A dialogue conducted between Mike Watson and Paul Sakoilsky, on hope, art, the media, and the persistence of the ‘apocalypse’.
‘Are We Living in The Dark Times: Or is it just the Persistent
Culture of Apocalypse?’
Rome/Hastings. Start Date/Time: 9.10.2008 – 10.44 PM.
MW: Paul Sakoilsky asks ‘are we living in the dark times?’, a question which entails some responsibility. To use a well-worn theoretical idea, it’s a gamble. If Paul Sakoilsky were wrong – i.e. if we quite definitely are not living in the ‘dark times’, and it turned out to be noticeably so, he’d probably feel pretty accursed. I’m asking him now, what makes him so sure that of all the rhetorical questions that might be asked, he feels that this might be the most appropriate?
PS: Are we living in the dark times? It is always important to simultaneously pose its rider, ‘or is it just the persistent culture of apocalypse?’ That is to say, what, if anything, is special about our times? What is so special about us, that we assume, what? Stability? Homoeostasis? Has it always been the apocalypse? (That is, is the apocalypse always there, the end times, the dark times? As a figure standing before humanity?) Of course, this figure of darkness and its realities, dialectically, perhaps even ontologically, presupposes its opposite. As regards responsibility? This is a strange concept – or rather a problem – it lands me, us, humanity, in the face of ethics; or one hopes it does.
MW: I see a contradiction here: it’s the Dark Times, but it’s persistent, (re: your tag line): how would you equate something being dark, (i.e. darker than before) with the persistence of that state? That is, are we living in Dark Times, or is this (the apparent ‘darkness’, as you put it) just part and parcel of life? One of the attendant necessities of being ‘alive’: i.e. there is darkness because there is light? And as such, would one not be better off chalking up the light, instead of the darkness?
PS: That is, in fact, the question. One wonders. Personally, I don’t know the answer. I do know, re. working with/against and playing with the media, that in this dispersed mediated ‘world’ of ours it is evident that – although when I started the project, apart from the constant terrible trickle, then pour of teenage killings in the UK, the ‘war’ on terror, climate change, etc.,– the headlines weren’t so dark, as it were, but, over the last few months and more so, with the credit crunch etc, the ‘darkness’ , the majority of people now are speaking of hard times, dark times. As regards, chalking up the light, I actually think there is a lot of humour in the work, (albeit, of the dark variety – although sometimes just plain stupid in the best, positive sense) – and this is vital. Of course, on the other hand, some of this work has been made through a cloud of real tears and fears – so what can one say? ‘HOPE’. Without that we are doomed – full stop. I find the propagation of doom and banality that the media mediates, to have a virus like quality. It is self propagating and self fulfilling.
MW: I agree, and it is unfortunately the case that we are used to reading disclaimers and warnings. Hence your ‘dark times’ seems in some sense to belong to a Modernist era, (no bad thing, as such), in that they don’t have glaringly obvious, ‘it’s not so’ or ‘it need not be so’ signs attached. ‘The Dark Times’ requires that the audience input some effort in order to think through the ‘problem’ posed themselves, without cues. Would you agree with that, and deflect the concomitant elitist charge that might come with this? Next, I would like to agree emphatically with your characterisation of ‘hope’. Would you agree, that ‘hope’ only exists in the real presence of its opposite? i.e. – it’s always ‘hope’ after what one hasn’t got ?
PS: Firstly – as a premable to the answer. I was, and have been heartened by the fact that ‘everyone’ seems to ‘get’ the works, at least at the basic level. As you know, ‘the dark times: press office≠2’ was housed in the squatted ex-Mercedes Showroom in Finchley Road (London), where Mark Hammond and I ran the Climate 4 Change exhibition. Here a lot of people were living the ‘alternative’ life, as it were. I was also living there, as I had no other option at the time. It was an eye-opening experience. It was a very dark period for me, personally. But also, looking back, an intensely creative one. Having absolutely no other options, I worked and worked, and the act of making, brought with it the possibility of hope, art, life.
Re. ‘Modernist’ – I am just showing x, y, z without the subterfuge of irony, (although I am not so sure about your characterisation); the audience should have to work a bit. Firstly one gives them an image/text, a work. I don’t think it is necessarily elitist – even if to really understand something, one has to have done a little work – of course, there will also, always be people who are naturally intelligent, visually/semantically. I am somewhat of a Nietzschean I guess, i.e. there will always be hierarchies. I would not presume to tell a mechanic his/her trade, and also, importantly, I would never condescend (how could one!) to presume that this is lower/higher, than what I/we do – it is simply a different field of expertise. Of course, my/our field is one that structurally one might say, involves a certain perversity, a going-beyond. So saying, with the dark times, I am dealing with a ‘common currency’: the newspapers. The starting point being images/texts, etc., that we all see and read.
I recently showed some new copies (Hastings editions) of the ‘papers’ to F-ISH gallery director Simon Hedges and we were somewhat drunk, and we were literally laughing our heads off looking at them. So maybe the dark times are a healthy antidote to the dark times that we live in?
It is the question of hope, hope in that darkness, hope where we call out to the gods, at the breaking point – that point of ‘rupture’. So yes, ‘hope’ can only exist in light of its opposite, but then I don’t know, really whether this is simply linguistic, or whether, (of course, it must be an admixture of all these things), ontological, structurally intrinsic to hope’s very concept/conceptualisation. And interestingly, ‘hope’, the light/dark, is something, evidently, entirely human. By this one means, it can not be pickled, surely, by/in the hard sciences, or by neurologists. It is one of the things that ties us to the world, to the Other, to ethics. Therefore, there is always already an ethical dimension in the art/thought, even if this is not always immediately apparent.
