New art! Plus much pondering about art!

What follows is the blog archive of my newsletter sent on the 27th of February 2020. One day I'll figure out how to post to both the web and email in a way that satisfies me, but for now, subscribe over here if you want it in your inbox.


I had a quiet winter, writing-wise. I realised I was enjoying this period of intellectual hibernation, particularly over the Xmas break, so carried it on for a bit. The freedom to do nothing was quite delightful, and to be honest there wasn't much to report.

The Winter lockdown was (and still is) so very boring, but its nice not to be constantly stressed and terrified by the gaping void of uncertainty. Now we're just waiting, trying not to get too optimistic about the year ahead but looking forward to at least inviting people into our garden again.

It has helped that I've been kept very busy with Loaf this lockdown as we radically adjusted our working practices again in the new year, explained in this newsletter. I've been fully working from home running all the website and email stuff and while I haven't always worked my full hours it's certainly occupied by brain full time.

I did do one bit of writing though, marking the new Adam Curtis and noting that, to my surprise, I really liked it.

In other news, I published an Art which I'm pretty pleased with and want to make a fuss about.

Coronavirus Press Conferences – the book

Over the pandemic I've been occasionally putting Mr Johnson's addresses through my image crunching processes. They seemed to resonate with the people I showed them to, so I decided to attack the whole archive of 10 Downing Street press conferences.

There were 89 briefings in 2020, starting with the panic of March and Johnson's hospitalisation, moving through the false-dawn of the summer, returning to panic as the chickens came home to roost in the Autumn and then the clusterfuck of (not) cancelling Christmas.

As I looked at the image en mass it struck me they pretty much reflected what it was like to watch these woefully out-of-their-depth politicians attempt to reassure a public in desperate need of guidance.

The book is available as a free PDF or printed for £20 with £10 going directly to me as profit.

BUY IT HERE

More details and images.

The critics love it!

"They're up there with Steadman's manipulated polaroids" – Fairlywellselling author, artist and good egg Dave Shelton

"Reminds me of Francis Bacon" – Tomasso, partner of work colleague Valentina.

I joke, but in all seriousness, I'd like to get this out there more and I don't have an agent or am particularly in with the political-digital-art intelligencia these days. So if you are and think this is worthy of note, please do pass it on to the great and/or the good.

Making money again

Popping a profit margin onto the book cost is me dipping my toe into self-funding my art practice after a year of nearly zero paid freelance work. The governments furlough support scheme looks to be ending late Spring, early Summer, and my being available for work doesn't mean there will actually be any for me, so maybe it's finally time to sell my work directly, as it were.

I've always like the patron / membership / subscriber model which is seeing a resurgence with paid newsletters the big hot thing, in reaction to the failure of surveillance advertising to support a creative ecosystem.

But I've also been a passionate supporter of unlocking the commons. Paying for a creation – be it an essay, song, photograph, idea – it utterly pointless if I'm the only person who can experience it. How can we share a culture if that culture isn't available to everyone?

Public service models like libraries and the BBC enable this, as does advertising supported and subsidised media where costs are shifted to the products being marketed. But paywalls create a two-tier culture, and that's a regressive step, especially for the internet.

That's why I am happy to pay for the Guardian even though the only difference is I don't get pop-ups asking for support anymore. And it's why I reluctantly pay for the Atlantic who no longer make everything available for free, except their Coronavirus coverage, which implies they know the damage holding back the rest does to the culture.

But the best justification for unlocking the commons is that in our current system the truth Is paywalled but the lies are free. This is a problem.

ANYway, that was a bit of a sidebar. The point being I'm not a fan of selling exclusives. So what am I selling?

What does Pete do?

This has been the question of my life, both as a joke (Fiona's uncle Bill is endlessly fascinated by my lack of definability) but also practically. "Artist" works well because it's so darned broad, like a massive blanket, with delightfully vague qualifiers like "multidisciplinary" and "transmedia" that aren't seen as a cop-out.

But if I'm brutally honest it's a flag of convenience. I've been part of the art world for over a decade, and I find it very useful and beneficial to my work. But there are whole swathes of what we might call the business of art that kinda repel me, from the Saachi-eque collectors market to the politicisation of state funding that I find alientating and constricting.

That said I'm in the process of setting up an arts organisation, so I'm on the cusp of being part of that system. Walkspace has started opening up to members and we are a collective of 16 now, with more to come. Right now we're just chatting on a WhatsApp group, seeing what people are up to and getting and sense of what we need from this nascent collective.

