writing from another someone not from where they are


Relationship with cousins is particular. With the Roma people I know their cousins are their closest friends. They choose amongst their cousins, it’s not that just because someone is your cousin be your closest friend, rather that your friends come from amongst your cousins. And you got so many cousins that this doesn’t really pose a problem.

Here in Sheffield there’s people who come from here have cousins I presume. Knowing them even in the rather tame British context does give you access into an increasingly distant world. In fact in some ways that’s peculiarity of the cousin relationship. That cousins in fact take you well away from your immediate family and experiences. Well they do amongst this dispersed first generation middle-class man.

If I were to live near my cousins then I’d have a very different experience. If they were here they’d be living out in Macclesfield perhaps or probably somewhere up on the smarter sides of the Manor. I’d see inside that world and understand it, here it’s commentary on contemporary politics. But don’t get that opportunity.

facebook and cousins

Facebook. Friends on Facebook. Some of my cousins are friends on Facebook. I see people there being very close to each other. Being silly with each other. Being sentimental. I also see people who I can only assume are actually frightened, in this generation, by Muslims.

I opened a post today which was a link through to video showing a demonstration purportedly by a Muslim group somewhere in London driving the police back whilst various things are shouted including some recognisable phrases in Arabic. The text below it tells us rhetorically about the fact that there are areas of London that a no go to the police. This is followed by hashtags connected, particularly noticeably, to patriots and to Donald Trump.

What a populist he is.

And it’s my cousins who are listening to it and daring to put it out publicly. I don’t say anything otherwise I’d never hear it. Except increasingly out there in the press.

It is if they relish in some sort of coming battle imagining I don’t know what. Do they think the others want the same? To start the battle when their side is so weak. No on both sides people want to start the battle. We the Liberals say that education will matter. That people develop as they want to at a speed they are comfortable with in this system. If you force them into corners they will feel obliged to fight to rebel and fight.

But of course that’s what was done to you my cousins. To the working class. To parts of the working class. They were given increasing amounts of education and responsibility and power. They were given these in order to put them off from actually fighting. They maintained an increasingly disciplined attitude to themselves. This wasn’t done to you because somebody was afraid to crush your rights but because, pragmatically, if you were to start fighting then no sort of advance could be made. Peace is needed to move on. War doesn’t achieve that.

And then are the great empires, the Chinese Empire, the Roman Empire. The British Empire. Change moved forward through these because of the control. Because of the forced peace that comes with Empire, within the bounds of the Empire.

So we are real imperialists those of us who wish war not to take place. We are global imperialists.


Britain is managing control of its borders

“Britain is losing control of its borders”

Britain isn’t losing control of its borders. Borders are just making increasingly less sense. We have been warned for years that the time would come when big migrations of people would start again due to wars and environmental pressures. While it’s happening and closing our borders isn’t the resolution. The resolution is managing the movement of people.

Britain is managing the control of its borders.

If we close them down what happens? More wars. Except they will be even closer. In fact there will be right next door where the people are trying to get in.

It’s not a joke. This is a multicultural society. People do have different practices and want to preserve them. The very good reasons.

routine art and the everyday

There is a complexity to artistic expression. Especially when it comes to some sort of original artistic expression. But regardless of that initial complexity, it becomes always and without doubt inevitable. Mimetic.

So the original becomes some sort of copy and it is this copying which is perceived as a lesser form of art. Something which eventually evolves into a craft of some description or other. A craft perhaps being the very repetition rather than supposedly original creation.

It is however clear that art does move forwards like everything else. That there is genuine original creation. The juxtaposition in a particular place and time of ideas and practices which produce something not seen before. However it always becomes possible to copy it. To learn how it is done. To use that particular expression to create something increasingly mundane and repetitive.

In fact this form of repetition becomes the most valuable thing art can do. It shows that the quotidian can be the container, but in fact in the quotidian the everyday expression lies the most complex expression.

And similarly, the obverse, that in the least quotidian of moments the least meaning is found. I’m not expressing this properly at all. It’s this idea that I’ve been discussing, perhaps discussing is too grandiose a word, I do in fact hate glamorous love of artistic expression. It makes me cross. I like to think that the really difficult things are to manage with the boring everyday things of life.

Containing my own thoughts

My sister pointed something out to me the other day. She was telling me that I was a good listener, perhaps in a way not appearing judgemental.

“Well at least you managed to hide what it is you might be thinking sufficiently”.

I thought about this and realised that both the work I did in tourism and the subsequent work have done with asylum seekers has perhaps helped me prepare to be a good listener. I learnt the lesson when doing the travel work very early on that it genuinely didn’t matter what you were thinking. People can’t read your thoughts and if you go through the external processes of politeness and showing confidence then people will think you are polite and confident regardless of the internal world. So I learnt to keep my own counsel. Similarly with asylum seekers. There are so many questions that I might ask and so many responses to things that are said to me which I repress. Which I hold back out of respect. Another listening skill. Managing to contain my own thoughts.

