Brands, Intangibility, Resistance

As an Associate Lecturer at the London College of Fashion I am developing my knowledge of and interest in academic fashion discourses. Fashion discourse is extremely varied and fashion theorists borrow from many other theoretical areas, many of which I am familiar with from my own work in cultural studies and visual theory. My great weakness is my engagement with the discourses of fashion business, perhaps because it often seems at great odds with the kinds of critical discourses and practices my own work is embedded in. I recognise this as a weakness, particularly when I am responsible for the learning of students who religiously follow the latest collections at the various fashion weeks, know about new designers and curate and commodify their fashion selves on Instagram. Helpfully the Business of Fashion Digest enables me to have a little knowledge about the machinations of the global fashion system as well as providing fuel for critical debate. In today’s digest alongside the usual information about the profitability of Burberry and Hermès and an interview with someone who says there are no more subcultures there is a section dedicated to the future of the fashion store.

According to B. Joseph Pine II (2016) in the experience economy stores need to deliver “memorable events that engage each individual in an inherently personal way”. He argues that in the digital economy consumers are driven by price, therefore only online and hypermarket style ‘pile it high, sell it cheap’ retail can survive. If stores cannot compete on price then they must deliver experiences. Pine also writes about ‘omnichannel’ approaches to marketing and retail, 3D printing and augmented reality being the future of fashion retailing. Similarly, Kate Abnett (2016) writes, “Shopping in stores must either be as cheap and convenient as buying from Amazon, or entertaining — offering memorable experiences that can’t be replicated online.” Abnett and Pine explain how omnichannel marketing and retail are also a challenge to brands. Competing for attention and visibility in consumers’ crowded digital lives isn’t easy

Whilst this isn’t news (these discussions have been around for some time within and without academia) what is significant about this, and other mainstream fashion discourse in general is its focus on luxury and high-end brands and retailing when discussing the ‘store of the future’. Mainstream fashion discourses are obsessed with luxury brands that most cannot afford and therefore never buy. Similarly mainstream discourse around fashion cities, even new ones, also focuses on high-end retail (see for example Leach, 2015) that have very little to do with the ordinary streets of metropolitan areas, even if they fall within a ‘fashion capital’. The kind of fashion retail and consumption I am exploring in my project is ignored by mainstream, business-oriented fashion discourse. It is not ‘street’ fashion and it is unlikely to ‘bubble-up’ into the consciousness of designers and fashion image-makers or on to the runway. It is also not a marketed attempt at an authentic ‘real’ fashion. That is not to say it is non-fashion or anti-fashion. The garments sold in Wood Green independent fashion stores are subject to many of the same design, manufacturing and exporting processes as others (more on this in another post). The designers and/or manufacturers still respond to or speculate on consumer desire. Customers care about their appearances and carefully select garments using complex criteria.

My video project The Brand Nobody Knows will be shown at the 8th Art of Management and Organization Conference at the IEDC Bled School of Management in September this year. The theme of the conference is the Intangible and the strand in which I am presenting the film is called Fashion Futures. How are these themes expressed in the work and how have they informed it?

I posit that Wood Green High Road, as one of London’s super-diverse metropolitan centres, represents the last iteration of the British high street as we have known it. This has been marked by the recent closure of mid-level fashion brands (M&S, Dorothy Perkins, Wallis, Topshop) and the rise of the independent budget fashion store and multiple occupancy stores or ‘mutualisms’ (one store containing multiple independent retailers). Independent retailers struggle to survive but they do so by adaptation, reflexivity and cross-cultural cooperation. This is a high street that is serviced by and caters to a super-diverse population of a lower social economic class. Perhaps Wood Green High Road in the incarnation presented in my project is a pre-ruin, the end of days for an urban poor priced out by mega-rents and the high cost of living. Alternatively, perhaps it is a portent of a further stratified fashion and retail sector to come? Luxury brands will continue to inhabit our minds through ever more clever and personalized marketing, mid-level brands will continue to flee lower-end high streets, offer shopping ‘experiences’ and invest in flagship stores or stores that function as e-commerce showrooms. Wood Green and streets like it will become zones for un-hip pop-ups, quickly fitted out stores selling inexpensive products and garments where branding is an afterthought, experience something that just happens and where external communications are limited to external store signage. With no web-presence, brand story or advertising campaigns consumers must act on their own creativity, create their own stories and invest products with their own images.

