Mark Fisher, 1968 – 2017

Sometime back in the early 2000s, I began following a blog by a mysterious character called ‘K-Punk’. K-Punk wrote with rare brilliance – and at astonishing speed – about music and other idiosyncratic preoccupations: J.G. Ballard’s urban dystopias; films by Stanley Kubrick, David Lynch and David Cronenberg; 70s sci-fi TV series; the coastal landscapes of south east England; writers of otherworldly stories like Ursula Le Guin and H.P. Lovecraft; X-Men comics; Christopher Nolan’s Batman; Kate Moss; the England football team. His rapturously eloquent, bracingly erudite posts on pop music – in its various underground and overground forms – were, though, the first to snag my interest. Often, they were hilariously spot-on in their caustic hostility towards sacred cows.

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The Game Has Changed

This column was originally published in the January/February 2011 issue of the Visual Artists’ News Sheet.

In my column for this publication a few months ago, I called for a new negativity, in the spirit of Herbert Marcuse’s claim that the proper function of art was to be a “Great Refusal”. What better answer could I get than the massive ‘NO’ painted on the grass of Parliament Square in London during one of the recent series of protests against government cuts in the UK? Only four weeks ago, this kind of negativity still seemed to be only a distant possibility in a place like the UK. When, at a conference on public art and civility organised by SKOR in Amsterdam at the end of October, I suggested that there would soon be expressions of massive public anger in the UK, some of the UK-based delegates were sceptical, accusing me of “revolutionary nostalgia”. I was confident that they were being unduly dismissive – but I still didn’t anticipate the scale of the recent protests.

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Brexit & the Arts

VAI is an all Ireland body, which means that Brexit will have a clear impact on us and on all arts organisations across the island who operate either across the border or ROI collaborations with UK organisations, festivals and events.

The unfortunate truth is that the fallout from the vote has already happened. The fall in Sterling has had a direct impact on organisations such as ours that receive funding from Northern Ireland. Around 19% of our funding comes from the Arts Council of Northern Ireland and through our membership in Northern Ireland. With the collapse of the Sterling against the Euro this has now been reduced to around 13%. Continue reading “Brexit & the Arts”

Imperfect Loops & Screen Memories

The audio-essay I recently produced in collaboration with Justin Barton, On Vanishing Land, was in part a disquisition on the eerie. [1] For us, the eerie was defined by problems of agency. In the deserted spaces which often trigger the feeling of the eerie, we are forced to ask if there is an agent present, unseen but watching us. If an agent is present, what is its nature? Is it hostile, friendly, or merely indifferent? The feeling of the eerie is also likely to be provoked by the contemplation of the relics left behind by agents who have long departed. The statues on Easter Island, the stone circle at Avebury – these confront us with gaps in our knowledge. What kind of agents built these constructions, and what (now irretrievably lost) symbolic regime made sense of them?

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Just Say No

The artist Michael Wilkinson’s show ‘Lions After Slumber’, which was exhibited last May at the Modern Institute in Glasgow, was a repository of artefacts from past militant moments. The show was dominated by images and objects referring to the May ‘68 events in Paris and the punk and post-punk cultural sequences that happened in the UK in the late 70s and early 80s. The largest item in ‘Lions After Slumber’ was a massive photograph of Piccadilly Circus – the same image that had hung, upside down, in Malcolm McLaren’s shop Seditionaries in the 70s. But, tellingly, Wilkinson exhibited the photograph the right way up, a sign of the ways in which – in the thirty subsequent years – power has been restored. Wilkinson’s show was in many ways about the same malaise that I described in my book Capitalist Realism. [1] The book is about the retreat of the militancy, which ‘Lions After Slumber’ invokes. The surrender of any utopian impulse to a ‘capitalist realism’ which expects business to dominate all areas of culture has elicited a range of responses – a mordant sense of resignation, a cheerily compliant cynicism, an impotent protest, the quiet yet implacable plague of youth depression. All of which is manifested in a culture given over to (a largely unacknowledged) retrospection and pastiche. But even as pessimism totally pervades today’s culture at an unconscious level, negativity is officially abjured.

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Towards a New Mainstream

Thank you for flying with transnational commodification

we shall shortly be arriving in mayhem

if there is anybody on board who can impersonate a pilot

it would be of comfort to the other passengers…

Never have these lines from Nick Land’s 1992 theoretical-fiction Circuitries seemed more acute. After 2011, it would be perverse for anyone to talk about the end of history any more. It was as if, after a prolonged period of emaciation, history has been bingeing. The density of world-historic events in 2011 was such that it seemed almost impossible either to keep track of them, or to believe that they had all happened in one year: the Arab Spring, the death of bin Laden, the Breivik atrocity, the Japanese tsunami, the riots in England, the Euro crisis, the emergence of the Occupy movement. We are in the midst of almighty, and perhaps unprecedented, chaos. The world has never been more interconnected, but parliamentary politics has never seemed more impotent. The globalised systems connecting the planet are vectors for financial contagion, not channels for expressing collective agency. There are no credible experts. Mainstream economists have been radically discredited, not only by their failure to predict the financial collapse of 2008, but their complicity in it. Professional politicians designed for an era of supposedly post-political administration, in which nodding compliance to business was all that was required, are unable to adapt to the new conditions, in which imaginative thinking, decisiveness and charismatic interventions are at a premium. In an attempt to orientate ourselves, we seek historical parallels. The most ominous is, of course, the 1930s, with the prospect of Europe slipping from neoliberal consensus towards internecine and perhaps ethnocidal conflict. While politicians flail and bluster on a collapsed centre ground, the far right are ready to ‘impersonate pilots’ for populations that are bewildered and shell-shocked by everything that has happened since 2008, and intensely anxious about what it is to come.

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The Proximity of History

We work exceptionally hard in the arts. Whether working day in, day out in studios, travelling the length and breadth of the country, grant-chasing, freelancing or maintaining real jobs at the fringes of day jobs, we move mountains every day. While critical reflection is an inbuilt methodology of what we do, how often do we actually pause to reflect on our progress or marvel at our achievements? As the final Visual Artists’ News Sheet of the year, this issue is positioned to consider recent developments across our sector, while assessing some of the challenges that remain.

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The Art of Inclusion

For the September/October issue of the Visual Artists’ News Sheet, I’m focusing on forms of participation and collaboration. This concern stems from a continued insistence in my own practice as a curator in a local authority on interrogating the work of artists working in social, participatory contexts. We are thinking of participation as progressive – as preferable to elitism, exclusion and bureaucracy, for instance – but we need to think of the value of participation as completely dependent upon the value of the project in which one participates. It tells us a lot about how art and artists are being routinely interrogated. And I think this is extremely flawed. In order to delve deeper into the conundrum of participatory practice, I sent the following text to each of the invited contributors as a provocation: “People in the art world seem to have subscribed wholesale to the idea that participation or collaboration is an athletic sport in which artists must compete for their form of participation to be deeper, stronger, faster, longer and purer. The ideal form of participation or collaboration then hangs over every project that even hints at participation. This is not true of the experience of the spectator, who remains outside the work.

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Arts Funding NI


In October last year 32 arts organisations in Northern Ireland received word that they would each receive an in-year cut of 7% to their budget. Given that the core costs of an organisation are mostly fixed, and that much of the budget had been spent in the first half of the year, many of the organisations were looking at a cut of almost 20% to their ability to deliver their artistic programme during the second half of their financial year.

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