Back on 19th November 2021 I was interviewed over Zoom by Dr Callum Sutherland (pictured above, on the left) as part of his research.
Callum is a Research Associate at Glasgow University’s School of Geographical & Earth Sciences where is research, supported by the Urban Studies Foundation
…explores urban expressions of affective politics by interrogating the emergent theoretical and activist movement of Acid Communism; a term coined by the late cultural theorist, Mark Fisher.
The transcription of the interview is published below with Callum’s kind permission. As he noted in his email to me
I had an agency help me with writing the transcripts up and there are a few errors (them not being that well-tuned into non-RP accents it seems or the “esoteric” content covered in our convo).
The agency who did the transcription have inserted comments in square brackets such as [unintelligible 00:37:14] (where I’ve mumbled too quietly for the recording to pick it up) or [laughs] etc. I’ve added a few more containing explanatory/editorial notes, and also added a few links to save the interested reader from having to search the internet for mentioned people or blog posts or obscure vinyl records by The Fall.
Callum: Yes, I’m still trying to figure it out. It’s taken a bit longer than I would hope it would do, and so I ended up— I’ve been doing this post and it’s far too long. I’m like, how can I—
Paul: There’s a place for very long blog posts!
Callum: It’s true. Yes. I noticed someone that you’d mentioned as well is actually Matt Colquhoun. I spend quite a bit of time on his blog.
Paul: Yes, I always read his posts when they come through
Callum: Some of which are incredibly long. They’re great, but I’m not sure I want to expose— I think psychogeography can be really interesting, but there’s also a deal of working through certain mundane details as well. You don’t want to expose people to too much of that. Anyway, that’s been my morning. How about you, how’s your morning been?
Paul: I have a day job Monday to Thursday, so I now have Fridays off. I sacrifice one day a week’s salary because a 4–day working week is far better. Sadly, it meant sacrificing a day’s salary at the moment until we get into 4–day working weeks for all. It’s worth it. I can relax in the morning. I had a driving lesson, which I’ve just finished.
Paul: I came late to learning to drive. I started just before the pandemic. It must have been 2019, I started, which sounds like I’m terrible at learning to drive, but obviously, there was a big six-month gap. After two months I was basically back to day one after we restarted that because I’d forgotten it all. Then there was another gap for the second lockdown and—
Callum: Man, that’s frustrating.
Paul: I’ve got a test in late January but— hopefully I’d be finished learning.
Callum: I hope. Yes. Fingers crossed for you. I have this really weird thing in that, I started learning to drive when I was 17 and went to uni quite soon after that. I just didn’t keep it up, but I still have dreams now where I’m driving. I’m using brake, clutch, gear stick, all that stuff. I’m like, why does my brain keep coming back to this? It’s so strange. I know other people who have dreams where they’re driving, but they drive. I don’t drive. It’s really odd. I wonder what that is.
Paul: My father offered to pay for driving lessons for me when I was on my 17th birthday instead of the stupid guitar amp I wanted, and I said,
No, I want the guitar amp because at 17 I just wanted to be a rockstar.
Callum: Me too. There’s definitely a part of me that’s not given that up yet. I did have a reckoning a few years ago where I was like, right, actually, I need to— I’m not going to say that’s never going to happen, it would be great if it did happen, but I need to carry on my life as if that’s not going to happen. I can’t make plans for that. Anyway, nice one, Paul. Are you alright if I record our conversation?
Paul: Absolutely. Yes. Fine.
Callum: Nice one, man. What I’ll do to start off with is just give you — I know I had an information sheet and stuff like that — actually, I’m not sure I sent you that. This is extra important actually. Just to give you a quick overview of what my project is, partly that’s so you know where the conversation is going to be around, but also it’s just to let you know the spirit in which I’m asking the questions really.
I have had interviews before where people have been like, are you— I’m not saying that this is particularly what my questioning is like, but people can be like, who are you? Are you having a go at me here? I’m like, no, no, no, no. I’m on your side. What I’m trying to do is explore this together. Anyway, just to let you know a little bit more about where I’m coming from.
I’m a human geographer and I’ve done previous work, mostly in a scholar-activist vein. My most recent stuff was looking at social justice partnerships across religious and non-religious communities. Something like London citizens, or something like that, which obviously a particular expression of that in community organising. I was looking at the atmospheres that various groups organising across that boundary generated collectively that enabled them to come together.
Towards the end of that, I started reading Mark Fisher more seriously, and particularly got interested in his ideas around popular modernism and post-capitalist desire, because they seem to be these bigger atmospheres that help people come together behind radical political change. Obviously, he conceptualises the weird within that. That’s part of the popular modernism stuff and the political conditions of the ’60s and ’70s.
I’m also really interested in that idea that he has of seeming to want to sneak radical politics into the backdoor of culture.
Paul: At the same time, sneaking culture into the backdoor of academic political science.
Callum: Exactly, exactly, which I very much enjoyed doing. [laughs] I actually recently wrote a paper that I’m trying to get published. I use one of Fisher’s examples in it where he talks about The Fall and the front cover of— In fact, I’ve got it here. I should always have this with me at interviews because I’ve been using it so much. The cover of How I Wrote Elastic Man and City Hobgoblins [1980 7″ single by The Fall].
He talks about that in The Weird and the Eerie. In talking about Fisher, I’ve been able to talk about this more in social science, which is good fun. That sneaking culture or sneaking radical politics and through the backdoor of culture. That new strategic form of Acid Communism is beginning to shape people’s political imaginations that I’m interested in. I don’t know whether you’d have anything to say about this as well.
One of the things that’s attracted me too, is a looser glomeration of stuff around the Urban Weird [Wyrd?]. I see Acid Communism is this very diffuse thing at the moment, apart from the Novara Podcast and Matt Colquhoun’s blog. I don’t really— This is actually why coming across your work is so exciting, Paul, because I’m like, oh, here’s another way where it’s being expressed.
However, as a geographer, I need to find a terrain, I guess, to talk about. The Urban Weird is where I’ve been targeting things. I’ve got a list of questions. Also, the way that I tend to interview is that I will try and just keep things flowing. I’m not going to do rigid questions, although I’ve got a list of questions here. If there’s a few things at the end where I’m like, oh, we should have talked about that, I’ll maybe send an extra email, if that’s okay.
Paul: Yes. That’s okay.
Callum: I always like to just say, I’ve kind of spieled a bit there. Would you like to respond to that, is how I like to start or if there are any responses that come to mind is just how I tend to like to start these things or I can go with a question, whatever you prefer.
Paul: I would say I think there’s definitely a connection with The Weird and the Eerie and Acid Communism and psychogeography is one term for it. I prefer landscape punk. I have a very good friend called David Southwell who coined the phrase, but he approaches it as — let’s see if I can say it correctly — a deacademized version of psychogeography which is more based on instinct than having read a lot of books about it and following prescribed ways of dealing with it.
I think that comes through in his written work. He’s a writer and he does Hookland Guide and also Repton Guide, which is a more— Hookland Guide is the county of Hookland, which is a county on the South Coast of England, which is dissolved by Thatcher with the boundary changes which obviously puts it slightly in the astral plane as far as actually visiting it nowadays. It’s roughly Sussex Kent, that sort of area.
