Sunday, May 10, 2015

Archives, migrants and the poor

From Postcards, 2010 by Nika Autor
Museum of Contemporary Art, Ljubliana,
These are stills taken from an experimental film called Postcards, which I saw in the Museum of Contemporary Art in Ljubliana.

It's by Nika Autor (b 1982) who used footage from the national archive about migrants in the early years of the 21st century.

She wanted to show how "images of shapeless and nameless people reestablish a discourse that victimises or criminalises these people."

It was one of two pieces that have remained with me since I was in Slovenia for a poetry festival last September. The other was Pictures of the Mediterranean Between North Africa and Sicily 2014 by Uroš Potočnik (b 1974), a triptych.

From Postcards, 2010 by Nika Autor
Museum of Contemporary Art, Ljubliana, Slovenia
Whatever words you use to target the poor or exiled, whatever new ideas crafty politicians come up with, you can be sure it's already been thought.

I stumbled across a book title, which is now on my reading list: Pauperland, A History of Poverty by Jeremy Seabrook. His title refers to a map of poverty by the founder of utilitarianism Jeremy Bentham (1748-1832).

Bentham's upbringing is remarkably close to that of contemporary politicians: born into a wealthy Tory family, went to Westminster school, Queen's College Oxford, later called to the bar. With that background, of course he was entitled to share his ideas.

Stranded on the island of green and red that now represents most of Brighton (although Kemp Town went blue) with the blue of the sea on one horizon and the blue of the bucolic shires behind us, it is becoming difficult to keep the worst visions of the future at bay.

Why? Because I remember joking with Mandy and Nigel that Thatcher would next try and privatise social work. I am not a political scientist or historian, but browsing Bentham's ideas of poverty, I felt a chill of recognition.

There was the guy I saw wearing a bizarrely worded vest in Asda one day, apparently a 'community volunteer' according to customer services.

"Soldiers wear uniforms, why not paupers? - those who save the country, why not those who are saved by it?……" - this is from Bentham's TRACTS ON POOR LAWS AND PAUPER MANAGEMENT.

"The luxuries seen in many instances to be enjoyed by beggars, are a sort of insult to the hard-working child of industry…" - this is Bentham (same source) and straight out of the Daily Mail.

From Postcards, 2010 by Nika Autor
Museum of Contemporary Art, Ljubliana, Slovenia
The election result will keep us talking in our exotic exile and I predict more poems, more films, more music and more gatherings in the streets.

We'll need to be inventive to identify and name the sources of the bizarre and 'new' ideas this administration is going to be pumping out.

Seabrook's voice is a soundtrack to Autor's found images: "the new poverty has nothing to offer in its own stead; only the sharp, opportunistic wisdom of getting by, surviving; living, as they say, one day at a time. The poor are victims of capitalism’s realm of freedom…"

The third in a triptych, Pictures of the Mediterranean, 2014
by Uros Potocnik
Museum of Contemporary Art, Ljubliana, Sloveni

He has this to say about the previous administration's efforts to punish the poor: "Bentham's cheeseparing scheme for the poor inspired generations of administrators: he would make hats brimless so as not to waste material; bedcovers would be fastened by clips to save on superfluous fabric. What an inspiration to the tax on those in social housing with a spare room, even if it holds necessary aids that enable disabled people to participate in society."

Nika Autor:
Uroš Potočnik:
Jeremy Seabrook:

Monday, May 04, 2015

Connections between people

Peace in Bath, April 2013
It was around this time, two years ago, when I saw N for the last time. We met in Bath at the end of a few days when I'd been cat sitting and wandering around the riverbank and parks.
Alison warned me her beautiful cat would always be half wild, so I was there to put food in a bowl and admire him as he appeared from one of his many hiding places.
N came to stay at the end of the week. We'd seen each other off and on for about eight years, sometimes with a gap of a year, this last time with a gap of two. Our meetings were very occasional.
He's dead now. That was our last meeting.
The strangest thing was he knew the man who gave me my first job. There was no reason in the world why these two people should be connected
but they'd become great friends.
I remembered this connection last night when talking about films at Jane and David's and WG Sebald's idea of the rip in time. I was recommending Patience by Grant Gee which I've just watched.
Karen, who came to a creative writing class I ran was surprised I'd mentioned WB Sebald and Orhan Pamuk in the same breath. Watch this, she said, and sent me a copy of Patience, the film based on the walk Sebald takes in his classic book The Rings of Saturn.
We were talking about Patience and Sebald last night, about memory, about coincidence and degrees of separation.
N was a great psychogeographer and I often think of him when I'm walking, particularly in fog. It was a cold April, like this year's and it was a goodbye, although we didn't know it.
I felt like I'd met him during a rip in time, when a crossed line as I rang home was like an old god appearing and telling the truth.