BLEAK BLEAK BLEAK
welcome to the fourth issue of
BLEAK BLEAK BLEAK, a place for debate. edited by Alice Seville, Emily Watkins & Gary Zhexi Zhang. many thanks to our contributors: Isaac Neviazsky, Sam Wood, Alex Foley, Archie Woodrow, Jonathan Taylor, Kitty Guo, Hazel Gore, Simone Smith, Richard A Heckert, Ross McCleary, Lisa Jane Birch, Manon Benlolo-Stoffel, Toby Trueman, Heather Lane, Virginia De, Diego Cumplido photography on previous pages and opposite: Sam Wood:
Unknown, Digital (2013) Christina Webber, Filmmaker/photographer, Digital (2013) Marton Zsichla, Photographer, Digital (2012) Topsy Qurâ€™et, Artist, 120 film (2008) - for more, visit: www.samwoodphotography.com illustrations throughout by Gary Zhexi Zhang with thanks also to Eating From the Trashcan: www.eatingfromthetrashcan.com Visit us at www.bleakzine.com
CONTENTS Comment Coming Up on Your Left Chavgate
Archie Woodrow Alex Foley
Review: Mad Max: Fury Road Jonathan Taylor
Prose 9 Selfies Taken Moments Before Death Ross McCleary
As Per Se
Heather Lane Alice Seville
Featured Artists Sam Wood
Virginia De Diego Cumplido
COMING UP ON and print media – reactionaries smugly crow about the public’s staunch conservatism and fear of Labour overspending, while moderates and the centre-left chide Miliband for his unrealistic idealism and lack of ‘economic credibility’. Even the Labour left seemed to be struggling to voice a coherent critique of the Miliband years – at least until leadership frontrunner Jeremy Corbyn’s unexpected and meteoric rise somewhat shifted the conversation. Indeed, the same commentators who pilloried Miliband for his leftist hubris have since lined up to pour scorn on Corbyn’s chances – ‘unelectable’ ‘political suicide’ and a ‘Marxist dinosaur’ ‘marching into electoral oblivion’ – these are just a few of the phrases that have routinely been hurled about to characterise Corbyn’s campaign, from the Guardian to the Telegraph.
n the wake of Labour’s disastrous recent faring in May’s general election, a great deal has been written to unpick Ed Miliband’s ill-fated campaign and to work out exactly what it was that went so hideously wrong. The consensus that seems to have emerged describes Miliband’s campaign and policies as an exercise in relatively radical left-wing adventurism, and as such being resoundingly rejected by a conservative British public with whom the liberal Labour intelligentsia were sadly out of touch. This is a narrative that has been widely accepted across the mainstream of the political spectrum
But despite this wall-to-wall vitriol, Jeremy Corbyn’s campaign only seems to continue from strength to strength, taking everyone by surprise. He had barely managed to get into the race in the first place (only with the nomination of MPs who didn’t even support him but wanted to ‘widen the debate’) and nobody thought for a moment that he could actually win it, as polls now show him on course to do. He’s been filling halls and packing meetings across the country, and thousands of people (especially young people) have been flocking to join the Labour Party, excited and energised by the prospect of a Corbyn victory. He’s the only one of the four contenders to have built any momentum or energy, and his campaign’s vitality continues to confound the commentariat . What’s going on here? Is this just an odd anomaly of ultraleft exuberance? Where is this momentum coming from, and why are Labour’s members falling head over heels for
a ‘loony left’ candidate that the public would never vote for? Unfortunately, like much conventional wisdom in the mainstream of our political discourse, this narrative of a conservative public roundly rejecting Miliband’s errant ultraleftism just doesn’t stand up to closer scrutiny. In fact, it’s a narrative that only really makes sense if you ascribe somewhat mystical properties to general elections, or if you’re in the habit of mistaking the national press for a reliable barometer of public opinion. First, some figures. Between 2010 and 2015, despite losing twenty-six MPs, Labour actually gained over 720,000 votes. The Tories, on the other hand, gained just 600,000 extra votes, but netted a total of twenty-four new MPs. Indeed, compared to 2005,, Labour’s only down 230,000 votes, but down a grand total of 123 seats. And one of the least remarked upon facts about May’s election: the Tories actually lost more seats to Labour (10) than they gained from them (8) – the difference being made up by gains from the Lib Dems. First past the post makes for strange arithmetic, and unless you think that our bizarre and unrepresentative system has some quasispiritual way of reflecting the true beliefs of the British public, the idea that the election result shows a staunchly conservative British public is a little odd. This is not, however, an especially new phenomenon. Since 1997, Labour have simply been haemorrhaging voters – almost five million of them, in fact. This hasn’t been matched by any corresponding increase in the Conservative vote, so where are these voters going? It’s not defection to UKIP, that angle has been massively overstated, with most of their
support actually coming from conservatives. The Lib Dem vote, of course, collapsed completely, and while the Greens and the SNP gained votes, it’s been nothing near the scale of losses from Labour – indeed, the amount of votes Labour have lost is almost equal to the total population of Scotland. Moreover, if you look at the figures for this last election more closely, it turns out that, on average, Tory constituencies had much higher rates of turnout than Labour ones – i.e. Labour failed resoundingly to mobilise their base – and this is basically why Labour lost. This is the real story of modern British politics –