The Repton Guide is about the borough of Repton in London and that’s very much more urban. That might be worth having a look at. He uses this concept of landscape punk for his immediate reactions to whether he is wandering around the countryside or wandering around— he lives in North London. These are expressions of landscape punk coming into fiction or psychogeography coming into fiction if you prefer. There’s obviously that connection. If you look at Hookland Guide and Repton Guide, The Weird and the Eerie is in there in space. There’s a lot to it.
I think it does go back. One of the things we were joking about was, you were saying about the introduction of the sneaking culture into radical politics might counter the resource to sneaking— Sorry, you said he was sneaking radical and also sneaking culture into radical politics. I think that is one thing I find about Acid Communism is— I wrote a blog post on it recently. I think I’ve sent the link to you only today though, but if you read through that draft introduction of Acid Communism, there is so much about culture in it.
If you look through the whole K-Punk blog, there is so much about culture in it. If you read some of the descriptions of Mark Fisher, you’d think he was a very dry academic who only talked about politics 24/7. He blogs about music. He blogs about TV, and film, and writing in fiction. The Weird and the Eerie, it is all about culture and how those concepts of The Weird and the Eerie are expressed in culture and the origins of them as well.
It’s kind of weird when someone’s died and the definition of them starts to get flattened and narrowed and everyone talks about. There are some places where if you are reading a brief post or articles about Fisher, you think all he’d ever did, as I said, was Capitalist Realism and the unfinished Acid Communism and some political blog posts. One of the things I like about Acid Communism, as I said, is there is so much culture in there.
There is one particular piece in the intro — which is the only bit we have — where he was talking about how the Left failed to really engage or work with counterculture.
I know it’s one of the things that I picked up and wrote briefly about in my blog because I feel that they maybe, the Left wanted to recruit from counterculture and take them out of counterculture and into the LEFT (and big capital letters on the LEFT).
Whereas they would not treat them as allies, as comrades, use whichever term you like, fighting for roughly the same thing. It’s that distrust of not just counterculture specifically, but creativity. I think there has been a lot of distrust of creativity from the LEFT. If I say it like that, it’s got to be capitals or something like that. It’s that block of that traditional Leftist outlook, which is lots of political theory and no fun.
Callum: [laughs] Yes, totally.
Paul: If you look at a lot of ’60s and ’70s counterculture it’s highly political but highly creative as well, and it was always just viewed with suspicion.
Callum: I’ve got two questions there then. The first one would be, what do you think that’s about? What do you think that distrust of creativity is about? The other one is, do you think it’s changed?
Paul: What do I think the distrust in creativity is about? If we move to stereotypes—
Callum: [laughs] Let’s do it. [laughs]
Paul: Does not apply to everything. The organised Left in ’60s and ’70s and in ’80s and ’90s, and it’s probably still a bit going on is very much centred around set texts and Marx. Set texts and Marx say, “That was the way to do it and so that’s the way to do it.” When you have creativity, you think of a lot of people saying, “But what if we did this?”
I think there is a lot of tension where you have organised Left who have, unfortunately, feel almost say the orthodoxy of Marx [not sure of the original words I used, but the point I was trying to make is that the organised Left are bound to orthodox texts, as if they were scripture]. You can have people commenting on Marx and people doing very dry other stuff about it, but then you have counterculture over ’60s and ’70s and subcultures of the ’80s and ’90s because I think it went from countercultures to subculture for some reason at that point, who are, as I said, highly politicised in many cases, not all of them, but some of them.
They are just throwing ideas out there. Some of them good, some of them bad, but there’s freedom of creativity without having first read and studied and memorised all the catechisms of Marxism. That was the first part. Is it still around, I think was the second part of your question?
Callum: Yes, or has it changed?
Paul: I don’t know. I think it has a bit. I think there’s still, in some ways, a bit of a dichotomy with— I think there must still be a dichotomy because that is why we go back again to those earlier remarks, Fisher was sneaking culture into radical politics, and sneaking radical politics into culture. If he’s having to sneak it in there, that means there’s not a free flow of ideas and discourse between the two. I think we actually agreed on that before we actually started.
Callum: Yes, we did I think. It’s really interesting that what you said, actually, about partly the landscape punk stuff, which we might come back to but also that idea of people in creative communities not having done the reading and it reminded me a bit of…I read a small bit of an Eric Hobsbawm book not that long ago.
He talks about pre-Leftists, but it was called Primitive Rebels. It was about precisely these proto-Leftist groupings, pre-Leftist groupings within culture and within society. He talks about guilds and stuff like that, which is not the same as a trade union…and stuff like the Masons as well, which is another thing that comes into some of this stuff, is a bit of a spirituality or a bit of a— I’m not saying I’m a Mason or that I’m into the Masons or whatever because nobody knows what they’re about, but there is something there pre-left non-organised Left that is…it is this instinct or impulse to collectivise and resist. I’m not saying that that’s always what those ideas are about in those communities because they’re— I guess, he didn’t just look at labour movements, he also looked at peasant revolts and stuff like that.
Then I guess there is a class thing there probably, to be honest, the way that— as you can probably tell now I’ve not read enough of the actual book to express it clearly, but there’s something there that I like that you’re saying about, and it is partly— This isn’t to characterise people within a particular class bracket as having not done the reading. It’s not to say that the working class as a whole haven’t done the reading, a lot of them have.
There is a bracket of people, not just within the working class, but people who are wanting to do creative things and radical or progressive things in politics that for whatever reason, haven’t done the reading. There’s got to be, I think that is maybe something of what Fisher is driving at in Acid Communism. Although I think he would really love it if people did do the reading as well. [laughs]
I think he was into that, but there is something. I guess what that’s opening on to a little bit is desire because there’s lots of really fascinating phrases that I read in both your blog posts. I only read two blog posts, but even within them, I was like, oh, such like psychedelic gothic and all this sort of stuff. I’m like, yes, amazing. Like, what’s this? I guess let’s just target desire first maybe just to get out of the way, even is like, is that something that you’ve thought through in your work at all and seen in the Fisher stuff?
Paul: I’ve certainly seen it in the Fisher stuff. It’s always difficult for me to see stuff in my work. I know that this isn’t the usual get-out: “oh, I can’t possibly talk about my own work”. I do artwork quite instinctively and I’m up close against a drawing, that far away from it [here I gesture to show a small distance from my eyes, stupidly forgetting that this video interview will be transcribed into text]. I also know or realise that when that piece of artwork is seen by someone else, it can mean something completely different.
Artists or musicians or writers cannot control the perception of what they create, or the interpretation of it. You can put enough clues in there to lead people if they want to be led that way, but seeing so many — let’s take the alt-right in the US sort of adopting films like The Matrix and the whole red pill thing. Whereas I’m fairly certain that wasn’t the meaning of the film.
That’s an example of someone, a group of people, reading a piece of artwork in a completely different way than the creator intended. With that [laughs] said, I think that I’ve done a few pieces where my current series of work and I only work in series at the moment for some reason, is called Acid Renaissance: Albion’s True Standard Advanced which was a mashup of I guess, Acid Communism, a dn just in terms of the references for the title: the Diggers and the Levellers — I think it was Winstanley piece . I can’t remember, I’ve moved some words around. I can’t remember the exact title as is the original piece [here I’m referencing The True Levellers Standard Advanced by Gerrard Winstanley]. I’ve always been interested in the English Civil War, how it’s affected British politics, particularly English politics, but I’ve done some things and I did the one called Bacchanalia beneath the Wind Turbines.