The bit of Walkspace that I really want to develop is artist support and development, which you can interpret as "helping people do their stuff". I've been effectively mentoring Fiona in developing her artistic practice over the last few months, helping her find the edges of her interests and understand what it means to make a "piece of art". It's been a really useful thing for me too, forcing me to articulate and refine the experiences, good and bad, I've have over the last decade.

I also did this in a limited way with Megan's A Figure Walks project, ostensibly offering video/photo support to record her walk in the river Rea, but also being a sounding board as she worked through the problems and opportunities that presented themselves.

It's also become apparent that despite being 20 years into the mass adoption of the web as a creative platform, artists are still struggling to get an online presence that works for them. This is something I want Walkspace to help with, given I have spent an excessive amount of time in this arena. It shouldn't be hard or daunting – that's a failure of the services, not the users. (My first freelance job in the tech/arts scene was a "blogging for artists" workshop with Dame Helga Henry circa 2006, so it's both nice to come full circle and frustrating that I need to.)

Getting Walkspace to the point where it can raise money to pay us to deliver these sorts of things is going to take some time and is a classic chicken-egg situation, so for now it's probably best seen as part of my general practice, akin to producing or curating, albeit in more collective / cooperative way. Community shepherding, or something.

Gosh, the interface between words and reality is hard. Hopefully you see what I mean.

Let Bartlet be Bartlet

(yes, it's a West Wing reference)

Fi says I just do what I do and only really struggle when I try to define what I do in advance of doing it, so I should just do stuff and not worry about how it fits. I like that sort of hindsight approach to an artistic practice. I look at the miasma of stuff on my Art portfolio-thing and I can see patterns and themes that were utterly hidden from me at the time. That decade of work has a coherent and clear purpose now. At the time I was felt I was all over the place, unable to articulate what I was doing or why.

That decade of work has value to me. It helped me become the person I am now, and I'm fairly content with being that person, or at least more content that I was a decade or so back.

I have no idea what value the work has to other people, and not in a self-deprecating way. It genuinely doesn't feel like it's my place to value my work for others by whatever metric, emotionally, financially, culturally or otherwise. If it has no value at all, or worse a negative value, then that's obviously a problem; part of the personal value is that connection and resonance with other people, which is why I put it out there. But the quantification and qualification of that value to you, a person who is not me, is by definition unknown, and that's OK.

I support a bunch of people via services like Patreon, chucking them some digital coins every month or so. When I do this I rarely see it as a transaction. I want nothing material in exchange for my money, just the knowledge that they're doing the thing they couldn't otherwise do. I don't need to see a video every month or a newsletter every week. Sometimes work needs to gestate for a while to take shape, and that's great – just keep me posted that you're still around.

Patronage for me is doing my small bit to ensure that the people whose work I enjoy and benefit from are able to spend time making it. Ideally I'd live in a culture with no-strings Basic Income that supported this, but I don't, and the government has historically not wanted to increase tax revenue, let alone spend it on the arts, so we make do.

This has turned into a long one…

So let's bring it to a close.

I did the maths and if I were to dedicate one day a week to making art and art-related stuff, I would ideally need it to generate £70, or £300 a month. That's one of those sums that is both tediously small and annoyingly large, depending how you approach it.

Could I generate some or all of that from a Patreon-style system?

What would people want in return for supporting me?

Do I offer the full-fat Pete exploring everything of interest or a slimmed down Pete that fits into an easy category?

As a reader of this who's made it to bottom I'd genuinely welcome your thoughts and opinions. I know I find things I find interesting interesting. But do you find them interesting enough to support me giving time to them? Or I am deluding myself?

The end

Here's a funny picture I saw on the internet. (via)

Thank you as ever for your time and interest,

Stay well,

Pete

The Sunday Pete

Well, hello there.

I seem to have developed a nasty case of figuring out what I want to do with my writing and then freezing and not doing any writing, and I don't like it. So here's me trying another format that might provide the right mix of freedom and constraint, giving me space and permission to write, while keeping it focussed and developmental. I'm inspired this time by Jay's Weeknotes, which I enjoy getting every Sunday even if I'm not interested in half of it because it's built to skim.

