery beyond, but it still feels precarious, being here. When it rains, I fret about the roof, and in the drought about subsidence. Even in good times we didn’t expect to be here forever and it would be hard to call these good times. Everything has to be done with an eye to keeping options open, hanging on until school is done with if we can, one eye always on the lookout for an escape route.

Homesick blues

Imagine the rich men’s dreams come true, and you are standing out there one day on whatever planet or moon has become the new frontier, goldrush town or out-of-town fulfillment centre. Do you know what it is, the thing you would miss the most?

It won’t be gravity – without a useful amount of it no long-term settlement would work. However distracting the thought of null-gravity porn might be, a huge range of survival activities won’t work without it. Things like smelting, and surgery. Childbirth.

You will miss individual people, and places; but that’s part of any human life regardless of where it happens. Solitude might be hard to come by but if you’re determined you can find it.

Probably not the sights and sounds of Earth, either, even if you were raised here. VR immersion will likely be mandatory in a psychologist-advised effort to stop everyone beating each other to death with space rocks, so wide open spaces will be piped straight to your brain at regular intervals.

It will quite possibly be something you or the best scientific or strategic minds are only started to find out about now, never considered or even knew about. An obscure fungus spread by migrating birds that regulates some bacterial action in the soil, or your guts; or a mineral rock that stops enzyme cascades or speeds them up by slowly dissolving in the ocean; a cell reaction dependent on a particular level of magnetism or radioactivity, or a hormone that needs activating by a wavelength of light.

As much as we are in, on or of the Earth, it is in, on and of us. All boundaries are porous at some level whether we recognise them or not. Sometimes, like Joni says, you don’t know what you’ve got til it’s gone.

Other peoples’ work: Crack’d from side to side

Pop culture in post-Millennial Britain was largely snark in various formats. In the art world, Damien Hirst, Gilbert and George, Tracey Emin and Grayson Perry snarked at Canon, culture and collectors (but probably not their cash). Blur and Oasis snarked at each other in an incredibly niche culture war that seemed to hinge on clothing labels as much as anything else, for all the North\South, smug art school kids\common thug narrative that the press rung out of it. There were snarky chatshows, news columns, TV shows and magazines. It’s hard these days to convince people that snark existed in the wild before dark algorithmic rituals turned it into Twitter, but it did. Tony Blair lamented the snark and wanted everyone to be nice and sincere like they had been back in some mystical distant past, but then… well, joined a war despite a million people marching past his front door asking not to, so hardly gained the moral high ground there.

Bobbing along with the snark pack was a young Charlie Brooker, writing columns and reviews, making TV programs ; sarcastic and perceptive and bitterly funny. His public persona was that classic archetype of Britsnark: the smartarse – liked, admired, emulated and despised in various proportions by different audience segments, but relevant, employed and rarely ignored, with a range of projects that gave him options.

In 2011 came the first series of Black Mirror, and it paid homage to many things that Brooker had worked on or enthused about before (Brass Eye satire, schlock-horror Sci-fi, video games), but was also something fresh and distinctively itself, for all that its tag-line is usually along the lines of ‘The Twilight Zone on ketamine’. The move from Channel 4 to Netflix obviously did wonders for the effects and casting budgets but the storylines where still spun around the dreads and hopes of the modern world.

There are so many things I like about it: the spare atheistic of the writing; beautiful cinematography (the lighting); the variety and the cohesion. But the central premise of it all, the pivot around a moment when the viewer and characters understand that their threat perception has failed them, that they have reached a place with inescapable (often fatal) consequences whether they meant to or not, feels too close to some tipping point of reality to enjoy now. Which is not to say I won’t watch season six, when it lands, although I may not be laughing afterwards.

In an early publicity interview with someone probing the ‘dark techno-paranoia’ of the themes, Brooker said the shows were ‘about the way we might be living in 10 minutes time if we’re clumsy’.

Whoops.

Seating arrangements

On YouTube there are dozens of videos about productivity for artists, offering advice on time management, technique, organising materials, marketing advice and general affirmation. After several weekend bouts of prodding doggedly at various half-finished projects, I would add my own contribution: to make better art, you need elbow room, and a comfortable chair.

As yet I haven’t managed either. The latest chair by the easel is a broken one from the dining room, exiled to the shed for repairs that are unlikely to happen in the next three years, if at all. It is the latest in a long line of awful seats; rickety, always at an awkward height, uncomfortable. Prone to unexpected collapse, accessorized in winter with piles of old blankets.

Collage gets done sitting on the floor, which was fine but now ageing joints makes getting up as graceful as a cow floundered out of a ditch. Printing means standing up at a narrow bench built for a tall man (and I am neither), twisted sideways; balancing wet prints on the pile of bicycles and ladders against the back wall.

It’s not impossible, stuff happens. But every empty warehouse and boarded shopfront I pass makes me wonder what I could do with a bit more room to maneuver, and a chance to make a mess. At least I am not Michelangelo, lain flat on planks high above the ground for four years with a face full of paint and constant strife with Pope Julius.

Showing up

I’d almost forgotten that exhibitions were a thing, so when the email came my first reaction was bewilderment. It seemed very unlikely, when so many other small shows had fallen apart or moved online.

Next, relief, for the organisers of this show re mainly retired ladies, some well into their later years, and I had been worried about them. I should have known better, for in previous years their fiercely local exhibitions have been the best organised and managed of any I have taken part in, and it seems it would take more than a mere pandemic to change that.

They put on an exhibition every other year as a fund raiser for their ancient and polished jewel of a village church, and it’s always friendly and well-run. Now it seems, against all odds, that they are willing to give it a go again. It was an easy invitation to accept, but given the grudging and remedial state of what I’ve been making in the last few years, finding something to show hasn’t been quite so simple. Eventually I settled on a random clutch of pieces; an older work on canvas, a linocut and collograph from last year, and a mixed-media piece that sits unfinished on the mantel and lowers at me (time to settle with it, one way or the other). A box of cards for the gift shop.

Meanwhile, Frankenstein’s monsters of indecision and dead ends lurk in the shed among the ladders and bicycles, waiting for me to finally come up with some sort of plan or at least some conviction.