Callum: I love that by the way.
Paul: Probably, the closest to acid communism because it has—You got Bacchanalia, so you’ve got people getting drunk. You’ve actually got the god Dionysus sitting there, holding his symbols of office. You’ve got all the people sitting naked in the landscape, big jug of wine on one woman’s shoulder, empty bottles on the floor, and wind turbines in the background because what I needed to do was make sure it was not seen as a historical piece.
As another pastiche of renaissance drawing I’d used the Sanguine pencil. It’s that red pencil on a slightly yellow paper, but putting the wind turbines in there is to bring it into the modern era. Also, good things about the green technology, but I think the whole concept of that was I wanted that in there because it was like people getting drunk and having fun is fine.
Callum: [laughs] Yes.
Paul: I had some quite darker pieces before that and I wanted to make sure that it wasn’t all dystopian thing. I’m quite interested in utopias and utopianism as a direction of travel rather than destination. I don’t have this concept of “this is what we aim for. I’ve worked out exactly what utopia is. If you don’t like it, I’m going to kill you.”
Callum: Yes. [laughs]
Paul: Whereas utopianism is a direction of travel where each decision you make is a political decision, but even for personal ones to a certain extent you are thinking which is the best of the solution to the answer to this question makes the world that little bit better and moves it one step towards a theoretical utopia. Even if we are never going to have a practical existing utopia, we can be moving towards one. Just making society, everyone’s lives, better.
Callum: There’s something in there. I just want to quickly note that I did a little bit of work on a philosopher called Emmanuel Levinas a while ago. He kind of talks about like the messianic age, but he also draws on the Torah quite a lot. He talks about the way that you make contact with the other and he uses Moses on the mountain as the metaphor for that. That Moses can’t see God’s face, but he can follow his back. That is the kind of movement towards the messianic age or utopia.
I’m not sure whether Levinas held out for the hope that it was actually possible or not. Also, it’s unclear, I guess maybe it’s not, I don’t know. I’m not sure whether Levinas actually believed in God or not as well. [laughs] I think his whole project was trying to secularise Jewish ethics, but I just wanted to note that because it seems like there’s some interest and overlaps there.
Just to quickly flip back to the landscape punk stuff, I guess it was relatively, I could infer from what you said as answer to this question, but you talked about preferring that to psychogeography. If you could say a little bit more about that, that’d be really interesting.
Paul: I think it’s about democratising. I could see landscape punk as psychogeography that’s been democratised or is it democratisation of culture or cultural democracy? I don’t know. Maybe landscape punk is a cultural democracy of psychogeography, if we really want to get into the academic terms. Landscape seems like a bottom-up movement. People who were interested in the feelings and the emotions and things that seem to emerge from places and do so instinctively, whereas psychogeography has been partially academicized at least to some extent, not totally. There are the distinct terms for things.
It’s almost like, again, you have to have read the books to be able to do it. Landscape punk is a freer and more instinctive response, less predictable and less trained by what lots of reading with psychogeography might possibly make some people think that they should be responding. The other thing I wanted to mention actually was I do is magazine. It’s just a temporary thing called Rituals and Declarations.
Callum: I was just about to ask you about your response to this, but so great. Carry on.
Paul: In issue two or three, I can’t remember which one it was, there’s a piece on women in psychogeography by Maria J. Pérez Cuervo. She starts with a standard psychogeography piece, and but then says “this is impossible if you’re a woman You can’t walk around.” A woman walking in public spaces is—It’s not just the threat of attack (but obviously, that’s a terrible thing) it’s also about how [society says] women must look. That’s also an interesting angle on psychogeography, which I think needs a bit more representation because psychogeography as an area, as you look at the people who write about it are very white and very male. There’s got to be a way to open it up. I can’t believe that—What’s the best way to put it? I think it needs a far more diverse range of voices writing about, and I think maybe landscape punk might make it easier because you are removing a lot of the barriers to entry, which is not to say that you have to be white and male to be able to understand all of the literature written about it already. I think things about walking around in areas, evening walks…these things need to be brought into the work of psychogeography and acknowledged and mentioned.
If you’re Black or Asian and walking around in the countryside of England, you are going to get some pretty bad remarks there - I’ve been in the countryside, I’ve a friend who’s Black and I’m not going to repeat the terms that were mentioned, not screamed at him, but, “oh, they’ve got an ‘N-word’ with them”.
So I think some of the things that need to inform psychogeography a lot more are “what if I was doing this and I wasn’t a white male?”
Callum: Absolutely. There’s a really interesting — I’m just going to see if I can find her site and post it in the chat for you — but it’s quite an interesting artist up here called Natasha Ruwona. They’re based in Glasgow and really, really strangely, they’re also doing some research at the moment on my hometown.
I’m from a place called Hawick originally, which is this little town in the Borders and they’re doing some research on— They research walking while Black is one of the things that they do, but also stuff on water. They are looking at the River Teviot which goes through Hawick. Also, I think it’s one of the first Black university students in Scotland was adopted by a family in Hawick or something like that. It’s some absolutely mad story, but I’m just like, how has this all come together?
So Landscape punk, I’ve not been able to look at hardly any of it, but it seems to me that there’s a huge movement at the moment of zines. There’s your zine. There’s Weird Walk. There’s Grimoire Silvanus. there’s Black Dog zine. I’m not going to get it out now, but I’ve got a piece of paper that literally has all the way down, all these zines. It’s around so many overlapping things.
Again, I’ve got a list of these that cover folklore, occult, forteana, landscape punk, and they all seem to be the same, but all totally different and just shot through with all these similar threads. What’s happening there, man? [laughs]
Paul: Very good question. I did write, just before I started doing Rituals and Declarations, a blog post - I wrote this in August 2019 [I drop a link to www.lazaruscorporation.co.uk/blogs/artists-notebook/posts/the-republic-of-zines into the Zoom chat]
Callum: Amazing. [laughs] Sorry, I just read the title [“The Republic of Zines”]. Great. Carry on, man.
Paul: I think Weird Walk had come out at that point. I’d already been planning Rituals and Declarations because the aforementioned David Southwell and myself got rather drunk and he made me promise to do it. I knew that Maria J Pérez Cuervo I mentioned earlier in reference to writing an article for Hellebore.
Callum: Hellebore is the other one.
Paul: I guess she might have been in the first issue because we did a swap and she did a piece on Women and the Sinister, I think the first issue, but we’ve done a couple of swaps where I’ve done the cover to Hellebore. She then did an article for Rituals. I did the cover for the first issue [of Hellebore], then that one there [someone is holding up Hellebore #3 - The Malefice Issue].
Callum: Quality. [laughs]
Paul: We got to pay all our contributors. We both believe that if a writer or an artist has contributed something, they should be paid for it, but for those because we were each doing one for the other, we didn’t bother paying because we were paying each other. Handing £100 over and getting £100 back - there’s no point PayPal having a cut of that.
Callum: Yes. Totally.
Paul: This all started coming together and then discovered, I think there was one called Goblin Realism or something at the time.
Callum: Goblin Realism?
Paul: Yes. I have a shelf of zines. There we go [I hold up my laptop so that the webcam is pointing at a particular shelf on my bookshelves]. This shelf here. That’s Fiddler’s Green. This is my own. There’s Hellebore. All sorts of— Cunning Folk, another one.
