Sounds we ignore

This is a follow-on from the post about jade’s story. And other women’s stories: my friend’s stories and my own.

Last week, as I was walking home from an amazing evening working on a friend’s solo dance work, I was accosted by a young guy in my local neighbourhood.

He was a charming young man, menacingly telling me how sexy i looked (‘babes’), did i want it?, ‘you know you want it’, delightful displays of his ‘big dick’ and threatening to give me one, even if i didn’t want it. Rapist-in-training type shit.

The whole thing pissed me off. The system in which that interchange exists is a common one and I’m sick of it.

After going through a particularly intense session of identification at the police station, I rang a friend, a trans* woman, who was incredibly supportive. And it occurred to me that she, thankfully, hadn’t spent her whole life rejecting the unwanted advances of men.

I can’t even imagine it.

Most women, since the age of 10 (or younger), spend the rest of our lives in some act of ignoring the unnecessary sexual words and actions of men:

in the street, from cars, right up in our ear whilst our hair is being pulled, in our faces, from across the room, behind us, towards us, sideways, from scaffolding, under their breath, on the tv, on twitter, in memes, passing on the footpath, on the bus, on the train, in the office hallway, in a pub, outside a pub, at a gig, outside a gig, on the dancefloor, outside the club, at night, early morning, whilst walking, whilst jogging, with kids, without kids, in a group, on our own etc, etc, etc, etc, etc, etc, etc.

etcetera.

We develop a reaction early – the paying attention of those words and sounds, the instant assessment of them on our character and varying levels of disregarding them, depending on our character and our self-esteem.

It’s fucking boring and surely a waste of our energy.

I’m sick of hearing it. I’m sick of ignoring it.

hey you, you, hello, hello? hey slut, dyke, freak, nice hair cut, show us your tits, whistle, kiss noises, heyy, sexy, nice tattoo, nice legs, hey sexy, hey, hello?, oi!, slut! nice hair, nice tatts!, show us your tatts, tits, car horns, oi, ladies, hey lady, miss, hey miss, excuse me, you right? can i get your number, heyyyy, shamood, shamout, butana, yo ho’, belle femme, kissy kissy, check this one aaaart…

Give us a break.

Listening to London on a Monday: Review of London Stories

Last Monday I attended the one-on-one festival at Battersea Arts Centre, London Stories. I could go on about how amazing Battersea Arts Centre is as a building and a site for performance, but I’ll leave that for another article.

This one is about listening to stories.

Unlike another well known one-on-one performance festival, Proximity, this is just about listening to stories. Sometimes that is shared with another person, sometimes just on your own. My initial reservation at having to ‘share’ my intimate experience passed very quickly, as the intimacy of listening with another person became actually quite delicious and, considering the kinds of stories we heard, also a bit of relief.

Toby, cancer and other bedtime stories
Sitting cosy on the back steps, the first story I heard was from artist Toby Peach, who, in his fairly young life, has managed to beat lymphoma twice. Although intense, this wasn’t a sob story – thankfully – but a heart-warming and honest appraisal of negativity, taking responsibility for health and the gob-smacking brilliance of the human body.

Amaara, her red shoe and other fairytales
In a sweet laundry setting, lit by candles (as were most of the rooms), dancer Amaara Raheem told an hilarious story about her relationship between London and her daily commute to work, through an upside-down extension of the Hans Christian Anderson story of the little red shoes. It was personal, engaging, humourous, without being facile or jokey mc joketown.

Jade, her escape from uganda and her “5-star” stay in Yarl’s Wood
This was a harrowing, but all-too-common story of Jade’s life and escape from Uganda, corruption, the military and the Lord’s Rebel Army.
It was a story of her husband, children, twin sister and nieces being killed.
It was a story of dehydration, hunger, deprivation and  hiding.
It was a story of kindness and eventual passage to London.
She spoke of her time in a detention centre as a ‘5-star hotel’ with 3 meals a day, doctor’s nurses and places to chat with others and children to play.
As a couple of naive white gyals sitting there, the disparity was as loud as a sub-woofer, but there was zero resentment, only gratitude at her story being heard.