MW: Yes, I think hope must separated from the hard sciences, but that is so difficult. It must be concomitant with our state of ‘being’, and if by dint of what we are, or because of exterior social forces, (i.e. science, and politics), we are reduced to the status of mere material beings – objects – that somehow register ‘hope’ as a factor in their material minds, even though that hope is merely an objective inscription, it is hard to see how ‘hope’ might really offer anything beyond its own illusion. But then, of course, it is still there, and thus still effective under the terms that we do exist. But then doesn’t this all become semantic? ‘Hope’ and ‘life’ are terms that exist and are accorded relevance by those that ‘speak language’. Does that make ‘language’ or ‘art’ (as communication) fundamental to life, or just appendages to our objective existence- that is, our existence as ‘objects’, with communication being a sideline interest of ‘us objects’? Is the question over whether we are in the Dark Times as deeply tied in with these issues (that are fundamental life/death issues) as would seem from your comments thus far?
PS: I think that the question of being, which is ineradicably linked, conjoined, combined, always already, with the question of hope/despair, the light/dark, is always linked with EVERYTHING. Thus, of course, ( I say ‘of course’, but it is only through/within dialogue that i can come to say this), that The Dark Times are definitely linked, existentially, phenomenologically, totally, to such questions. We are; we are not. Life/Death. And all things in-between. In the end, as in the beginning, we are always at this point.
And, I am not lying, earlier, when I say, that some of my work, is literally painted/made through a veil of tears – but then, also, through roars of laughter.
MW: OK, then the statement you make has a metaphysical tone. In a sense it passes no political judgment, as you are, by you own admission, accounting for the duality of ‘life’ and ‘death’, ‘subject’ and ‘object’, and so on. How then, might you pass judgment on ‘now’ and call ‘now’ a ‘dark time’? It’s a pressing issue, as either you have a solid statement, or you have the rambling of a ‘subject’ that thinks it is an ‘object’. Either you have made the point that we are flitting around helplessly as conglomerates of cells that think that they are persons, or you have made the point that things are ‘dark’, that they are bad, and that we can make things better… we can bridge the gap between object and living subject (so far as that term is perceived in the ‘mind’ of the former)… it all gets Nietzschean- striving to be somehow, somehow, ‘Super’, better as ‘humans’.
PS: This is where it gets, potentially, interesting, and also very difficult to put into words. You see, on the one hand, there is discourse, on the other, there is the work itself (i,e, in this instance, The Dark Times and co.).
The world that we are currently living in is a scary place. I get frightened thinking/talking about it. I just hope my worst fears (some would call them conspiratorial) are not correct. Foucault’s philosophy, re. panopticicism, surveillance/normalisation, was always brilliant, but seemed back then, and this was to take nothing from it, pretty hyperbolic. Now? It seems to be, in large extent, a simple, albeit complex, statement of facts. Especially as regards our ‘fair, sceptered, Isle’. Why? What is all this present, and continuing, surveillance, for??! The current ‘credit crunch’ – how did this come about? Greed, it seems. And a great deal of structural and governmental, mismanagement, short termism, and downright idiocy. Who pays for this? Well, the little men/women – that is ‘us’. As Jarvis Cocker’s song so eloquently states, ‘To be perfectly clear boys and girls/the cunts are still runnning the world’. Now, what are we, can we, do about this? These are serious questions. They are also questions, whose potential answers, even, if only answers posed at the theoretical/aesthetic level, can get us into trouble. Censorship is on the rise – the so-called ‘PATRIOT act’ in the states, and the Prevention of Terrorism Act (combined with the criminal justice bill), etc., in the UK… As human beings capable of , that is, at least potentially, more than mere empty longing, (mirroring the about-face of despair) – as agents capable of affecting change – we are potentially in serious trouble…. We are in danger of being eradicated – it is like a Philip K. Dick script/novel except it’s for real.
MW: Well, it may be that it is a fact, but to state it is as fact would be to set it in stone. Can we afford to do that? If we had done that at any point in history (stated our complete lack of freedom) then we would indeed have had no freedom.
PS: Ok – by ‘fact’, I mean, it seems to be so – a fact in a socio-politico sense is surely, not a fact, in the sense of gravity? Therefore, I guess, hope still pertains. Let us call it, re. the dark times, a statement of a vision of the now, that is now not only a vision, but also a description – with understanding, facing things head on, at least comes the possibility of knowing where and how to start to change, or at the very least escape such a state of affairs… although, if the climate change contingency, esp. I mean, those who project the worst case scenarios, are even partially correct, we really going to be up against it … thank God for ‘Art’, decency, laughter, tears, paint, wine, sex, love, heroics, dialectics, food, etc etc.. No?
MW: Perhaps change then is the substance of life, such that we could describe ‘life’; and ‘Art’, when it is really Art is the cipher of change, and then of ‘life’. Art is ‘life’ ‘lived’, the cipher of the present, and questions over what came first ‘life’ or ‘art’ are null (I think when it gets to this sort of point we can’t really expand, it would be self defeating.)
PS: Not an expansion – but simply, a run-on: When one reaches a certain point – a point that is a decision, or a constant re-affirmation, stemming from a point of no-return, the divide, art/life, work/play, becomes, not meaningless, but dialectical, creative, something that creates and re-creates itself.
©Paul Sakoilsky/Mike Watson 2008/09.
Paul Sakoilsky presents: Mayday: The Dark Times (Editor’s Choice ≠1)
Opening May 1st
Exhibition 2nd May – 12th June Wednesday – Sunday 11am – 6pm
Gallery- 45 Robertson Street, Hastings TN34 IHL – UK