about general improvement
general: adj. common or widespread; of or affecting all or most; not specific; including or dealing with various or miscellaneous items; highest in authority or rank.
improvement: n. from improve: v. make or become better.
Strangely enough, General Improvement was never explicitly formulated as a theory. Rather, it took its time and, from an intuition grew into a paradigm. Strictly speaking, it is an optimistic theory of change.
It seems to have emerged through my work at the beginning of the year 2000. The first reference I have found is a painting I did in January of that year for a gig of the yet-to-be-famous Libertines. I had lived with them the previous year and, even though our conditions of existence were really appalling and it ended as bad as it could (we got evicted in may '99), there always remained a strong optimistic feeling about. It was a way of thinking that nothing could ever get worse since with each day that passed, I had new events to add to my experience, perpetually casting a new light over my past and setting new directions for my future. The painting, plainly factual, read:
SOMETIMES WITH THE LIBERTINES
236 CAMDEN ROAD
DECEMBER 98 APRIL 99
It simply stated the obvious, saying that there would always be room for improvement. After that, it seems that everything I did was associated to General Improvement. Either little or big, everything to which could be attached a form of dynamic belonged to General Improvement. Failure began to serve the same purpose as success. Because it remains essentially a specific way to look at things, everything is possible. To some extent, General Improvement can also become a justification to the oddest of behaviour, in so far as one is ready to take on the mental gymnastic it implies.
I arrived in London on October the 15th 1998 and began to use the tube straight away. I soon realised that even though best to go from A to B, it was widely loathed by its users. I felt that the excitement of the early days was going to wear off and that before long I would, as all, be looking down as soon as I stepped in. I had to give myself something to do in the tube in order to enjoy it besides travelling from A to B. I needed an extra justification for being there.
It was clear from the beginning that people, for most of them, disliked the experience of being tightly stuck with strangers in a slow moving underground vehicle. In order to survive the unpleasantness of it all, one has to minimise the very notion of being there. To do so, several techniques can be used although the commonest is to avoid any and every form of eye contact - sometimes to the point of stupidity. The easiest way to do so being to look elsewhere, any two-dimensional media will do; books, magazines and newspapers are abundant down there. The tube is probably second only to libraries for that matter. Other people's shoes represent a poor substitute compared to the safety and comfort of one's newspaper.
As an artist I quickly took on the matter of providing two-dimensional media for those in need. Rather than giving newspapers away - that is what I did for a living at the time - I began to carry a picture on a board attached to my back. By doing so, I provided those in need of setting their eyes on a two-dimensional media with a ready-made, convenient and non-judgemental solution.
I carried a picture for a little less than a year, to date, the longest performance I have ever engaged in. Even though this was long prior to it, I consider it was definitely part of General Improvement. It is a little thing that can transform one's day.
That is for the main idea, the rest is down to whoever feels like playing the game. I like to refer to it as the General Improvement Company, because I like the sense of purposefulness, end-of-chain-product meaning it implies. It is a Company whose capital is non material and whose product is free. It has no chairman and no accountant. It is a Company to which, simply because of the optimistic nature of the human kind, most people belong.
Despite being Hegelian in spirit, General Improvement is not a philosophy. It is a fact. Even if you have done little today, chances are that you have taken part to General Improvement one way or another. In the end it is personal: as much in its expression as in its recognition. This is not a restriction nor a fault since the benefits can only be appreciated individually. Similarly, it does not have to serve any grand design as it is all relative and anything will do. In short, so long as there shall be an itch to be scratched, there shall be room for General Improvement.
As I said the experience is essentially personal and everyone is encouraged to develop its own means. The following links are part of what I can only think of as General Improvement. They are my work and, in all likeliness, they will only interest a few. Still, feel free to browse and if you have anything to say, let me know, I am interested.
Brighton, September 2004