It was the best use of storytelling and the arts in politics I’ve experienced to date.

Other stories of self-indulgence
Most of the other stories I heard – although I enjoyed them – felt, in comparison, a bit, well, whingey.

Love stories in London, stories of heartbreak and loss in London, homelessness (although that was actually a bit less-so) – they all felt a little self-indulgent. Pretty much the same kind of story we always hear. And sometimes more like therapy and catharsis, than a story.

I spend a lot of time listening to people’s personal stories each week and they find a lot of solace from sharing them. But they’re not art, or theatre, or even really very interesting to that person or me. Usually I’m only interested because I have similar problems and am looking for identification. It is more intimate than being an audience, but still relatively mundane.

Which is why i found the three I mentioned much more valuable as art.

Having said that, the act of listening to others was comforting.

The combination of being with another person, knowing that I was part of a whole group, but not ‘in’ that group and well-supported in my journeys (logistic, emotional and intellectual) by the staff at BAC – a really worthwhile sense of togetherness and community.

Some of the other trimmings of the evening were perhaps a little unneccessary, but overall, an excellent way to enrich your night.

 

word. sound. power: an exhibition review

A few weeks ago, on a gloriously sunny day in London, my fellow smart-lady, Zana, and I covered ourselves in wordiness along the southern bank of the Thames.

We sandwiched the BFI’s screening of Right On! between visits to the Tate Modern Project Space for their brilliant exhibition Word. Sound. Power.

Right On!

The Herbert Danska film is of the (original) Last Poets –  late-60s poets, performers, griots-if-you-will, from New York City. And crucial influences on the development of rap and hip-hop.

It was an amazing film, consisting of an 80-minute flow through eight pieces by the trio, backed by drums, costume changes and amazing black male power on a hot summer afternoon/evening.

The series of spoken word performances –  poems, matras, incantations –  were performed, spat and hand-delivered from the rooftop of a hot Harlem block on a sunny afternoon in 1970, to a dark soporific theatre in London.

As the sun tripped from east to west across the sky, the trio: Felipe Luciano, Gylan Kain and David Nelson, interchanged between lead performer. The different forms for each poets flow, their particular voice and rhythm were mesmerising and supported by a powerful drums, occasional dance and the uhs, ahas and energy of the other two artists.

Works like Poetry is Black, Jazz and James Brown were not so much choreographed, but embodied. As crucial element of the relationship between words and the body, between the themes of race, sexuality, white power and poverty, as they came spilling out.

 

 

Word. Sound. Power

Whenever I think about this show, lyrics from the Sub Swara ft Dead Prez song Speak My Language (Machinedrum Mix) comes flooding into my mind:

“This is word sound power, this is rebel soul.

This phenomenal exhibition is rebel soul, curated by two amazing women in conjunction with the fantastic KHOJ artists collective from India. It features 6 artists making work about sound, the voice, the word and power (not that you needed my help in making that leap).

Lawrence Abu Hamdan has two works in the show. His work with Janna Ullrich, Conflicted Phenomes (pictured, pinched from the Tate website) is visual research and data map of Somali spoken language tests enforced to ascertain cultural original, to satisfy criteria for refugee status. As a data excercise on its own, it’s quite beautiful – with its graphic keys to each person’s relationships and language connections

As a reflection of official policy on the business of people’s asylum and freedom implemented by outsourced agents, without checks or balances, it’s creepy.

I was originally suprised to see that Australia uses this for their immigration processes. Then I really remembered Australia’s immigration processes and was unsurprised again.

His other work in the show, The Whole Truth, shines a light on the relationship between the place in which the voice and power intersect: the Lie Detector; When the voice is used to support incarceration, the place in which a person’s (political) voice is removed – according to Foucault.

