# Ashley Holmes

I have been friends with Ashley Holmes for roughly five or so years. We met whilst studying at Sheffield’s school of art, and of course we both share a love for the subject. Mr Holmes is a brilliant black Lutonian with an exquisite creative thirst. A hunger which is self evident when you meet him, yet his visual and audible habits are something to cherish. Since we both graduated Ashley has maintained a steady output of both inquisitive visual art, and uncountable nights of mixing music. In fact Ashley is responsible for my awareness of artists ranging from Kelela, Bok Bok, J Dilla, Inc., and many others. I can remember very accurately when he described to me his experience in Liverpool with a mutual friend David Michael. They had both been to see the band Inc. and his account of this experience made me realise that the two of us are quite different people. Good friends, great geezers, creative creatures with overlapping interests – but somewhat different. This was then reinforced years later when he came to an exhibition of his work in Tokyo, with the brilliant Space Space Gallery (Ella Křivánek ya crazy 😉 {1}). I had just moved to Japan to nurture some diverse life experience, and had been in a foul disenchanted mood regarding art of all kinds. At the end of the exhibition I asked Ashley something a long the lines of, ‘If you can produce great art cheaply via the internet and a computer, what is the point of showing it physically in a gallery?’. I can not remember his exact words, but I imagine his answer to have looked like this, ‘Paul you fool, exhibitions are not about the work, It is a social event.’ Such an answer I had judged as being completely wrong.

         Yet, after being a teacher for two years the value of experience in life and culture has taken more of a concrete presence. Therefore I now understand Ashley’s quick explanation and appreciate this British artist’s work all the more because of it. I find Ashley’s work incredibly social it often directly utilises digital social networks as it’s main material ingredient. The art often has this two-fold social element both technological and somewhat socio/anthropological. For example, the work that Ashley showed in the exhibition at Space Space Gallery in Tokyo consisted of material of a Jungle Rave that had been shut down by the police somewhere in London. The video that he exhibited is a good example of three major themes that are easy to spot in Ash’s work. Firstly, a) his own identity, b) sound, music, and politics c) technology and digital culture. During and after the exhibition one was struck by two things: the artist’s delight in using the new potentials of digital media, and the fact that Ashley’s work naturally issues further engagement (mostly of the spoken kind, and preferably with him). This prohibited dance then was given new life by Ashley, and I now wonder/want to ask him: if the narrative or visual qualities of the original material were chosen because they signified what potentially any art exhibition could be? It also reinforces the notion that culture is all about the doing of something – sharing of things that seem unrelated, yet are always able to be repositioned.

          On the other hand, what are we youth doing today? Rejoicing in the repositioning of unvaluable things through our right to use Instagram? Yes, however this is why we need artists like you Ashley to serve up new experiences a midst the horrible haze of digital pacifism, and a certain languishing in lethargic language. Anyway, back to discussing your work. Over the years our attempts at using digital material and our discussions on the merits of studio-less creativity culminated in you beginning to make work perfectly suited for inclusion in A Pixel or Digit? An exhibition at Croydon school of art in London. A project that I curated with Alice Cretney, who is the director of Turf Projects a gallery and artistic community – always running a great programme with interesting artists showing work. The exhibition comprised of ten I-phones and your work which you can see as: My Ghetto Frame Of Mind Makes Me Prone To Hostility, was one of the ten initial artists we worked with. This work highlights Ashley’s comfort-ability or natural way of working with moving image and digital materials and it’s methods of distribution. This video showcases this both in it’s format and visual content. Watching the work you are confronted with swirls of mirror like metallic droplets. Suggesting you have found a way to transform internet based video into a new glitchy gloss. Running on loop and representing gold Nike sneakers, and also someone who is perhaps you? I can not quite tell. The manner in which the liquid like parts of the video move make me think about a possible relation to mixing music: Ashley what is more mixable paint or music? Oil or vinyl?