Already here before they come.

Naïve ever I realise that asylum seekers coming to the UK, to the wider Western world, are already here before they arrive. People aren’t coming (well not that many) from a world that is distant from ours. All of the means of modern communication, all of the migration which has already taken place over the past thirty or forty years, shared cultural practices and subtle understandings of geopolitics mean that people come to the UK able to adapt to the world they are living in because it’s not that different the world they were living in. Except perhaps that there are less bombs falling or that it’s organised differently in a way that avoids obvious aggression.

I suppose the main story I can think of that informs this was that time I asked my friend from Sudan at the allotments if you’d like to cook. He was from the Dinka tribe and had facial scars from some initiation. What do you want to cook? I asked him. Do you know any village recipes or something like that? I asked him.

(Yeah well, I really like Jamie Oliver)

that was his reply. And that’s the fact of it. He liked Jamie Oliver.

validating arts practice

I’ve had more insight into the ideas, or some of the ideas, relating to validating arts practice. More and more artists are turning out to practice as conceptual artists. Believing that an arts practice finds valid expression by its engagement in social fields. The social fields have always been inflected by even purely elite arts practices. They shocked at one time and prior to that they validated. The practices rather than the arts themselves. Perhaps there are situations where the practice of art, understood to be its physical manifestation as a “work”, might be its proxy. We are in a time when it’s not at all clear how to intervene in the social spheres as a visual or other practical manifestant of the arts. So it’s a matter of finding a place where arts become genuinely innovative. Not purely repetitious, that being a significant feature of popular arts.

The day I just spent with the polytechnic in Middlesbrough gave me a clearer overview of an arts practice that does things with people rather than makes anything. At one level there is the need to practically evaluate what people are doing in order to allow for training, the guidance that the polytechnic offers, a sense of value, validation of the artist, fiscal support for the artist in what they are doing. This was brought home I think by meeting the ex-head of art at Sunderland University. I saw that from her perspective validation was a practical and pragmatic moment. At another level there is this significant dialogue around art practice – in order perhaps to have validation – needing to bring about material change, to materialise some sort of socially desirable change if the “the work” is not itself appreciated as a material expression of socially desirable change. “The work” to be of value had to push forward social situations of which it was not the immediate product. It had to be so precise in its shape and yet so vague, so malleable, that it could map itself, or be mapped through its precision, on to many many situations. If the work is no longer produced then it is the quality and effectiveness of the social moments effected by the artist that are to be validated.

This came to view with my visits to MIMA (the Middlesbrough Institute Of Modern Art). We were there to meet the director, a reasonably well-known artist whose name I can’t recall and refuse to search for with Google right now, who had gained some notoriety through involvement in the sort of social arts engagement project/life in a village somewhere in the Lake District. Ideas derived from Ruskin which is of course most appropriate to those of us coming out of the polytechnic.

The critique as he said of his social-arts-community-practice-life was that it was “easy” to do that in a small rural community – how applicable would it be in a complex environment. That was where he found himself at MIMA. Multi-million pound arthouse set over three stories with huge storerooms at the back, a grand entrance, huge open foyer, cafe, modern art-house book sales, well crafted crafts. The building is some great more than ever modernist statement that sits just to the side of the streets where constant expression is taking place amongst the people of Middlesbrough: the shopping streets and covered shopping centres. That’s where everybody was and when I asked them about MIMA they said they’d either never heard of it or at most had been there once.

The challenge of the great scale Ruskinian practice is to breathe life into MIMA and to validate itself indeed.

The old galleries of the mid to late nineteenth century attracted attention partly because of their ability to entertain, to fascinate. Places like MIMA don’t offer that in and of themselves unless they bring with them the things that were brought with the first phase of galleries: money and status. So the more than modernist approach of the large-scale Ruskinian practitioner must always be to include elements of fame, hopefully of notoriety.

Inheritance tax

I’m certainly a beneficiary of an uneven distribution of wealth in our society. For what I can inherit half a dozen other families could equally benefit. Hundred families could equally benefit. One thousand families could equally benefit. And so onwards.

It’s the generosity of inheritance tax that does this it is said. If generosity is the right word.

Daash and Israel

Young people travelling off to join the Islamic state. Firstly, I am not somebody who finds it difficult to understand why somebody might want to go off and join them. It’s not that I want to indulge in great violence but rather that I recognise the situation where somebody doesn’t necessarily avoid it. So do people who join the army. They recognise that too.

I recognise it’s romance. And its call to duty.

So out there in the deserts they found The Caliphate. People start to come in from outside and it reminds me of the founding of the state of Israel. That too was founded by people coming from all over and being willing to take up arms. And do terrible things.

So don’t be too sure that it won’t survive. And remember that its extermination is extermination of somebody. Of blood and bones.