Caroline Bergvall‘s word drawing and spoken piece was quiet, but striking. A poem, with all of the letter o-s taken out, and placed on the opposite wall, creating a spacial relationship to the word and the sentiment, supported by the surround sound work. It was simple, but I felt things.

Zana and I went back twice to see Mithu Sen perform I am a Poet and both times we missed her – she cancelled one performance, as it was too much to do too many in the day, and then she must have finished the reading early, because it was already over by the time we arrived after the movie. We were both super disappointed because we wanted to hear her.

But her work in the gallery is interesting and engaging nonetheless. I loved her underlying premise of nonsense as resistence. The language is crucially human and that defying the technology of language, there is a core resistance of all that is human.

Nikolaj Bendix Skyum and his videos Arise and Keep Evans Safe Tonight were seemingly a major focus for the exhibition. Although, to be honest, I didn’t feel like they were as crucial to the themes of the show as some of the other works, or the exhibition as a whole. Just my opinion.

The interviews in KEST were quite lovely, giving young men a voice and ability to speak out. I especially enjoyed the KEST boys speaking of the common diasporic experience of going back to the land of one’s parents and suddenly feeling the ease of a culture that is deep within.

Added to the work in the gallery, the essays in the catalogue were amazing.

Both women speak about the relationship between sound, power, culture in different, but equally engaging, ways. They provided second and third angles on the underlying themes of the show, providing a solid triumvirate, reflecting the title itself.

Hansi Momodu-Gorden from Tate Modern writes about the experience of sound, referencing Brandon La Belle and speaking about it as a means of creating an ‘aesthetic space’ and the apparatus of the vocal, quoting Louis Chude-Sokei.

Asmita Rangari – Andi from Khoj speaks about the privilege of using the voice (and other sound means) to speak out – the ability and agency to articulate and the place of silence in this privilege.

The place of words, sound and power in contemporary aesthetics, culture and politics are particularly present at this time and the exhibition is a must-see for anyone remotely interested in any of these things, as well as the ways in which political ideas can be presented aesthetically not didactically.

The exhibition is on until November 2013.

Speaking up: the personal, professional and principles

I’ve been less ranty on here than I used to. I’ve been saving a lot of my diatribes for twitter.
It seems to be the place where i’m getting the bulk of my intellectual discussion lately, although it’s not always ideal. 140ch, even carried over a few tweets can get really confusing when you’re trying to debate someone or actually discuss things. It’s some kind of glitchy forum . However, it’s still the medium of choice for me for some serious brain food.Somehow I came to follow David McQueen. He’s an amazing man – involved in youth education, business mentoring and empowering people to really do what they do and be amazing. From what I can tell from his twitter output, he’s involved in a range of really interesting, worthwhile and actually helpful ventures, mostly talking to people and encrouaging them. And his #SundayReads are always impressive and provocative.

He’s also a tall, black man with 2 daughters, a gorgeous wife he’s been married to for 18 years and incredibly invested in seeing change around education, agency, race and principled people. I know this because, with measure, he didn’t deny his personal effect within his professional adventures.

That’s probably how he ended up in my timeline (I follow some pretty rad people, you know).

For example, he didn’t pretend that it didn’t effect him when Travyon Martin’s killer was acquitted, he didn’t pretend that the media blow-out wasn’t influential during the Woolwich murder of a (white) British soldier and the ensuing EDL can-can, and he posted an opinion which I respected about Mos Def’s intense video undergoing the Guantanamo Bay force-feeding regime (which I personally related to and valued the discussion, having done an artwork about the audio torture on those same detainees).

This was the scope of a professional life of a man living in London, with the connected joy and connected prejudice.

Anyway, about a month ago, David announced that he was going to set up a separate twitter account for his more-personal musings, rantings, humour and introspections. And keep his David McQueen account for professional discussion.

And it’s probably the right decision.

Because his clients don’t necessarily want to acknowledge that issues of race, poverty, education, homophobia, religious extremism, media sluttery (my words, not his) influence the business of running businesses or educating young people.