Labour’s traditional base can no longer see the point in turning out to vote for them. Labour have simply never come close to recovering from the disillusioning impact of the Blair years. And what happened in Scotland? Despite losing the referendum on independence, the SNP, with a platform substantially to the left of Labour’s, succeeded in winning almost every seat in Scotland, thanks to high turnout and massive defections from Labour. In the 2015 election, fully 34% of the public didn’t vote, vastly more than the proportion that voted for each of the parties – for comparison, only 24% of people voted Tory, and 20% Labour. These are the people that Labour need to win back, not ‘shy Tories’ and ‘aspirational voters’. The Tories are just as unpopular as they ever were; what has changed is that people no longer see Labour as a viable alternative. Look at what Labour have been offering - Miliband’s team claimed they would be ‘tougher on benefits’ than the Tories, they had immigration controls engraved on a giant stone obelisk, Andy Burnham has hailed ‘wealth creators’ as ‘heroes’, and most recently of all, in a tragically contorted response to the budget, Labour have officially endorsed George Osborne’s seemingly Malthusian ‘two-child’ policy. And Miliband’s supposedly radical offerings? Try to freeze energy prices for a few months, and an increase of the minimum wage to £8 by 2020 (a policy which George Osborne has since nicked). To be blunt, it was an incoherent platform of ‘humane’ austerity, delivered by people without even charisma enough to sound like they believed in their own policies – it’s no wonder people didn’t bother voting for them. And with Andy Burnham, Yvette Cooper or Liz Kendall, the conventional, ‘credible’ candidates all offer more of the same - all dull, unremarkable and indistinguishable career politicians who struggle to even sound authentically human. How exactly do we expect Labour to end its long-standing loss of support when its leading lights are so entirely lacking in charisma, vision or even coherence?
And if you still aren’t convinced, just take a look at the polling on individual issues and you’ll find that the sort of ‘unreconstructed Marxism’ that the likes of Jeremy Corbyn offer actually seems to be wildly popular with the public at large. Polls consistently show that clear majorities of the population favour state ownership of the railways, nationalisations of public utilities like gas and electricity, as well as price controls on rent and higher taxes on the rich. And what’s more, even large numbers, and in some cases the majority, of Conservative voters support these ‘loony left’ policies. Even on welfare where the public are supposed to be united against the lax benefits regime, the only group which the public consistently think receive too much are wealthy pensioners. These are all popular, sensible and basically mainstream policies, and until the Labour party abandons its slavish pursuit of a mythical ‘centre-ground’ and instead starts to build a meaningful and inspiring alternative, its slow stagnation and ultimate death will only continue. The well-to-do liberals who regularly bemoan the supposed ignorance, conservatism and suggestibility of the British public at large, have themselves been paying too much attention to the opinions of columnists and commentators. It’s the conceited journalistic and Westminster bubbles (including most of the present Labour leadership) that are conservative and narrow-minded, not the public.
EATING FROM THE TRASHCAN CRITICAL READINGS OF MASS POPULAR MEDIA A SIDEWAYS LOOK AT SOCIETY
FEATURING Mad Max and the Modern Art of Spectacle Out of the Desert and Onto the Screen: Facebook and the Hyperreal Gogglebox: Television and the Question of Engagement The (As it Were) Seminal Importance of Chat! Magazine Terminator and Foucault & Plenty More. EATINGFROMTHETRASHCAN.COM fb.com/eatingfromthetrashcan @eating_trashcan
n exchange, in a lesbian bar, between likeminded radical queers. ‘Wait, Club Revenge are holding a “Chav Night?”’ Vicky Pollard’s face gurns up from a mobile phone, bordered by the club night’s logo. DRESS UP IN YOUR BEST TRACKIES, ENJOY THE FINEST LAMBRINI. ’You’re joking. What next, a Jew Night?’ ‘And a minstrel show the following week.’ It is well known that in friends with similar views to we provide ourselves with a a representational bias. We
selecting our own, delusion, wind up
believing that far more people share our viewpoints than is actually the case. If one has any extensive dealings with the rest of the world, then this delusion will inevitably be shaken. We are constantly affronted by our own hypocrisy and tell many lies to ourselves to resolve the resultant dissonance. Later, online, angrily staring at the Facebook event. Stewing. Typing into the void, trying to explain why the event is, in tumblr parlance, problematic. Some support. Mostly incredulous eye-rolling. We are undoubtedly doing much better as a community now, the gays, than in recent
history. Gay couples bring in considerably more money than their straight counterparts, though thanks in no small part to the relative lack of children. The ‘pink pound’ has become a force to be reckoned with. And yet, in the same breath, gay people are far more likely to be impoverished than heterosexuals and are far more likely to require government support. We have become a microcosm of the broader inequality that plagues the nation. (A previous exchange, after work (inebriated) with my former boss, on the movie ‘Pride.’ ‘What the movie totally glosses over is that those miners hated the gays with a passion.’ ‘Because Maggie was such a fan.’) We are doing much better. We are able to marry. Friends of mine on both sides of the Atlantic have fought vehemently for this right. It is a necessary fight for an important right. But it has also become an unhelpful global litmus test for gay rights. Despite the persistence of transphobic attacks, particularly in America, and the disproportionate prevalence of mental illness within the community, the conversation regarding gay rights has largely died down. It is as though we feel, collectively, that marriage is enough, why rock the boat? Compared to these other issues, though, it is hard not to feel as if marriage is really a trifle. Yet a friend of mine at a recent London Pride was forcibly removed from the parade for handing out literature on LGBTQ youth homelessness. (Another exchange (overheard), between the same former boss and the owners of several other gay establishments. ‘I’m so glad they’re charging to get into the Pride Street Party this year.’ ‘It will definitely keep the riffraff out.’) It is easy to delude oneself as a marginalised person that one does not experience privilege. And in this way, it is easy to ignore intersectionality and deny the compounded suffering of others. It is attractive to think that we as individuals have more agency in deciding our position in society than we do. America was founded on this fallacy.
