tail of the pup:

In the mid-90s there was a storyline in Eastenders that saw the character, Joe Wicks, develop mental health problems. His was a gradual descent in to paranoid-schizophrenia and was, at the time, one of the most significant mainstream representations of mental health issues there had been. Significant, in that it reached a huge audience, most of whom wouldn’t be engaged in any sort of dialogue around mental health. At this point, Eastenders was still a behemoth of broadcasting, with around a quarter of the UK population watching each episode – (just) pre-digital TV, (just) pre-internet, (just) pre-streaming, (just) pre-TIVO – a time when audiences watched things live or relied on antiquated things like video recorders. This period, I believe, will come to function as something of a digital forgotten land – close enough to the dawn of a new-age to assume it was part of it, but far-enough removed in actuality that it bleeds through the cracks. Not old enough to undergo a conscious nostalgic-archiving, not current enough to be swept up by the ever-advancing tsunami of infinite digital archive.

There have been several occasions over the years when I have gone to the bottomless pit of instant-image-recall that is Google image search, in an attempt to find a very particular image of Joe Wicks from that time. The image I have in my head – an image I have unsuccessfully searched for each time – is of Joe sitting at a dinner table in the chintzy-wallpapered dining room of an East-End terraced house, his head wrapped in tin foil, with his mother standing over his shoulder, talking to him. The image and the framing is crystal-clear in my mind – a mid-to-close shot of a cropped dinner table with Joe seated – screen right - visible from the stomach upwards, looking in to the middle distance - off screen-left - tin-foil wrapped around his head covering his hair, his mother stood slightly behind to the left of the image, looking down and screen-right towards Joe. As I say, I’ve never found this image or, in fact, any other image of Joe with tin-foil wrapped around his head. However, the internet does confirm that this storyline existed, though I’ve found no specific reference to the scene I so clearly have in my mind’s eye.

The first time I went looking for the image I was slightly disbelieving of the fact that it didn’t exist in the internet’s ever-growing archive. The times I’ve searched since have been, in part, a genuine search, but also to reassure myself that the image still hasn’t come to light. Uncovering its non-existence was something like a reverse digital holy grail – the discovery of something that DOESN’T exist online. Now living in a time where ease-of-access to information and imagery is so comparatively advanced compared to even twenty-five years ago, there’s something quite exhilarating about finding a piece of the jigsaw missing. Its non-existence feels emblematic of a time, gone forever, when vagary and word-of-mouth could be enough; quite often an end point in a story or description, not simply a starting point from which to begin a process of authentication through searching on-line. The image’s lack of existence and its presence in my mind creates, by default, a space to be filled; a digital gap metaphorically held open by a ghost of my creation.

Until now.

Through making this image and titling it ‘Joe Wicks in a tin foil hat’, should anyone else go searching, as I was compelled to, there will forever be a single positive search result. I’m certainly not claiming any authenticity around my image – if anything we can begin to surmise that maybe I’ve misremembered or, worse, completely fabricated this moment in my mind – but its future presence, albeit by my hand, adds another layer of credibility to my claims for the moment’s existence. I’m reminded of the time I was in the office of a well-known arts organisation when the director took a call from an art-world publication asking what they would be doing for the upcoming Venice Biennale. He explained how they would be paying for masseuse to walk the streets of Venice, offering free-massages to stressed out curators in need of some relief. After he hung-up I naively asked if they were really doing that, to which he replied, ‘Of course not. I’ve just told them we’re doing it, they’re going to print it, so on some level it will exist. We don’t need to do it.’

In this time of (purported) fake news and hypernormalisation, we’re sliding ever closer to a world with no anchors – where history is rewritten to create a new reality and fact becomes so inextricably intertwined with fiction that we find ourselves entirely dislocated from anything that can be confidently considered an absolute truth; a new kind of reality where maybe Joe Wicks in his tin-foil hat wasn’t being as paranoid as we all thought.

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S Mark Gubb is an artist based in Cardiff




S Mark Gubb
Joe Wicks in a Tin Foil Hat