But I continue to nag on him for it.

Because –  to my mind –  culture and privilege and media and bigotry do effect the world of business owners. I like hearing that a successful, powerful man invested in education, with great results, is affected by these things, but continues to educate children, empower people with businesses and talk to people daily about how to overcome obstacles in achieving what they desire: regardless, because, despite and in spite of.

They’re real things that happen.

And for me, it enacts the business of doing what you need to do in order to contribute to the world, without pretending that you’re not in that world.

So what is the political balance between personal and professional?

I retch at the industrialist idea of a person solely being a unit of labour, a denial of the social or personal effects on their work and vice versa.

I do believe they’re interwoven – with the best and worst aspects of those effects (see under Roman Polanski, Catholic Priests, etc)

I have to acknowledge that I have a privileged position in this.  I was raised by women who kept reminding me that the personal is political. I’m also white, middle-class and really don’t struggle (except financially).

When I go on about something, I’m not expected to be speaking for all of ‘my people’ and if it affects my professional capacity, it’s unlikely I would have wanted to work with those people anyway.

And I’m not married with children, so my opinions about the world don’t effect my husband’s or my children’s lives. I don’t have corporate responsibility or institutional ties.
And even if I did – as an artist, writer and creative business owner, it’s also kind of expected that I might be outspoken.It reminded me about the criticisms of Barack Obama during the Zimmerman acquittal (and other recent changes to American life that were influenced by race). He was criticised for denying his race. For acting as though he was separate from it when calling for calm or whatever. For separating his personal priciples from that of the Head of State. The suggestion was that to deny that the political was also personal, was, to some people, also a crime against other persons.

But is this unfair pressure on someone to be 100% accountable all the time, whilst I am as C-grade as it comes on the same scale? And if so, whose responsibility is it? How do artists marry the similar fine line between professional practice and their capacity to challenge authority.

Does this not just set up a sliding scale (and/or slippery slope) of behaviour in a public life heirarchy – a disconnection between what you do and how you feel?

Or do we just need to accept that this is the nature of contemporary times and multiple egos, where we have the need and skill to distance ourselves from others in a variety of ways and that there’s nothing actually wrong with that.

world listening day

Started by the excellent World Listening Project, the 18th July is a day to celebrate the aesthetics of listening – music, art practice and probably theatre works which encourage the act of listening.

Commemorating the birthday of R. Murray Schafer, a composer and writer who is crucial to the study of acoustic ecology, who coined the term ‘soundscape’, and is influential to contemporary artistic output of music and sound cultures. WLD has been slowly building over the last few years through autonomous actions around the world.

Last year I spent it doing one of my listening session artworks: 4 hours at Berlin Olympic Stadium. Specifically as the site of the Summer Olympics of the XI Olympiad: a complex sporting event in modern history.

On 1 August 1936, The grand aesthetics of Adolf Hitler and his Third Reich were displayed in glorious spectacle – proof of its power and might – in the opening ceremony, and guided through the impressive film work of Danny Boyle Leni Riefenstahl.

Despite it being a conduit for Nationalist-Socialist Party propaganda, Jesse Owens – a fine, fit black man from the United States won the most medals, killing it on the athletics field, with the hyped ‘snub’ from the Chancellor on his victory in the 100m sprint.*

Reading the Wikipedia entry on the games and the efforts to ‘clean up’ Berlin including signs saying: “Jews Not Wanted” sent a chill through my spine. Especially in light of this going around town at the moment:

I digress.

World Listening Day.

So, on 18 July 2012, Berlin Olympic Stadium was the site of a few school tours, incessant rain and the miserable sound of a super-sopper on the blue track going around and around in circles. No birds, no traffic even and a smattering of sociality as teenagers flirted with each other in bleechers. It was the most depressing list/listening project I’ve done to date.

I didn’t realise that the sound such emptiness could exist on the site of such grand spectacle. It’s almost like the more image-focused a site is, the less connected it is to a sound of humanity.

