by Alistair Farthing
For years it has felt almost as if the landmarks of the linear progression of time, in a cultural sense at least, have been somewhat disappearing from view. With the nationwide lockdown approaching its nth week we find ourselves slipping into routines of vastly increased screen time only interrupted by our daily permitted outdoor exercise. This behaviour works as a kind of reflection of what has been happening (or not happening) culturally for the past 20 years, albeit on a much smaller scale. Every morning we wake up and we cross off another day on our lockdown calendar, much in the same way that a TV crim locked in solitary confinement tallies off the days until their release.
“Well, what if there is no tomorrow? There wasn’t one today.”1
For many of us, myself included, life has become episodic; we sink into our sofas and pour over the latest figures and developments being pumped into our living rooms from around the world. Through the filter of the television screen life is almost like the latest HBO series, unexpected plot twists, heroes in the form of key workers and pensioners with villains dressed as politicians (and unelected “advisors”). Life of the other has become a spectacle while the spectators find themselves living in a soap opera with the primary function of keeping itself on air, or perhaps more accurately, we have found ourselves trapped in our own unique Groundhog Day where every day plays out as a repeat of the one that came before and all time has lost its shape.
Technological dvancements no longer act as a bridge between the present and what the future could be, instead it has become an infinite repeat loop into the past. Rather than working as a key to open a door into a world of new contemporary art and culture, technology has changed how these cultures are reproduced, assimilated and consumed. The late Mark Fisher summarised this strange impedance of culture by technology by claiming “What it means to be in the 21st century is to have 20th century culture on hi-res screens/distributed by high-speed internet”2. This swelling of the production, assimilation and consumption of culture is tightly linked with the hijacking of cyberspace by what is labelled ‘capitalist cyberspace’. As technological advancements made computers more accessible to the wider population, online communities began to grow with visions of a digital utopia, there were dreams that “…cyberspace could be a place where you would be liberated from the old, corrupt hierarchies of politics and power and explore new ways of being.”3 This was however, hindered by the colonisation of cyberspace and the advent of ‘capitalist cyberspace’ which began to populate the newly democratised mechanism that was the internet. One of the functions of this ever growing and pervasive form of cyberspace is simply to hold attention, the content is often secondary to its ability to completely absorb the user, almost like fast food for the mind. This function exists because attention has become a commodity in itself. YouTube generates revenue based on a videos number of views, brands offer vast amounts of money for Instagrammers to promote products to their swathes of followers and people are now employed for the sole reason of continually generating clickbait for online media outlets.
We have lost the linear progression of culture, instead adopting a cyclical system of nostalgia. How do we move forward from this? With capitalism becoming as ubiquitous and pervasive as it is today, everyday life has been accelerated while culture has slowed to an almost complete stop. If artists are tasked with being political agents of change and recent advancements in technology have created a world which rehashes past cultures under the guise of ‘contemporary’ (almost in the same way that Apple reinvents the phone every year) instead of using the past as a stepping stone to something original (this is what the progression of art depends on), then how is it possible for anything new to be made? It is, as is claimed in Chris Marker’s La Jetée, as if “the future was better protected than the past”.4
We have now however been offered a reprieve from this acceleration of daily life in the strangest of forms, a global pandemic. Suddenly there is an abundance of the very rare commodity of time on our hands as a result of nationwide redundancies combined with the government-imposed lockdown. This time, coupled with isolation could provide the perfect petri dish for introspective and experimental creativity. Not only do we have more time to read, share ideas and perfect our favourite art forms, but the virus itself has highlighted the fatal flaws of a system which actively impedes artistic endeavour either directly through funding cuts to the creative arts and indirectly though the systemic acquisition of attention. The current administration, armed with graphic slides and data sheets of falling rates of infection are scrambling to maintain the illusion of triumph over the virus. Despite having one of the greatest recorded death tolls globally, our politicians thump tabletops and podiums and address the nation with a rhetoric of success.
“This reversal of priorities is one of the hallmarks of a system which can be characterized without hyperbole as ‘market Stalinism’. What capitalism repeats from Stalinism is just this valuing of symbols of achievement over actual achievement”.5
Covid-19 has revealed to us the shortcomings of the system in which large portions of the global population live, and as this population becomes increasingly aware of these shortcomings, the more likely there is to be a demand for something different, something new. Without trying to sound too optimistic, this could lead to the reclamation of the lost future of culture, or a new future altogether.
In 2001 all 13 members of the Canadian musical ensemble Set Fire to Flames along with 8 sound engineers locked themselves in a single apartment filled with instruments and recording equipment. After a week of no contact with the outside world and very little sleep, the group emerged from the make-shift studio with a new album sounding largely unlike anything else of that era. Deliberately placing yourself into isolation for a week in order to create a heightened air of despondency to use as a creative driver for the recording of an album is a pretty extreme measure. The parameters for this exercise, however, seem almost trivial when we consider the restrictions imposed on artists of the current climate.
The artists within this publication have spent the last three years defining their practice and positioning themselves as professionals. The adversity faced by these students in their final year of studies is unparalleled, with Hole Punch serving as a testament of their resourcefulness and ability to work reactively and reflectively in extraordinary circumstances. Covid-19 has created an imbalance throughout the entire globe, suddenly there is a quiet optimism that this instability could lead to something which deviates from the norm, after all, there is no dance in frequency and balance.
1 Groundhog Day, Motion picture, (1993), Columbia Pictures, Los Angeles, California, United States
2 pmilat, (May 2014), Mark Fisher : The Slow Cancellation Of The Future, Available at: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=aCgkLICTskQ&t=1s
3 Hypernormalisation, Documentary film, (2016), Adam Curtis, BBC,
4 La Jetée, Short film, (1962), Argos Films, France
5 Capitalist Realism : is there no alternative?, Mark Fisher, Zero Books, (2009), United Kingdom, 9781846943171