Thinking with... Simon Bayly

Updated: Sep 27, 2020

'Climate change, which is for many by far that most significant threat ever faced by humanity, is simply not an event-life catastrophic phenomenon to which we attach a specific date. Indeed it is spatial and temporal dispersion.' - Simon Bayly, 2013

Vintage clocks. Photo Credit: Wix.

Hello my lovelies! This is going to be a tough read, so make sure you psych yourselves up. I'm still trying to get my head around Simon Bayly's article 'The End of the Project: futurity in the culture of catastrophe', and my patchy understanding really shows in this blog. Power on through and let me know your own thoughts. It would be great to start up a conversation afterwards. Maybe then I might be able to articulate my thoughts on Bayly's article more eloquently.


Good luck with the reading, and I'll see you on the other side!

I'm re-reading Simon Bayly's article 'The End of the Project: futurity in the culture of catastrophe' ('The End'). It must be the fourth or fifth attempt at reading this article during my time making Call Us Angels, and still I struggle to grasp the concepts Bayly places so delicately in front of me. With each read, my mind starts to race further and further away from Bayly's exploration of the project. I get ahead of myself and start to dream of a future where I have finally completed this blog. I imagine perfectly formed sentences that simply and elegantly articulate my thoughts and feelings on Bayly's own thoughts on time, projects and catastrophe. I'm still unsure whether this is a future I will ever be able to achieve, but now after over 100 days of Call Us Angels, I think I might be able to articulate the relationship between Bayly's article 'The End' and my own project Call Us Angels.

Simon Bayly is a performance academic currently based as a professor at Roehampton University. Bayly's interests lie in the actual making of performance and its ties with what he calls '(non) disciplines including philosophy, psychoanalysis, and the arts of organisation; contemporary curatorial practice engaged with participatory, relational and 'socially-engaged' art; the aesthetic dimensions of political activism and ecology; the relationship between artistic practice and informal, DIY or radical education activity; exploring questions raised by 'research' considered as a strategy for artistic production - and vice versa' (Bayly, 2020). As a MA student, perhaps coming from a more practical and less academic background than Bayly's, his ability to connect philosophical concepts (for example) with performance blows my mind. I am still learning how to engage with these so-called '(non) disciplines' in relation to my own creative work, and this may be why I have struggled so much to grapple with Bayly's article over time.


As far as I can tell, throughout this article Bayly takes the reader on an adventure that 'explores the notion of a future that is radically open, yet foreclosed by catastrophe, notably in relation to climate change' (2013). This is where I fall, right at the first hurdle. I haven't even finished reading the abstract of this article and I am stuck thinking about one single sentence. It is not, however, the paradox of a future being simultaneously open but also closed that strikes me down. Instead, I question, who does Bayly think this notion of a future is radically open and closed to? Perhaps it is my own feminist background, and Call Us Angels' demand to realise women will be disproportionately impacted by future ecological crises, that brings this question to the foreground. I assume that this said future is only radically open and closed to a select number of white men, all hidden within their ivory towers.


Maybe this is a good thing to assume? Maybe women can change this future that is both simultaneously open and closed? Maybe we can stop the inevitable doom of catastrophes like climate change that will close this future? I place this thought towards the back of my mind, hoping one day I will be able to articulate this thought succinctly, and instead continue to read Bayly's article.


Bayly does not take into account who this notion of the future is open and close for, and this surprises me. Instead he goes on to explore the concept of messianic time. Again, I have to stop and breathe to ensure I don't fall head over heels in confusion. I have no idea what messianic time means. I think that Bayly sees messianic time as a time in which we are truly ourselves, where time doesn't fly away from us (2013). However, I am unsure and I am still trying to wrap my head around the religious connotation of this term. Instead of sitting with this concept to try to work it out, I question: surely this idea of messianic time, where one is truly ourselves within time, could be seen as mindful time? Perhaps this is too self-centred and jumping on the bandwagon of mindfulness being the 'in' thing (Ninivaggi, 2018)? I decide to forget about mindfulness, forget about messianic time (whatever that means), and thoughts on who the future is for, and instead carry on working through Bayly's article, bit by bit, in the hope that I might find something that connects to Call Us Angels.

Storm clouds forming. Photo Credit: Wix.

I really hope I haven't totally got myself lost in Bayly's 'The End', forgetting about its possible connections with Call Us Angels. Although I question my lack of understanding towards messianic time, and my own concerns with who the notion of the future is radically open but also closed to, I am sure this is not what Bayly set out to specifically explore in his article. Furthermore, although it provides a different insight into Bayly's article, this side-tracked questioning is not what is useful to Call Us Angels right now. Instead, let us try to delve into Bayly's understanding of projects, his ideas about time and climate change, and discuss how these may have extended my thoughts around my own project.

'Essential to the project [is] its transformation of the experience of time.' - Simon Bayly, 2013

Call Us Angels has made me obsessed with time. More specifically, I have become obsessed with slowness and varying temporalities, not only within this project, but within climate change and the ecological crisis.


It became obvious early on in this project that there would be no specific end point to Call Us Angels. Instead, I would focus on the process of making my trash wings, inducing a slowness and 'never-endingness' to Call Us Angels. I am not entirely sure why I made this decision but, with the help of Bayly, I hope to suss out what it physically means to be a part of a seemingly never-ending project that explores the relationship between gender and the ecological crisis.