Perhaps this year I should have listened at Queen Elizabeth Stadium as a comparison.

This year, World Listening Day 2013, however, I was unable to make a work for it.

But I have compiled a small list of recent listening-based shows to see:

Sounding the Body Electric
Experiments in art and music in eastern europe 1957 – 1984
Calvert 22

I hadn’t heard of any of these artists before – unsurprising because my understanding of experimental music (especially that which crosses over into art) is self-taught and mostly through the experience of seeing shows like this.

Highlights included the great reading section, which I wanted to just lounge around all day in, the proto-Marclay records and music by Milan Knižak (pictured), which made me want to spit rhymes all over it, and the graphic scores by Katalin Ladik and Milan Grygar.

Musically, I noticed my complacency, feeling like I’d heard a lot of the works on film soundtracks already, yet fascinated by the link between post-war Socialism/Iron Curtain and electronic music, obviously sanctioned by the State’s ideology through the Experimental Studio of Polish Radio.

Huw Hallam has written a great thesis on the link between post-totalitarianism and electronic music, and the works herein expanded my understanding of rejecting propaganda and a need for music that is without dramatic reference.

Calvert 22 is such a great gallery, especially for small theme-based shows and this one was no different.

At the moment of being heard
South London Gallery


I had heard about this show almost 6 weeks before it opened. as soon as any of the promo came out about it, I had tweets, FB posts and emails from everyone emailing me about it and I was looking forward to seeing it on my return from Australia.

Especially given that it featured some artists who I have admired for a while and some that I was looking forward to learning more about.

I enjoyed the exhibition – there were some typically subtle and gentle works that combined softness and tension – Rolf Julius’s pigment-filled speaker cones (pictured) and crys cole‘s salt speaker combination were beautiful. I really loved the photographic work of Reiner Ruthenbeck for the documentation of those daily sounds, without a sound.

Having said that, I thought it was going to be a little more about the act of listening – a more philosophical or even theatrical look at that moment of being heard – not just changing what is heard, but on a deeper level of how.

Granted, it’s not easy to make work about listening, (I know, as an artist I suck at it), but I was hoping for some guidance, from people who’d been doing it for years. It was a bittersweet show.


In the upstairs gallery Variations of Silence by Boudouin Oosterlynck was more about the action of listening, of the collection and pursuit of silence using the variety of ways one listens – a detailed dossier of quiet sites, on paper.

Aesthetically, I found it difficult to really enter into, possibly a language barrier, or a resistance to a particular aesthetic, but I still spent time hanging out with his journey.

Tom White’s Public Address is also a work that intrigured me, but because I went on a Thursday, wasn’t able to see it in the flesh – it’s installed in the housing estate that the gallery backs onto and only accessible on Saturdays.

The public programme for the exhibition is pretty exciting. I wish that I was a 12+ teenager, so that I could do Barby Asante‘s workshop at the end of August (I couldn’t get to do her DIY one as an adult either, so I just have to press my nose to the window for a while) and the Ambarchi and Umeda gigs, of course, look great.

Reading and Being list

Both of these exhibitions had supporting reading lists and publications, which I really appreciated. And I have some more to add – bits’n’pieces which relate to listening that I think are great:

The Hush at The Shed National Theatre
According to the blurb on the The Shed site, The Hush asks audiences to listen in a way they never have before. Performers interact with live foley and immersive sound design to recreate the past, imagine the future and give voice to The Shed itself.”

Again, I’m looking forward to seeing this work, to see how others create work about the action of listening. Sadly, I can’t make the Thursday Q& A (which looks great), but I’m going to see the show soon.

A Listening Mind: Sound Learning in a Literature Classroom by Nicole Furlonge on Sounding Out
When I read this post, I wanted to be Nicole. Her understanding and interesting in pushing pedagogy and teaching and experience of the world outside a dominant visual paradigm (yes, i just used that phrase) is inspiring, and exactly the kind of thing I’m into.

