LOBBY 3 - Defiance
Pull-out poster as part of the third episode of the Bartlett's LOBBY magazine
Art direction Moa Pårup, Photography Lewis Ronald
It’s 20.34 on a dark drizzly Wednesday evening, as the Pugin Pendelino pulls out of Wigan North Western Station. The sun has long since set, and the rain streaks the windows of the carriages. Here we find Trevor Sheridan, head of the onboard cleaning staff, and our jaded fly on the decadent walls of our new locomotive democracy.
"I fucking hate trains" mutters Trevor, staggering sideways, bracing himself against the faux wood panelling of the carriage as the train rumbles towards the depot. "Who puts wood panels on a train" he thinks, "it's like a shit Mexican restaurant".
Trevor doesn't want to work on a train, but he was one of the few who chose to accept the transition from land to rail when the Westminster cleaning contract was renewed. The pay may be lower, but at least he'd get to travel he'd concluded.
You've got to admire the ambition; to put parliament on wheels, sending it off around the nation to split its time between north, south, east, west, Wales, Scotland - even Cornwall; but for ladies and gents like Trevor it's been a right upheaval. He knew he wouldn't be sleeping in the hotels and dining in the restaurants of the provincial towns and cities like the MPs, but Trevor is convinced they're deliberately finding the worst bnbs in the country to put him up in as a vendetta for the time he spilt a gin and tonic on Theresa May.
Continuing down the narrow corridor he presses the tiny illuminated crest to operate the carriage doors and moves into the 'backbench carriage'. Trevor moves seat to seat, removing the panini wrappers and silver cutlery that have been incredulously shoved between the upholstery. In many ways he's pleased the rabble have sodded off to yet another pub, but there's a part of him that wishes they were here so he could give them a piece of his mind.
Carriages de-cluttered, and just in time, the train arrives at the railway depot. As the doors open, Trevor begins tossing the bags of litter out onto the platform for collection by the high-vis cloaked station staff. “Alright Sheriff!” one of them calls through the arched door. Trevor nods a reply; he doesn't know the man greeting him. “Tell Hunt he’s a twat!” another voice yelps. He knows he has a reputation amongst station workers; word of his lack of patience towards the MPs has spread, and to a great deal of approval too. But it’s been a long day and Trevor doesn't want to talk to anyone.
Heaving the largest and heaviest bag of rubbish, Trevor calls this the Pickles Sack, out onto the platform the station crew swarm the carriage to restock the buffet Car and drinks trolleys in preparation for the next day. Bottles of champagne clink together as they are bussed down the train for the Carriage of Lords.
The restock takes some time, so Trevor ambles through the train to take up his usual waiting spot in the most comfortable carriage, Upper Class. Relaxing into the front bench, Trevor’s gaze drifts to the paintings on the arched ceiling of the carriage and the faces of the bejeweled men sneer back at him. Although tiresomely familiar now, the subjects of these portraits are alien to Trevor. “These bastards were not my ancestors”.
Averting his eyes from the slave drivers, workhouse owners and land barons dawbed on canvas, Trevor turns his attention to the despatch boxes on the central table. These ornate wooden boxes and their contents are a total mystery to him, but he cleans them daily nonetheless. He remembers the day that a civil servant back in Westminster tried to have him fired for doodling on it, before it was discovered that Gordon Brown was the culprit. He never apologised.
Looking at his watch, Trevor heaves himself from his perch ready to lock up. As he turns to leave, something catches his eye. The PM has shoved his carefully scripted quips and pre-written off-the-cuff remarks down the back of the seat. Reaching down between the ancient repurposed green leather and heavily varnished wood, Trevor retrieves the note cards, putting them in his overall pocket.
At the huge wooden door that serves as the ceremonial entrance, he fishes the large, overly decorative key fob from his pocket before opening the panel by the door. Flicking switches and turning knobs, Trevor shuts off the power and the chandeliers and wall lights fall dark, only the hum of the wine coolers remaining. Stepping from the train and pulling the grand doors shut behind him he reaches into his pocket for his cleaning cloth and the note cards tumble onto the platform. Stooping to collect them, he straightens up, and begins to read:
‘I truly believe we’re on the brink of something special in our country; we can make Britain a place where a good life is in reach for everyone. Our manifesto is a manifesto for working people. It means giving everyone in our country a chance, so no matter where you’re from you have the opportunity to make the most of your life. It means giving the poorest people the chance of training, a job, and hope for the future...’
Trevor puts the cards away. Taking the cloth, he cleans the panel on the timber door where Black Rod bangs on the door with his staff.
“All aboard the gravy train”, Trevor mutters, turning and walking out into the rainy night.
Now: The Final Frontier
An essay for OSA Magazine, Edition I - Frontiers
50 years ago it was 1964 which was a somewhat eventful year. Mohammed Ali hit a man on the head, Mary Poppins stepped on some chalk, and a much younger Mick Jagger told everyone that time was on his side.
Time, if it even exists, is a bit of a tricky one, partly due to our overly simplified perception of it. We have the "past", the "present" and the perpetual antagonist that is the "future". Past Jagger wrote a song whereby the then present Jagger postulated that time was on his side. We can assume that Time, in that context of the song, refers to future time; therefore we witness either a man passing comment on the nature of his own existence through song, or if you're feeling particularly imaginative, Mystic Mick's prediction of the future. Today, if we so wish, we can listen to past Jagger's lyrical forecast, in our present, as a recording of the past. Pause the song half way through and promise to start it again and not die, and you could accurately state that in the future you will hear the end of the song. You prophet.
