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Dislocating Culture

Meeting Grian Chatten and the value of culture in a post-Brexit Britain    22.07.22

A couple weeks ago, I met Grian Chatten from Fontaines D.C.

Waiting in Heathrow Terminal 2, I saw him sat and after alot of consideration I walked over hesitantly. My hands sweated, my body shook slightly which unfortunately only increased the more we spoke. At the same time, in some warehouse, some living room, some space, bodies are, as I type this, jostling against one another to the sound of this guy’s voice. They change their positioning, the motion of the bodies heating up the room, their sweat sticking to the walls before being shook off them from the speakers. Although the space may differ, the rhythm may contrast and never mix, these bodies are all united in their involvement within such sounds. These, which I think need further clarification after the way I’ve written about them so far, being places for music, places for culture.

The idea of culture is, in it’s simplest terms, something for the people by the people. At it’s very foundation something democratic; as a result, it would only seem fitting to imagine ‘culture’ in its physicality not as a warehouse or a living room, nothing confined, but a sprawling open space. Free, near infinite, a world in which to build on and explore. It is then very easy to imagine it as the countryside, and from my own upbringing, the English countryside. Whilst it may seem open here, it’s isolation as a place has been manufactured for many years, particularly noticeable under Thatcher’s division of the North and South. Shutting down mines, taking control over people’s jobs, their lives, Thatcher’s manipulation of the North into an image of erratic rebellion made it out to be something that must be controlled. Driven then by class control, this manipulation of the North as a purely ‘industrial’ image flattened the three dimensionality of its citizens and it’s culture, a weapon of control in creating a new ‘cultural’ image of Britain. In allowing the image of the North to be maintained as this, a divide would grow further between how they are viewed compared to the South, and an isolation would ensue in which this ‘industrial’, supposedly violent image of the North could be allowed to continue. Here, culture could be stripped of its democratic foundations, here culture can be controlled.

However, what grew from this manmade isolation of the North are the dangers Thatcher and the current conservative government seek to press out of Britain’s cultural image. During the pandemic, art institutions were one of many aspects that suffered; some were forced to sell work, others to close entirely. The funding that was needed to keep them afloat was already difficult to acquire through the Arts Council’s pre-existing difficult application process. The inaccessibility of academic language that the council required to acquire funding caused a foreclosure of predominantly smaller galleries that were unable to meet this ‘professional’ standard; as a result, it has only continued a boosting of larger galleries that can afford to do this since the Arts Council’s establishment in 1946. The survival of these institutions then become authorities over what is deemed art and what is not, moving away from the fluidity that art should inherently promote. It also moves into a centralised form of art, again isolating several parts of the country to favour others.

Whilst beginning as a ‘non-departmental public body’, it’s inaccessibility here and fragility through the pandemic has allowed it to be weaponised now. With little money coming in elsewhere, the Conservative government began channelling money into the council’s funds to maintain Britain’s ‘culture’; whilst this allowed for some galleries to stay afloat, its temporary relief has become only another abuse of power throughout this time. Recently releasing a document containing the distribution of funding from the Government’s Culture Recovery Fund, Thatcher’s legacy in this flattening of not only the Northern image but that of most of the U.K. is evident.

In contrast to London’s awarding of £141,905,755 from the first round of this fund, the combined funds the East Midlands, the Northeast, Northwest, Scotland, Yorkshire and the Humber received accumulates to £129,502,385. Even with all these places combined, the funding still falls short by £12,403,370. The arts within the U.K., as was the case in the 1970s then are being centralised within one place: London.

Through funding more institutions in one place, the arts and the ‘culture’ that may arise from it becomes centralised. It is no longer distributed fairly but becomes a part of a much larger agenda in the hopes of controlling something deeply democratic. Through the government’s involvement in what was initially established as a ‘non-departmental public body’, the Conservative government suggest a deeper agenda in dictating what culture is and what it is not. The centralisation of the arts is nothing new; punk in the 70s hoped to decentralise the arts through creating culture within these isolated places such as Salford for Joy Division and a number of other bands. In the isolation paved by Thatcher, the arts were still used as a means of opposing this flattening image of the North and a control of culture that seems to be of the conservative’s many oppresive agendas. Established in a similar time, the Situationists equally rejected the use of the city as a centralisation of culture and within it an exploitation of what culture is. Regarding Situationist Guy DeBord’s piece ‘The Naked City’,

‘the subject’s freedom of movement is restricted by the instrumentalised image of the city propagated under the reign of capital.’

In strategically placing culture in cities such as London, culture is manipulated away from its utility as something by the people, for the people. Culture is re-defined through the monumental image of the city and as a result overshadows what culture can be used for. It is dislocated from the body of Britain, placing all the energy into powering one place, one idea of the arts. 

After meeting Grian, himself and the rest of the band would go on to play in Oslo the following night. Their most recent album entitled ‘Skinty Fia’ centers around their transition moving from Dublin to London, described in some articles as a break-up album of sorts. The title comes from an Irish swear, loosely translating to the ‘damnation of the deer’, a specific deer which went extinct in which their antlers became too heavy for them to hold their head up; seems apt for the worries of transitioning into the ‘culture capital’ of London. Worrying that your head will grow too big, that your body will no longer be able to hold it up. Here, hopefully on the rest of their tour, being tossed around in a crowd under their music, bodies can jostle against the confines of culture, the confines of the city until there are no confines at all.