Yes, they started, erupting, Rituals certainly was not the first one they had already started. Weird Walk with one of the earlier ones. Northern Earth has been going on for years, which is archaeology, grassroots ground-up archaeology. Ground-up archaeology? [laughter]
Yes, there’s certainly burst and then lockdown happened. I think over the course of lockdown, firstly, people could see all of these zines. Weird Walk. Occultaria of Albion, I think, was another one. Hellebore, Rituals all started getting seen by that large bubble of people and people could see it’s obviously possible to produce your own zine. Then it was like 1977 all over again with all the punk zines that burst forth around that time.
Zines get to go back before then as well. There’s a great book that you can pick up second-hand. It’s this one here called The Complete Country Bizarre, and this is a collection of 11 zines published in 1972, zines called Country Bizarre. It’s weird early ’70s hippie stuff, and you’ll get two-ish illustrations, all the copyright-free illustrations from the local library here and there’ll be something on English folktales, followed by rules on squatting a house, followed by how to make your own candles.
Wonderfully bizarre. There’s also that burgeoning of zines around that period as well. Yes, it’s certainly another wave of them, particularly around the areas of folklore, folk-horror, landscape punk, psychogeography, the weird, horror in general. When people were in lockdown, there was a desire to communicate, not just tweets stuff or Facebook or whatever, but I think that desire to it was a wonderful thing.
Everyone suddenly realised we could control our own media and produce our own media. In the middle of lockdown, having something come through your letterbox that everyone else in your bubble was talking about, it’s almost like — the US term is the “water cooler conversation”. It’s that collective joy of sharing an experience whereas we were in a position under lockdown where there was no collective sharing of experience and more traditional things.
There are no gigs, there’s no theatre, there’s no wherever-you-want-to-go-to. Like going down the pub and having a laugh. I think particularly in lockdown, people signed up and bought them, which encouraged more because it was a collective shared experience. You were collectively sharing the experience on your own in front of your laptop by mentioning “I really like the piece in this zine”.
Callum: That is fascinating because to me that seems to be an expression of acid communism in some way. It’s a desire for the social that has been brought about through some experimental expression and it’s formed some community. That’s why that’s the crucial thing, really,[laughs] isn’t it? Phenomenal. I guess there are a couple of things. One thing I just want to know for myself is that it’d be really interesting to know how else that happened.
I guess the thing that people know about is like Zoom pop quizzes. [laughs] That was the main thing that we did to form community during lockdown but this is something else which I need to think more about.
Paul: The other thing is someone on Twitter, Sarah-Jayne Farrer, who halfway into lockdown came with the idea of people starting up Zoom and all the others, but I prefer Zoom generally and all the other video conferences and stuff. There was a sudden uptake and learning of this new technology. It wasn’t so for me because I work in IT on my day job and my boss works in Athens, and his boss works in Santa Clara in California.
I work from home, I worked from home before lockdown. Lots of people in that company did. I was used to meeting, doing meetings all the time, but there was amongst a lot of other people, there’s a certain learning of the new technology and normalising of it. What part of the Twitter bubble did, what Sarah-Jayne Farrer did, was Saturdays in evenings, not just a social. What she did instead was she got someone to do a talk. I’ve done a talk on it about my artwork and about Rituals and Declarations. David Southwell did a talk, all sorts of people: artists, musicians — we’re not talking famous people — artists, musicians and writers in that bubble doing a brief talk. Then we get a very informal conversation, Q&A afterwards. There’s 20 or 30 people on these things, it’s especially put out for people to have some human contact on a Saturday evening.
A lot of these people, they’re either with a partner or alone, and at that point, it’s come a long way since then. At that point, you didn’t see anyone all day. During that first lockdown, you allotted one hour leaving the house for exercise and stuff like that. Yes, all of that social contact was gone. Again, that was another expression of the same thing, I think, collectively putting these things together and as I say creating our own media, our own culture.
Callum: That’s it.
Paul: It’s very democratised. Going back to it again, it was cultural democracy, not democratisation of culture, so it was people creating from the ground up and that collective sense because these were group things. Whilst it’s often a person giving a talk at the beginning, it basically turned into a chat by the end of it. It wasn’t a formal listen-to-the-expert type thing.
I think when these things start from the ground up, they start off as instinctively collective because they’ve not really done for profit. There ain’t much profit in zines, especially if you are insisting on paying all your contributors. I’m finishing Rituals with the next issue. I had initially said I was only going to do one year. The first issue came out just before the first lockdown and then because of the situation because I think of that need—
When it got to the fourth one I was saying I was going to finish soon, just one year of four issues. A lot of people asked me to continue it, so I’m just doing it for one more year so then the next issue becomes the last one. Just because it was that thing I think I’ve said about that collective sort of experience so we’re all talking about something that’s all landed through the letterbox at roughly the same time within a day or two of each other. It’s a collective experience and hopefully, collective joy which does tie in, again, with Acid Communism.
Callum: Yes, totally. A couple of questions to follow up on that. I think the first one would be what was the sort of raison d’etre for you behind Rituals and Declarations? What were, I guess as you’re collating it, what is your kind of vision for it? I’ll maybe leave the second question until after you’ve done that actually.
Paul: All right. The simple answer is, as I said, David and I were drunk in a bar and he said he would only create some Hookland merchandise for sale if I ran a zine for four issues. All of this made sense after about seven pints.
Paul: We had been talking about quite similar sort of things that we’ve been talking about here: about community and zines and the role of zines in a community. At that point, Weird Walk had already come out, one or two are the quite small ones. I bought David a copy of that Country Bizarre collection of zines because I had had mine for some years, but I brought him a copy of it. We were talking about how I really like the eclectic nature of what was in it. It was leaping from an article on “how to sabotage your local foxhunt” to the best way to make pickles.
Paul: One of the reasons why — I had a space inside back cover on Issue 2 and I put some recipes on it, because I just thought, “Why not?” The main sort of thing about Rituals was the idea of what I wanted maybe put in there. When people asked me what it was about, it’s about the Weird. I’ve always tried to make that weird, not just in the content of each piece but in the way it jolts a bit from one piece to the next. One of the common questions I get from people asking if they can submit something is, “What’s the theme for the next issue?” There is never a theme for Rituals. It is utterly themeless.
There’ll be a piece on environmental politics by L.B. Limbrey which they’ve written, and then follow up with a piece of weird fiction, followed by an article on Thai Buddhist amulets, and then Hookland Guide fiction by David. I always plonk my artwork in the middle of it. I just want to be, in some ways, as inviting as possible. Everyone will always find something of interest in that. I didn’t want it to be focused. It’s a broad range of the Weird and the weirdness accentuated by pieces before and after each piece.
Even the fact that they don’t fit and flow together and have no theme and something completely different from the previous piece and the following piece. That was where I was trying to get. It’s been fun doing it. I’ve said, “Next issue is the last one,” so I’ve done eight issues in total. It’s got to a point now where, because I work in a day job, four days a week, it’s getting tiring now.
I can feel my enthusiasm for doing it waning. It takes a lot of free time and it takes the limited free time I have and takes time away from the artwork I want to do. That’s why it’s also— it was kind of like this idea of something that’s ephemeral and only exists for a bit and then just shuffles off stage-left. Hopefully not pursued by a bear, but without jumping a shark or getting dull or whatever. It does eight issues, it does what it says, and goes out on a high of not having got dull.
Callum: Sorry, I’ve got a candle in the back room which just started crackling. I’m just going to blow it out.