Brands constitute the ultimate in intangibility whereby consumers buy into the stories, images and affects that have been carefully constructed by marketers rather than the products themselves. The symbolic and exchange values of a luxury branded product often outweigh its use value. Perhaps the kind of retail and consumption practices and environments presented by stores in Wood Green can repair the link between object and its use value. Perhaps they have the potential to resist dominant fashion ideologies, the commodification of self and the continuing intrusions of brands into one’s consciousness.

List of Works Cited

Abnett, K. (2016) ‘The store of the future’ in Business of Fashion, [online] Available at https://www.businessoffashion.com/community/voices/discussions/what-will-the-store-of-the-future-look-like/the-store-of-the-future (Accessed 14 July 2016)

Leach, A. (2015) ‘The 15 most important cities in fashion right now’ in Highsnobiety [online] available at http://www.highsnobiety.com/2015/08/24/fashion-capital-list/ (Accessed 14 July 2016)

Pine II, B.J. (2016) ‘Stage experiences or go extinct’ in Business of Fashion, [online] Available at https://www.businessoffashion.com/community/voices/discussions/what-will-the-store-of-the-future-look-like/op-ed-stage-experiences-or-go-extinct (Accessed 14 July 2016)

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New Works

all-welcome-flat

All Welcome, 2016

Everythig-flat

Everythig, 2016

Future-is-a-lifeship-flat

Future is a Life-ship, 2016

Voodoo

Magic, Voodoo, Obey, 2016

Here are some new 2D works that are by-products of my Wood Green Project. I’m hoping to show them soon, please visit for news…

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Wood Green High Road – an Ordinary Street between austerity and Brexit

We find ourselves in a strange limbo somewhere between ‘Austerity Britain’ and Brexit. How might one look upon and describe Wood Green High Road, its retail culture and its vernacular aesthetics at this particular moment? What does this mean for my project The Brand Nobody Knows?

In recent weeks my focus has been on looking at the buoyancy of Wood Green’s economy and the creativity and entrepreneurship of the street’s lower-end retail whilst charting the disappearance of traditional high street brands such as M&S, Dorothy Perkins, and soon BHS. It seems however, that the super-diversity of London – and specifically that of Wood Green (as opposed to the West End for example) is becoming increasingly central in this work. Super-diversity can be described as “a condition in cities where diversity may mean over one hundred nationalities, but also a diversity of legal statuses, of socioeconomic conditions and a greater diversity in how people choose to live and define themselves” (Cities of Migration, 2012). Last month Britain voted to leave the EU following a problematic Brexit campaign that played on citizens’ fears of immigration. If we value the part that migration plays in our lives (either as migrants ourselves or as beneficiaries of the richness migrants bring to society) then we must, of course, resist the notion of migration as problematic. In the light of Brexit it feels more important than ever to pursue my exploration of the vernacular aesthetics of Wood Green’s High Road that have been shaped by super-diversity.

The position I take in this research is akin to that which LSE researcher Suzanne Hall sets out in her paper Migrant Urbanisms: Ordinary Cities and Everyday Resistance. She writes that ‘[t]hinking about ordinary spaces and everyday life opens up ways of understanding complex global processes of urbanisation and migration” (2015, p. 854). She describes migration as a “participatory rather than an invasive process of change” and explains that it is “integral to ongoing processes of societal change and diversification, rather than as the exception to it.” (2015, p. 854). Hall writes about the ordinary city in opposition to the global city characterized by the corporate elites of the financial, creative and other industries. In this study I locate Wood Green as an ordinary city in part to refuse “the categories of economic hierarchy in a global order, and with it the relegation of seemingly less prominent or less valuable cities and citizens” (2015, p. 856).

How do migrants and non-migrants make and re-make Wood Green? Hall describes ordinary streets as places of overlapping urbanism and urban collage. Wood Green High Road is a place of “trade and exchange, where a diversity of proprietors and customers intersect. Individual allegiances and affinities locate, both through a coalescence of intercultural city-making and/or a side-by-side retention of cultural distinctions” (Hall, 2015, p. 858). Wood Green High Road is not an example of a ghetto or ethnic enclave, it is a commercial metropolitan centre of outer London that caters to a super-diverse clientèle and is serviced by a super-diverse work force.