An email to the Activities Officer of Sussex University: I was wondering if you in your capacity as Activities Officer would do something to condemn or somehow formally denounce this club night in an attempt to dissuade Sussex students from attending such a peurile instance of poor-bashing. A response: Thank you for bringing this to my attention. I have been fighting against such classism and have banned Chavs as a theme for sports clubs on nights out. I would suggest that you put together a petition, which i can sign and spread. I would do it myself, but this kind of disgust sounds better coming from a student voice and supported by the Union. Send me the link when you have it and I will spread it around. Perhaps I should have expected what followed. But I didn’t. The consequent flood of vitriol and spite came as a shock. I had believed that this was not a controversial issue, that it would be easy to see why a gay club (or any club) holding a Chav-themed night, a night with the selfproclaimed aim of ‘mocking’ the working class stereotype, is wrong. For every signatory of the petition, I received many messages of hate on social media or the Argus comments section. The trolls trawled through my old tweets (I had previously only used twitter to complain to companies) and posted them around. I was informed of many things by these invasive and personal attacks, matter-of-factly and with great authority. That I needed to get a life. That I was pathetic and oversensitive. That (contradictorily) the chav stereotype does not impact on the working class because a. it is a subculture that has nothing to do with class, much like goths and b. chavs represent the lumpenproletariat and are thus not the working class, or, to use the lexicon of my critics, ‘you have to work to be working class.’ That I need to get laid. That I am homophobic and simply despise the sexuality of Revenge’s patrons. That, if I ever criticised Revenge again, certain staff members would do vague, bad things to me. That I know too many
words. That I am stupid for focusing on this when there are so many other terrible things out there in the world, that is to say, we should rank each social injustice in descending order of importance, and that peer-reviewed literature is, ‘just conjecture.’ That I don’t know what class is. That I am too middle class to have an opinion on this issue (despite being American and not fitting into the canonical British class structure). That I am LITERALLY [sic] the only person who cares about this. (The sad eyes of my lab supervisor: ‘This is what happens when you stick your head above the parapet. Not that that’s an excuse…’) It was quite the lesson. I am, unfortunately, not the only person who cared about this issue, and thus not the only person who had to learn this lesson. A trans man I got to know throughout the incident was also very vocally critical of the event because, in his words, ‘I am used to discrimination for being bi and trans and I am used to discrimination for being working class. I am not welcome in straight venues and haven’t felt that welcome in LGBT spaces either. The chav night just confirms that I’m not.’ He was viciously harassed and subjected to transphobic hate speech by one of the more pernicious defenders of the event. We are doing better, but we are not all doing equally well. We may all now marry, but not all of us will sleep under a roof tonight. It would appear that many of us have chosen to resolve the resultant cognitive dissonance with wilful ignorance. To sink contentedly into plush, newly privileged, Tom Daley’s abs adorned delusions. It is certainly an understandable decision, if disheartening. Many among us, it seems, have forgotten what it is like to be voiceless (or have never known) and can sleep just fine despite the growing spectre of poverty plaguing the nation. Perhaps consciously, though probably not, they have absolved themselves of
responsibility for the most vulnerable in our ranks to assuage their guilt. Ils sont Charlie. They value free speech, but primarily speech that drowns out or silences women, minorities, and the poor. Questioning the commonly accepted is an activity held in contempt. They operate behind a smokescreen of ‘just bantz.’ Their right to free speech trumps the rights of others to be offended, but others are not afforded the right to speech that impedes their fun. Fortunately there are others. I have found out (the hard way, as they say) that they are all too few and far between, but they exist. Those who forgo contentedness, and those who at least try to understand the nebulous nexus of class in modern times. They realise that we may all have the right to speak, but only some are ever listened to.
MAD MAX: FURY ROAD & THE ART OF MODERN SPECTACLE Jonathan Taylor
recall once telling a friend of mine that I didn’t like Avatar, and being somewhat stunned at his immediate retort that I ‘didn’t like cinema’. It kind of caught me off guard, largely because to this day I still think Avatar is a hollow wreck of a narrative peppered with blue humanoids who were as vacuous as they were forgettable. It’s also because I seemed to be the only one who even cared about this. I was the odd one out and I couldn’t understand why. The answer, it transpired, was that I had foolishly elected to witness Cameron’s magnum opus in primitive 2D, and in doing so, I had missed essentially the entire point of Cameron’s film. I had missed what cinema is steadily becoming all about: spectacle. The OED defines ‘spectacle’ as ‘a specially prepared or arranged display of a more or less public nature (especially one on a large scale), forming an impressive or interesting show or entertainment for those viewing it.’ Our fascination with spectacle speaks for the success of TV talent shows, touring dance troupes, and the enduring demand for Cirque du Soleil. It’s a trend that has burrowed its way into the heart of the modern blockbuster. It’s the secret ingredient that has ensured the success of the Star Wars franchise, The Lord of the Rings, and the current onslaught of Marvel movies we find ourselves wading through.
