The Depressionist movement emerged at the turn of the century with a group of Melbourne-based artists whose mild disappointment with almost everything could no longer go unexpressed.

Buskers, beggars and street artists from liberal middle-class homes attempted to define a new generation and, in doing so, forge a completely new reality. One that was informed by nothing in particular, perhaps some mild mental illness involving some symptoms of stress.

This new artistic movement would be in stark contrast to previous movements, in that artists didn’t really have to think or try as much. While previous movements had been desperate for resolution of the mind-body problem, had worked tirelessly to shed light on the nature of existence and aspired to be the instrument of liberty, Depressionism was more concerned with how these notions and questions could be avoided altogether.

The beginnings of Depressionism

The Depressionist sought to depict neither objective reality or emotional experience, rather they attempted to pinpoint triviality. Visual evidence of the movement first surfaced when innocuous slogans and mildly ironic, esoteric past-ups dribbled onto the streets of the northern suburbs.

While the Depressionists had no known predecessors, they did have many influences, among them Family Guy, Daniel Kitson and Wednesday from The Addams Family.

The movement soon took hold and progressed rapidly into a fully fledged sub-culture. Some of the original expressions of non-conformity, opposition to mainstream culture and anti-consumerism fell by the wayside when artists realised they were too hard to commit to. And some of the more radical sociopolitical statements had been lost because artists realised they had to know and understand stuff.

Depressionist protest culture

This loosely knit group did, however, band together to undertake the time-honoured artistic tradition of protesting. A small group of socially unaware and politically ill-informed artists took to the streets with poorly thought-out slogans pasted on banners to express opposition to the occupation of Iraq.

When faced with pepper spray, they quickly retreated to the RMIT library and surrounding cafés, where they continued their assault on the government with emails and links to YouTube videos of George Bush Junior saying dumb things.

The Depressionists were determined, however, to maintain a street presence. By using an early form of Shock Art, the Depressionists thrust mild obscenities, visual puns and everyday objects into the public eye. This was very similar to, if not exactly the same as, what the Dadaists had done in Europe nearly one hundred years ago in direct reaction to the broad array of atrocities they had witnessed first hand. One of the most memorable examples of the new Shock Art was a pineapple in a shopping trolley that someone saw behind a Safeway.

Some of the original expressions of non-conformity, opposition to mainstream culture and anti-consumerism fell by the wayside when artists realised they were too hard to commit to.

Guerrilla style art was considered crucial to the success of the movement, and even in the early stages the Depressionists had cultivated a large underground element. This included several strains of art: including stencils, posters, past-ups, stuff done in chalk and other types of stencils. More radical members of the group broke away to form their own movements, which took a more militant approach to art. Some went ahead with projects weeks before council approval. Some didn’t even apply for council approval. They just did stuff anyway.

By late 2002 the streets of Melbourne had become a canvas, and the voice of a mildly disappointed generation was about to be endured.

The decline of Depressionism

Although the Depressionist movement spread throughout the northern and neighbouring western suburbs of Melbourne, it initially found its roots in Brunswick sharehouses, which could be recognised by Tibetan prayer flags and Astor Cinema timetables in the lavatory.

The Depressionists would often frequent docile house parties in these sharehouses. They could be found gathered round a pot of mulled wine, swilling in a disconnected thought association, and ranting postmodern absurdities as if they were fact. A favoured pastime of the Depressionists was dancing to kitsch nineties pop in an ironic attempt to re-appropriate the meaning of a movement they had previously rejected on the grounds of its shallow nature.

By the spring of 2005, the Depressionists found themselves completely divorced from a reality they had purposely obscured. Narcissism began to present itself as the predominant spiritual paradigm and paranoia hit fever pitch. Becoming overwhelmed by the fear, and without the mental strength or dexterity to combat it, the Depressionists were forced to create a comfortable and non-threatening environment to contain the post-modern self.

Staying indoors with old video games provided a nostalgic retreat to a simpler and more comfortable time. Sofarism, as it came to be known, would provide a cocooned world for the exhausted hedonists to hide away.

The rise of the Internet Professors

However, clocking Zelda and Mario Kart was becoming increasingly tiresome for the dejected generation of failed artists and lazy activists, and a new movement soon emerged.

The Internet Professors burst onto the scene with an impressive yet inarticulate knowledge of everything. The modern polymath did not read books. Armed with a couple cans of Red Bull, some super skunk and good WiFi connection, the modern polymath could emerge after a few days in bed with an unshakable knowledge of arts and politics, spirituality, climate change, sociology, anthropology, neurology and of course the Illuminati.

By late 2002 the streets of Melbourne had become a canvas, and the voice of a mildly disappointed generation was about to be endured.

The modern polymath would strive to understand every aspect of nature and the human condition and encapsulate it in some form or another – more often than not, in a clumsy totalitarian image of the world presented in an 8-10 line free verse poem.

The modern polymath’s main obsession was world economics. From this obsession would emerge a new movement, Conspirituality, and with it a new language. Although the Conspiritualist rants were intended to be didactic, they only served to confuse and isolate the listener.

The Conspiritualists did not enter into arguments: rather, they developed a certain dialogue whereby assertion became fact. The long and boring conversations to follow played a major role in creating a generation of artists that would develop visual and lyrical art without the dexterity to offend or provoke any emotion. Neo-patheticism had arrived.

Neo-patheticism and contemporary Melbourne art

Neo-patheticism arose out of an indifference to the mild disappointments of the Depressionists. The Neo-pathetics claimed that pathetic was the new aesthetic. They described themselves as depressed nihilists with hedonistic tendencies who lacked the ambition, energy and creativity to distract themselves from their ever-present boredom.

The Neo-pathetics combated notions of what art should be by not using any techniques or materials and not exhibiting or distributing any work. Viewed in this light, Neo-patheticism emerges as a plateau of nothingness, incorporating the erosion of intellectual and artistic values of earlier movements and extending them into more recent movements of meaningless triviality.

One of the trademarks of the Neo-pathetic aesthetic is geometric abstract doodles on walls and empty guitar cases on living room floors, symbolising nothing. Magazines carefully strewn about the place, methodically opened at random pages displaying photography of Korean girls on the toilet with their anime knickers round their ankles staring into the camera lens with a desolate and abandoned glaze, pleading with the viewer to conjure up some meaning for their otherwise pointless self portraiture.

Added to this mix, one could see animated frames of children skipping rope against post-apocalyptic backgrounds, green toxic waste and teddy bears without eyes – next to endless editions of tattoo magazines to further confuse this horrendous pastiche that we called art.

R.J.R. Stearne did a little bit of university where he spent his time reading Kristeva, rolling around ‘spaces’ in hessian sacks and juxtaposing stuff. It wasn’t until leaving university and taking up an apprenticeship under Melbourne-based Irish poet Sean O’Callaghan that RJR learnt the value of words and the craft of wordsmithery. He hasn’t felt right since.