Art, Activism, Success and Aging

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Anyone with the drive, focus, energy and passion to make it in New York, deserves kudos. If they keep a sense of of morality, self and spirit intact, all the more power to them.

This is a driven city, and when they say it never sleeps it is partially because there is no time to rest if you want to get things done.

Yesterday was my usual art gallery/museum day (more on that in another blog) though I started with a bit of out the window ‘entertainment’ whilst having breakfast, as three large policemen and two police vans surrounded a woman in her car for an hour or so. When that weirdness finished a large man in a huge black car, drove by taking photographs of me smoking on the balcony before conducting a conversation with me, still on said balcony, (there was no way that I was letting him in). He said that he was from a mortgage company checking occupancy on the house I was staying in. Airbnb provides yet another interesting accommodation experience.

Anyway I closed my day with a visit to Williamsburg Music Hall to see Psychic TV’s Alienist Record Release show, which also included performances by Lydia Lunch and RETROVIRUS and Forma.

I staggered out of the theatre at two in the morning, had a magical mystery subway adventure for an hour or so until I discovered the trains weren’t running to Newark. Five in the morning saw me finally arriving home in a dodgy black cab held together with jump leads, driven by a obese man in a djellaba, seemingly in the advanced stages of emphysema.

Okay digression aside. Lets talk about the concert.

Lydia Lunch and Gen. P. Orridge are both of a similar generation to myself; I grew up to their music. Lydia’s art was goth punk street fighting and strong feminism, ground in dirt and blood and spunk.

Gen. P Orridge was magic and art combined. Cutting edge, mind bending, magical subversion. Together with Modern Primitives, William Burroughs and a mash up of counter cultural expressions that ranged from cut ups to NLP, they were very much part of the radical self expression of the 80’s.

You see the 1980’s was considered to be a pre -Apocalyptical era. Everything was dark and crazy and we were protesting oppression through art…be it ‘zines, industrial music, tattoos piercings and body mods, creative political protest or new ways of presenting subversive imagery and art.

There are a lot of comparisons of that era to this. A feeling of being controlled, of rising right wing elements and an increasingly abusive power structure.

In my presentations I often pose the question, how do the younger generation react to what is happening in this world? How is it reflected in their art? The present generation’s tools are different than my era’s were, but in many ways we had more freedom to express ourselves.

We could drop out, live in squats, have habits, exist on subsistence level, and make art.

This really isn’t an option for a younger generation, especially in places such as London and New York, and if it does happen, it’s more difficult not to simply drop through the cracks and disappear.

This ramble is leading somewhere by the way!

I’m going to talk about a concert where two of my peers, now older and more conventionally established, were performing and how their art seems to have progressed in the face of success. Success of course being subjective. They’ve survived and make a living out of their art work, which in my mind is success.

The first band Forma, are a young American electronic band and were superb. A New Yorker I attended the concert with said this was more typical of the New York sound; electronic, high quality, dance.

Then Lydia Lunch and RetroVIRUS came on. She was magnificent. Using words, music, imagery and hard punches she knocked down the establishment on every level. Contemporary politics, gender issues, sexuality…it was all looked at, packaged into hard hitting art, then thrown at the audience who grabbed at it without really knowing what they were receiving I suspect.

She squatted at the side of the stage smoking a cigarette taken from her large red handbag which was sitting by the drum kit; heavy bosomed, dressed in black and completely magnificent.

Then onto Psychic TV. Gen P Orridge is the master of manipulating, subverting and reflecting modernity. From her work with Burroughs, Gysin, Tibetan Buddhism and TOPY her genre spans music, film, art and her own body and sexual and emotional expressions.

Okay she is now being exhibited in major galleries, and photographed for advertising campaigns for Marc Jacobs and I read somewhere that she was at a party recently with Donald Trump’s daughter…has age have diluted her?

A resounding NO! The light show which integrated dream machine like strobing, cut ups and subliminals was fantastic. The band were great and technically superb as well as being fun, subversive and politically outspoken , making particular reference to the North Dakota pipeline.

I think most artists would agree that art work changes with the focus and perception of the viewer and a savvy artist can use this to raise and change consciousness.

