I've been a huge fan of JG Ballard ever since I read "High Rise" when I was about 16. I rapidly explored "Crash" and "Atrocity Exhibition" - which, at 16 or 17, I probably pretentiously pretended to understand: as an adult, I still struggle with it - and up until his death, I eagerly awaited each new novel, "Rushing to Paradise", "Cocaine Nights", "Super-Cannes"... Thus it was that in 2006, I read "Kingdom Come". In this novel, middle-England revolts without realising that they are doing it. Led by a charismatic, media-managed, glossy 'eccentric' who is prone to outbursts of cruelty and buffoonery, they relieve the dissatisfaction generated by gigantic shopping malls and the boredom of consumerism by building a populist movement, sporting St. George's Cross teeshirts and hats, flags fluttering from car windows and suburban bungalows, overturning the rule of law and attacking Asian and Polish businesses.

Sound familiar?
I have always viewed Ballard's writing as allegorical, sometimes far-fetched, but always with the point that society is only just held together by a thin veneer of civilisation but this novel is now something quite other. Re-reading it is actually frightening as it no longer reads like an allegory, more like a prediction: what seemed to be a warning now reads like an instruction manual with exact parallels in what is happening in the UK today. Ballard writes, "The danger is that consumerism will need something close to fascism in order to keep growing."
We are close to some sort of fascism now, caused by the deliberate destabilisation of a consumer-led society. Artist, Rachel Maclean hit the nail on the head when she said of her residency in the Birmingham Bullring shopping centre, "There’s something about shopping centres and the whole experience of advertising that is anxiety-inducing. It has to make you feel bad in order that you buy something to make yourself feel better. It’s an entire culture that necessitates dissatisfaction."
The problem here is that the whole population has been exposed to this culture, they have been saturated in dissatisfaction, itself a function of the neoliberal economic model which requires the population to consume endlessly. Ballard posits that the population have become bored of neoliberalism, bored of consumption and, as they have defined themselves through their consumption, bored of their very core of being. This disaffection manifests itself in outpourings of violence directed against the "other" and, ultimately, against manufactured "others": "New enemies were always needed, and one in particular was soon found. The traditional middle class..."
The outlook for the UK is not good.

In The Cut - Project - 3
Riv, one of the mentors and a musician working on the "In The Cut" project with pupils at Broadway Academy.
In terms of my own work, the 'big project' I've been planning with Norman Cherry has now kicked off and it relates very strongly to this malaise. This week saw us taking a group of Artists-in-Residence from the School of Jewellery into Broadway Academy in Perry Barr along with a couple of local musicians, BCU Criminology students and the fantastic Criminology lecturer and researcher Yusef Bakkali with a view to trialling a prophylactic intervention amongst a group of young people who could potentially be at risk of being involved in knife crime.

The reality is that there is an epidemic of knife crime and all young people, excepting, perhaps, the most isolated and/or privileged are at risk. This is partly to do with survival, or at least the  idea of survival, the idea that other people are carrying knives and so knives are carried as a "protection" - despite figures which show that carrying a knife increases the likelihood of being injured or killed in knife-crime incidents. These young people are anxious. Anxiety and fear are part of their lives. Even the best brought-up young people are targeted by advertising and are made to feel inadequate, to doubt themselves. It is little surprise that they not only have alarming levels of mental-health issues but that they also feel the need to defend themselves, both physically and psychologically.

In The Cut - Project - 1

Unusually, our project is prophylactic. It is an intervention before anyone is involved: it seeks to alert the participants to the issues in a creative and thoughtful way, to make them think about their environment and to try to make them think about committing to a life which eschews violence. To this end, we've been getting them to draw protective amulets which are going to be made from the knife blades and we've been really encouraged by the outcomes so far.

In The Cut - Project - 4

In The Cut - Project - 2

John Grayson - Talking Practice - 4

Over the last month, we've had John Grayson's PhD exhibition "Enamel:Substrate" in the Vittoria Street Gallery and last week was his "Talking Practice" about the exhibition and his work on researching Bilston painted enamels.

John Grayson - Talking Practice - 2

John is a great maker and a most engaging speaker and the talk was fully-booked, the reception afterwards very busy. I particularly like his work but his drawings and sketchbooks are really lovely:

John Grayson - Talking Practice - 4

John Grayson - Talking Practice - 5

I have been making preparations for the show I am doing in Vittoria Street with Dan Russell, "A Waste Land" which opens next week on the 4th with our "Talking Practice" on the 5th February. As part of this, I spent a day litter picking with the Jewellery Quarter BID Clean Team:

Working with Dennis and Allan, the regular team members, we wandered about the Jewellery Quarter, gathering up the rubbish, something they do four days a week, 10am - 4pm. I was only with them about an hour and we found some horrors...

Out With The JQ Clean Team - 6

Out With The JQ Clean Team - 5

It wasn't all bad, though and I did hear some great stories, such as how someone had dumped a safe in the middle of one street and about the complete set of boxed false teeth which turned up in another. In case you are wondering, that IS a "Moomin" on the cart in the first picture:

Out With The JQ Clean Team - 4

Work starts on the exhibition tomorrow. Should you be interested in coming along, all the details are here. There will be food from the Real Junk Food Project  - made from food-waste - and music from students at the Birmingham Conservatoire - James Abel, George West and Peter Bell - which will include some sheet music I found on my litter-picking expedition, played on scrap materials and instruments:

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