John Maher - 'Bedroom and Chapel' from ‘Nobody's Home'
There is inevitably a degree of indulgence in this 50/50 series. Perhaps this is is at it ought to be, for Pop is a personal experience and if you cannot be self-indulgent with it then frankly what is the point? On the other hand is the self-indulgence of Pop and of writing about it merely a symptom of our disconnected society and as much a part of the problem as part of the solution? Perhaps, perhaps not. Certainly there is a creeping feeling unfurling in my fiftieth year that so much frivolity is misplaced energy.
That said, there is of course a rich seam in Pop’s history wherein artists have used the medium as a vehicle for political (and indeed Political) and social commentary and critique. And if the power of Popular culture as an agent of change has been eroded and erased since its heyday (arguably in the '70s and '80s), partly thanks to increasingly complex commodification and partly thanks to the unravelling of the threads that bound the culture together, then perhaps this is just the nature of history and of art forms within society’s machine. Perhaps though (and this is highly probable) I am just old and of touch.
I am vaguely aware of those in younger generations who still fiercely value the possibilities of Pop as a means of communication and as a medium through which to express frustrations and proclaim allegiances. Colour Me Wednesday would be one such group and if I love them dearly for their progressive, left-leaning idealism I admit I love them more simply for the infectious power-punk-idiepopping noise they invest their songs with.
‘Shut’, it might be argued, is the singular theme for Colour Me Wednesday; the thematic essence that runs through the centre of their explosive candy-coloured rock of Pop. They are young but getting older; they recognise their shyness but are passively aggressive in their need to have a voice; they look so weak but feel so strong (and maybe they get laughed at); they know what’s wrong and what’s right; they dance in their bedrooms and THEY BURN INSIDE. Yes, it is perhaps a white middle-class luxury to care about such things and yes, it is perhaps a white middle-class luxury to make art about it. And yes, yes of course ’Shut' is knowingly naive (it is Pop music), but that does not mean it cannot also understand the complexity of contradiction (it does and they do).
‘Shut’ is a song about the essence of growing up, apart and away from adolescence into adulthood whilst being the very essence of simultaneously acknowledging and rejecting both the adulthood and the adolescence. It is a song that spins on the axes of certainty/uncertainty; of fear/exhilaration; of intoxication/sobriety. ‘Shut’ knows that it is both timeless and immediately pointless; knows it is intensely, personally poignant and laughably irrelevant in the same stuttering bubblegum-flavoured breath. ‘Shut’ knows it is, when all is said and done, just Pop!. It’s enough.
It strikes me that a common thread of recent entries in this series has been one of loss and absence. Tempting as it might be to suggest this is tied to recent personal experience, it would only ever be one part of the reason, for in truth there has always been something appealing about the deserted, the derelict, the forgotten. I am certainly not alone in this, and one could find any number of artists who have built significant bodies of work around the theme, not least of whom might be Nikolaus Geyrhalter with his recent ‘Homo Sapiens’ ‘documentary’. Intriguingly, and at risk of coming over all gender stereotyping, it appears to be largely a male obsession. This has struck me particularly in recent years when, in various photography GCSE classes, it is boys who are by far the most likely to be drawn to the exploration of derelict factories and abandoned cottages in their work. Perhaps there is a gender study to be done here? Perhaps not.
John Maher’s photographs of abandoned crofts on the Isles of Lewis and Harris are certainly ones which concern themselves with questions of abandonment and displacement. Some may recognise the name in connection with music, specifically as the drummer for Buzzocks and more recently with the reformed Penetration (whose 2015 ‘Resolution’ set was a magnificent return), but Maher has also built something of a reputation as a photographer and rightly so. The photographs of abandoned crofts were made between 2010 and 2016 as part of the ‘Nobody's Home’ body of work and each have a distinct painterly quality to them. This quality lends the photographs a mediated, knowing romanticism that is at odds with the subject matter and excuses them from accusations of middle class voyeurism or artistic tourism. Maher may be an incomer, making art from what remains of lost souls, but his photographs are filled with a barren delicacy; a tenderness of touch that suggests a real depth of understanding, familiarity and connection with the subject and the stories they may hold within.
In the photographs of 'Nobody's Home' Maher inevitably, unavoidably asks questions about community, continuity and cohesion. He asks questions about the relationship between cause and effect, between progress and entropy, between outside(r) and inside(r). Of course any answers to these questions are by default fleeting and fractured. They are as textured and nuanced as the peeling wallpaper or the damp stained mattress in the photographs themselves. Stories, after all, are rarely black and white.