“Wake” (2014) is my degree show work for this year’s Create’14 Festival of Arts at York ST John.
I believe this is the first time that the MA Fine art has been included in Create and, working as both Exhibitions Coordinator for Fine Art as well as working as a participating artists, needless to say my hands were full!
I will get to discussing the work in a minute, but first I just want to say how utterly enjoyable it was to work with the group of artists that I’ve had the privilege of being with on this MA, both the 1st and 2nd year part time MA’ers. We were unbelievably lucky for this degree show to have a selection of artists whose work all dealt with assemblage, collage, or found materials in some form or other. From the day that we had the MA showcase in the beginning of the year, it was easy to see how everyone’s work, well, worked. It all worked together quite seamlessly for the showcase last year even though everyone essentially just put their work down in the same space. They all had a coherence and correlated to each other well and it was definitely a good sign for things to come!
The space we used had some really nice angles to it and we were able to accommodate both the floor-based work (mine!?) and wall-based work, as well as the mammoth interactive installation. We made good use of the space and each work had space to breathe and correlated nicely to each other. In particular, mine and Millie Marten’s had quite a nice affinity with each other in the use of found wood that I think I would like to possibly pursue as a collaborative venture in the future should she be willing!
Wake consists of a stack of pallets (to conveniently hide my projectors and kit!) and two pallets to act as satellites alongside this stack/tower. The two satellites have sheer sheets of synthetic material to act as the screen for the projectors, albeit a rather crinkly one! The videos projected onto either side show two films of which the clips are divided into three sections, not unlike a triptych– on the one side, home-footage of Junkanoo in the Bahamas; on the other, archival footage of wakes week celebrations in Lancashire, England.
The connecting thread to this work, if you’ll excuse the pun, is the cotton connection between the Bahamas and Lancashire – so, for me, between my father’s culture and my mother’s and the shared history there that neither of them experienced.
Junkanoo originated as a celebration during what is thought to have been the 16th and 17th centuries for slaves wherein they could enjoy their 2 days off a year and took to dancing in the street in costumes made of make-shift materials (anything to hand) and enjoy being with their families and celebrating their African heritage. It took place every boxing day and new years day. And cotton plantations were prosperous in the Bahamas due to loyalists bringing their slaves and starting up cotton industry in the 19th century.
Similarly, Wakes weeks from the 19th century were originally a religious celebration and feast that developed into a sort of relief time off work which took part in much of the north-west of England, wherein mill-workers from the cotton mills had a week off (a different week for a different mill) from work to also enjoy being with their families.
The work and handling the footage was a way for me to think through these parallel and shared histories of celebration for workers. The Bahamian Slaves picked the cotton, the Lancashire mill-workers wove it. The celebrations borne out of this are reminiscient of Bakhtin’s notions of the carnivalesque, the madness of celebration where social hierarchies are broken and, essentially, everyone goes absolutely wild and stark-raving mad. However, I feel that with these celebrations it is less a matter of hierarchies being broken so much as they are ‘pushed aside for a short while’…
Further, the use of synthetic material to project onto seemed to serve as a bit of a sad reminder of the introduction of these materials which helped to lead to the demise of the mills. Whereas wakes weeks have died out, Junkanoo’s original purpose has as well, except that where wakes weeks no longer exist, Junkanoo exists in an altered form.
It brings up questions of the validity of traditions in contemporary society, particularly those that have changed, and ideas of cultural memory, trauma, and celebration.