As mentioned in a previous post Wood Green’s retail space vacancy rate is much lower than the national average, 5.92% compared with 12.3% in July 2014 (Haringey.gov.uk, 2016, p.32). Whilst shops close frequently, the sites are not empty for long. However this is not because is is an easy environment for retailers to operate in. Many shops have become multiple occupancy retailers such as the Factory Outlet recently opened in the former Marks and Spencer site (see images above). Here there are multiple till points for multiple businesses comprising low-cost fashion, furniture, toys, shoes, accessories, luggage and the ubiquitous mobile phone counter. The usual trappings of high street retail, such as branded shopping bags, receipts, signage and an online presence do not exist. Hall describes these “collage arrangements” as “closer in nature to a market or bazaar, but within the given street structure” (2015, p 859).

The much smaller single fronted shop at No. 87 (see image above from February 2016) is similarly divided into different retail sections. At the rear handbags and shoes, behind a glass counter on the left mobile phones and other electrical goods. Half of the exterior signage is given over to an advertisement for low cost, pay-as-you-go international mobile telecommunications company Lycamobile, the rest to the retailer ‘KMK Mobile Phones’ along with a list of services offered (mobile repairs, unlocking etc.) and photographs of products sold. In a super-diverse street such as this canny business owners understand that language barriers exist and pictorial messages mean more than carefully constructed brand images. The handbags and shoes retailer operating from inside the shop is not represented on the exterior signage. On revisiting this shop last week (July 2016) the handbag retailer was gone with a to let sign in its place. The proprietor told me about the difficulties of meeting the high rent and how he needs to sublet this space in order to be profitable. In her paper Super-diverse street: a ‘trans-ethnography’ across migrant localities, Hall describes these subdivided shops as ‘mutualism’ where “arrangements of economic and cultural coexistence have emerged” (2013, p. 32). She explains how these ‘mutualisms’ enable proprietors, such as Koram at KMK Mobile Phones, to respond swiftly to emerging market trends as well as to mitigate negative economic shifts. In addition Hall found that “the impulse to subdivide, mix and remake these shop interiors is not simply driven by mercantile interests; it is also driven by cultural ones,” that these shop interiors also provide a “home-away-from home” (2013, p. 33).

At no. 83, the exterior sign is for JK Mobile Phone & Computer Specialist but the shop now sells women’s clothing and jewellery. Advertising signage for Lebara can still be seen on the frontage although Lebara products can no longer be purchased in store. Fashion shop Rumours displays ‘closing down’ and ‘everything must go’ signs in its windows – from its opening day. In February 2016 this shop was called WOW. Permanence is not valued and cannot be sustained in this economy not unlike pop-up shops in London’s rather more hipster locations. In this ordinary, and resolutely ‘un-hip’ street, stores bear the names and traces of their previous incarnations inside and out. Multiple businesses in the street offer the same services but rarely differentiate themselves with developed branding strategies. In super-diverse streets in ordinary parts of this city, where migrant populations live, work and shop the nature of the high street is changing, diversifying and adapting to new conditions and challenges. My position documenting this urban retail vernacular is neither to mock or to celebrate, but to capture and make visible this particular moment, in all its overlapping messiness and complicated richness.

Works Cited

Hall, S. (2015) ‘Migrant urbanisms: ordinary cities and everyday resistance’ in Sociology, Vol. 49(5) 853-869

Hall, S (2013) ‘Super-diverse street: a ‘trans-ethnography’ across migrant localities’ in Ethic and Racial Studies, 38:1, 22-37

Haringey.gov.uk (2016) Wood Green area action plan: issues and options report, Available at http://www.haringey.gov.uk/sites/haringeygovuk/files/issues_and_options_part_1.pdf (Accessed 7 July 2016)

Cities of Migration (2012) ‘Conversations in Migration’ Cities of Migration, Available at http://citiesofmigration.ca/ezine_stories/sarah-spencer-super-diversity-and-the-city/ (Accessed 7 July 2016)

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Don’t forget BHS!

