This SCAB may be my most ambitious yet. I will consider it a success, if after having read the next few hundred or so words, you kind of get the gist of what I was trying to say. Here goes…
The challenges of the SCA have reacquainted me with demons I had been avoiding for years. Not least my relationship with the tyranny of the clock and the grinding mechanics of time.
I was offered a grace period to regroup and I went back to Manchester. I’m staying with my sister while I remote work. And fortunately for me she practically lives across the road from one of our cities finest cultural institutions, The Whitworth Art Gallery. I made use of my change in circumstances and paid a visit.
Almost immediately as I entered the red brick Victorian edifice I noticed a familiar portrait. Hanging to the right of the revolving door, was William Blake’s Ancient of Days. It wasn’t however, the original hand coloured metal relief etching. Instead, it was an NFT.
It’s a remarkable image. The NFT obviously has that Twenty First Century computer generated vibe, but if you didn’t know the original was from 1794, it’s so fresh that you’d happily accept that it was a contemporary piece.
It features Urizen, who in Blake’s mythology was a God-like figure representing a scientific and ordered view of the universe. It’s worth noting that it was Blake’s favourite from his own works.
Here it was my struggle with imposed structure, order, control, technology and time, manifested in an image.
Gamers may also be familiar with Urizen through the Devil May Cry franchise where he is the inspiration of the games main demonic antagonist.
Hang tight for the idea weaving…
Here in central Manchester is Blake’s masterpiece reimagined. On campus, Manchester University Press is publishing Ecocide by David Whyte. A mile up the road is the Neo-Gothic Chetham’s Library where Marx and Engels researched the Communist Manifesto. And if you follow the ship canal you’ll arrive at the remnants of the old industrial mills that George Orwell would have seen that inspired him to write The Road To Wigan Pier.
Manchester, poster child for the heady heights and grim lows of the industrial revolution. A city where radical ideas were debated, from free trade, universal suffrage to co-operatives.
Great minds have criss-crossed this city at different moments in history. But with Blake’s work on display in the gallery, I see a common thread. An anchor point in a spirit of resistance and awareness.
Blake is arguably one of the greatest artists to come from the British Isles. In the Anglophone world he is certainly one of the most mystical and touches on the prophetic. The OG of the Romantic movement, proto-feminist, abolitionist, the guy was an all-round righteous thinker. And a prolific doer. What I particularly like about him is that he had a day job as an illustrator and engraver. And in his own time he wrote poems like Jerusalem and warned of the coming industrialisation and the threat to humanity and creativity. He was a champion of the imagination and opposed to the Dark Satanic Mills. A phrase which he coined and gifted to the English Lexicon.
The irony is that whilst Jerusalem is pretty much an establishment anthem, Blake was anything but. He is quoted as saying “Damn the King. The soldiers are all slaves.”
The tapestry gets more interesting. Our school is located in Brixton, in the London borough of Lambeth. Blake lived and worked in Lambeth for a period of ten years.
At the SCA you can see the universal artistic spirit that energised Blake. Our talismanic craft mentor, Ian Hands, illuminates the most talented artists in our cohort.
You will hear Pete Cain click his fingers and say ideas are out there “they come to us from the universe” and we pick them up like antennae. It’s all energy. And energy can’t be destroyed, only transferred. So, is there a thread from the spirit of Blake to the SCA? I hope so.
Marc believes that a student from his school will win a Nobel prize. I thought that was great marketing chutzpah for his curriculum. But the more I think about it the less mad it sounds.
Especially when he introduced us to phenomenal guest speaker and co-founder of our school Adah Parris. Sharing ideas about ‘Cyborg Shamanism’ and encouraging us to think about ‘what kind of ancestor do you want to be?’
I see Blake as the root of a tree, that has started to take shape over the centuries since the industrial revolution, on this peculiar little island. People who take shade under this tree understand that human society and its institutions are sick and require imagination, right thinking, compassion and love to heal.
This school has been educating creative seeds to communicate their ideas, seek gainful employment and manage their time. Most of us will likely get jobs and that’s amazing. But if like Blake we can hold down the day job and co-exist with Urizen and the controlling forces of the machine world. Who knows, maybe after work one of our ideas could change the world.
Here’s an audio clip from the late Zen Buddhist monk Thich Nhat Hanh that I hope says the above more concisely.