Yet all of these visual treats are broadcast within the safe confines of a firm narrative frame. Even if the plot wasn’t always ground-breaking, it was always followable and fairly diverse. There was always a sense of those traditional parameters, from the exposition to the complication, the climax to the dénouement. But now something has changed. We have movies that offer singular set pieces elongated into a featurelength film, one ongoing spectacular event. Gravity, for example, portrays little beyond the vertiginous aftermath of an explosion in orbit, and Dredd and The Raid are both sieges of impenetrable vertical fortresses. Somewhere down the line, it became okay for directors to strip away the chewy fat of plot and replace it with lean muscular action. These cinematic spectacles no longer see the kind of criticism we’ve come to expect from movies void of plot; in fact, many are opening to great critical acclaim. I mean, Gravity won seven Oscars. The latest entry into this new ‘spectacle’ genre is Mad Max: Fury Road, the fourth instalment of Miller’s gritty post-apocaustralian saga. Played by Tom Hardy, our protagonist Max is basically a sun-baked soup of instinct and malady, sculpted into the shape of a dishevelled man who speaks in grunts and gunshots. The film opens with Hardy uttering a gravelly ‘My name is Max,’ stomping on a two-headed gecko, and eating it. And we pretty much know what kind of guy he is from then on. Miller’s refreshingly short introduction is a love letter to his audience that reads, ‘This guy is basically just a catalyst for the action’. For the next two hours, Miller’s picture grabs you by the scruff of your neck and sends you hurtling through its explosive wasteland. And amidst the bustle of engines and the chrome-plated murder, there’s not a huge amount of room left for ‘plot’. The story goes something like: crazy man in desert has all the water; crazy man in the desert is allowed to take all the most beautiful women for himself because he has all the water; women don’t want to be objects; women escape; insanity ensues. Other than prompting an onslaught of feminist responses (and one laughable response from a ‘men’s rights’ website), Miller’s emaciated storyline isn’t exactly one that lends itself to deep critical analysis. Like Max and the desolate world he inhabits, the only real motivation of any of the characters is to survive,
and it’s kind of brilliant. Even the critics are snuggling up to Miller like obsequious lap dogs. So, how is it that a film so unabashedly stripped of narrative justification has enjoyed so much critical success? Isn’t focusing on the spectacle at the expense of the narrative a kind of cardinal sin of modern cinema? Funny you should ask that, because in 1986, a guy called Tom Gunning published a short essay entitled ‘The Cinema of Attraction’, in which he discusses the gulf dividing the early film scene with that of the 1980s. Gunning’s observations were that early film — we’re talking pre-1906 here — was primarily a means by which a filmmaker might bring an exhibition to his audience. According to Gunning, ‘actuality films’ — those that exhibited some otherwise inaccessible reality — ‘outnumbered fictional films until 1906.’ People went to experience creatures, machines, and landscapes without having to make the arduous journey themselves. In the years to come, fictional narrative arcs would eventually usurp the exhibitionist form. Why is it, then, that we are now seeing a resurgence of pure spectacle in cinema? Well, I believe there are a couple of reasons. The first reason is that we are entering what some might call the golden age of television. Thanks to our good friend Mr Internet, television is far more effective now at rendering before our very eyes believable character development and mature, complex storylines. Budgets for TV are bigger now, and A-listers from Kevin Spacey to Woody Harrelson are turning to the small screen for the richer roles. In the age of TV, the timespan of film is starting to seem kind of oppressive. We often judge whether or not we can make the ‘effort’ to see a film by checking out its timespan. Amateur web criticism (cough) often draws attention to a film’s pacing, and the idea of a film being drawn out longer than it needs to can seriously deteriorate its critical value. Long, complex stories are reserved for the box set. Films just can’t cut it anymore; no one wants to commit to something that can’t be watched in segments. The only thing film can offer that TV can’t is prolonged spectacle. Huge budgets compressed into a
matter of hours yields incredible visuals and thrilling choreography that realistically just isn’t achievable in a project with a broader lifespan. But the post-millennial gulf between television and film is only part of a larger battle that the film industry has been fighting for over a decade now. The film industry, as we are so often told, is in serious trouble. Internet piracy has left film producers out on very thin ice; it’s no secret that in general the film industry is far less profitable than it used to be. I believe that Hollywood has found itself a rope towards at least a temporary refuge, a rope called ‘spectacle’ (okay, so I’m not great at analogies). Advances into HD, 4K, dynamic surround sound, digital 3D, even Odeon’s new motion effects seats (MFX), they all contribute towards the cultivation of a demand for something beyond a film, something closer to a theme-park attraction. It is now the cinema’s job to make big movies an experience, one that locks into every sense possible by shaking the room with bass and throwing holographic shrapnel right in our bespectacled faces. So is it working? Well, while we might not be going to the cinema quite as often as we used to, we splash out a little more when we do. Certain films are advertised to us by our friends (traitors) as ‘the kind you need to watch in 3D’, a trend kickstarted by James Cameron’s obscenely successful Avatar back in 2009. In fact, such peer prompting was exactly the reason I found myself clambering towards the nearest picture house to bear witness to George Miller’s latest contribution to the disestablishment of cinematic norms. And as much as I would like to complain that I have been cheated out of my hard-earned cash, I can’t. Because here I am, telling you how spectacular it all was, how thrilling it was to climb aboard Hollywood’s latest attraction, to realise that maybe, just maybe, the cinema was finally a worthwhile expedition again. Maybe the world has gone mad. Photographs: Kitty Guo