And of course another high-street brand about to go from Wood Green…

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The Brand Nobody Knows: London’s fashion ‘other’ and the vernacular aesthetic of the Anthropocene

On a recent visit to Covent Garden I noted a new proliferation of luxury brands trading from the Piazza. On approaching the Piazza from James Street one is confronted with stores by historic luxury brands Chanel, Dior and Burberry. These new stores make up part of Covent Garden’s ‘Beauty Quarter’. According to the Covent Garden website “In just two years, Covent Garden’s Beauty Quarter has become a mecca for luxury beauty, now housing the most stand-alone beauty boutiques within one square mile in London” (Covent.garden.london, 2015).

In 2010 the New West End Company and Heart of London Business Alliance established London’s Luxury Quarter. This newly branded and mapped area encompasses Mayfair, St James’s and Piccadilly. It,

…presents a unique and exclusive experience for fashion lovers, retail tourists and history buffs encompassing 53 iconic streets, arcades and lanes catering for discerning shoppers seeking out the best of British and international flagship stores as well as niche discovery brands (londonluxuryquarter.com, 2016).

London Luxury Quarter’s website (2016) states that it “is positioned as [a] global destination and is marketed worldwide with an estimated £3bn retail spend per year attracting visitors from a multitude of countries.”

According to King (2016) “London is home to more luxury retailers than any other European city, making the capital of the United Kingdom attractive for brands looking to cement a bricks-and-mortar presence in a strong market.” King (2016) reports that growth in the luxury sector “has been propelled by international tourists from China and the Middle East.”

The growth of this luxury market in central London appears at great odds with the current retail climate where I live in Wood Green, a north London suburb in the borough of Haringey. Wood Green is Haringey’s commercial centre and recently there has been a spate of closures of well-known high street brands. Topshop, Topman, Dorothy Perkins and Wallis have all stopped trading in the past year or so, but the closure most lamented by locals is Marks & Spencer. M&S had been trading on this high street site for over a hundred years, since 1913. In his Guardian article (2015) Ruddick explains, “M&S is attempting to adapt its collection of stores to cope with the rise in online sales and a slowdown in clothing sales.” Despite a petition and support from local councilors, Wood Green was no longer a financially viable location for Marks & Spencer.

 

Marks and Spencer Wood Green - 1958 (300dpi).jpg.gallery

Marks & Spencer, Wood Green 1958 (image from Tottenham Independent)

According to Haringey.gov,

Haringey is an exceptionally diverse and fast-changing borough. We have a population of 267,540 according to 2014 Office for National Statistics Mid Year Estimates. Almost two-thirds of our population, and over 70% of our young people, are from ethnic minority backgrounds, and over 100 languages are spoken in the borough. Our population is the fifth most ethnically diverse in the country. The borough ranks among the most deprived in the country with pockets of extreme deprivation in the east. Haringey is the 30th most deprived borough in England and the 6th most deprived in London. (2016)

Rashid (2011) describes Wood Green as “Haringey’s commercial centre, awash with mobile phone and sportswear shops, low-end chains and discount stores.” Wood Green is two miles away from Tottenham and in 2011 the High Road was subject to both protests sparked by the police shooting of Mark Duggan in addition to well- documented looting.

The rise of the luxury brand in central London alongside the demise of the high-street store described above suggests an ongoing stratification and separation of centre and periphery of the global city. Whilst the centre caters to wealthy tourists keen to consume high-end and ‘heritage’ brands, the retail environment of the periphery caters to an equally diverse population, albeit one of much lower social economic class.

According to figures published by Haringey.gov (2016) Wood Green retail has a 3.3% vacancy rate (the national average is 13.7%). This suggests that despite its problems Wood Green’s retail sector remains buoyant and that retail spaces are both desirable and profitable. It is still a ‘bricks and mortar’ retail location.