The way she speaks about it is amazing and a deeper undestanding of listening and why World Listening Day needs to keep existing.

The Sounding Out blog consistently posts stuff that I love reading about. They posted about the Afrika Bambaata record collection being catalogued at Gavin Brown Gallery and I almost wet myself. And through that I found out about..

Hip Hop Aesthetics Summer Course by Shante Paradigm
As if this wouldn’t be a RAD way to spend the summer…

I’ve been following the progress along of each day’s topics (including, unsurprisingly, the verdict on the acquittal of Trayvon Martin’s killer. What’s Hip Hop without Hoodies…).
They’ve covered some ace stuff like Big Freedia’s Azz Everywhere, Lil Mama’s Lip Gloss, Black Aesthetics, Feminist Aesthetics and Opposition Discourse, Total Chaos and Ian Maxwell‘s thesis about Hip Hop Aesthetics and the Will to Culture –  which I loved reading about, not just for the generic content, but because I knew some of the peeps mentioned in it; a bit of home-town pride and nostalgia for my time with Quiz and the writers and MCs of inner city of Sydney in the 90s.

Other links to cool listening works

Surfacenoise’s Peter Lenaerts
Dan Scott
Sam Underwood
Stan’s Cafe’s The Commentators and their Cult Listening
The Soundscape
Hearing Cultures
Audio Culture (which i’m ASHAMED to say I’ve not read nor do i own)
Resonance by Susie MacMurray at Fabrica, Brighton
This year’s Primavera featuring Kusum Normoyle

*Who needs that to be a ‘thing’, really, to highlight the gross racist antics of the regime – they only ‘allowed’ black and jewish competitors after a bunch of people pressured them into it, for goodness sake. Is Jesse Owens really that heartbroken over not having his hand shaken by that pariah? Surely not.

image credits:
Migrant Rights UK and Home Office YouTube
Milan Knižak, Destroyed Music, Calvert 22 website
Rolf Julius, Singing, 2000/2013, South London Gallery website

TRIBE

 
For their exhibition at Peckham Space, Sarah Cole and the TRIBE of eleven young girls (from Southwark Arts and Culture Group) played and explored around the themes of female adolescence, feminism, group dynamics, hiding and inclusion. For the short period of seven weeks, they ostensibly formed a tribe of their own and explored its motifs, its ceremonies and its significant activities.
 

They have now turned Peckham Space into a journey of their clan – a living game of Hide-and-Seek  leaving clues and ideas about themselves, about womanhood and about their place in both secret and public worlds.

 

The installation doesn’t focus on a single visual point of expression, but has become an enjoyable space of touch, smell, taste, feel, vision and intuition, where the viewer can be simultaneously included and rejected from the ways of the TRIBE – as it is when you’re a teenage girl. 

Green/grass
The green exterior of Peckham Space and its overtly-geometric outside fuzzily merges with its inside through the presence of turf. Real turf. Their turf. Soft underfoot and smelling faintly of petrichor.

It immediately conjures all the Rococco images of grassy picnics, swings and lassez-faire frollicking that Fragonard would have loved. Except it’s South London and the frollicking in this show is being done by a small pride of fierce girls in bright, colourful full-bodied onesies and animal masks.

 

Play/play/play
Most of the ‘play’, crucial to their work, is revealed on video – a nice triple entendre. Most of the videos reveal the dance/movement performances the TRIBE did during their time with Cole: rolling and dancing on hills, cavorting on workshop floors, in public – displaying none of the usual self-consciousness of girls in early adolescence.

The video which sparked my interest the most showed one of girls drumming on cardboard box in Peckham Square at night – it was menacing, a challenge to all the forces, to fight, a reference to home (lessness) and being a woman at night in an open city square, masked in a onesie, Powerful and vulnerable.

The imagery was reminiscent of Gob Squad’s Super Night Shot (the onesie and the mask, slowmotion, at night) and it held the same playful and challenging spirit to public space and storytelling. But with the added friction of the main protagonist being a young teenage girl calling on a power uncommonly portrayed.

