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Excel spreadsheets and walkie talkies: what comes after art school?

By Phoebe Bishop-Wright

Alas, alack, if I had known then that which I know now, I would not have accrued several tens of thousands of pounds of debt (which I am now also accruing interest on, nice one government) in return for a degree which shows no real signs of helping me either pay it back or, in the meantime, avoid living the last week of each month under hastily-imposed austerity measures; scanning possessions for their eBay potential and concocting ‘unconventional’ dishes from all-but-bare kitchen cupboards (seaweed and spaghetti-squash for breakfast anyone?).

In hindsight, I should have trained in psychotherapy or computer programming or to be a tree surgeon. Indeed, retrospective logic makes pursuing something far more tangible the obvious solution. A more employment friendly qualification could quickly provide a reliable trickle of income and facilitate any creative inklings that way. Although confined to evenings and weekends, the consumption and production of art would then escape a fate of death-by-association—of cross-contamination with one’s boss—and with the disillusionment that springs from seeing the inner-workings of large institutions (the elitism and often controversial funding).

This pragmatic, though arguably defeatist, approach wouldn’t necessarily negate undertaking Further Education in one’s One True Passion either. Instead, it might mean entering university with a purity of mind; with the conviction that a degree is for its own sake rather than relating to financial gains and that the three years should be spent earnestly expanding the mind rather than trying to meet arbitrary assessment guidelines.

It would also demand alternative arrangements from the companies that currently, at entry level just about cover our rent, and later on, promise to fund the holidays, the gin and tonics and the consumerist splurges we long to self-medicate with. Even if their adaptations were largely in attitude, I believe it would be transformative as we vastly underestimate how exhausting it is to pretend we are overjoyed to be somewhere that we aren’t, for five out of seven days.

Is this proposed compartmentalization really possible, however? On top of a thirty-five hour work week, how realistic is it to expect yourself to keep up an artistic practice, not to mention go through the rigmarole of self-promotion (assuming you want someone other than your mum to see it). This would be in addition to completing all the unpaid labour like laundry, grocery shopping, etc.; never mind keeping abreast of current affairs, managing any underlying mental or physical health conditions, maintaining (likely strained) relationships or, heaven forbid, having fun and getting enough sleep.

Degrees’ fees unfortunately mean they are the product in a transaction between customer and supplier, and while the insistence to quantify what should be immeasurable is both detrimental and inaccurate, the expectation we have from universities is to help students achieve employability in a field they enjoy and thus I feel they are all pedalling faulty goods.

I got a 2:1 (B+) from Central Saint Martins and immediately afterwards I worked in a factory. Okay, it was one that made charcoal lemonade, juice from cruciferous vegetables and various provisions comprising largely from soaked, pulped and dehydrated almonds (kill me), but I still got paid minimum wage and had to wear a hair net.

Cut to three years after graduation, and I am closer to living some sort of dream, on paper at least. I can type some prestigious names next to mine in one of those soul-destroying application portals and these will allow me, if I’m lucky, persistent and can continue to tolerate being lumped with the rotten tasks no one else higher up wants to do, to gradually climb the rungs of a ladder leading… somewhere. But what I have realised is that in actual fact that somewhere isn’t somewhere I ultimately want to be.

Yes, stuffing envelopes at the Tate, standing guard with a walkie talkie in The Whitechapel Gallery and tackling an enormously complicated database system to schedule the cherry-pickers putting up Christmas decorations at The Hayward might get you slightly more compelling (or failing that) impressive-sounding duties at The Barbican, but I have learnt that a spreadsheet is still a spreadsheet whether it’s about artworks or not.

Positions should be transparent; call a spade a spade and don’t make the makers fight for ‘industry experience’ they’ve been deluded into trusting will pave the way to hire heaven. To be close to something you love yet still on the fringes or embroiled in the very disparate nitty-gritty of it can be more painful than being elsewhere altogether.

I acknowledge that being younger makes it harder to want to compromise career-wise, I have no children or beautiful home to justify the trade-off. Still, I would council anyone even younger than I to seriously consider how they want to construct their existence post-compulsory education. If you are lucky enough to have parents that encourage you to follow your heart and don’t pressure you to become a lawyer, then this support must be combined with a businesslike strategy for covering your practical needs.

Forgive me if I sound ungrateful, but it does feel like we are stuck in a limbo between a past of steady promotions and less competition and a bright future of universal pay, four day weeks, flexible hours and automation. Often Excel hell has me suppressing a yell of “GO ON, AUTOMISE ME ALREADY, I’M DONE!”

3D-printed guns are back on the market, untraceable, and unstoppable

When the first 3D printers appeared, people daydreamed about creating their own furniture, some went as far as 3D-printing whole villages, but very few expected the technology would add to the U.S.’ gun problem—and yet here we are. In 2012, Cody Wilson created Defence Distributed, a 3D-printing gun company, considered by many to be the driving force behind this niche industry. In September 2018, Wilson was arrested and charged with sexual assault against a minor, forcing him to step down from the company.

Defence Distributed ended up dying slowly after that, but not without a bang. The company still has many other ongoing legal battles. Why? Because it uploaded and shared 3D-printed gun blueprints online, enabling anyone who has a 3D printer to own a gun—which is now illegal in the U.S. if the gun is fully made of plastic, making it invisible to metal detectors. Last year, when Defence Distributed was submerged by lawsuits left, right, and centre, everyone—the American government included—eased up. The headquarters were shut down, and the leader put behind bars. What could go wrong now?

What if there was no headquarters, no trademarks, and no real leader? Then the government would be unable to trace back to the gun blueprints. That’s exactly the idea that Defence Distributed’s substitute company had. Named Deterrence Dispensed, it uploads files individually on media-hosting sites underpinned by the LBRY blockchain—meaning decentralised platforms owned by its users. Not only are the members of Deterrence Dispensed not waiting for any government’s approval of their blueprints, but they’re also modifying old ones and offering customers more choice.

In an interview with Wired, a member of the group known as ‘Ivan the Troll’ explained how Deterrence Dispensed is more than a big fuck you to the U.S. government, saying, “Even if there was no government telling me I couldn’t do this, I think that I would still do it. I like spending hours and hours drawing stuff on Computer-Aired Design (CAD).” Ivan the Troll does more than “drawing stuff” though, he creates gun designs, adding to the threat that guns already are in America.

3D-printed guns are made of plastic, meaning they’re also a single-shot, disposable device that really can only be fired once, and if not printed perfectly, could potentially misfire and cause injury to the shooter himself. Printers are starting to experiment with metallic parts, but we’re still far from being able to download a file for any kind of gun and just press a button, and let the printer do its job. That’s exactly the reasoning that pro-gun supporters have, but plastic or not, a gun is still a gun.

Mass shootings, gun-related deaths, terrorist attacks… Do we really need more guns, especially in the U.S.? To support his argument, Ivan mentioned the many police shootings of unarmed black men in America, implying that if you can get shot by the police for no reason, you should also own a gun. But a research from Harvard University shows that where there are more guns, there are more murders—simple as that. Sorry Judge Jeneane.

Apart from Deterrence Dispensed, there are thousands more 3D-printed gun enthusiasts worldwide, doing exactly the same, on a smaller scale. There is no way to stop this file-sharing disease. So where do we go from there? We need to talk about gun violence, and why this can’t be our new normal—in the U.S. or anywhere else. The clear uncertainness that surrounds the gun discussion is what blocks it from going somewhere. Then again, some might argue that guns are not the problem, people are.