Wood Green is less than seven miles away from Mayfair but it is like another city or town, both visually as well as in its economy. It is Wood Green’s particular visuality that I am exploring in (work in progress) video ‘The Brand Nobody Knows’. Taking its title from (Writer) Geoffrey Fletcher and (Director) Norman Cohen’s 1969 film “the London Nobody Knows” – a 45 minute documentary capturing a ‘dying’ post-war and post-Victorian London – my video ‘The Brand Nobody Knows’ seeks to capture the remnants of a previous iteration of the local high street, one which is not prone to the machinery of the superbrand and transnational company. At once global and parochial, ‘exotic’ and quotidian, this ‘other’ London high street is a zone of conflicting ideologies, aesthetics and consumer practices. My video will trace and question the informal and asymmetric economies and vernacular aesthetic of such a high street and its products. It will consider the abuttal and resistance to the global brand identities and values of the Anthropocene.

This year there has been a big consultation on the future of Wood Green – there is money for ‘regeneration’. I intend my video to function as an elegy to a particular aesthetic moment in Wood Green’s history; a complicated and problematic celebration of this frustrating and interesting place.

I will be documenting the making of the video on this blog as well as the development of my paper. Feedback most welcome!

 

List of Works Cited

Coventgarden.london (2015) Available at https://www.coventgarden.london/beauty-quarter-covent-garden (accessed 25/05/16)

Haringey.gov (2016) ‘Local context for drivers and change’ PDF from The future of Wood Green, Available at http://www.haringey.gov.uk/regeneration/wood-green/future-wood-green (accessed 25/05/16)

Haringey.gov (2015) Figures about Haringey, Available at http://www.haringey.gov.uk/social-care-and-health/health/joint-strategic-needs-assessment/figures-about-haringey (accessed 27/05/16)

King, J. (2016) ‘London Luxury Quarter boasts strongest retails sales in Western Europe:report’ in Luxury Daily: the news leaser in luxury marketing, 28 March [online] available at https://www.luxurydaily.com/london-luxury-quarter-boasts-strongest-retail-sales-in-western-europe-report/(accessed 27/05/16)

Londonluxuryquarter.com (2016) Available at http://www.londonluxuryquarter.com/about/ (accessed 27/05/16)

LSECities (nd) Super-diverse streets: economies and spaces of urban migration in UK cities, Available at https://lsecities.net/objects/research-projects/super-diverse-streets (accessed 27/05/16)

Rashid, N. (2011) ‘Behind the wood green riots: a chance to stick two fingers up at the police, in The Guardian, 5 September [online] Available at http://www.theguardian.com/society/2011/sep/05/behind-the-riots-wood-green (accessed 27/05/16)

Ruddick, G. (2015) ‘Marks & Spencer triggers local anger after confirming store closures’ 29 July 2015 in The Guardian [online] Available at https://www.theguardian.com/business/2015/jul/29/marks-spencer-local-anger-confirming-store-closures-nine-shops (accessed 25/05/16)

Tungate, M. (2008) Fashion Brands: branding style from Armani to Zara, 3rd Edition. Reprint, London, Philadelphia, New Delhi: Kogan Page Ltd., 2015

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Introducing Homo Pyrophilus – Fire Apes #7

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Fire Ape Arrangement #7, 2016

What should you do in your new studio? Make new work!

I recently made a new piece for an exhibition in the AVA Gallery at the University of East London alongside many talented colleagues from Architecture and the School of Arts and Digital Industries. The exhibition was entitled Anthropocene and it seemed a perfect opportunity to revisit my geologically titled series, Holocene Arrangements. It’s been a while since I made a new Holocene Arrangement – since that time there has been an intensification of the discourse around the Anthropocene. Geologists have posited the Anthropocene as a potential new geological epoch that reflects the massive human impact to the planet and its climate since industrialisation. Others date its origins back to the beginning of agriculture (8,000 years ago) and others the beginning of the Holocene at the end of the last ice age (10,000 – 12,000 years ago) when human technologies and ‘civilisation’ emerged.

The Anthropocene has also been employed in ecological, philosophical, sociological and cultural contexts to think through and critique anthropocentric views of the planet and binary nature/culture models. These discourses have forced me to alter my playful and now seemingly superficial use of geological terminology. My new piece is called Fire Apes Arrangement #7. It is only the human species that has been able to harness and manipulate fire. According to Steffen, Crutzen and McNeill “the mastery of fire by our ancestors provided humankind with a powerful monopolistic tool unavailable to other species, that put us firmly on the long path towards the Anthropocene.” The ability and desire to make fire has ultimately led us to the mass extraction and burning of fossil fuels and subsequent enormous changes to the earth’s surface and climate. The ‘Anthropocene Working Group of the Subcomission on Quaternary Stratigraphy’ is considering whether the start of the Anthropocene epoch could potentially be situated at the moment humans harnessed fire.

