Paul Sakoilsky: A New Year’s Message from the dark times
- at a time of bankers
to exercise a little charity;
at a time of soldiers
to cultivate small gardens;
at a time of categorical imperatives
to guess about clouds;
at a time of politicians
to trust only to children and demigods.
(George Barker, from Anno Domini, 1983)
La Bouche: So, what exactly is the dark times?
A multi-mediated ‘art’ project, an aesthetico-theoretical, political, (with a small ‘p’) conceit, and most of all, a way of being, seeing, making, doing – and let me just add the obvious, without darkness, no perception of light; and the fact evident to anyone with any knowledge of the work, there is always the ever needed, ever present sense of humour, of laughter.
It started simply enough: whilst painting a canvas for the first time in many years, in an absolutely freezing apartment/come-studio in Deptford, I was using one of those shitty free London tabloid papers to clean my palette knife/brush and started doodling, and then wrote on it, the dark times: London’s only truly independent newspaper. I believe this was at the end of 2006? But the project had it’s first full blown realisation at the ‘Climate of Change’ exhibition in Union Street in 2007, where as artist-in-residence and building security (along my Staffordshire terrier), I set up the first dark times: press office.
At it’s centre stands an ongoing series of hundreds of over-painted and collaged tabloid newspapers from 2006 onwards. Since then, there have been various installations and ‘press offices’, performances, objects, paintings and dialogues in UK and Europe, as well as a curatorial extension which included the first ‘dark times: newspaper’ in F-ish Gallery, Sussex, England. This included, both in the show and publication, emerging and established artists whose work fitted the overall schemata. The project continues to expand (as with the ‘blow-up’ series, where, taking an original dark times ‘paper’, I blow it up as a large scale painting. There are also offshoots such as ‘My Hole’ and ‘the bright times’ series.
There is, of course, a myth going around that the dark times is a newspaper – a publication. I admit having had a hand in this, having styled myself from the start as Editor of the dark times. Often asked, as here, “what are the dark times?” I generally raise my arms, look around, and say, well, isn’t it obvious? I edit this. On the other hand, to make things ‘simpler’, there will be further publications – in 2012, finally a new dark times newspaper, which will then be put out online, as well as a limited edition box-set including both the publication and a set artists’ prints. I am also currently at work on other series/projects and painting a great deal, all of which, inevitably in one way or another, intersect in some way with the dark times. I even considered killing off the dark times awhile back, but then, in such times as we’re in now… and as a friend pointed out, who was very much in the majority camp, of you can’t do that, “you can’t kill off an idea”.
La Bouche: Are we living in dark times?
“Paul Sakoilsky has made performances and paintings as hybridised ‘autopsies’ of media images, in visceral terms, that act upon the daylight utopias of consumerism and media ideology. His ongoing project the dark times is a newspaper in the potlatch spirit, described in the terms of Jean Baudrillard’s concept of hegemony, as an ultimate debasement of value.”
Text for ‘SuperHybrid’, Peter Lewis, 2011
I am not entirely certain about Pete’s point about ‘ultimate debasement of value’. As an artist, a human being, living in these times, a certain ambivalence, in the midst of all things, is perfectly viable. Peter Lewis put me onto The Agony of Power, and as far as I’m concerned, to really even begin answering the above question, ‘are these the dark times?’ this illuminating and deeply troubling book must be read and answered in some way.
Perhaps an unfashionable notion, but it sometimes seems, and in part due to the plethora, as we sift through the constant and continuous bombardment of virtual information, (or does it ‘sift’ us?), “the tyranny of forced exchange” (Baudrillard), that we are suffering not so much from an excess of historical knowledge as such, but instead from a curious and debilitating historical forgetfulness – a forgetfulness that the current British government’s attack on the Humanities in education perpetuates. Is there a conspiracy at work there? – beyond and above the mantra of ‘cuts…’ – i.e. “the last thing we need right now are educated ‘Proles’”, (apologies to some readers, but one might slip in the ‘middle class’ here now, re. what is happening in the USA and beyond). Or, is it simply that in such dark times, there exists “a general disposition among people to delegate their sovereignty to the most inoffensive, least imaginative of their fellow citizens, a malin genie that pushes people to elect the most nearsighted corrupt person out of a secret delight in seeing the stupidity and corruption of those in power. Especially in times of trouble, people will vote massively for the candidate who does not ask them to think. It is a silent conjuration analogous in the political sphere to the conspiracy of art in another domain… We should abandon the democratic illusion of imagination or intelligence in power that comes from the depths of Enlightenment ideology…” [Baudrillard, ibid].