What I've been up to

After being on furlough for a shocking seven months I'm back at Loaf on my regular hours from November, which will be a relief. But since the furlough scheme had a loophole which allowed me to do some hours in an R&D capacity, I've been doing business development with a smal group and mentoring from Coops UK. It's been an eye-opener, drawing up a full budget and plan for 2021 that overhauls how Loaf operates given we can't profitably teach people in our kitchen classroom during the pandemic. It's involved a lot of discussions too, since we're a workers cooperative, making sure that everyone is able to make an informed decision about the future of our business regardless of their level of interest in the financial planning side. It's amusing to me that I'm only just discovering I'm quite good at this in my mid-40s.

Speaking of mid-40s, I've had a cough since August and after two negative Covid tests I got in touch with the doctor. She thinks it's probably some kind of acid reflux thingy common to folks my age so I'm on Lansoprazole for a couple of months, which seem to be knocking me out a bit, like shitty sleeping pills. Which would be great if I wasn't taking them in the morning. But the good news is the cough has lessened.

I also had a chest X-ray this week, just to be safe. The last time I had an X-ray at the QE it involved lots of waiting around in rooms and corridors. This time I was in and out in 10 minutes, tops. They really don't want people hanging around in there these days! After than I walked home along the canal, which was nice, and then slept for three hours, because Lansoprazole.

Fi and I went on our first Date Night since February. Date Night is something long-term couples are advised to do to remind them why they became long-term couples. We'd been pretty wary of restaurants but Alicias have converted their back yard into an outdoor eating space and their pizzas are SO good, so we went for it. And it was great.

Sunset Social Club, one of the art jobs I had lined up before lockdown wiped out my freelance career, has been resurrected, albeit in a more distanced fashion. I'm heading with my camera up to Druids Heath, on the edge of Birmingham, whenever there's a good sunset and local folk are welcome to join me. More info here and I'm putting my pics in this Flickr album.

What I've been watching

I really enjoyed Lovecraft Country, which ended this week. I think I'm going to have to write something long-ish about how it employed magic to talk about how language is used to oppress depower. My brain was so bubbly I even farted my theory in the Guardian recap's comments. (Sky/NowTV).

I introduced Fi to Star Trek: Discovery which has gone down well. We started season two this week and that first episode is quite bonkers – all that crazy shit happens and then Tig Notaro appears! Meanwhile I've started season 3, because I have no self-control, and I think it's going to be a metaphor for taking democratic institutions for granted in the face of emergent autocracies. (Netflix)

I do like a heavy-handed metaphor in my televisual entertainment.

What I've been reading

I switched my Read Later service to Instapaper last week and am much preferring it to Pocket. (Instapaper went bad a few years ago but has been bought out by the workers and it good again). As usual I've been reading A LOT but I don't think those long links posts were particularly useful, so I'm going to refer you to my Instapaper profile for the last 20 things I faved and just pick a handful for here.

Explaining Brexit to Americans Part II by Alina Utrata is equal parts hilarious, infuriating and illuminating. Especially if the spectre of the Covid has caused you to forget this is all about to kick off again in a few months.

Revolution and American Indians: "Marxism is as Alien to My Culture as Capitalism". This speech by Russell Means from 1980 is essential reading in itself but also ties nicely into thoughts I've been having about our somewhat myopic view of the European Enlightenment which, sure, was generally a good thing, but it wasn't the only thing. Means' view of the squabbles within European thought as being equally alien to him feel important as we squirm out of late-Capitalism into something… else. See also Silvia Federici's Caliban and the Witch and, possibly, William Kempe

QAnon Conspiracy Theories Are Driving Families Apart. Is it notable that the older generation seems more susceptible to conspiracies these days? Are the youngs better at navigating this stuff? Or does this wave of conspiracies just appeal to the small-c conservative mindset that you find in the parental generation? And what do you do if you're a reasonably level headed kid who's watching the people who brought you up descend into kooksville?

What I'm listening to

New Mountain Goats album! Getting Into Knives dropped this week and it's a great Mountain Goats album. If you like the Mountain Goats you'll like this!

Live Music For A Time Without Stages is a 20 hour playlist of live tracks, specifically those live tracks where the gig really kicks into another gear. Worth dipping into for some needed energy.

What I'd like to know

So, you've read, or skimmed, to the end of this email, which means you like my writing to some degree. What do you want me to write about? I'm not saying I will write about it, but I'm genuinely intrigued. Personal stuff? Art stuff? Counterculture stuff? Internet stuff? Other stuff?

Let me know!