introducing the work of
Bogeyman The ‘Bogeyman’ was inspired by my love of fairytales, folklore and fables. As everyone knows the bogeyman is a make-believe figure used by parents to frighten their children into behaving properly. So in a nutshell this picture is about childhood fear and how it continues to affect you as an adult. Cigarette Woman ‘Cigarette Woman’ is about a charming young man who lures women to his outhouse where he proceeds to roll them into cigarettes. He pre-rolls the women and stacks them up against a wall for later. His girlfriend turns a blind eye to his sordid actions. Mumma Wolf I have always been interested in the idea of a feral child and how a child becomes feral. This interest was piqued by reading stories such as Peter Pan and The Jungle Book. Another source of inspiration came from an article I read a few years ago about ‘Forest Boy’ which turned out to be a hoax. Roughly around the same time, I was working on a drawing called ‘Tangerine Woman and the Feral Children’ - a drawing of a self-obsessed young mother of three, relaxing in a bathtub of tangerines while her children are left to fend for themselves. The little girl riding on the wolf is also visible in this image. I felt as though she had her own story to tell, so I created ‘Mumma Wolf ’. for more Hazel, visit: http://www.hazelgoreart.co.uk/
9 Selfies Taken Moments Before Death Ross McCleary
Playtime by Alexander Heckert (opposite)
elen Storkie discovers a raven’s nest in her garden filled with shiny ephemera and has a startling idea for her next art exhibition. When the raven is away she places a Morse Code straight key beneath its eggs. She leaves it there for a month. When the raven is in the nest its movements push the straight key. The raw signal is transmitted directly to her laptop. Once complete, she compiles the data. The initial signals resemble gibberish but with the help of a linguistics expert she is able to arrange the signal to form letters and then a paragraph of text. The message, too long to be replicated here, is a message calling aliens to seek out planet Earth. On the fifth of March the transmission is shot into space, aimed at the centre of the Andromeda galaxy. At the exhibition of this work, a video installation is aired showing Helen being pecked to death by an unkindness of ravens. Debate rages over whether the video is genuine, or even art, but she is never heard from again.
atalie Cramer works at the Observatory on Blackford Hill as an Aurora Inquisitor. Late one night as she takes infra-red photographs of the Milky Way she is crushed by a telescope she helped to build.
lan Wilson lives and works in an automated lighthouse. When the light drops below a certain brightness the strobe lantern activates. This requires Alan to do very little work and gives him ample time to read. His schedule is rigid. Every morning he picks a new book and, unless it is long, he does not go to sleep until it is finished. He only stops to eat. When the strobe activates and he has finished his book, he climbs into the lantern room and sits facing the sea, watching it roil back and forth until he falls asleep. Friends visit on Sundays and he is alone six days out of seven. One morning he wakes to find his shadow is gone. He shrugs it off – what would he do about it anyway? – and carries on as normal. A month later, he wakes to find the marks on his skin (wrinkles, fingerprints, veins, scars, bruises) are gone. He is unsure what has caused this but to implicate the lighthouse would be to assume never crosses his mind. A few days later, a friend comes to visit and finds the front door wide open. She lets herself in. Alan is not there. This sets off alarm bells in her head. In the lantern room she finds the strobe lens smashed and a silhouette, unmistakably Alan’s, burned onto the floor. She calls the police. Wandering from room to room she calls out his name. She is convinced she senses movement, a spectre? a shadow?, whenever her eyes drift from the corners of the room back to the middle.
arilyn Harvie is three months into a nine month mission on the International Space Station to study the reproduction rate for micro-organic cells in zero gravity. On the fifth of March an electrical signal transmitted from the surface pulses through the station. A section of the signal corrupts and shudders inside her body, wraps around her aortic valves and squeezes her heart until it is no longer beating.
alum Paterson suffers from a rare condition in which gravity affects him according to the sun’s position in the sky. At sunrise his feet touch the earth but as midday approaches he levitates as high as two feet off the ground. As sunset arrives he gravitates back to the earth. He wears heavy shoes to compensate. It is an exhausting way to live. One morning, as he strolls through the Summer Fair on the Meadows, a clown hands him a helium balloon hat. He puts it on and feels his body lift from the ground. Calum ascends. People gasp and point as he floats through the clouds. Six hours later he falls to earth at Portobello Beach, dying instantly. The coroner’s report states that due to the speed of elevation (slow) and the probable height from which he fell (high), it is unlikely his death can be considered an accident.