There’s something really interesting there in the Weird in that there’s no theme for it apart from the Weird. I really like that sense of there are these disparate worlds, but they’re maybe not obvious how they’re connected, but there is some sort of maybe haunting sense that there is something in common here. All that says, “I’m coming at this with a very strict Fisherian sense of what the Weird is”. [laughs] Is that the same for you or would you-
Paul: No, I’d have probably been a bit looser with the definition. Some of it might be eerie instead of weird.
Callum: [laughs] Yes. You heretic, you! [laughs]
Paul: I’m so not prescriptive about it. It was a desire to have, not just in what each piece was about, but in having short fiction, articles — some of which are on some occult thing, some of which are on green politics or left politics — then something which I don’t think any other zine I’ve seen has done, and this is probably because of what I do, having artwork in there that is not illustrative. It’s not just illustration for someone’s article, it’s artwork for the sake of artwork and some words about the artwork. The artwork is the primary content, and then it’s talking about it. It’s always my own artwork which has gone in at each issue. I’ve also had other artists working there and full-page pieces of their artwork with their own words about what they’re doing and why they’re doing it to try and sort of— I’ve been disappointed thinking, “I should probably get my artwork in some other zines and magazines.” I’ve looked at them and they’re “Oh, we even pay contributors.” , “For the artwork?” “Oh no, we don’t pay for artwork, we just pay for proper writers”.
Callum: Oh wow. [laughs] Right.
Paul: It’d be great actually when you put the phone down when you hear the “free” word.
Callum: Yes, yes.
Paul: The one thing I wanted to do, which I think— I think Hellebore has done it as well because I think they deliberately got Ellen Rogers, who’s a fantastic photographer, to put some work in there, current edition. I know Maria will have paid because that’s what Maria is like. Apart from that, there was a distinct lack of visual artwork served as the primary content of a contribution. It tends to be relegated to secondary, and it’s illustrating someone’s writing or something like that. That was something, obviously because I’m a visual artist, I wanted to put visual artwork as a primary piece of content in there as well, so it’s not just illustrating. That was one thing I did that was particularly different, I think.
Callum: Nice. Have you tweaked the art ever in order to fit the zine form?
Paul: It certainly gets cropped to size because if the zine’s A5 size and if I’ve got a piece that’s slightly taller but the same width, it gets cropped down a bit. I’ve tweaked some of the brightness on them as well, because sometimes when I do artwork, it’s particularly dark, and I’m trying to get that printed so that it doesn’t look like it’s misprinted zine context. Make things a bit brighter, maybe, but no, that’s all really. With my artworks, I’m allowed to.
Callum: I was just going to—
Paul: It’s a remix.
Callum: What was that? A remix?
Callum: Yes. [laughs] I just wanted to come back quickly again to the zine sort of explosion and formed partly by people, a desire for the social. In what sort of a way do you think it’s because people are out walking?
Paul: I think that probably has a lot to do with it. I think the first lockdown changed everything because it was more restrictive than the second lockdown or however many we’ve had now. I can’t remember. Yes, it was that thing where people who didn’t like walking started going walking because you were allowed out for exercise once a day. If you were really lucky, you might pass someone else in the street. If you had a car or lived in the countryside, then you could get out to countryside and say, “No, I am doing my walk. I’m allowed to do this.” That desire to get out of the same four walls that you’d been stuck in, is a strong one and completely understandable. Going somewhere for a walk was an absolutely safe and allowed way of doing it.
There’s a whole new range of experiences coming in. For a lot of people, not working for a long time, so they needed more— Eight hours of their day, every day weren’t being taken up by work. Obviously, either struggling on, was it 80% who were on furlough? Or in some cases, a lot of the life models I work with obviously couldn’t do life-modelling because that was banned. They often did retail or pub work or restaurant work. Many of those restaurants and pubs just fired them all. They didn’t even go through the furlough. They were a bit stuck.
People, certainly, were struggling financially, but they also didn’t have— They had to fill their day and we all had to fill our day. As I say, I work remotely anyway, so it was almost a seamless transition in terms of my employment, but I know a lot of people who I was talking to were saying, “What do I do with all this free time?” Which is kind of sad, really. Not sad of them. It’s a sad reflection on the fact that we have so little free time, we’re not used to filling it.
I think going out for a walk suddenly became quite an exciting highlight of the day. The nature of that walk, because you weren’t walking to the bus stop or walking into town to go to the place where you worked or whatever, you were walking for the sake of walking. You start seeing things differently and you start having different emotional responses to the things you pass and everything.
I think everyone instinctively became almost landscape punk in that they were having these instinctive reactions to all the things that they were doing. A walk was, you couldn’t just go out and walk every time. If you followed the rules, you could go out once per day. That one opportunity to go out for a walk for exercise, it became a pressured bit of the day.
As I said, you might pass other people and get to have a conversation from 2 metres away. Even when you weren’t passing other people, everything you looked at, you were looking in a different way. I think you were treasuring it a bit more. I think that some people came back from that and wanted to share an experience of that. 99% of the time that’s posting some photos on Twitter or Facebook or Instagram or whatever, but in other cases, I think people were starting to write about it, and that fed into a landscape punk or psychogeography, pick your term.
Callum: Is walking part of your practise?
Paul: I try and get out, yes. Not today, because it’s horrible [weather] here and I don’t drive. As I said, I’m doing driving lessons. For me, getting somewhere is either walking or public transport, at the moment. Yes, I used to: certainly, I like going out for walks, getting out to places. Not every day I’m in the middle of Brighton and Hove. It’s basically, I can’t walk out into the countryside from here unless I was walking all day and crossing major dual carriageways and things like that. If I can get a train or a bus out just beyond that, and then I’m in the South Downs walking around Devil’s Dyke. I think there’s a couple of blog posts about walks on my blog. Particularly around Devil’s Dyke which is quite an interesting landscape, this deep glacial cut. It does feed back into the artwork, definitely.
Callum: I’ve been thinking about just earlier today, actually, I almost— I guess like a more general thinking about any sort of praxis, which is a practice under reflection, is this constant looping, and it’s like a constant conversation between inside and outside and it’s always changing. Part of me is going, “Is that inherently psychedelic in some sort of a way?” I don’t know if that’s a question that I want to ask you or not. [laughs] I was just riffing.
Paul: Yes, I don’t know if it’s inherently psychedelic, but I think psychedelia inherently contains that. If you look at it as a thoughtful journey of exploration, which you might not have a fixed endpoint, but is intent on examining the journey there and all the sights and sounds that you’ll find on the way. I use my blog as a reflection. When I was doing the series called England’s Dark Dreaming, I was writing, going into quite all sorts of things on the blog, which it almost formed a parallel thought process in that they tied together. This was about England decaying into a far-right state. It’s a series I did from 2016 to 2018, but what I was blogging about in there, I put this out as a book as well. The blog posts were things though where I did a piece on something called Deep England. I wrote about how the far-right— Again, which came from some reading I was doing in parallel with or connected with England’s Dark Dreaming. This is all things about how the Soil Association — the current president, I think, is Monty Don — started off as a far-right Nazi organisation.