All of the performers at the Williamsburg Music Hall worked with this premise of manipulating the audiences consciousness. Forma did it for dance, and Lydia Lunch and Psychic TV did it for love, radical transformation and good old fashioned kick-arse art.

The tickets were cheap too, which is a subversion in itself.

 

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Appreciation of the Surface, Analysis of the Underpinnings.

imageThe usual constant sirens of Newark have blended into my personal background noise now as I’ve become used to them, although the occasional low flying helicopter at three in the morning can jar me a little.

I’ve also become more immune to the huge presence of armed and armoured police but still get a little shaken when they’re joined by multiple camouflage wearing soldiers as they were at Grand Central Station yesterday.

All up New York is a fantastic sensory inundation but as I’m here to work, my mind shuffles between appreciation of the surface and over analysis of the underpinnings.

I’ve been racing between galleries and urban expressions of art, between watching New York Fashion Week posers and the awful poverty of the street people that surround them, between appreciating the openness and warmth of complete strangers communicating on the metro and the contrast of the woman in £1000 Louboutin shoes shoving a wad of notes in the side of a legless homeless man’s wheelchair before she climbed in a limo.

It is all part of a dance, and the joy and difficulty lies in find the rhythm to follow the music without getting lost in my head and tripping up over my feet.

Yesterday I wandered in areas where art was about corporate investment, and found out that most of the street art in the city is now sponsored. However I also met up with the executive director of Visual AIDS who showed that it was possible to straddle the worlds of professionalism and financial awareness, and be involved in creative processes that have morality and ability to effect positive progressive change.

As I caught my train back to Newark last night ( missing my stop and ending up in Princeton, but that’s the nature of my personal musing process) I was stunned and a little down and disillusioned but today all has been processed and assimilated and I’m ready to explore and adventure once more.

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Chaos, Adventure, Travel and the Spaces In Between.

image.jpegSo I’m experiencing my first trip to New York and in time honoured, ‘make things more difficult for myself’ manner, I have added some extra stimulus.

I was asked to speak at ‘The Museum of Morbid Anatomy’ and accepted before I realised, hey, I have no money.

A mad scramble and my first attempt at an arts funding application paid off, and an a-n travel bursary ensured that my basic costs would be covered.

Still needing to travel however on a strict budget, I found cheaper accommodation in Newark, a place my obsession with the series ‘The Wire’ inadvertently acted as preparation for.

The host of the home my companion and I are staying in was welcoming and all the basics are covered; rodent repellant plugs are scattered liberally throughout the house, there is a working fridge next to the mouldy one, and the living room has two enormous TV’s with surround sound.

My travelling companion hasn’t brought her phone so her partner contacts her via WhatsApp on my phone. She regularly receives loving and supportive texts from her beloved while my paramour occasionally sends me a London weather report and images of his Soho indulgences.

All of these details aside, the city is amazing. It’s steaming hot, I’ve managed to instinctively negotiate the subway system though still creating a chaotic adventure out of every journey, and everything is a larger than life sensory overload that is art encapsulated.

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Love Never Dies, It Just Changes Shape.

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We are born, we live and we die. In between there lies love and pain and joy, but also events that are portals: points of initiation that transform us.

As anyone who reads this blog may have noticed, I’ve been wading in murky emotional waters lately.

Struggling along in the mire I was started to feel as if I was becoming a miserable and mirthless old git, when my Facebook feed posted a ‘memory’ from six years ago.

It was a photograph of me with my mother, taken several weeks before she died.

The weeks after the photo was taken were mad. An emergency flight to Singapore, followed by a five day vigil in Intensive Care where my sister, my stepfather and myself surrounded my mother with love and support in the final stages of her life.

Recalling these memories I realised, as I always eventually realise at this time of the year, that memory is remembered in our body, in our deep emotions, long before our cognitive process recognises it.

A mother dying, no matter how fractious the relationship, rips apart the foundation of our reality. Where we come from no longer seems to exist. Unconditional love is gone. Suddenly all that remains is our own ability to define ourselves.

This is one of life’s great initiations: losing our point of entrance to reality, and choosing to create our own.

The other initiation, is being present at a death. Guiding someone we love into as good and gentle death as possible, is the inverse of a birth and in many ways just as important as part of ourselves is also lost and needs to be restructured.