As I replied in 2008 to Mike Watson in our dialogue for ‘the dark times: newspaper≠1’, whatever gave us the trumped up notion of homeostasis? – that the ‘good times’, if that is indeed what they were, of recent times, were set in stone, bound to last? Another deeper question emerges, one of millennialism: is there something, a psychic sickness (and not merely in the Western mindset), that wills its own demise? Think here of the Judeo-Christian, (and indeed Islamic) historical telos of the Day of Judgement – this was a historical schemata that ruled ‘our’ way of thinking for centuries, and still continues in varied forms. A kind of death-drive? One only needs to think of the new age mythos concerning 2012! If we are going to play on, to think in theological/occult concepts, I am more inclined to a Blakean and perhaps even Nietzchean standpoint. How about a view that would have it that the Day of Judgement (Heaven, Purgatory and Hell) is ever present, in each and every moment…which at least seems a healthier way of looking at such notions, as at it least leaves us with the possibility of positive change… and, strange as it might seem to some, I do see the seeds of positive change.
Let’s ask again, ‘are we living in the dark times?’ Now, as far as I see (thank god), there are no bombs dropping on London at this moment – we are not living through the Blitz, through WW2, even if governments in our name are at present bombing, or supplying the rationale and equipment to bomb and kill innocent people in the name of ‘democracy’ – a thin veneer for a Realpolitik: a battle waged over resources, oil, raw materials, power blocks and the like, surely, and not much more? We now live in the hyper-realised space of deregulated virtual/real global exchange, something that has never existed before, and in a world where small minded, successive governments and power brokers have given the banking sector, now turned ‘financial terrorists’, free reign to basically rule the world without checks (to the point where a new political term has slipped into public usage, almost without any questioning around what this actually implies – ‘market democracy’)… BUT I am NOT a politician, not an economist, merely a human being who happens to make art in such a world, an antennae of sorts (as are we all).
The dystopias described by Philip K Dick, J.G Ballard, Foucault and by Habermas and Adorno in The Dialectic of Enlightenment, for example, which once seemed brilliant but somewhat hyperbolic, start to take on a frightening reality, vis-à-vis our reality. Then again, what exactly is our Reality? And of course one could go on ad nauseum re. the ‘darkness’, but it is also important to bear in mind, that without certain betterments in our general situations, we would not even be in a position to recognise the deficits. Let me just say there are also ‘bright times’: interpersonal relations with great people, art, ideas, discoveries, discourses, and healthy disrespect and rebellion: individuality and idiosyncracy. There is still goodness in the world, and goodness, what I would like to call common decency, minima moralia, must be fought for, sometimes by tooth and claw. And vis-à-vis ‘art’, to end on a somewhat more positive note, “in spite of all globalisations, there will be a sudden big bang, and there will be new developments in art that turn everything inside out and create something new”.
We love ‘the dark times (Squat the Planet)’, was this made for the Occupy movement?
No, it was actually made sometime before this whole thing started in early 2008, in the dark times: press office≠2 at the Climate 4 Change, a show that Mark Hammond and I organised in the squatted, ex-Alan day Mercedes Dealership (where I was living at the time) opposite Camden Arts Centre in North London. This particular work is in the collection of Gavin Turk who to date has the largest collection of dark times works.
La Bouche: What do you think ‘the dark times’ headlines will scream in 2012?