Callum: Fuck, no way. [laughs]
Paul: Then there was a group called English Mistery, Mistery with an I, who, again, were a Nazi organisation founded by a former Tory MP. You had the Conservative Party people in all of these things, and the Soil Association was more or less set up by them. Because there’s always been, alongside a left-wing environmentalism, there’s always been a right-wing environmentalism, which is more of a back-to-the-land to “know your place, peasant” type of environmentalism, but yes, the Soil Association, Jorian Jenks, I think was the person who ran their magazine, who was a member of the British Union of Fascists, and a big part of English Mistery.
I can’t remember what the— there’s another group in— I’ve written about all of these in— When I say far-right, yes, these were avowed fascists. The Soil Association, I think by the late ’40s, early ’50s purged itself of all of these Nazis, and became a fairly— a harmless society all about having nice, good organic soil, but yes, it started off as basically a Nazi organisation, or a Nazi-run organisation. I think it was part of that infiltrate and recruit tactic.
Callum: Christ. [laughs] Wow. Why make work about that? Then how did the shift come about, perhaps from something— because there are certain themes that are still there in the current work? Stuff about place—
Paul: Well, I think England’s Dark Dreaming was England’s descent into populism and fascism. It wasn’t too prophetic because it was already happening then. I’d started work after the Brexit referendum, and the signs of what were happening were all very clear by then. I don’t claim any sort of prophetic ability here, I was just looking out the window and watching TV. That was a dystopia as a direction of travel, watching England’s direction of travel towards a further increasingly dystopian. I wanted to do something which pushed this out the other side. Having gone into this dystopia, I wanted something where utopianism was the direction of travel. I started getting collective joy in common wealth.
Callum: That’s the phrase you use there. I am very interested in a sense of pushing it out the other side. Was that a conscious thing you said there, or was that— [laughs]
Paul: I think a better analogy would be, we’ve gone down a slope into that dystopia. It takes an effort to walk uphill. It takes more of an effort to walk uphill to somewhere better. Otherwise, you’re stuck in this trench of entrenched idiocy. It’s really easy to draw or write dystopias. You just take the current world and make it a bit worse, and a bit worse, and a bit worse. It’s much harder to write or draw utopias or even a utopia as a direction of travel. Utopianism is something I go on about a lot in my editorials/rituals. I don’t know why but that seems to be where I talk about it, but I wanted— Yes, especially after not only working on England’s Dark Dreaming for two, three years, but having— That’s being informed by what’s coming out the telly and social media and everything like that. I wanted something that pushed towards hope, that said, “Okay, this isn’t England’s Dark Dreaming, this is where capitalist realism leads to”. Acid Renaissance is breaking out of that mindset of capitalism and imagining a world which is better, imagining the spectrum of the world that wants to be free.
Callum: Yes. How have you found that? Are you trying to imagine these new worlds and depict them in your artwork?
Paul: Fisher was right, where he was saying that it’s really hard to imagine a world under anything but capitalism at the moment. I’m old enough that I remember children’s TV programmes in the ’70s where they frequently imagined completely different futures so I’ve still got some of that going around in my head, but what I’ve been doing is using mythic and folkloric elements. Because metaphor sneaks around the censor in your head, which is capitalist realism. If you’re using metaphor, you can get around— because I’m not going, “Okay, and this is what people will look like in my great social anarchist utopia.” I’m dressing it all up in mythic and folkloric and fantasy elements, and that gets past that— It is like an internal censor that Fisher was talking about, which stops you thinking about any alternative to capitalism. As I say, you can get around that by using metaphor and by dressing these ideas up in more psychedelic, less realistic visages which is also why you’ll find a lot more left-wing science fiction than you’ll find left-wing westerns.
Callum: I read a really interesting review recently of a novel came out this year or last year called Shuggie Bain, that got a lot of plaudits. I think it, maybe, even won the Booker Prize. It’s a very realist account of poverty in the Central Belt of Scotland. I read this really great review of it, where they were saying realism only ever gives you part of the picture. I don’t know where I’m going with this necessarily, when you’re creating a bit of art, whatever it is, it’s always going to be limited in the terms of the perspective that is given, unless it’s a David Lynch film or whatever, which becomes completely nonsensical. It’s always going to be limited in its perspective. Actually, by trying to give this realist feel to something, it closes down actually all the different worlds that are going on at the same time. It’s really really, really interesting.
Paul: I think that, again, speaks as to why what we were saying earlier, the Left has not been good about finding comrades or allies in culture because of that distrust. Look at the artwork of Soviet Russia. There are only so many Soviet realist paintings of tractors that you can really look at and you’re a bit bored. Really, because it was meant to be inspiring propaganda artwork, but it was uninspiring stuff once you’ve seen 100 of them.
Some of this came from the introduction of Acid Communism. Realism is often used by autocratic regimes. The freer society gets the more freedom artists and writers have to actually break out of those conventions because if you’re allowed to dream about completely different futures, you are not under a totalitarian regime because that’s what totalitarian regimes don’t allow you to do. Totalitarian regimes are controlled by violence. Neoliberalism, late-stage capitalism, future phrases is a totalitarian regime controlled by thought control that you can’t even think of anything else about it, hence the capitalist realist thing.
If you start actually trying to do something in some ways, there will be a response of state violence. There is still just about a freedom for an individual to start dreaming and start thinking of completely new futures. The trick that neo-liberalists used was to try to make that impossible. Not through threats, but just through controlling people’s thoughts and make it really hard to do so.
You can get around things like that with metaphor, with clothing in different clothes, use a genre, I don’t care. There are ways around that. That’s what I’ve been trying to do with Acid Renaissance, it’s using metaphor to try and push through to something different.
Callum: A couple of things. First thing, do you know there’s a podcast called Mandatory Redistribution Party? Are you-
Paul: I don’t, no.
Callum: -familiar with them? I was listening to a podcast of theirs the other day on dystopia and utopia. I’ll just find it for you just now. They’re left-wing comics. Generally, if someone says to me, “Oh, listen to this thing, it’s really left-wing.” I’m like, “Right. No, I’m probably not going to do that.” Partly because I’ll just agree with it. I’ll just be sitting there going, “Yes. Yes, I know. Yes. Yes.” These guys are actually really hilarious. I’ve found the link for it here, I’ll just forward it to you, because you might find it really, really interesting on the utopia dystopia stuff. They approach it in a really pleasing way.
Paul: I’ll bookmark that.
Callum: You’re talking about this shift from a darker project to a lighter project. Tell me if I’m wrong here. From looking at some of your work on the website, there are consistent themes throughout it. For me, I’m looking at it, I’m thinking land, I’m thinking place, I’m thinking shamanism. How did you shift in the way that you were using those materials from this dark place to a light place?
Paul: I don’t think it’s in the light place yet. I think it’s a journey towards the utopia. A lot of it starts off in darkness. That, in some way, accounts for why you don’t notice a sudden change. I’m bringing bits and pieces at the moment. Well, I plan to do some more just to make it slightly lighter. I dropped the Bacchanalia piece reasonably early in the series. One of the weird prompts for quite a lot of the ideas of the first photos, I’m just trying to find it, is I did a little experiment after I’d finished England’s Dark Dreaming called The Collective Imagined Future England, in which I tweeted asking everyone to describe— well, I’ll read it.
Right: you are all characters/professions/creatures in my vision of a post-apocalyptic England after the Dark Dream has come, where a new society is slowly being built that is a strange mix of pastoral and future-modern. So what specifically are *you*? Starting point: Take Derek Jarman’s The Last of England and mix with The Wicker Man, combine with the Planet People from ’70s TV version of Quatermass, and drench heavily with English myth and folklore as required.
