Sam Stapley

Fear and Loathing in the Time of Corona

Identity is a nebulous concept, there are many aspects to our understanding of what it means to be. I firmly believe that one’s identity should be riotously unique, that time spent appealing to some notional idea of how one should be is time wasted. Oscar Wilde remarked ‘Be yourself; everyone else is already taken.’

 

The pandemic has caused us all to become more introspective, shut up as we are in our homes. My musical piece, ‘Boris Johnson Death Party’ investigates this theme. It is claustrophobic and intense, mirroring the frustration the entire world is currently feeling. The name, unsurprisingly, is political and embodies the ineffectual leadership Boris Johnson has given during this crisis and the deaths that have come as a result of his inadequacy. The word 'party' refers to the conservative party and their seeming contempt for the lives of ordinary citizens, hell bent as they are on the destruction of the NHS. It is within this fraught political climate, heightened as it is by the senseless police brutality in the US, that I find the messages of hope that are currently popular rather jarring.  

 

As a Marxist I feel that our identities are also socially determined, and as such have tried to capture images that represent the fractious, embittered nature of our cultural consciousness. I feel we should be angry, angry at a system that does not care for those who need help the most and that does nothing to help the interests of the people, unless they align with those of capital. Because of this, I have taken photos around my home city of Brighton which represent the rather more tumultuous side of the pandemic in the hope that they may serve as a reminder that just because there is a virus, it doesn’t mean that the inequalities of our society are any less pressing.

Pieces

Boris Johnson Death Party

Reflecting

What struck you from what the other artist expressed? 

A

I absolutely love the photos of the art going around in Brighton. A lot of what we feel at the moment is linked to our own identity and how we feel within ourselves, but it’s also important not to forget our identity as part of a larger community. We should be angry and should be expressing it with everything that’s going on.

B

You’d hidden your musical abilities from us – really great. Loved the street art – such an interesting medium that intertwines passion and humour. I have to admit that the title of your piece discomforted/challenged me – I imagine that was the intent though! 

C

Your musical interpretation of our times is a powerful articulation of the surreal, dis-orientating aspects of this pandemic. The Brighton street art powerfully unpicks a matrix of identity in crisis on all levels - group and individual, social and cultural. 

D

Did Wilde say something about the popularity of hope? Politics and pandemics are a strange combination, maybe a modern version of politics and religion. Medicine can be a very coercive form of science.

E

I was particularly struck by the grid of posters of (I assume a parody) Brighton and Hove Council, especially the two saying ‘At least you can’t fly Ryanair’ and ‘At least Greta has piped down’. Whatever the angle the original poster was going for, it reminded me of how that even though global transport plummeted reducing fossil fuel consumption it did not make a considerable impact on the world’s environmental health. Funny, in a dark, pessimistic way. // Boris Johnson’s Death Party. I felt immediate anger upon hearing BJ’s voice being sampled at the start of the song. Interesting insight into the Pavlovian response the media's training in me.

F

I found the concept of your piece an intriguing one. The layering of Boris Johnson’s rhetoric over the composition worked to convey the jarring nature of your experience in the current crisis. From my listening, I sense you find Boris’ messages of hope unsettling, and the hopeful tone of Johnson’s speech towards the end of the piece jar with the composition.  The musical response seemed to be to relay your emotional response to the manner Boris has handled things, with a clear sense of anger coming though. After listening I read your supporting text, and saw the frustration felt by you on the behalf of many.

How is that relevant to your experiences and did you have any new thoughts/reflections as a result of the creative piece? 

A

I also love the song. Johnson as a crackly voice with the music over the top really gives the gravity of the situation. (Reminds me a bit of the song Evolution (feat. Samuel L. Jackson), and Politics of Hope (feat. Owen Jones).

B

Walking around Bristol, I’ve also seen street art but mostly of a more positive vibe (I live in Bishopston rather than Stokes Croft though). How much do you think place affects attitudes and identity? Should it? I think it’s great that place shapes people’s identity – it stops us from being the same – but I also worry that it could contribute to the formation of more and more ideology ‘bubbles’. We talk about social media bubbles but I think a similar phenomenon occurs offline too. //Are you planning to combine the pictures and the music into one video or keep them separate? // Though broadly left-wing I’m certainly not a Marxist and I’m generally uncomfortable with expressions of hate for Tories etc. During this pandemic, I’ve shifted from ‘they’re-doing-the-best-they-can’ to ‘they’re incompetent’ to ‘they’re very incompetent and a bit crony-ish’ but I don’t see them malevolent or conspiratorial. Thus, although I was struck by the powerful narrative of the piece, it wasn’t one that I shared, and I felt that it involved simplifications (of course, the nature of any narrative involves simplification). // I guess I’m sometimes more of a rainbow person (not always – sometimes it does seem overly saccharine and fake). This piece prompted me to reflect on the way that our culture and politics often emphasises positivity, progress and soundbites at the expense of apology, tragedy and complexity. We probably do this as individuals too – ‘I’m fine’ – replacing any meaningful exchange of difficulties. I think this causes us problems in the long run. 

C

I totally agree that my piece offers a somewhat surreal glance at the current situation, which, as you say, is in itself a deeply unorthodox one. I agree that my piece aims to be a call to arms of sorts, an appeal that this situation is indicative of greater issues in society that we must change. Your comment about the Brighton art is really interesting, although it is clearly political, it also is deeply rooted in my sense of self, as well as that of Brighton. I am very much a product of the left-wing, liberal city in which I have grown up and so in a sense these pieces of street art are as much a part of me as they are of Brighton.

D

I don't feel the contempt for the people in the government's response, but I do find the rhetoric around the news management bizarre. I'm not sure when or why 'pluralist' turns to 'fractious', and argument to controversy -- but at times it seems to me the one is turning into the other.