isa Forresta has received her first major television role, a speaking part in an episode of Poirot: A Space Odyssey, and could not be happier. She turns up, works hard, and when the shoot is finished she is recompensed well. This is the way she hoped her life would be. Her agent couldn’t be happier either for it is the start of a promising career. On the night the episode airs her family throw her a party to celebrate. The next day, Lisa cannot be found. On the same day, fifty people complain to Samsung about a televisual anomaly. The image of a woman is burned onto their LCDs. The image appears to be from an episode of Poirot that aired the night before. Samsung apologise, replace the broken televisions and destroy the damaged ones. A photograph of one of these screens ends up online and the story goes viral.
atalie Cramer (II) is unable to shake her overwhelming sense of déjà vu. This is because she is a perfect clone and taking the exact same path as her genetic sibling. No matter how hard she fights, their paths always find a way to align. Natalie keeps a book of self-portraits. She keeps it in her bedside drawer. On each page there are two photographs placed side by side. Underneath there is a number which pertains to her age in the pictures. At a glance the photographs are indistinguishable, however on closer inspection it becomes clear the left-hand pictures are those of Natalie’s genetic progenitor. On her twenty-second birthday, Natalie takes one last photograph of herself on her phone then hangs herself from a tree in the garden.
arah Kinney has her head inside the mouth of a taxidermied brown bear in the Vet School when its razor-sharp teeth clamp down on her neck and skull. The mechanism to animate the bear was installed earlier in the week, as a reminder that nature is beautiful and dangerous. As there are no cameras in the hallway, and she wandered the Vet School alone, Sarah’s last moments, in a mirrored form, are recorded as the series of ones and zeroes in the mechanism’s motherboard. After the ambulance and police are gone the bear is taken away and destroyed.
rren Goldman, the owner of a shrimp trawler, falls overboard whilst fishing in the middle of the North Sea. It is a perfect storm of mysterious circumstances: there are no other crew members on-board, the radio is switched off and there are no other ships within fifty miles when it happens. His boat is spotted a week later but by this point Arren’s body is already at the bottom of the ocean where it is eroded by the salt water and devoured by the fishes. His bones are ground down by the current and the waves. Soon all that is left of Arren is washed ashore as sand. The sand is collected by a glassblower, weaved into a vase which is purchased by Sarah Kinney. A year after purchase, in the aftermath of Calum Paterson’s funeral, the vase slips from her the mantelpiece, falls to the floor and shatters into dozens of pieces. Sarah throws the shards into a bin bag which tears in transit to the waste disposal facility. One bright summer day their glimmer is spotted by a raven, who picks up one of the shards and carries it back to her nest where it is later joined by pieces of an LCD, a strobe light, a bloody tooth, and a telescopic lens.
HANGING PLANT T
here was a hanging plant that lived on our bedroom ceiling. We hated that plant. I shared my room with my big sister Natalie when we lived with our Mum and stepdad in the Bluevale flats in Glasgow. Our teddy bears and dolls lived with us too and we talked to them all. Very nicely and respectfully, without showing any favouritism. We did this every night before bed because they were evil and might want to hurt us whilst we slept.
Being nice to them was a cover-up of course. We just knew better to act like we liked them so that they wouldn’t read our thoughts. Especially the dolls. The hanging plant was different though. It knew. It knew that we were pretending and exaggerating. And it knew that we knew that it knew. At first we made every effort to be extra nice to the plant, sing songs to it and tell it we loved it, but it was more aware than the others, more shifty... and so it just kept dangling there over our beds, superiorly grinning and evilly knowing everything. It had an accusingly smug greenish-brownish-wizardlike face with a jaggy knife beard. We had to kill that sarcastic fucking plant. We formed an intricate plan to kill it and talked in whispers so that it couldn’t hear us. The plan was to steal a chair from the kitchen, position it underneath the plant, stand up on the chair, stretch up and pull it down to the ground. It was good and clever. Like something we’d seen on The Krypton Factor. Mum was busy on the phone to aunty Mary so we managed to sneak and drag the chair from the kitchen without any interruptions. We placed the chair and took it in turns. The aim was to move as fast and as quietly as possible so that the plant wouldn’t notice what we were doing. We were
expert at being soundless, but reaching up was tricky and stressful because we were really small, and I was smaller than Natalie so I was especially stressed. Once more Natalie went for it with an incredible hulk-like willpower, elongated her arm even further, and pulled on the lowest leafy bit of the plant’s beard. It dropped to the floor and its earth gushed all over our carpet. It looked like a murder crime scene and we were glad. But it wasn’t quite dead yet... and secretly we were sorry for wounding its face but we knew it was a bad plant so we had to finish the job. Quickly we dragged it from the floor, threw it in the hallway cupboard so that it would die, and slammed the door shut so it couldn’t grab us back. We turned around to find our Mum standing there watching us. “What’s the commotion here? What you two up to?” “Nothing!” we said. We hovered next to the cupboard. She opened the door to find the plant violently plonked on top of our bicycles. We hid behind our Mum’s legs when she reached in to get it. In that moment it had an expression of gratefulness on its face because she found it there and was saving it. But when it looked at me, its face shifted. Its reddish eyebrows spiked downwards and its leafy green eyes turned black. It was mad and angry and it hated us. It was mad and angry and it wanted us dead. I don’t think my Mum could understand why we threw it in there but she complained about all the mess, fixed the plant and hung it back up on our ceiling. When we were alone with the plant we apologised, hoping it would forgive us, but it just kept hanging there and judging us. For a few weeks after this we struggled living with the plant and with all the guilt in our nightmares, so we prayed to God every day for help. And then... on one rainy windy afternoon, a storm came. It was the wildest, windiest, scariest thunderstorm we’d ever seen. The wind battered our window and smashed the glass into our bedroom, cutting up some of our scary dolls’ faces. We watched the wind thud the plant
to the ground and we screamed with panic and joy all at once. The glass got stuck all over our carpet but we didnâ€™t care if we bled because it was a sign from God that the plant was bad and we were really good. Our Mum rushed in and took us away, leaving the plant without help. Later when she put plasters on our feet and cleared away all the broken glass, we peeked inside our room to check on things. We stood underneath where it used to hang. Everything was different. The wind had calmed and the plant was in the bin, but we felt its ghost strung up over us. And all the teddies and dolls watching us. They knew. They knew we made it windy and got the plant killed. They knew our niceness and respectfulness was nothing but a fraud and a charade. They knew because the plant told them everything. And they knew that we knew that they knew.
