Jon Cooper


Lights out

Fully automated factories, free from human presence, can run with their lights off. Their machines churn away, satiating our greed for commodities, obediently thundering on in the dark. This productive process of industrial replication in the social body could be compared to the catabolic process of food digestion in the natural body. Both leave us unaware as they thereby, without our participation or consideration, sustain our lives.

The Square

This newly released film evokes a complex relationship with its subject, conceptual art. In concerning itself with neither narrative suspense, dramatic synergy, passionate mood, nor exquisite atmosphere, it mirrors conceptual art, which similarly privileges abstraction as a mode of expressing and exploring questions of system: of power, control, knowledge, and their spatial orderings. Yet the film also problematises conceptual art, its curatorial worlds, and the socioeconomic relations connected to its production, marketing, and consumption. The film seems to suggest conceptual art is guilty of the very crime it wishes to reproach by seeking to obscure the systemic conditions of its own existence, concealing its own complex origins in relations of power, control, and knowledge.

Exploring Cambridge Junction

The Junction is often beyond the radar of Cambridge students. Situated just past the railway station, adjacent to the strangely corporate and soulless leisure centre best known to nearby Homertonians, the Junction’s surroundings used to be the site of a decrepit cattle market discernibly outside of the city centre. The architecture of the original building is testament to the City Council’s intention to stop noise escaping from the venue, originally created to give youths something to do as the rave scene of the 90s was emerging. The Junction was, and to some extent continues to be, firmly on the ‘town’ side of the town/gown divide.

Describing itself as “committed to art and entertainment that is up-and-coming, youthful and cutting-edge”, with Lottery and Arts Council grants, the Junction has grown and expanded over the past 25 years to become something more considerable than a doghouse for Cambridge’s loud and dance-prone teenagers. Over the first 17 years of its existence, the Junction grew from 400 to 1,500 capacity, while the number of annual events tripled, increasingly surrounded by urban development and sprawl – a Travelodge, cinema complex, and plenty of chain restaurants.

Yet its sense as a venue for residents, rather than a haunt of Cambridge’s transient and temporary student community, seems to persist. Despite having an incredibly impressive line-up, the intimate and well-equipped venue is rarely attended by Cambridge students. As a former sixth former in Cambridge, this quirk seems a little wasteful – I remember some of my first live music experiences at Little Comets and Local Native gigs in J1, and seeing a contemporary dance piece my sister was involved with in J2. The Junction is friendly, cheap and offers something quite different to anything else in the centre of the city. 


The power of Polish art

As a History student who has mostly studied early modernity (that is, being primarily concerned with kings, queens, the establishment of the rule of law, and changing attitudes to theories of knowledge and governance), I don’t tend to see the machinations of modern industrial societies as natural. Urban spaces are vastly complex; modern industrial and post-industrial governments and democratic forces are unwieldy and unstable caprices – peace, organisation and prosperity lie precariously upon humans’ naturally lawless propensity for chaos and disruption.

If young British people, growing up in a relatively peaceful, intricately-constructed and stable society, are prone to forgetting that social and environmental human structures are malleable and by no means permanent, memory yields different conclusions for former Soviet states  – not least for Poland, on the stomping ground between Axis and Allies during World War Two. After doing some thinking about the anti-Semitism that had been debated during the NUS referendum in Easter term, I wanted to find out something about my own ancestral links to the Holocaust and the persecution of Jews in Poland.

Sometimes upon travelling, our ambition to ‘broaden our horizons’ sinks into that Western, individualist notion of ‘finding ourselves.’ A sort of personal pilgrimage to discover the ‘self’, a conception of personality that we rarely remember is at least partially an idiom of US-European modernity. Sometimes travelling does something very different: rather than handing personal growth on an exotic platter, remote from beige parochialism, it can teach us to critically reflect on what we take for granted. In my case, those beige edifices and architectural relics of a Gothic past, housing that culturally-contingent educational elitism I’ve become so comfortable with, became a surprising object of reflection against my original intention. 


The Age of the Earth

It is sometimes said that if the history of the earth were condensed to one year, it’d be one hour til Auld Lang Syne before Neanderthals show up. At 23:58 and 43 seconds, the birth and death of Christ. Creationists used to date the earth and therefore the universe at about 6,000 to 10,000 years. In 1779, Comte du Buffon estimated it was in fact 75,000 years old. In 1862, Lord Kelvin assumed the earth began as a completely molten object and estimated its age at between 20 to 400 million years.

Scientists now understand the Earth to be about 4.5 billion years old and the universe a whopping 14 billion. If these figures cannot be taken as estimates of widespread perceptions at any one time, they nevertheless help articulate some change in perspective over the past few hundred years. Contemporary science points to a universe over 13,000,000,000 years older than European people believed 400 years ago – nanoseconds before midnight. For auld lang syne, my jo,/ for auld lang syne,/ we’ll tak’ a cup o’ kindness yet,/ for auld lang syne.