Near Window 10

Atlantis

Outside the window a blackbird is singing with such tenacity and gusto that I feel like crying. In the drawing evening, i have Henry Jamison’s new record on. The blackbird outside sings as though to accompany him. I am listening to him sing like the world is ending, or like it’s beginning. I’m not sure if I’m talking about Jamison, or the blackbird.

I wasn’t going to write today, but Henry Jamison released a new song: “Atlantis” that pulled me out from my hungover stupor and forced me to put pen to paper.

His 2019 album, Gloria Duplex, soundtracked the summer of last year, with “Boys” and “True North” being stand our favourites; but the truth is there isn’t a song on that album I don’t like. Lyrically Gloria Duplex addresses contemporary themes of toxic masculinity, what it means to be a man, and to be a person existing under capitalism. The form of Gloria Duplex mirrors the lyrical narrative too, in becoming so much more than just another folk record with a guy and his guitar. But today’s Near Window isn’t about Gloria Duplex, it’s about “Atlantis”, a track released not more than half a day ago at the time of writing. Where Gloria Duplex’s production soared into an ocean of sound, and samples, and really pushed at the boundaries of what a folk record could be, “Atlantis – Demo” brings Jamison down to the ground. Mostly because it’s a demo, but also because of the close miced nature of Jamisons voice, and the soft fragility of the song’s phrasing.

The track opens with a harmonica playing a single note, reminding me implicitly of lonely midnight scenes in prison movies, a lone prisoner against a barred window, the drawing dusk encroaching on the single cell, and the sound of a harmonica soaring upwards.

This is an interesting image to open with, considering Jamison wrote “Atlantis” on the second day of confinement. It really speaks to a sense of isolation, of the world crumbling outside the windows.

The song opens anxiously:

Helicopters overhead

I wonder where they’re going?

“What do you know about power?” She said

All there is worth knowing.

Yet the melody and lilting guitar betray a kind of jaded apathy in the face of this, that is reflected in “I used to think I could Change the world”. I am torn between describing the melody as apathetic, or as being indicative of us all having been lulled into a sense of false security. The dual chord progressions, and the steady pendulum swing of the tempo; it all comes around again, it’s relentless, there’s nothing you can do.

But then comes the chorus, which feels like a complete rebuttal of this:

That’s how Atlantis fell

Into the rising sea

Everyone looking around saying

“Hey, no, don’t look at me!”

These lines are angry, exasperated. They speak, not only to a sense of climate anxiety (in using the myth of Atlantis) but also to the general apathy we all feel. No one has the answers, but there’s always something to be done. “Hey no don’t look at me” is so indicative of the way many leaders initially responded to the current crisis (I’m looking at Boris Johnson here). The image of the sea rising so relentless too, no one reaching out to help, everyone holding their hands to themselves. I’m not sure if this is truly the experience of people down on the ground. I’ve seen more kindness and experienced more community in the last few weeks than I’ve seen in a long time. But the apathy at the situation is palpable, as is the desire not to be apathetic. Jamison seems to be reiterating a point: if we fall – when we fall – no one will know what to do. It’s our job to help each other, even if we don’t have any answers.

The second verse, in Jamison’s typical stream of consciousness lyrical style, has further detached itself from the events happening around them. “Over my head”, “didn’t get a word”, “something about apocalypse”. The rising tide of the melody builds for a chorus that he follows with a second look at me:

Hey, no, don’t look at me!

Look at me.

Don’t look for answers here, but please god don’t stop looking at me. It reminds me of the “imagine” video – each and everyone of those influential faces getting off on appearing to do something without doing anything. Don’t come to me for help, but please do watch me perform some vocal acrobatics on one of the most overplayed songs of the 20th century.

Sitting at my kitchen table in the drawing in of a Parisian dusk, alone, save the blackbird singing so sweetly on the chimney pot opposite. As Jamison’s lonely harmonica rises into the air, the blackbird joins him in giving voice to anxiety and apathy in equal measure. The sound of both together makes me feel nostalgic, and sad, and worried. I close my eyes and sink into Jamison’s generous harmonies, and sumptuous production. I feel swept into the momentum, carried along by it: I completely buy into it’s feeling of isolation and detachment.

But it’s a song of two voices. The isolated voice of the verses, complacent, and detached; and the angry, anxious and warning voice of the chorus. On his Instagram, Jamison says that the song is a kind of protest:

Against complacency in the face of the worlds immense challenges, against the feeling in [him] (and many others) that there’s nothing we can really do after all.