Remembering that near six years ago, my life shifted dramatically and that I watched aspects of myself crumble away,  it doesn’t seem so strange anymore that life is presently rocky.

After my mother died, I fell apart but my creative process and outlets, rebuilt me into who I was supposed to be.

Love never dies, it just changes shape.

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Luminosity at Night

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I went to bed early last night for a marathon sleep catch up session. It was an exhausting night. Resting was interspersed with periods of overactive obsessive thinking, examination of past patterns of behaviour, wonderings and occasional inspirations.

I started thinking about my emotional history. Wondering how in hell’s name I ended up in the mental health-care system. Cogitating on whether I really had been that crazy, and thinking thank god I’m okay now while being aware that deep inside me, there is still a very vulnerable and mad aspect that I have somehow learned to manage but still requires vigilance, care and acknowledgement.

When I first moved to Brixton over twenty years ago, I was stunned how many obviously seriously mentally ill people were walking the streets. The system failed them,  but I was someone that it eventually worked for.

My last stay in a psych ward was when I was thirty years old. I was in a detox unit in the lock down psychiatric section of a red brick Victorian hospital in Kent. The sleeping cells had doors that locked from the outside, with peepholes so you could be observed by staff.

I spent another year and a half in various rehabs and a dry house but never again in the psych ward of a hospital.

Most of my time spent in psychiatric care in hospitals, was in New Zealand (no Victorian asylums there, though a few old antiquated and brutal attitudes were still in use).

Strange that my memory is so patchy of those times (eating disorders can affect the memory, as does drug use) but I do clearly remember some of the people in the first psych unit that I was in.

Dismissive trainee doctors gathered around my bed, regarding me as they would a piece of meat as I was asked about my menstrual cycle, hospital gown rucked up around my hips as my dehydrated abdomen was prodded.

Lovely nurses, nasty nurses, patients locked in sad worlds and compulsive obsessive behaviours.

Later visits to the psych wards of various hospitals were near yearly, generally coinciding with suicide attempts and overdoses.

I had counselling, group therapies, psychotherapy, hypnotherapy and was medicated. I attended every Twelve Step group going and was near maniacal in following routines to keep me safe and solid.

Eventually things shifted and I learned to start living in mundane reality.

By age 31 I had an institutionalised attitude and was frail, but able to start to live beyond the parametres.

So many coping mechanisms were shown to me, many of which I still use.

There is a luminosity about the past, especially when the walls are white and many of the people that walk the corridors of that time are long dead.

The me that walks through those buildings is fading but I just needed to look at her again, to give myself some strength in my own ability to move forward.

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Kitchen Sink Dramas and Microwave Meditations

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I’m sitting in a friend’s house in Hackney at three in the morning. The window that I’ve been hanging out of having a cigarette is open, and drifting though it is the sound of early morning traffic and a woman with an Australian accent talking to someone she loves on a different timeline.

I just had an argument with a person I care deeply about and can’t sleep so  I thought rather than analyse, over analyse and perhaps cry, I’d write something down. Maybe writing can ease the lump of hurt that I feel at the back of my throat and the waves of loss of control and  feeling of everything falling away from me.

Perhaps if I write it away, my life will click back into order again.

Not being in the safety of my home territory, but instead sitting on a mattress in another city,  I am scrambling for solidity and words will may well give that stability back to me.

I’m a very controlled person and not having recourse to alcohol or drugs, my expression is reliant upon creative means.

So falling in love has pushed me to an extreme that I’m not used to.I’ve been shaky and out of my depth, all the more so as the person I’ve sacrificed a piece of myself to inhabits a different world.

A world of alcohol and members’ clubs and casinos. A corporate, work-driven sleepless world.

A world that a 50 year old artist who doesn’t drink or take drugs and is overly sensitive and a tad depressive, doesn’t belong in.

However I tried. I sat with a group of people sniffing vodka, fast living city people, and I let myself be carried along in the mania. My reserve and cool crumbled and I played and felt manic then I was castigated for it.

Now I want to go home but my train ticket isn’t until tomorrow and I can’t sleep and I’m still listening to the woman outside talk to the object of her affections.

