THE MOST MODERN AND LEAST BORING KIND OF POETRY
By Robert Montgomery
Maybe I’m just lazy, but I’m always thinking up titles for things I never actually make. I make up titles for essays I’ll never write, pieces of art I’ll never make and titles for albums full of songs, even though I've never been in a band. Since titles are all I end up making I like to pretend I’ve become a connosieur of them, and I keep lists of my favourite titles of records, magazine articles and things like that. My top favourite record titles this year are the Prolapse album "Ghosts of Dead Aeroplanes", because this predicts the possibility of a spiritual life for the technological world, and the Arab Strap album "Elephant Shoe" - because I like to imagine wearing a shoe that is an elephant. Titles like these are complete poems in themselves, poetry you can read in record shops, the most modern and least boring kind of poetry.
My favourite title of an essay is definitely "This is Something for the Blunted", an essay Ross Sinclair wrote in America in 1992. Sinclair’s essay is a wistful glance across the American and European political landscape of the 1990s reflecting the strangely comfortable but morally bankrupt society that surrounds us. The title is great because it accuses the reader: if our society is fucked-up and full of social injustice then it’s our fault, mine and yours: blunted idealists who have given up our ambition to change things because we are too busy worrying about the phone bills and mortgages we imagine gradually beginning to surround us.
Ross Sinclair wrote 'This is Something for the Blunted' seven years ago, and it characterizes a particular type of speech that runs through his art right from the beginning. It’s a type of speech that oscillates between genuine idealism and an intensely dejected cynicism, and the story it has to tell is the story of our generation who inherited the idealism of the 1960s just as it was barely breathing and limping through the hostile environment of the 1980s. We took bits and pieces of sixties culture, and maybe mixed them with little bits of punk, and we adapted them and created our own alternative culture in the 1990s. What we didn’t inherit from the sixties though was a belief that our idealism could transform society. We’d already seen a lot of documentaries on TV about the failure of the hippie dream, so we were disillusioned idealists from the start, and our brief glimpses of idealism were countered by heavy interludes of nihilism. Ross Sinclair’s T-Shirt Paintings remain a sort of dictionary for the 1990s, defining the expanded field of cultural references we had: rap music, American MTV, ecological disintegration, and articulating our malaise.
The voice that comes out of the T-shirt Paintings is confused and angry, and that’s right because that’s how we felt. Though all the while there is a sense of longing in the background, a sadness because what’s on offer is empty, a sense that there might have been another world we could have had if we hadn't been so slack and lazy and given up so easily and got ourselves into this mess.
It seems like there were some good ideas floating around in the 20th century to change the way we lived: the Surrealists’ idea of a revolution based on transforming reality, the situationists’ Revolution of Everyday Life, the back-to-the-land communes of the hippies in the sixties, Joseph Beuys’ organisation for direct democracy by individual participation, Alexander Trocchi’s sigma centre. All the imaginary worlds that we’d heard about but knew, by 1992, we could never have. In the nineties there didn’t seem to be a radical ideology that was tenable any longer. We got disappointed, we got sad and sentimental a lot and we sat around in pubs imagining what it must have been like to grow up in a decade when you could have believed in something.
More than any other artist I know Ross Sinclair articulates this disappointment, and makes something beautiful out of it. That’s why I feel he speaks for our generation in a really good way, and in the end, he holds on to our idealism despite everything. In his work Sinclair gathers together all the little threads of our dreams of escape and transformation, and we should follow him, because fucking hell we’re going to need those as we stare point blank into the face of an empty century. The furthest we'll get from utopia in our new century will be a political system, a parliament building, a big fireworks display. The closest we’ll get to it will be the sort of fugitive relationships we have where we really care for each and look after each other despite all the shit. The best thing to do, is to put this book down, go out of this art gallery, be nice to somebody in the street on the way , and tell somebody you love them.