Happily, this got retweeted a lot and I got a couple of hundred answers. I know all of this strange, wonderful semi-fantastic thing. Again actually Acid Renaissance started from a collective crowdfunding of ideas. You’ve got people saying; “cunning man, Guardian of The Music, grave digger, body burner, bone carver, woodland seer.” “I am the one who Greets the Dead. I am paid in tobacco and fresh chicken - which I then turn into gumbo and share with you as you wait for wisdom." Some very serious, some very jokey. That whole mixture of— I don’t know. Anyway, I’ve put the link to the blog post where I collected all of the ideas in the chat.
Callum: I’m just having a scroll through them now, “Toad Laser operator.”
Callum: [laughs] That’s probably the best one I’ve seen so far. That’s great.
Paul: In some ways, this is the trick. I’m not going to say it proves Fisher wrong but it shows you how you can use metaphor to get people to— imagine something of a future, even if it’s a very, very improbable one which isn’t about capitalism. You just give them a few prompts on Twitter and they all dive— it helps, a lot of people retweeted it. I got complete strangers all joining in. That one got a lot of responses, and people could start imagining things that weren’t more “capitalism.”
Callum: Yes. There’s something there, isn’t there? I think as well, maybe— Fisher talks about the outside is full of terrors, but it’s not only terrors that live there. I think that’s why I’m interested in your “pushing.” You said “pushing through” a couple of times there. I know I returned to that and you said maybe it’s about walking uphill rather than pushing through something.
Paul: I think there is a boundary you need to push through [crosstalk]. I think it’s one of those things like custard.
Paul: Bear with me.
Callum: I’m listening. [laughs]
Paul: If you punch a big bowl of custard it hurts because it’s part of that group of special liquids where a rapid— trying to smash through it doesn’t work [if I could remember phrases such as “non-Newtonian fluids” then I’d sound a lot more intelligent in interviews]. You can just slip through slowly. You trick it and then again, it goes back to the ideas of tricking the censor that prevents you from thinking of different Englands by using metaphor.
Here, I’m mixing metaphors quite a lot but it’s all different ways to get through and think of something different. That collective future England was fun. Everyone joined in and lots of people enjoyed it and we were liking and responding to whatever people would say. It was a collective fun with no nastiness happening on the internet.
Paul: It can be done.
Callum: Paul, you didn’t tell me that you were a miracle worker as well. [laughter]
Paul: Yes, everyone seemed to be having fun. I’ve already recorded people’s responses, but people were replying to people’s responses and going, “Oh, that’s a good— I like that one.” It was a really interesting exercise that started Acid Renaissance because I knew I was going to do something. I was actually crowd fishing for ideas but it made it a collective thing as well.
A collective experiment in creativity, which everyone could join in, they didn’t have to be an artist or a writer or whatever. They just had to supply a tweet. I think it was a good way to start off a series whose direction of travel is optimistic rather than pessimistic. It’s a fun thing to do. It engages people collectively to create and I don’t take ownership of what they’re tweeting in that corporate way to do it, it’s just everyone does it and puts it up for free and enjoys it for free. It’s done.
Paul: Collective commonwealth of culture.
Callum: Yes. There’s something in there about that. I think you just touched on a little bit with your custard metaphor actually [laughs] which if you try to punch your way through it, it’s not going to work. Whereas if you have an individual, maybe in one way, try to get through to something else, then there’s a way of maybe slowly finding once a few people are through there, how to connect up in some sort of a way.
I find myself talking about acid communism in a few settings now where I feel like I’m really— I get muddled up basically and end up saying, “Well, acid communism is all about getting in touch with our desires and expressing them.” I had somebody in a group who was from a more traditional left position completely outraged by this. I was trying to [crosstalk]—
Paul: How dare you have fun; this is THE LEFT.
Callum: Yes, [laughs] but I was trying to get across to him that I was like,
No, no, no, it’s not just about me and me enjoying myself, but it’s about recognising that the parameters have been so closed down that to look for some sort of weirdness is in some sort of a way a radical act. The way that I think about it is that I think about activism rather than forming a “collect” rather…than forming the fist that tries to punch through the custard. I think about it as a long front. I’ve drawn this from people who have done stuff on spiritual activism and they talk about how maybe the collective is actually welling up through the individuals rather than the individuals coming together to form the collective. That for me is like, I guess it gets it- sorry, I’m spieling here a bit, Paul,-
Callum: -but it’s just to try and work through some stuff and hopefully you’ll find some of it interesting. It’s like, Fisher talks about the Red Plenty, and I guess I see that as it’s these things that have been suppressed, right? It’s suppressed desire and it’s about— I think on one of your posts you talk about a modernist authenticity and then it comes to a postmodernism and then a post-postmodernism. I guess it’s not about— I’m not sure, I guess that modernist thing maybe for me— maybe it was in the artistic sense about that authenticity and finding the subconscious and that’s your authentic thing that breaks through.
Whereas I would see it as like, “Oh, that’s more fluid,” but when it comes to the collective, I guess what I see it as is I see it in proliferative terms. I see it in terms of like, maybe there does need to be some state or whatever to manage things or to create the conditions where it’s interesting. That tension between the individual and the collective again there, because even though you might have a very communist grey, boring administrative state, the idea would be that it would create a space for people to be more individually expressive in, and the surreal comes out through that.
Paul: I think that can happen. However, I think going back to something we were saying earlier, I think that when things start from the grassroots up, from the ground up, they are instinctively collective. I’ve mentioned the Zoom things and the zines and stuff like that. I think what states generally do is try to suppress that, one of the things is go to the draft introduction of Acid Communism.
Callum: [laughs] The Bible.
Paul: I wanted to quote this bit because I think it goes into it. Where is it?
Instead of seeking to overcome capital, we should focus on what capital must always obstruct the collective capacity to produce care and enjoy.
The state, at the moment we’re a capitalist state, its aim is to obstruct collectivism. Whatever form of collective it is, its aim is to obstruct it. Given that if we take what I said earlier as correct, that lots of things will be instinctively collectivist if they are produced by people freely, of their own will, and not aiming to make profits or anything. Now they are almost naturally collective. Any state with too much power is going to obstruct them.
I still position myself as a social anarchist. I think there needs to be some agreements between communities and you could call that a state if you want. It is a very small state … say public transport has got to be planned between communities because you don’t have one building one railway one way and another community building a railway another way. Sharing expensive medical technology, you don’t have a specialist for everything in every community because that’s impossible. There are some states there that organises and works through the agreements between the various communities.
As I say, I think if a lot of things, not everything, and not everyone, but if a lot of things start off as instinctively collectivist, I think we’ve got to be— it was almost when the state was too busy looking at COVID. Unless you’re in a state, i.e., attention was elsewhere that these little collective things started coming up and capital’s eyes were elsewhere. If Fisher is right, that capital exists to obstruct collective wealth and commonwealth, that would be why.
Callum: Hi. I actually just flicked through some of my questions there and I probably just have another couple actually-
Callum: -so we could finish up by 5:00 easily. I also just want to pass on an album to you which I was made to think of by reading your post on— no, it was the one on Acid Renaissance because you were talking about being part of the Goth subculture and I am a massive fan of a band called The Mountain Goats.
Paul: Not heard of them.