‘AS PER SE’ Manon Benlolo-Stoffel
Photographs by Toby Trueman ‘Lonely Mountain’
The day they found the family of six, the bar crowd whipped up into a frenzy. At The Inn, a moment of frenetic laughter as we saw the broadcast on TV. The bar owner paused and rewound several times just so that we could watch, over and over again, their little frozen noses popping out of the hole in which they had spent the last 50 years. The scene was unparalleled in its comic sense; yet I still cannot grasp why their cluelessness got us so unsteady. Up there, they said, as Lily was circling the vastness of Siberia with a piece of chalk, geologists made contact with a ‘reclusive family who did not see another human for 40 years’. Unaware of the Second World War was the highlight of their story, complete ignorance an attribute we gave them. Extreme isolation! For almost half a century! Of the Vietnam War, the race to take over the moon, the poll tax (oh, the poll tax! Craig remembers well) Woodstock or 9/11, they had no idea. On the TV screen fixed upon the upper shelf behind the counter, the camera was flying over a thickly wooded valley. Hostile seeming birch trees tactfully bended towards the centre of the forest pupil: a hand built cabin. A shack of squalor in a white wasteland. The general attention unexpectedly turned to Craig who started a dance worthy of the name of the Strasbourg dancing plague, or at least something similar to how I would picture a series of uncontrollable movements lead by sentiments. A few months ago, a stranger stepped into The Inn. Now, we are not exactly used to strangers, especially since the border restrictions tightened, but the bar owner was in a good mood after his wife gave birth to his third child so the stranger yelled: ‘Diese Runde geht auf mich!’ and the bartenders filled up our glasses. After Lily’s performance of thigh clapping, which greatly impressed the stranger because he did not know she had won the Bodily Inventive Employee of the Week award, he told us the story of his grandfather. Apparently, he would have died from pure dancing exhaustion along with thousands of other people. A wave of madness that even a healing shrine did not manage to suppress. ‘I am still searching for an answer’ he sighed. ‘The close connection with the Strasbourg plague is unavoidable, but how can we compare the times of 1518 with modern days? It’s impossible.’ I learnt about the Strasbourg plague through this conversation, and then borrowed books from the library that dealt with this compulsive outbreak of spasms which cost lives. The footage of the Russians was still running. Arms stretched out, Craig spun while holding his stool, spun and sped up the pace, spun and hit with one end of the stool the elk head above the counter, spun and twirled until his feet formed anarchic figures on the ground, spun and was cornered by a placard unveiled by his fall. If your attention was directed towards the placard, you would have read: ‘Sucked in by the earth are our hopes Rifts and breaches among us / Will we recover with staples? As per se, humanity’s last wishes.’
The bar owner had left it behind the fireplace after the demonstrations. It was probably written by utopians; we never really asked why it was here at The Inn. The evening concluded, of course, in a burst of hilarity. Extreme isolation! *
I am window-shopping as I try to find a gift for the bar owner’s new born, the fourth one, when the man himself calls me on the phone: ‘You have to get your ass to The Inn. Everyone’s already here. They said on TV they would go back to the spot where’, and I can feel the excitement, the barely hidden joy in the hopping-about tone of his voice, ‘where they found the guys who didn’t know World War II was over.’ I reply with a long wheeze, unable to contain myself. In my rush to The Inn, I find the perfect gift and I can’t help but feel proud about the imaginativeness of it. Who knows, the baby may become a precious performer assistant to Lily. The very emotional thought of the two thigh-clapping together filled my nose with salty mucus. When I get to the Inn, the programme has already started. Glasses are consumed half way, especially in the front row, and the bar owner turns up the volume. A handful of journalists went back to the spot with the aim of showing the surroundings of the family, probably triggered by the fact that the last survivor recently passed away. We recognize the landscape, it feels comfortable. Yet, the reporter starts shaking his hands nervously. He hurries his fellows to zoom in on a piece of flesh which seems to overstep the frame of the cave. ‘Come on guys, I think we have a corpse here, get closer!’. The footsteps of the cameramen sink in the snow. But the blurred limb seems to be moving. The audience is thrilled, overwhelmed by the thought of another frozen nose and another evening of debauchery. They catch sight of one arm, extending itself like the wing of a bat. Another arm, as if the person is sprawling. It seems that someone else pushes this person from behind. They are smiling. The pusher becomes pushed, and we start seeing a queue of them. They slowly spread themselves out. ‘This!’ screams the crowd in amazement. ‘Where do all these people come from?’ One after the other, they leave the cave, and it continues for an indefinite amount of time. The cameraman tries to go backwards so we can have a bigger image: the entire wasteland is filled with frozen noses. A thousand of them, at least. The reporters are stuck to the ground. Craig collapses on the floor.