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Ashley Holmes. Dot Dot Dit Dit Dot Dot Dash, Platform Residency, Site Gallery, 2017

You may wish to answer one day, please? Sneakers are the focus of the next contemporary cultural motif your work consistently (in my opinion) carries a torch for. The very real change in artistic culture. Wording this directly, a montage used to be the dominant term throughout artistic practice in the early twentieth century. Yet, now we find this word subsumed into our generation’s ritualistic creative habits of appropriation. Therefore, what we can observe when we watch Ashley’s Crep Check (2016) is not only a masterful manipulation of digital matter – it is also a sublime example of what one just suggested, appropriation is the current ‘ground’ which we have been building on. The object of Ashley’s inquiry is the ‘Sneaker’, and the narrative that is given to us is one of both the value of new footwear juxtaposed next to their place within a certain urban culture. That of the so called degenerate class of folk called Chavs. The word ‘Crep’ in the dialect of English known as Chavish, refers to a particularly desirable sneaker. The dialogue that accompanies the continuous stream of creps being dirtied is a marvel in itself. Yes, sound-bits I like include: ‘Ohhh shit I need to get dem… luv Jordans from day one!’, ‘Dose kids wa weird in mi school.’, ‘Like… Workouts, and Classics, and Airmax one nineties… One tens…’, ‘Doze are the creps ya got.’. In this particular work the confident use of the language of a demonised poor, reminds us that it is in fact just as valuable as the Queen’s English. As a digital construction it shows Ashley to be a master of composition.

Crep Check’s composed of two main objects liquid (again) and Creps (sneakers) a complimentary pairing that remind me of what the thinker Mark Fisher accurately explained as Capitalist Realism. In the 2009 book of the same name Fisher shows the true extent of the rule of capital over our lives. I reference this book because Ashley’s video reminded me of it’s essential re-telling of the modern ramifications of one of the core theories of anti-capitalist thought. The origins of Marx’s ‘Commodity Fetishism’ is his disagreement with his master (Hegel) over the use of the term fetishism. A religion of sensuous appetites that through the prism of desire and fantasy imbues objects (products) with a strange power over us. Ashley’s observation of sneakers in my opinion offers a tiny snapshot of how this theory is a big part of the fluidity of capitalism. The choice of object, especially if the footage is of Nike ‘Jordans’ is symbolic of the unforgivable habit of money to take something from life, and in a heart beat sell it back to us in an undead/deader than dead form. Understanding that Michel Jordan’s spirit and memory on the basketball court, provided capitalists with something to quench the thirst of people with a fantasy for elite athleticism. The footwear in this moving image piece makes the Leftist realisation that the more capitalism rots internally on the outside it appears clean. That’s what the interplay of food stuff’s, sauces, and water being systematically dirtying, and cleansing hints at. Therefore another look at Mark’s writing allows us to see this realism clearly.

‘Gangster rap neither merely reflects pre-existing social conditions, as
many of its advocates claim, nor does it simply cause those conditions, as
its critics argue – rather the circuit whereby hip hop and the late
capitalist social field feed into each other is one of the means by which
capitalist realism transforms itself into a kind of anti-mythical myth.{2}’

       Fisher’s quote and Ashley’s work join to show this ‘myth that is not a myth’ like quality of both culture and production. Perhaps today’s city dwelling habits hide this above quality, yet being from south London this artist’s imagery is bound to carry urban nuances and interests. Yet, Ashley is one delightful dude…so, of course, his influences carry more light and complexity than gangster rap. A quick glimpse reveal two giants of creativity Sun-Ra, and Gill Scott-Heron. Mr Ra, the alien from Saturn certainly preached peace, in 1942 Ra was drafted into the U.S.A’s military. Immediately, Sun-ra opposed such violence, and after remarking that he would attack his commanding officers if forced to join, he was quickly imprisoned. Of course Mr Ra was willing to avoid physical violence at all costs even if this meant being subjected to it himself. The other truly immortal, that Ashley cites as inspiration is the poet, rapper, spoken word performer, and bluesologist Gill Scott-Heron. In fact Ashley is simultaneously artist and a scientist, not just of the blues, but always exploring music. Although speaking of the blues provides a nice way of introducing his most recent artistic activity.

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Ashley Holmes. Dot Dot Dit Dit Dot Dot Dash, Platform Residency, Site Gallery, 2017

In the Blues music you have a certain scale that contains ‘Blue notes’ (literally worried notes) flattened in pitch. This effect is similar to something found in what Ashley chose to name his residency at Sheffield’s Site Gallery. Dot Dot Dit Dit Dot Dot Dash, is sampled from Heron’s ‘Old- fashioned ghetto code‘ (2001). It’s a nod to how through an alteration of language people may still communicate successfully, but maintain secrecy and avoid snooping authorities. This element is so important given the surveillance habits, and propensity for racial profiling in the racist institutions of the U.K, and U.S.A. This is why Ashley’s residency is something to ponder for longer, both for him and wider communities throughout the country. The content and programme of events provide opportunity to think about how cultures are cultivated. How communities and by default that specific culture has it’s own defence mechanisms. Discussing this further, on the flier for the exhibition you have a type of head wear, called the The Down Du-rag. This piece of silk material came from prisons in the 1970’s, but now has become gender neutral and is worn by many many black people around the world. This Du-rag is an evocative object not only can you associate it with the gang wars that rage in America, but could also be connected to the Hi-jab and the current existential crisis our Muslim friends are facing with the evil version of their faith, Isis’s and it’s caliphate. In this sense the conflicts between Cribs/bloods, Muslims, and Daesh are the same evil.