The song has a mythic quality to it. Like it’s come to us from a time outside our own. A myth transcending the fabric of the world, to offer a warning, and to show us what has happened is what could happen. It’s not a message of hope, but it’s a message of knowledge: Beware

“That’s how Atlantis fell”

I am angry about Capital A Art

I’ve been thinking about something and I’m really fucking angry about it. I’m angry about Capital A Art. Art made into money maker. Art made into pontificating on a BBC documentary. Art made into summer insta moments whilst pretentiously making some statement on climate change.

Why is it that I often feel like I never see actual poor people, like me, in art galleries. Why don’t I see kids from different backgrounds in galleries? People who’ve got no money. Kids who’s mums and dads haven’t got any money.  And I know, ur gonna say that you can’t tell when people are poor, or from a council estate or from the shit bit of the village, or the city, or from the big fat poncy houses on the Woodstock road when they’re in a gallery space.. 

Well you bloody can if you’re standing in the Olafur Eliasson show and a dad turns to his son and says: “oh hugo won’t it be lovely when you can tell all your new friends at Harrow that you came to see this show”

Despite the constancy of being told so, access to culture has not been made available to all. People in poverty, people from working class backgrounds, people without more than a secondary school education, are made to feel like art isn’t for them. Accessibility is a huge issue – as @cioconnor v. eloquently put in her massive twitter thread about disabled access at the Tate, that you should definitely read. Institutions rarely think about anything outside of the middle ground. This means anyone functioning at that level and above accesses things without any hindrance without realising their privilege. Anyone operating below this middle bar, either financially, educationally, on the basis of ability, or LITERALLY ANYTHING that means you find going to an exhibition d i f f i c u l t is at a huge disadvantage.

Further to this, the institutions which showcase art are actively made inaccessible to people without money, education, or free time. 

This is, I think, because of three things: 

  1. the language used by the institution, the way the exhibitions are set up, and the prices for the paid exhibitions are engineered in a way to make art hard to access. I’m not saying we need to “dumb down” art – because working class does not equate stupidity. But I do think there needs to be less of an expectation that everyone in the world is gonna enjoy the stuffy, middle class, and quite frankly gate keeping way we talk about art. Like it’s church, or capital or something. Art is everything, and we should be able to talk about it like it was last nights episode of love island bc it isn’t far off most of the time. 
  2. Exhibitions are stupid expensive. How can u expect a family of five to take all their kids to go and see an exhibition at the tate when it costs £20 each for adults and can be another £15 for three kids? Even if you’ve got less kids, or there’s only one of you – sometimes finding £18 for an exhibition is too much. Esp. where the concessions price is £17 which is a MEASLY £1 discount. £18 is a weekly food shop for some people, man.
  3. WHO has actually got time to go see a show, tho? Yeah yeah yeah – I know ‘you’ve got to make time for art’ – but if you’re working three jobs, or your job is physical and takes all the drive out of you and on your days off you’re recuperating – or you’ve a young family and taking care of them takes up all your time – please tell me when you’re able to experience art and culture for yourself in an institutional environment? Tell me. Mark it out on a calendar or something. I need to know.

Capitalism has made art a commodity. And it shouldn’t be. It’s for everyone. It’s a vital resource that everyone should be able to access without bars. 

The fundamentals for a life without poverty are five things: 

  1. Food
  2. Shelter
  3. Clothing
  4. A job and the necessary education
  5. Time to spend not doing your job or learning things directly to do with your job.

 

Without free time we’re not out of poverty. 

Without a job we’re not out of poverty. 

Without adequate housing (a home. Not a ‘unit’) we’re not out of poverty

Without healthy food we’re not out of poverty. 

Without adequate clothing we’re not out of poverty. 

 

TIME is something that’s not addressed. Time. so simple – let’s get everyone back in work again by giving them 0 hour contracts and unstable working situations… but that means no one can have any time to DO anything because they might be called upon to pick up a shift. or they might lose vital hours at work so they don’t have enough money to do anything.

time is so important. It literally IS money to a lot of people. The phrase isn’t just an old saying. I don’t get the bus to work bc If i did I may as well have not worked for half an hour that day. I ride my bike. I could take time off work to go see an exhibition – but I also could b at work earning more money to feed myself and to pay my rent. I worked out once that my rent costs 3 weeks of work. I only have one week of work to spend on myself and that’s also eaten up by bills. An exhibition at the Tate is two hours work for me. If I was on minimum wage it would be three.

Art should be there to alleviate the pain of living life. To reflect you back to yourself. To show you something new. To change your world view. To be beautiful. To make you cry. To make you hate it. To be ugly. To be amazing. To be fucking awful. It shouldn’t cost you three whole hours of your working day. An Exhibition should cost you one hour at the most. 

