The theorist Mark Fisher, whose death was announced at the weekend, was one of our most original thinkers about how we experienced late 20th century and early 21st century capitalism. He also wrote honestly about his depression, and sometimes one felt that the two were related: that seeing so clearly the confines that late capitalism imposed on its subjects was too much weight for one person to stand. (Guy Debord suffered in a similar way.)
People have been queuing up today to pay tribute to Fisher and his work, and rightly so: Capitalist Realism is one of the essential texts of the last 10 years: so good, in fact, that I realised recently that I’d bought two copies. His style was also singular in its skill in combining the cultural and the political, a reminder that actually the two can never be separated out, as he demonstrated in his more recent book Ghosts of my Life, which I wrote about here.
In an obituary, the music writer Simon Reynolds, a friend of Fisher’s, described his writing like this:
The exciting thing about Mark’s writing – CCRU era, K-punk era, in magazines like FACT and The Wire, the books – was the feeling that he was on a journey: the ideas were going somewhere, a gigantic edifice of thought was in the process of construction. That Mark was thinking big, building a system, always aiming for the largest scale. And finally that this work, rigorous and deeply informed as it was, was not academic, in the sense of being done purely for its own sake: its urgency came from his faith that words really could change things. Reading Mark’s writing made everything feel more meaningful, supercharged with significance. It was a rush. An addiction.
The first modern theorist of the city, Henri Lefebvre, said a couple of things about the city that seem relevant here. I found these in the anthology Restless Cities. First, that to understand the city one must “situate oneself simultaneously inside and outside of it.” And second, that to understand the rhythms of the street, “it is necessary to get outside them, but not completely; be it through illness or a technique.”
A technique, perhaps, like Remote London, an experiential artwork that journeys through the city, and which sets out to unpeel layers of the city by making the familiar strange. It is the latest of a number of “Remote X” events held in different cities in Europe.
One of the most tiresome tropes on the futures circuit is the idea that the world is speeding up, often accompanied by a dodgy video with dodgier data. It’s one of those things that almost every generation in history has believed, along with the notions that young people are less respectful than they used to be and that society is going to the dogs. It also helps to sell books and consultancy projects. And broadly speaking, it is just plain wrong. To borrow Sohail Inayatullah’s terminology, it is a “used future”, borrowed from someone else.
I was watchng a documentary about the guitarist and producer Nile Rodgers, who together with his musical collaborator Bernard Edwards had, with Chic and (as producer) Sister Sledge, a golden run of hits in the late 1970s, at the height of the disco boom. And then – after the so-called ‘Disco Demolition Night‘ in 1979’ – neither band had another hit. Without trying to overthink it this was a cultural moment that deserves a little more reflection.
I was interviewed a couple of months ago by Sarah Woods, as part of her work on a project called The Roadless Trip, which she has written and directed with Richard Gott. The production, which sadly I’ve not yet been able to see (I was away from home the night they staged it in London) takes the form of a multi-media exchange between the actors, the audience, and various “experts”, including me, who have been pre-filmed and are trapped in digital aspic. I’m writing about this here because the work represents a conscious attempt to open up future possibilities – and the actions these entail – which deserves wider consideration.
A version of this post, which I wrote with Victoria Ward and Sabine Jaccaud of the change consultancy Sparknow, is also on The Futures Company blog.
Recently Francine Houben of Mecanoo Architecten talked about their design of Birmingham’s future library as a “living room for the city”. More than just storage, a dynamic space for movement, openness and exchange. In a blog she calls libraries “the cathedrals of our millennia”, which seemed a useful precursor to last Saturday’s National Libraries Day
The future of the library is, in some ways, a paradox.The trends that are running against it are more obvious, especially when combined with the financial pressures facing the British libraries system. But there are a surpring number of trends running in its favour. When you look at them together, the library becomes an object which allows us to have a discussion about the notion of the ‘public’ in the digital age.
I noticed last week that a presentation I’d given three years ago on the museum of the future had disappeared from the site that had been created for the event, so I’ve uploaded a version of the presentation to Slideshare. The Museums of the Long Now event at City University had explored how museums might evolve. I’d posted some notes here at the time.
While I was looking, I also found a piece of work which I’d done for the Arts Council in 2005 on ‘thriving in the 21st century’ which had been put online – in powerpoint here, with the full report here (opens pdf). The argument runs as follows:
Thriving requires a consistency of approach to output, structure, users, and talent, but this on its own is not enough. The missing ingredient is that the thriving organisation is able to construct a web of relationships with other, different, organisations. In doing so it gains access through co-operation to talent, or to resources, or to audiences, which would otherwise be closed to it. Such collaboration creates outcomes which are greater than the sum of its parts.
The report suggests that these relationships also create innovation pathways which can link new work to different audiences. Openness, as I have argued elsewhere, is a feature of success in the 21st century, and one where cultural organisations create models which other organisations could learn from.
The photographer Chris Jordan is the Breughel of waste, bringing us face to face with parts of our civilisation we’d prefer to look away from. I blogged about his work a couple of years ago – which he builds up, digitally, image by image, to try to represent visually the sheer weight of rubbish from our consumer culture. More than 400,000 mobile phones are ‘retired’ in the US every day. 2.4 million pieces of plastic enter the ocean every day. (‘Everything’s gonna be plastic‘ sang Woody Guthrie, 60 years ago). Each picture attempts to be a digital representation of a particular element of consumerism. Since I wrote the earlier post, the waste has got worse, and he’s published a book, Running The Numbers.
Which objects from our recent bonfire of the economic vanities will seem so strange in 2059 that they would become collectable? That’s the entertaining question posed by the artists Hollington & Kyprianou in their project with Bristol’s Arnolfini Gallery, called, ‘Adams & Smith, auctioneers of late-capitalist period artefacts‘. It’s part of the Arnolfini’s ‘100 Days’ series, in the countdown to Copenhagen. The objects range from a packet of upmarket cigarettes to a golf ball and tee. (There’s a full list below the fold).
I went to the Radical Nature exhibition at the Barbican in London yesterday. It raises some interesting questions about how we see emerging issues, which I hope to write about later, but it also suggested some interesting trends for the future of the museum and gallery. These are about openness and accountability.