E

This song felt like the antithesis of the Conservative Party’s YouTube page when it uploaded 'lo-fi boriswave beats to relax/get brexit done to'. It’s interesting to see supposedly serious political parties use memes and hire younger social media managers. It feels transparently disingenuous to me. Lo-fi music is the most milquetoast, everyman music about. It is Gen-Z’s version of elevator music. It is inoffensive and vapid. Your song, on the other hand, felt genuine, sardonic, and had an ebb and flow of emotion.

F

I found the composition very atmospheric, with the tension rising throughout, and reminded me of my feelings as the pandemic has unfolded. The name of your piece is also thought-provoking, a reminder of all the deaths, many of whom will go unheralded and some unremembered. With one of the highest death counts in the world, I think we as a collecting do have reflecting to do. The use of party in the name calling to my mind both the political party of the conservatives, which you speak of, but also a notion of celebration, implicating the political elite in wanton carelessness. The series of photographs from Brighton speak of this, with political backlash against the government, I agree it’s important to note that this frustration extends the limits of the pandemic.

Sam

A

I fully agree, our identities are rather insular at the moment, it is very difficult to foster a sense of community over zoom. As Bristol has been showing over the past few weeks anger is very real at the moment it the current status quo is unsustainable, a possible silver lining of the crisis. Haven’t listened to those songs but thank you for the recommendation! The audio of Boris is meant to be uncomfortable and place him at the centre of current events. Thanks for your feedback!

B

I really appreciate the time you’ve taken in your feedback, and I feel you’ve totally grasped the nature of my project- thanks! The project on the whole is meant to challenge and I appreciate the ways in which you disagree with it, it would have been boring if everyone felt the same! I certainly think that our identities are shaped by where we’re from, broadly I feel it is good that where people are from helps shape them. However, I fully agree that it can lead to isolationism in a way that is not helpful and may well be the root of a lot of issues that currently pervade society. I agree that my project lacks a degree of nuance, it is more polemic than debate. Your comments about how your views have shifted are really interesting and express what my project is trying to suggest- this crisis is a deeply political one and I think everyone should have an opinion on it.            

C

I totally agree that my piece offers a somewhat surreal glance at the current situation, which, as you say, is in itself a deeply unorthodox one. I agree that my piece aims to be a call to arms of sorts, an appeal that this situation is indicative of greater issues in society that we must change. Your comment about the Brighton art is really interesting, although it is clearly political, it also is deeply rooted in my sense of self, as well as that of Brighton. I am very much a product of the left-wing, liberal city in which I have grown up and so in a sense these pieces of street art are as much a part of me as they are of Brighton. 

D

Your feedback  made me think about the interaction of medicine and politics- two entities that superficially seem rather distinct. Just as the NHS is a battlefield for many of the ideological and social issues we face as a society the pandemic has acted as a microscope, putting the problems latent in our society under intense scrutiny. I feel strongly that the government response, as well as their entire policy platform, has shown that the view the interests of the people as secondary to those of business, I feel that is a form of contempt for those in our society who are not fortunate enough to share the rarefied privileges and upbringings of those who currently govern on their behalf. I agree politics is divisive at the moment, but I do not see that as a bad thing, it conveys a passion for the political process that I think is key to a strong democracy. If you believe strongly in a political and social ideology, then to me it makes perfect sense to be angry at those who oppose that view. I believe that society should be run for, and by, the people, that regardless of ethnicity or background that people have the same right to a good quality of life, education and healthcare. I feel the conservative party represent the antithesis of these views, they care little for the most vulnerable in our society and aim to benefit the most wealthy in our society- I struggle to respect people who hold these views just as I am sure they would think poorly of me. I think this division merely represents the passion with which people engage in the political process.

E

The grid of mock posters is really funny, their pessimistic optimism is undercut by the humour. Their grim humour offers a certain release from the current situation. I really appreciate your comments about my musical piece- you’ve expressed what I hoped the song would do. I hadn’t thought about it but your comparison with boriswave is very apt and highlights the sense of anger that I have with the conservative party and their attempts to gain younger voters without offering us anything that will help improve our lives.                                                         F

Your response to my musical piece is really interesting, I’m glad you felt the anger and frustration latent in it- thanks! I definitely find Boris’ messages of hope unsettling and I think his blitz spirit optimism is designed to cover up his inadequacies as a leader. You’ve exactly summarised what I hoped the title of the song would convey, much like some of the photos it is a dark and humorous look at the situation and at the deaths that could have, and should have, been avoided. 

Visitors reflecting

Your work is striking, simple, powerful and makes no apologies for what you want it to represent - and why should it! I loved the combination of poster style and street art to convey your messages. Well done Sam, it is good to view work that 'says it like it is'! (Tracy)

 

Great stuff - and lots to think about here, Sam. I enjoyed your anthology of street art from Brighton, and its combination of political trashing and black humour. Your sound piece is terrific - our PM rabbiting along over the top (as he does) with no reference to the well-structured and powerful composition underneath which rises and falls, just as our hopes and expectations have done during this crisis. A good one for the time-capsule from the grim months of 2020, and a reminder that it was handled particularly badly here in the UK. For several reasons .... Thanks, Sam! (Gareth) 

Love the use of the original recordings of Boris and how these have been set to portray the bleakness and claustrophobia of the last few months. Also interesting effect on the voice- reminds me rather of old video recordings, making it seem rather historic, as if we're looking back on this chapter. The layering of the voice beneath the music mirrors how the words from authority trying to bring the country together and bring some morale have been lost beneath everything else and blend into one when they seemingly make little sense! (Raf)

Your Reflections
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