What can we do about it, I hear you ask. We’re not legislators or big important people. But that’s just the point. The big important people are few. There aren’t very many of them simply because they don’t like to share. There are loads of us. Loads. Who don’t have any money, who don’t have any time, and who can’t do anything aside from scratch out a measly little living on the surface of earth. Life is about so. Much. more. Than that. 

The Art World talks about art like it’s church. There’s a reason no one goes to church any more (apart from those of us who do but like that’s not v. many of us tbh) less than a million people turn up to their local CofE churches. English Christianity has a certain kind of doctrinal language about it that alienates people. I think that The Art World does the same thing. It’s like putting the bible in Latin when we talk about art using the next big word, the next big movement. It’s like saying ‘dont ask too many questions. Just believe. Believing is most important even if you doubt your belief.’ If God is real u should be able to question him. If Art is real (i am using capitals here. Capital G God. Capital A Art) then you should be able to question it and you shouldn’t be shouted down because you don’t know what the difference between Pop Art and Op Art is. 

My sister’s a mum of three with a full time job and full time child care commitments. She literally doesn’t care about hauntology. She doesn’t know who Derrida is. She doesn’t care that Foucault is really important when you’re trying to understand  Y or Z artist. What she does know if that she likes David Hockney and she thinks Rothko is beautiful and it would be really nice for her if she could see more art. I have friends I’ve known for years, who I’ve worked in Bars with, or in Sainsbury’s with, or at McDonalds with who all LIKE art when they look at it, but always said stuff like: “art is boring”, “art’s rubbish”, “art’s for girls, “I just don’t get art”. I used to think I didn’t get art. In my first year of uni i had this weird chip on my shoulder that I just didnt understand how you could read a painting because its not a book and thats because people spoke about art in a way that alienated me. People didn’t talk about books like that because books had stories. I could read them and feel things. I felt things when I looked at paintings, but I couldn’t understand the way people spoke about them. 

One day it clicked in my head. I went to see some art show with my mum and we talked about art, and I realised paintings are like books and really there’s no fundamental difference between them. Everything is art. Music is art. Books are art. Installations are art. Life is art. You don’t need to understand this way of talking about art, that you get taught at university like it’s some big boys club and suddenly you’re allowed in, in order to LIKE art. Art is just there to be looked at and thought about and it’s okay if you don’t understand it because the artist is dead anyway what do you think about it. What does it make you think about. What does it make you feel? There is no understanding art. Art just IS.

If I’m honest, and this is one hell of an admission, I don’t think I really thought about thinking about art until I watched Mona Lisa Smile and realised that art isn’t stuffy old boys talking about the portraits of kings and queens, or paintings of boats. That you don’t need to regurgitate a textbook in order to look at art and think about it and E N J O Y I T

You shouldn’t need a masters in contemporary art theory from goldsmiths, and a big bank balance to take yourself and maybe your family to the tate to look at some paintings or some sculptures or any fucking thing thats on at a big museum somewhere. Even small places alienate normal people. You’re going to look at art to learn something about art. To feel something about art. To love it. To hate it. To have your mind changed by it. 

If you already KNOW everything why would you even bother going to an art gallery? 

Who fucking cares? 

The more we keep art out of compulsory education. The more we tell people it’s not important. The more it becomes a “rich people thing”. The more people think it’s not for them. The more thay think it’s not important because it’s not business, because it’s not going to serve them any purpose in getting a job and being a good cog in the wider machine of “nation”. 

Art is for everyone. Whether it’s a stupid sculpture in the middle fo a room. Or a painting of clouds that makes you cry. or , i don’t know, it can be literally ANYTHING. A poem that describes how you’re feeling. A piece of video installatio that makes you question your humanity. Something that shows you how someone you thought was completely different to you is actually fundamentally the same. Feels the same. Has the same responses. 

The more we make art divisive. The more we stop and hinder people from being able to access it freely. The more enclosed and inhibited society becomes. 

Art is for men who drive lorries. 

Art is for kids who like football. 

Art is for girls who climb trees

Art is for girls who like to go clubbing

Art is for swimming teachers

Art is for boys who aren’t v. cool. but is also cool enough for cool people.

Art is for single parents

Art is for the unemployed

Art is for those with six jobs

Art’s probably there for billionaires too, but they mostly own it all ANYWAY.

Art is for kids and mums and dads and aunts and uncles and grannies and granddads who’re just getting by. 

Art. 

Is. 

For. 

Everyone. 

And I am angry that right now it’s not being made available to everyone.