My naming of this work after ‘Homo Pyrophilus’, the Fire Ape, suggests that the desire to make art (the harnessing and manipulation of materials into new configurations) is the same as the desire to harness and manipulate fire. Is it this desire that makes us human? Whilst equating contemporary art making as something primal, the title of this work also situates art as something frivolous and meaningless in the larger picture of deep time, human culture and evolution. Thus art becomes simultaneously necessary and unnecessary. Not sure where that leaves me, but it’s certainly worth pondering.

The title also suggests, more problematically, that we have reached ‘the end of nature’. There is little we can do to alter the path we have taken, we might as well relinquish any responsibility to our environment (and that of millions of other species) to the vicissitudes of geological time and ‘human nature’. This is a particularly fatalistic and nihilistic position that clearly needs a rethink for the next iteration of the work!

The work itself comprises a series of photographs that rest on a quickly-made unfinished plywood support. The subject matter of the photographs and their grid arrangement borrows some of the language of scientific and museological methods of arrangement. On ‘reading’ the images it is apparent that there is no clear taxonomy, that images of rocks formed millions of years ago sit alongside images of anthropic rock, the pebble-dashed surface emblematic of suburban architecture. Each subject has been dealt with in the same way and called into equivalence.

Many of the images have been ‘mined’ from my own archive, some of them are prints from my father’s geological slide library whilst others are appropriated from family members’ Facebook feeds. The subjects of the photographs vary from the mineral (artistic landscapes and seascapes, geological documents of rock formations, classical stone statues), animal (bones, shell ornament, portrait of an American Eagle) and vegetable (dried and rotting flowers). It is not easy to tell what is ‘natural’ and what is human-made, or whether the impulse to take the photographs was ‘artistic’ or scientific. It is also not easy to ascertain when or where the photographs were taken and by whom. This ambiguity suggests the collapse of traditional categories of meaning of images in the age of Google. Hopefully it also encourages a non-binary, non-hierarchical reading of both the ‘natural’ and human-made and the mutability of all earthly materials.

My esteemed colleague Fay Brauer (Professor of Art and Visual Culture, Centre for Cultural Studies Research, University of East London, Arts and Digital Industries and Honorary Professor, National Institute of Experimental Arts, The University of New South Wales Art and Design) has contextualized the exhibition in her interesting essay available here. In her essay she skilfully describes and connects the diversity of approaches to the Anthropocene by the practitioners selected for the show and describes it as an “exhilarating interdisciplinary art exhibition [that] reveals the wealth of creativity and environmental commitment that exists across UEL”.

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A Little Bit of Omphaloskepsis (navel gazing to you and me)

I know it’s blatant self-promotion, but such is the life of the post-digital artist! My recent (ahem, successful) application to the Professional Doctorate in Fine Art at UEL was a great opportunity to reconsider and recontextualise the most important strands of my work. Today’s post is all about it. Any regular readers will already know I have a diverse fine art practice which utilises photography (found and made), drawing, print, video, audio and web. These media frequently combine in installations or assemblages that explore the vernacular aesthetics of the globalised city, the relationships between material and digital cultures and art’s material temporality within geological time.

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front navigation page of Dust, 2010

Dust was an interactive artwork made for the web in 2010. This project and piece was inspired by my on-going interest in the collections and curatorial practices of the UK’s regional museums as well as a desire to utilise and synthesize the images and materials I had created and collected over a number of years. The website’s main menu of the site is the keypad of a telephone in a telephone box – a largely obsolete technology. On ‘clicking’ the keys the user is taken to a variety of menus and galleries that display photographs, drawings and digitally manipulated images from a range of locations over decades. The images are of broken, desolate, obsolete and kitsch objects and landscapes. Drawings and lists appear on the backs of envelopes. Used postcards are named after natural disasters, dust collects in corners and and the user is addressed directly by offensive vernacular error messages. The navigation is awkward; the aesthetics decidedly web 1.0. The experience is both non-linear and unsatisfying; the site is homogenous and self-contained; it does not enable interactivity beyond clicking through series of images, one cannot click outside the site. Dust functions as a poetic archive and as a metaphor for humans as matter.