Holding onto time. Photo Credit: Wix.

Within my reflection of Call Us Angels (access here), I stated that 'I literally lived this project' (Discombe, 2020). Bayly suggests that this experience of being so wrapped up within the time of a project is usual. He states that 'a condition of undertaking a project is that it takes over one's whole body. Life in the project leaves little time for life elsewhere, even at night or in one's dreams' (Bayly, 2013). The inclusion of daily vlogs (or 'stories' as they are called on Instagram) and weekly videos (posted every Friday at 12pm on the Call Us Angels Instagram page) was a conscious decision for Call Us Angels. Both provided a solid framework for the project to grow, to focus on the process of making the wings, and simultaneously developed varying temporalities. What I didn't realise however, is that this routine of posting daily vlogs and weekly videos would become a part of my daily life. My living time became intertwined with project time in a way that meant I couldn't necessarily discern my life from the life of the project.


Finally, I seem to be understanding some of Bayly's article! He goes on to state the one factor that defines all projects, creative or not, are that they transform 'the experience of time' (Bayly, 2013). I would have to agree with Bayly on this point. In relation to Call Us Angels, I was living this project, experiencing my life through the time of the project. Instead of being able to sleep for a normal seven or eight hours every night, as was the case before this project, I found myself worrying about the project so much that I'd get up in the middle of the night and continue to make wings or write down thoughts. Project time had taken over. Furthermore, the slow and varied temporalities of this project, developed through the daily vlogs and weekly video posting, allowed me to physically think through the temporality of climate change and the ecological crisis.


Climate change and the ecological crisis are 'simply not an event-life catastrophic phenomenon to which we attach a specific date. Indeed it is spatial and temporal dispersion' (Bayly, 2013). If my understanding of Bayly's quotation is correct here, it seems that climate change and the ecological crisis creeps up on society, happening slowly and bit by bit. Although we don't realise it, Bayly makes it clear that we are living this catastrophe now. Call Us Angels allowed me to understand Bayly's complex thoughts regarding climate change's temporality. Through this project, I physically realised we are living this catastrophe now. This is because, by focusing on process and not an end product, Call Us Angels copies this slow and creeping time of climate change and the ecological crisis, and in doing so allowed me to physically experience not just the time of the project, but the time of these crises too.

Although agreeing with Bayly's understanding of climate change's temporality, we cannot forget that I have struggled to understand many other theories in his article. Perhaps I have missed the point? Perhaps my thoughts around Bayly's understanding of climate change and time are not correct? I worry I have overly simplified Bayly's understandings in order to fit my own experiences during Call Us Angels. I have to try and not let this worry me as we continue into the next section of this blog.


My struggles in understanding academic texts. Video Credit: Charlotte Discombe.

The 'never-endingness' of Call Us Angels contrasts significantly with Bayly's determination to engage with thoughts of the end of time. The quotation 'we can be sure that measures taken in the present will prevent the occurrence of a catastrophic future then it has been demonstrated [...] that these measures [...] will be postponed indefinitely, thus paradoxically permitting the undesired future to take its course' (Bayly, 2013), is extremely depressing to me. This is because I think Bayly is implying here that all attempts to reverse climate change and the ecological crisis will be unsuccessful, leading the world to extinction. As time goes on, and as Governments around the world continue to ignore calls to take action against climate change and the ecological crisis, Bayly's implication that projects attempting to prevent a catastrophic future are 'paradoxically permitting the undesired future to take its course' seems depressingly true. Perhaps this is why I need to continue to live in Call Us Angels? To feel like I can go against this inevitable future of catastrophe. I therefore worry that the never-endingness of Call Us Angels has not been to continue to learn more about gender and the ecological crisis. Instead, I question whether by having no end point, Call Us Angels continues to satisfy my own selfish need to feel like we can change the end of time.


There is still so much to learn about the relationship between gender and the ecological crisis, and there are still so many voices left to hear. I really hope that Call Us Angels will be able to continue not because of my own selfish needs, but because other women still need to find out more. I also hope by continuing Call Us Angels as a never-ending project, I might one day be able to digest Bayly's article without feeling like I have missed something. Maybe with more time and more thinking with Bayly, this blog will change, as will my understanding of Call Us Angels as a project itself.


We shall have to wait and see what the future brings!

If you want to be less confused about my waffle here, I would suggest taking a look at Bayly's article yourself. Click here for a link. If you have any problems accessing the article, please get in touch and I'll see what I can do.


The more I edit this blog, the more I realise that it relates quite heavily to my thinking around practice-as-research projects. If you're interested in thinking through doing, something that often helped me understand Bayly's article, I would suggest having a look at this blog here.

Work Referenced:


Bayly, Simon. 'The End of the Project: futurity in the culture of catastrophe'. Angelaki, vol.18, no.2, 2013, pp.161-177.


'...'. 'The personal profile'. University of Roehampton, 2020, https://pure.roehampton.ac.uk/portal/en/persons/simon-bayly, (Accessed: 2020).


Ninivaggi, Frank. 'Why has mindfulness become so popular?'. Psychology Today, 2018, https://www.psychologytoday.com/us/blog/envy/201811/why-has-mindfulness-become-so-popular, (Accessed: 2020).

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