Firstly, I should point out that I no longer make the ‘papers’ and ‘headlines’ on a daily basis as I once did. For the most part, in recent times, I have found myself painting, trying to fathom out what the hell that strange practise is all about, writing, and of course, being part of the RED Gallery in Shoreditch, where I am artist in residence. As regards the dark times headlines for 2012? Sadly, I imagine much of the same, perhaps worse, though one might perhaps see some ‘bright times’ emerging amongst it all. Also, never underestimate the power of mediated-fear and, one must abso-fucking-lutely never underestimate this, I see brighter, more interesting times in terms of interpersonal relations with friends, colleagues, art, discourse, and the world itself. For instance, there is of course the Occupy Movement and related debates/activism as an international phenomena. Whereas I may not agree with some sentiments put forward, for example, I believe, (and this is far too complex an argument to go into here, and one I am grappling with myself), that the usual/historico-political binaries won’t save us – we need something new. Perhaps, we might see the seeds of a certain ‘reflexive-modernity’ taking shape, to use Ulrich Beck’s term, which is to say, as with the issue of Climate Change, where even some big business/corporate and governmental interests are coming round to the idea that change is essential, even if only to keep up their profit margins and power – i.e. if the world truly slips into climate chaos and spins out of control, beyond the control of Mankind, then, profits, power, and all the accoutrements of uber-success will mean nothing – as Beck says in the cited book, pollutants are truly international and therefore in a twisted sense, also truly democratic. Perhaps, Capitialism may even itself go through such a change. Rather, it MUST go through some kind of paradigm shift, and/or turn into what? A serious question.
The problem lies with all of those vested interests, those huge and overwhelming power blocks, and ‘blocks’ is an apposite term here. Let me just say, ‘capital’, money, cash, is nothing in and of itself: it is neutral; it is merely a power – it is always what is made or what is done with such Power… how it is managed, that is what counts. For instance, in whose hands it is concentrated? And this is not to say that there are not an awful lot of people, who instead of waking up to ‘a breakfast of champagne and strawberries’, should not instead be banged up in prison. The fact is, governments, especially our so-called democratic governments, are now terrified of their own people, and their paternal and condescending attitude just won’t wash anymore…
‘Democracy’ is a fiction, a concept; for the writer/critic Mike Watson, such constructs can even be seen as functioning as ‘a work of art’ (in the widest sense of the term). I have a saying, apt in this instance, that I made to be inscribed above a pillory: ‘EVERYTHING IS ART, EVERYTHING IS POLITICS: Whether it is Good Governance or Good Art is a Continuous Question.’
I believe ‘democracy’ only exists in the agon, in contestation, or at least, we might say that only up it has existed in this sense up until now. The lie and one of the greatest dangers always arises when one set of people really believe they have THE answer. The free-market liberalist policies of the past thirty years have surely shown themselves to be a sham, a mask, masking the ‘will to power’ of a select few – but it is as much the System itself that is at fault and needs re-evaluating. We need to go back to the reasons of why we construct/allow such systems, such ‘fictions’ to rule in the first place. I think the ancient Greek ideal (disregarding for a moment the historicity of this ideal – the inequalities of the state of Athens for instance) of the ‘Good Life’, and the ideal of the ‘Commonwealth’ need reinvestigating and re-establishing in one form or another as the leitmotif, as the only thematics that might get us out of the shit we are in – and the shit that most of us are going to have to continue to plough through.
But to reiterate, I am just an artist, a writer etc., besides which I have lost my guillotine… MAKE YOUR OWN HEADLINES! As regards the dark times: headlines for 2012, we will all no doubt ‘enjoy’ them in good time.
Love and best wishes for 2012 & of course, for our future,
the dark times
2 January 2012
©paul sakoilsky 2012
 George Barker, Collected Poems, Faber & Faber, 1987
 Dean Kenning, Eco Art: Art Energy in the Age of Ecology, Art Monthly, February 2008; Mike Watson, Paul Sakoilsky: Are these the Dark Times? Art in the Age of Media Panic, artapartofourculture.net, April 2009
 Jean Baudrillard, The Agony of Power, SemioText, 2010 (published posthumously)
the dark times: newspaper≠1 2008; online text
 read J.G. Ballard last book, To Kingdom Come, Fourth Estate 2006
 Karlheinz Essl in conversations with Hermann Nitsch, NITSCH: Eine Retrospective, Edition Sammlung Essl, Wien, 2003]
 Ulrich Beck, Risk Society: Towards a New Modernity, Sage Publications 1992