My Holocene Arrangements began in 2010 and continue to form a strand of my present practice, although re-thought in the light of Anthropocene discourses. These Holocene Arrangements are sculptural assemblages and so named named after the Holocene geological epoch in which human civilisation and technical culture is thought to have emerged. This naming was intended to interrogate and critique the anxiety to name and frame a new paradigm after Postmodernism.

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Fire Ape Arrangement #7,
2016

The arrangements are made up of surfaces, objects and images that are both made and found. These images are in various different registers and resist a coherent narrative, much like a taxonomic ‘desire’ of internet search engines which apply little coherent hierarchy or ‘fuzzy-logic’ in understanding the context of each image and their relationship to one another. Objects and photographs are reused

in the works and may appear in more than one ‘arrangement’ invoking the slippage and uncertainty present in the attempted classification of stratified archaeological material. The notion of geological time here also suggests materials that have their own agency and objecthood. My father is a geologist and my early ‘art practice’ and visual education consisted of colouring-in maps and looking at slides of Zambian rock formations, some of which feature in this work. I have just completed a new work in this series called Fire Ape Arrangement #7 which was included in the recent ADI group show ‘Anthropocene’. More about this later.

A third strand of my work deals with particular aesthetics that are found in the outer boroughs of multi-cultural, first-world cities such as London. One work in this strand is called 45 Hybrids and is a series of black and white photographs of fried chicken shops and the buildings in which they are located. Fried chicken shops are a ubiquitous part of contemporary London and are as much a hybrid as the city itself. They are at once American and Halal, global and parochial, unofficial and corporate. Housed most often in Victorian buildings, adorned with satellite dishes and “to let” signs, they symbolise for me the transience and economic struggle of life in a global city.

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This photo taken on Wood Green High Road forms part of my visual research into forthcoming video work The Brand Nobody Knows

I am currently making a video piece that has been accepted by the Art of Management and Organisation Conference 2016 in Bled, Slovenia (more about this later too). This piece is titled ‘The Brand Nobody Knows’ (after the obscure 1967 Norman Cohen film which features James Mason riffing on the postwar destruction and loss of ‘another’ London) and seeks to capture the remnants of a previous iteration of the local high street, one which is not prone to the machinery and hegemony of the superbrand and transnational company. This ‘other’ London high street is a zone of conflicting ideologies, aesthetics and consumer practices. The film will trace and question the informal economies and vernacular aesthetic of such a high street and its products. It will consider the abuttal and resistance to the global brand identities and values of the Anthropocene.

My first Master’s degree in Cultural and Critical Studies (2003) introduced me to the writings of Walter Benjamin. At that time I was particularly interested in his positioning of the origins of modern capitalist visuality in the dazzling “looking glass city” of nineteenth century Paris. Like many artists I enjoy collecting discarded, seemingly useless and outdated second-hand objects and ephemera. In Benjamin I found a way to site this practice politically, in both methodology and aesthetic. More recently I have been interested in the writing of Deleuze and Guattari, in particular their negation of hierarchical structures and binaries and their opposition to psychoanalytical notions of the real and imaginary. Deleuze’s writing has driven my nascent interest in Speculative Realism, Object Oriented Ontology and New Materialist discourses. I am interested in their rejection of anthropocentric thought and the potential for objects (or non-human actors) to be essential nodes in social networks.

As you will have seen above, my art practice is not predicated on the mastery of a particular medium or technique, but rather situated within the realm of more conceptual practices. I am interested in artists that use everyday materials in a modest, informal and improvised manner, be they sculptors such as Rachel Harrison or collage artists such as John Stezaker. I am also interested in photographic/image making practices that use taxanomic/pseudo scientific methods of display such as Jochen Lempert. Additionally, I’m interested in practices that juxtapose or layer multiple images from different registers or categories such as those of Wolfgang Tillmans or Tobias Buche. Finally, I am interested in work that might be described as post-internet, that investigates the image in a rhizomatic universe, such as that of Hito Steyerl.

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