Wake(2014) consists of a stack of pallets and two pallets to act as satellites alongside this stack/tower. The two satellites have sheer sheets of synthetic material to act as projector screens. 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 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 first hand, but which exists purely in cultural memory.
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 how the introduction of these materials 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.