Bench I’m aware of how heavy my head is As it’s pressing down on it All the pressure mounting In my right jawbone Upper jawbone Pole My body is much larger than it As I wrap myself around it I’m aware that it’s just this thing between me It’s almost like it’s not there Against my body It’s an effort to hold onto it Because it’s so thin Wall I’m aware that there’s a gap between my pelvis And it I am more touching it than it is touching me This interaction is more intimate I am feeling it inside of my body And it is spreading Spreading into my lips
Parking meter The height of it is up to my lips I can rest my chin against the top of it My head looking slightly more upwards Than it would usually It’s edges fit nicely with the curve of my hands It is a good length I don’t feel the need to close my eyes with this one
Bollard It makes sense for me To sit directly on With my knees either side My genitals right up against it My legs wrap themselves about it On the other side One on top of the other Grabbing hold But there is not much tension It just makes me feel more secure
illustration, Alice Seville
Wall no.2 If I spread my feet a bit wider Then move This becomes awkward My knees try and squeeze So it feels like I am more attached to it I am trying to keep my body weight up Upon this thing now There is a strain in my body This is not comfortable
love, you never saw how the whole room is ringing; a canto; a chorus; just for the night. you never got how the young kids are groping under the sleet and the cold traffic lights. you’d cringe at the line of ‘my pure heart is singing’ you’d point out I’m rhyming you’d say that it’s trite. I’m sick of your edits: the frost you keep bringing, and you show me friendship the way a cat shows its scrotum -- I’m tired and I’m giving up, just for the night.
Since Rox: Anne. Light red to-night You don’t have to Put-on, redlight, rox you anne to Light it’s right, wrong you sell have to. Love it’s anne rox, red it’s nightdress Love it’s dress for, wear that have to -Streets and walk the night don’t night to Walk the anne streets light and night you Money, had you? Body, anne to. Body sell it? Sell right wrong to! Love and walk and streets? I’d love to – Wrong it’s right you dress light! have to Care that’s wrong right: Money loved you. Anne rox red light Red dress sell to, I red-loved you. I red-loved you since I knew you I love red light feel boy night to I won’t share boy feel boy right to: He don’t have the, fucking right to Body loved you. Night boys loved you. Take your make up Made up take you Other boys so right red, love to Other boys so right red, love to
Money talks and don’t I night you Because I loved you since I knew you. Since walk streets over love and don’t you Right your wrong: My love, you have to. Walk the night, the red night loved you. Oh anne red Rox red: Love you, don’t I? Love you, feel you Anne I rox don’t Feel me love you love rox red to Anne I beg you: Don’t.
Untitled into The Smoking Rabbit we go and the band are wearing their bow ties especially neat and Little Janie is talking sweet for once Little Janie is talking sweet and I’ll never understand why you get so angry, love, when I’m trying to be kind.// I loved your groping blind the other night and you lit me up with your hand on my stomach and I love your stark stark smile your please-sir-can-i-have-some-more smile as if there were nothing at all in your bowl, as if there were nothing at all in the world worth smiling for. //So it’s me and Janie and Janie and me at the bar, Little Janie talking sweet for once, and me. And we talk bric-a-brac and this and that and raw old stubs of burnt-out jokes eventually she ignores me – and smokes. //Janie I wish I knew why you ignore me when I’m trying to be kind and when I make up my mind to desert you you start on some conquest of love.
Little, Janie, Janie on the campus, stark-smiling, fractious and foul-mouthed romanceless I wish I could read your mind. // You make me think I should leave Glasgow altogether and take up the trumpet I had lessons at school I never told you and I bet you never asked you never bothered to find out but I played trumpet too. You make me think I should leave Glasgow altogether and take up the trumpet and live a hermitic existence in a jungle paradise where the birds donâ€™t sing jay-janie in the frangipani tree I wish in all your tossed-off conversations you ever mentioned me. And Janie why do you ignore me when Iâ€™m trying to be kind? I wish we were older and why did you put your hand on my stomach and we lived somewhere warmer and I was always on your mind.
Virginia Deâ€™s work is a fight against time...
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(opposite) Untitled by Lisa Jane Birch
Issue #4 of Bleak Bleak Bleak, a magazine for art, poetry and discourse. Featuring: Isaac Neviazsky, Sam Wood, Alex Foley, Archie Woodrow...
Published on Aug 9, 2015
Issue #4 of Bleak Bleak Bleak, a magazine for art, poetry and discourse. Featuring: Isaac Neviazsky, Sam Wood, Alex Foley, Archie Woodrow...