The lump remains throbbing at the back of my throat and I’m hurting and I’m wondering if I’m a better person for feeling like this. I just need to ride through it. My world is shaky but the foundations are still there, but my core isn’t resilient and I have that old old feeling of needing to run away and hide.

I’m thinking maybe I could pack my suitcase but daylight is hours away and I’m safer on this mattress writing, than walking through late night early morning London streets dragging my possessions around.

I’m so tired. Just want home. The woman outside is still saying her long goodbyes, and I’ve just done the same via text and god how old am I, how tired am I.

I don’t necessarily feel better but the lump of pain in the back of my throat is smaller and I feel the approach of sleep, though I still think that maybe I should pack to calm myself.

Put my possessions in order, in preparation for tube rides and train rides and bus rides. Thinking about unlocking the door to my house, and the dogs greeting me with love, then going into my shed to complete the art work I started before this trip.

Thinking about that and the lump fades further.

I’ll unpack my bags, do my laundry. I’ll stand under a hot shower and wash London and the rich petulant businessman off my body and out of my hair and down the drain.

I’ll curl up on my sofa, a dog on each side and sleep. Sleep it all away.

I’ll sleep away the undermining and the mistakes and the games. A dog under each arm, loving me unconditionally.

12 hours and counting until I’m there, until I’m safe. The lump of tears has faded, the woman outside has finished the phone call and her multiple I love yours are still floating in the air and up to the window that I’m hanging out of, having another cigarette.

I breathe out the smoke, and squint so I see the shape of her love utterances, and I try and breath some of them in, but they belong to someone else.

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The Mind Monster

imageA few months ago I was at a conference where a psychologist was speaking about standardised treatment for mental and emotional trauma. The present norm in such cases is using a combination of medication and a basic therapy such as Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (CBT) to attempt to restore the sufferer to the state they were in prior to the trauma.

This threw me somewhat as after any major incidents in life one changes and I would have thought it was counterproductive to deny this.

I chatted to the speaker after his presentation and as he had liased a lot with the government on various mental health related subjects I queried him about something which had been bothering me for some time.

I’d noticed that near everyone I know (predominantly menopausal women but also men and several very young people) was on antidepressants, specifically citalopram.

Now I had mused how odd that seemed, given the individual nature of all our depressions/anxiety related illness’, but reconciled to citalopram being the ‘in’ drug of the moment.

Another thing that I had noticed was that some of my friends who have more serious forms of psychological illness were being offered Cognitive Behavioural Therapy. Whilst CBT does have validity of course, and admittedly my opinions are those of a layman with a long history of mental health related ‘issues’, but offering someone who is contemplating suicide to go on a waiting list for CBT, seems a bit lack lustre.

So I asked this psychologist, do governments and health care systems and perhaps even pharmaceutical companies have a standardised joint plan of how to treat and drug the population?

He simply said, yes.

I’ve periodically taken anti depressants for years for compulsive obsessive behaviours, anxieties, depressions and mania. I hate being on drugs and manage to stay off medication for years at a time, but life is often a struggle and I use every coping mechanism in my arsenal to survive.

Physical problems such as Graves’ disease can exacerbate my manias, and sometimes I simply snap and am lucky enough to have an awareness that says.. get help…now!

I’ve been on this particular course of medication for two years and recently had my regular physical checks and scans at the hospital. I was chatting with my practice nurse about the unexplained steady weight loss I’ve had recently. My nurse has been working with me for nearly ten years and always thought that I had the most awareness of my body of any patient that she had come across, asked me if I thought that my thyroid could be malfunctioning again. The thing is, I didn’t know. The anti depressants have dislocated me from my madness but also from my self awareness.

Now this situation unnerved me and made me very uncomfortable with my medication.

I’m not sure whether to risk coming off the pills to experience awareness of all aspects of life, misery and mania included, and to also be aware of my body and what’s happening within it, or to stay medicated, comfortable and sometimes even happy.

I also need to bear in mind that one of the symptoms of depression is the sufferer adjusting their own medication. The alternative to this is handing over responsibility of my well being  to the medical profession, a field which, as indicated above, isn’t entirely altruistic.

As always, I’ll go with the change, the risk and what I hope, is the progression.

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