Callum: Well, a few years ago they released an album called Goths, and the album is not very goth music, but all the songs are about the goth scene. You might find it really interesting. I’ll just pop this in the chat, that’s the Wikipedia page for it there. I just thought I had to pass that on. [laughs] We were talking about collective individual stuff there and there’s something I think for me. There’s two things that I’m interested within this, which is partly to do with the walking. Well, it ties together, actually, the stuff about walking and about zines, because I think there’s something powerful to be harnessed in two things.
One of them is noticing, and the other one is self-expression. I think what I find— I feel like the self-expression is this thing that is able to pierce through something to be able to create new collectives. I think the noticing is what generates alternative desires that can make that creativity weird. How can we generate that? [laughs] I don’t mean to put the hopes of the future in your lap there, Paul.
Paul: I am trying one way with Acid Renaissance. I’ve been trying to, not only in terms of what’s happening within the artwork but in how I present the artwork. Soon as I finish, I put the work-in-progress pitch up on Twitter and Instagram, again, a final piece. Then in Rituals, every issue is at least four pages with the same finished pieces with me talking about them and what I’m trying to do. In some ways it’s— and blog posts as well which we’re all about, going on in parallel.
I think we’ve got to end the thing certainly with visual art. I don’t know if it matters— happens so much with writing. Visual art has very much a bit of an elitism problem. In that, even the consumption of visual art or the enjoyment of visual art— Firstly, the enjoyment of visual art is always defined in terms of consumption. There’s a lot of barriers to enjoying visual art in terms of gallery doors and entry prices. Certainly for visual art, one of the things is t— all my artwork is available to see, reasonably large images free of charge on my website, and on Twitter, and on Instagram. It’s making it a collective conversation, because people respond, not just emotionally but with a sentence. Sometimes it’s just, “I love this,” which is fantastic. Sometimes it’s more in-depth questions and being able to talk about it in Rituals. Again, between a piece on left environmental politics and a short story about the Weird, again, democratises it and makes it more available, it gives an alternative way to engage with visual art, which otherwise in the realms of fine art is difficult because there are so many barriers to entry.
I think certainly on the visual art side, it’s changing the way that you engage with the audience who are going to see the visual art. In terms of how you take the people who enjoy the art and try and lead them in some way to imagine a collective future of Red Plenty. I don’t know, I’m trying to use metaphor as I said earlier, but also connecting with what I said earlier is once that piece of artwork leaves my hands and it’s viewed by someone else, I can’t control how they’re going to view it. In some ways, that’s quite good because they can go off and explore and think of something entirely new. I’m quite vocal about being anti-fascist. I think that the alt-right in the United States won’t suddenly discover it and show that this is obviously a story about the magnificent Trump leading a coup in 2024, but God knows what they can imagine.
I don’t know. I don’t think we will know. I think it’s one of those things that someone’s only going to write about in retrospect about all of the attempts to break out of capitalist realism by using culture in the arts. Which ones worked, which ones didn’t, who knows? I’d love to be able to say what the actual solution is because I’d also be doing it now.
Callum: Yes, I guess it’s a slightly unfair question in a way because I think probably part of the nature of how it’s done is that it’s experimental, the point of it is that we don’t know what’s going to work. We don’t know what’s going to be that thing that breaks through so let’s keep just putting stuff out there.
A final question, Paul, is just that, for me, looking at some of your artwork, there’s a really strong sense of place. First of all, I guess it’s would you agree with that? Then I guess in terms of this asset communist politics that we’ve been talking about, do you have a sense of the role that place plays within that?
Paul: Yes. I certainly agree there’s a sense of place. Sometimes it’s one step removed in that I’ve personified the place into a human being. They become almost like a deity of a place, what’s the Latin phrase?
Callum: Genius loci.
Paul: That’s why I say one step removed. Again, it’s a study of a particular place that we can let grow, a hedgerow or something like that. Turned into personification— personified into this human figure. Yes, that’s definitely in there. I know certain pieces of artwork, I can say exactly where it is about. Sorry, what was the second bit of the question?
Callum: It was, what role does place play then, in a kind of acid communist politics? Again, maybe, a slightly large and unfair question, Paul, but I would love to know what you thought about it.
Paul: I think the most basic and simplest and most natural collective experiences happen because of place, because people are united in terms of place. It may be in a state where they live. It may be a village. I don’t know. I just struggle thinking well, in terms of I’ve always lived in the city part from three years of my life. When collectives start happening, they usually start happening in terms of a geographic place. They are bound to areas.
I think it can happen on the internet as well. The concept of Bubble as a non-geographic place, a distributed place, quite small, but distributed. That’s a modern thing about it, but in general terms, one of the things that happened in again, lockdown number one, I was living in a different part of Brighton. Various people in the street I lived at, there was an old guy who was living on his own, old pensioner, and they set up a rota with various people cooking for him and dropping the food on his doorstep at a certain time and certain day whose turn it was to it. That was a collective, that just sprung up in terms of place and looking after the most vulnerable people in that particular place, just one street from Brighton.
All based on without anyone, apart from me maybe, having read the stuff, it was all based on the ideas of mutual aid and working together and looking after the community. All sorts of things can bring it about. It’s just how to keep it going because that example was brought up in a time of crisis. Lockdown number one, everyone was scared shitless not knowing what the hell was going to happen.
It was the most restrictive lockdown and people wanted to do some good for their community. How you keep pushing things like that, I don’t know. I think various tactics will emerge. I think various different ways to do it. I don’t know. Again, I think that’s one of the things that will be examined in retrospect when finally we manage to get somewhere close.
Callum: That’s a really lovely place to finish, there. There’s how to keep it going. It’s a really interesting thing to think about and I think is intrinsic in that communist project, actually the whole point that desire is this thing that has to keep being regenerated in some sort of a way is really key. I was talking to my partner about this the other day actually. I cannot for the life of me remember the context in which we were speaking about it, but it was partly this idea that you sometimes need a crisis to force you into doing something about something, to prick those desires again, but that’s a good place to finish. Thank you so much, Paul.
Paul: Thank you. I really enjoyed it. It’s been really interesting.
Callum: Great. [laughs] That’s good. I’m glad that you enjoyed it too. I was aware of your work actually having started kind of looking at some of these zines and stuff like that. I had seen some of the Acid Renaissance stuff but I hadn’t read the article yet actually. It was actually Adam Scovell said— I was interviewing him a few weeks ago and he said,
You should speak to Paul because he’s really interested in acid communism. I was like,
Oh, right. Okay, cool. He gave me the push and I’m really, really glad that it did give me the push because it has been a great conversation. Thanks so much. Is there anything that you want to feed back at this point about how the interview’s gone or anything that you’d like me to do?
Paul: No, I think, I’m going to go off and explore some of those bookmarks you sent me. By all means, if you have any follow-ups or anything like that, drop me a line in there.
Callum: Nice one. Because I’ve been recording I’ll get these turned into transcripts and stuff like that, once I’ve got that, I’ll forward it to you for you to— there’s no expectation that you would sit down and read the whole thing or whatever, but just so that you’re aware of what information that I have and then I’m hoping as well when I start to write stuff up from this, I’m hoping to do a book eventually to be sharing with people, where their information’s been included and stuff like that. I’ll try and keep you up to date with that. Thank you. Thank you so much, Paul.
Paul: Thank you.
Callum: Keep in touch. All right, cool. Thank you. See you later.
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