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Ashley Holmes. (Du-rag) Dot Dot Dit Dit Dot Dot Dash, Platform Residency, Site Gallery, 2017

           An evil that is perhaps only overcome when members of the species, or community come to accept the incompleteness of one’s own culture and language. Therefore, when we look at Dot Dot Dit Dit Dot Dot Dash, we see a project by a young artist, who is doing what artists should be doing – re-energising and re-animating. Culminating in the creation of images igniting new imagery. Alas, I did not actually attend the exhibition in person, but one is not only writing about Ashley because he is a friend. I write about Ashley because I am impressed by what he has achieved and the manner in which he has done so. Unlike the shameless behaviour of some world renowned art figures: Anish Kapoor I am thinking of you? Why do you need ownership of exclusive rights to use Vantablack? This unfortunately is not the only nastiness one has to touch upon. In recent years the U.K has been governed by a group of silver spoon fed Conservatives. Together the agendas of George Osborne and Michael Gove pursued austerity with a brutal mentality, art itself was deemed surplus to requirements. If Gove had is way the curriculum of the UK would be rather artless. That is why it is a joy to observe Ashley do his ting effortlessly, and so naturally. It defeats the impoverishing desires of those privileged few just by it’s very presence. Thanks has to go to Sheffield’s Site Gallery for selecting and enabling one of the city’s residents an opportunity to publicly discuss his blackness.

         One last comment on the content of this residency: on Saturday the 11th of February the film Babylon (1980) was screened. This film is a depiction of the troubles with racism faced by black youth throughout the 80’s in London. Watching the film you are shown an accurate portrayal of the savagery that they faced. The sound system enabled their culture room to resist, a sonic sanctuary like no other – it is a fact that during that time the mythical Jah Shaka system used to lock themselves and those present at the dance inside the venue to escape the hatred of white police. I suspect that after viewing the film, during the preceding discussion, people discussed the unique dancing stemming from Black culture (e.g Chicago’s Foot work, or those from the Jamaican dance hall), that in many ways are practiced more frequently than a waltz, kan kan, or the salsa. Finally, Ashley’s tri-fold exploration of Black cultural production, unspoken coded languages{3}, and the black personae shows very clearly that he is one of the leading young black figures of the British creative community. I for one wait for him to continue the making of great art, in the rhythm of a ‘Dash-dot-dot-dit-dit-dot-dot’. You can keep track of his activities here: {4}

ˉ ˉ ˙ ˙ ˉ ˙ ˙ ˙ ˉ ˉ ˙ ˉ ˙ ˉ ˙ ˉ ˙˙˙˙˙ ˉ ˉ ˙ ˉ ˉ ˉ ˉ ˉ ˉ ˉ ˙˙

‘Old fashioned Ghetto codes saw phone conversations like this:
“Hey, Bree-is-other me-is-an? You goin’ to the
pe-is-arty to ne-is-ite?”
Oh, yeah! Well, why not bring me a nee-is-ickel
be-is-ag? You dig?’
I know who ever they was paying at the time to
listen in on my calls had to be scratchin’ his head
sayin’, “Dot-dot-dit-dit-dot-dot-dash.” (damned if
I know!)

  • Gill Scott-Heron, The Ghetto Code, ‘Now and Then’, Canongate Books, 2000.

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{1} www.spacespacegallery.com
{2} Mark Fisher, Capitalist Realism: is there no alternative?, Zero Books, 2009,
pg.10
{3} As a side note I would just like to add one more question to this short body
of writing. Recently I have become intrigued by mathematics. I discovered
what a Logarithm is, and since then have been studying them. Therefore I seek
to discuss with those with more grounding in mathematics to muse on the
possible relations between ‘sound pressure’ including amplitude and images.
I’m sure that existing interpretations can be found in Steve Goodman’s book
Sonic Warfare, and the writings of Kodwo Eshun, the theorist and filmmaker of
the Otolith group in London.
{4} www.ashleyholmes.co.uk
I believe you can find some of his musical madness here:
http://m.mixcloud.com/discover/plenty-vibes
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