Contrast, if you will, a mental picture of the fresh faced Stone with a more recent version. Was he right?
To understand if time on your side, first we need to think about what time actually is, and its relationship to reality. There are three competing schools of thought on the realities of existence in relation to time: 'Presentists' say that only present objects and present experiences are real. To take my previous example, 20 year old Jagger no longer exists because we cannot go back in time and give him a stern talking to about a music video he is yet to make for Dancing in the Street with David Bowie. However, according to 'Growing-past' theory, the past and present are both real, but the future is not. This is because the future hasn't happened. So 20 year old Jagger is real because we can see low quality videos of him on the internet, and present Jagger exists because he's still alive and still grooving about on the telly. The third theory is that there are no objective ontological differences between past, present, and future because the differences are simply subjective. This third theory is called “Eternalism”. So one would say, viewed from the position of eternity... Mick Jagger.
Most of us, if pushed would probably casually align to either the presentist or growing-past view as doing so is a damn sight easier than trying to live one's life from the unbiased perpectiveless position of eternity, but we also get into trouble by doing so as we prejudice our decisions on notions of history. It's easy to argue that history is useful; we learn from our mistakes, or so we say, but perhaps we also default to them as an unconscious safety mechanism. We may not repeat catastrophic failings, at least not in the short term, but sometimes to simply adjust or modify can be far easier than to totally rethink, and even if we do this, it is hard to rethink without simply applying our acquired, usually flawed methodologies in new ways. Nietzsche describes this as the 'eternal return', where in infinite time and space, events will recur again and again. As Heidegger describes, this is 'the most burdensome thought'.
I mention all of this following a project I recently worked on called 'Designing the Future' which involved workshops with secondary school children where they spent a few days doing just that. Over the course of the week I spent about half of my time discussing new forms of urbanism, the causes and consequences of ecological disaster and why you shouldn't touch the hot end of a glue gun, and the other half saying the words 'in the future' on repeat like a scratched record. My retrospective and growing discomfort with this term has led me to question our attitude as designers with regards to the future.
Is it possible that to speak of the future is simply laziness, or at least a blasé stance from which to try to design from, in that it can often become detached from our daily view of reality? That is not to say that we can't comprehend the future, its importance, or potential issues related to it, but is it garnished with a layer of intangibility that disconnects us from its importance, particularly when discussing or pondering the distant future?
Much like the distant past, the distant future is too far away to matter, or so it feels now anyway, and the presentist or growing-past views state that the future is categorically not real, which makes prediction hard to justify, or at least open to 'it might never happen' style arguments; and herein lies a problem that I feel we need to get over pretty much immediately.
The workshop I ran with another member of PUG and the ReachOutRCA team, was entitled 'Survi-ville' and focused 50 years in the future where all the climate change worst-case-scenarios we all don't like thinking about have happened at once. We discussed and described these issues, and the kids set about dealing with them from an architectural standpoint. Needless to say they produced fantastic and charming work.
So in the world of Survi-ville in 2064, 50 years from now and 100 from 1964, how would these hypothetical inhabitants look back on today? They may adopt the presentist view and disregard 2014 as mere figment, a non-reality. They may say, 2014 was a pretty eventful year. George Groves hit a man on the head, David Cameron took a selfie at a funeral, and Justin Beiber sang a song about nothing at all and looked like a dick. They may simply except the mistakes we made and our lack of foresight, but view them as untouchable accounts from a past they will never experience. Or, in the growing-past mentality, in the same way that we can read history books detailing terrible atrocities, they may understand the importance of our mistakes and accept them as a reality, but one that they cannot alter but rather make effort not to repeat. Or, they will wish they could travel back to the immaterial past and punch us all hard and repeatedly in the face for our blind sighted and lazy refusal to adopt a eternalist viewpoint with regards to the ecology of our planet.
It is our job as designers to think about things in different ways, and I believe that in some instances this needs to be extended to our understanding of time. Sure, as artists it is often crucial to consider the past, as we rely on tradition, tropes and existing typologies in order to engage with culture and our received and rehearsed appreciation of quality, entertainment or whatever else. But there are issues that are too important to let such things get in the way.
The Greek proverb goes, 'Society grows great when old men plant trees whose shade they know they shall never sit in'. Is this is the eternalist view of time in a nutshell? What world could we create if we were to reject the common notions of past, present and future, and instead adopted this view of time as not just an integral feature of our design approach, but also the way we behave, operate as a society and live on a daily basis? And what if we were to apply such thinking to our planet and our ecology?
Well these are difficult issues, and as such to attempt to tackle them requires great upheaval and great risk, it requires money, is pretty much guaranteed to cause stress [which is bad for your health], courage and personal sacrifice. Let's ask however, does truth lie on the side of the difficult or the easy?
In his 'letter to his sister', Nietzsche says,
"is it really so difficult simply to accept everything that one has been brought up on and that has gradually struck deep roots - what is considered truth in the circle of one's relatives and of many good men? Is that more difficult than to strike new paths, fighting the habitual, experiencing the insecurity of independence and the frequent wavering of one's feelings and even one's conscience, proceeding often without any consolation, but ever with the eternal goal of the true, the beautiful, and the good?"
People are scared of revolution because it requires us to change the present state of things. From the position of eternity, this is no longer a concern.