Costume
The onesie is an important feature of this show. I must confess to being a little cynical and my first impression of the onesies hanging in the gallery was a groan – against an item that seems to have gained cupcake status in certain female sections of the creative community.

However, in this context, it was the perfect costume to reveal the actions of adolescence, whilst avoiding the unwanted (male) gaze and unnecessary distraction of fashion with all its heavy and sexualised symbolism.

It seemed to allow the girls to play without burden, to really move in new ways and to connect with the self. Perhaps similar to the role of the burqua in certain religious circles (or so I’ve heard) – a removal of the pressure to match outsides with insides.

Music
Peppered throughout the space are points of musical connection. In the entrance, a gorgeous old record-player plays a custom vinyl of music from the group (arranged by Isa Suarez), a cuckoo clock keeps a rhythm for the show and  on the opening night, a drum kit was set up outside the gallery – free for anyone to bash on it –  a chaotic counterpoint to the ice cream truck playing Greensleaves.

When I spoke to Cole about the reasons sound and music were connections between ideas, she suggested that it was instinctive.

It makes sense to me that this, in particular, was the means by which the presence of intuition in the TRIBE was was conveyed:  the relationship to sound is personal, without necessarily being gendered, class-based or ascribed the heavy weight of society that visual or even performative works can be. It is a lighter touch to speak of identity and perfect for the in-between-ness of a group of teenage girls.

Buckingham Palace
Thanks to this show, Peckham Space has acquired a new mantel over the entrance with a fluorescent re-naming as Buckingham Palace. Lit up until 3am, Cole thinks that the outside of the gallery now ‘looks more like a nightclub than a gallery’. The duality of irony and appropriateness betwen the hot mess of bustling Peckham is so cheeky, it’s delicious.

And that same Buckingham Palace motif again switches from outside to inside, becoming a score for the small music boxes that are mounted on the walls. You can literally ‘play’ the word Buckingham Palace over and over again.

Cole was forthcoming with a lot of information about the show – the meanings and processes behind the works, but when it came to discussion about Buckingham Palace, she chose to not reveal its significance. It was part of the language that stayed solely with the TRIBE – hidden and private. Special.

Ceremony
The opening night was, in tribal terms, a ceremony: it gathered together all the people involved in the TRIBE (and those of other tribes), to come together over food  – free softserve icecream, drink, drums, music and costumes to exchange ideas, ways of doing things; to touch palms.

One reason I make this self-consciously gauche analogy of the occasion in tribal terms is because of the relationship between adolesence and rites-of-passage (and not just a thoroughfare in front of Peckham Library). In white, western, especially urban environments, we have ceased to continue those actions that acknowledge movement from one state of being to another.

The other reason I bring up the quasi-ceremonial aspect to the evening is because it presents an entirely different percption of the exhibition and of the TRIBE than the one most people will experience. Those present for the event received the full extent of their expression.

Most people will see the exhibition in its quiet, daily manifestation: a slightly kooky place with slowly-degrading and trodden grass, video works of girls twisting and birds killing, not a lot of noise, save the record overhead and the sound of traffic outside.  It will become a much more contemplative ‘village’ and some of the underlying ideas will not be translated, whilst others, perhaps sadness, death, loneliness, will really come to the fore.

Yet, this is me, a white woman from an urban setting, nativising the whole situation, which I acknowledge is problematic. Cole herself mentioned its problems, but is still seeking to discuss these ideas of Tribes (as opposed to Communities) for group dynamics. Can a bunch of girls from disparate racial, social and class backgrounds create a new tribe for the purpose of talking to each other and creating new cultures? Why did it work so well?

These are the kinds of questions that I suspect drew me to the exhibition.

As well as revealing aspects of identity and definitions of femininity, like any good exhibition, it continued asking me more questions than those it answered.

Important ethical questions, like what is the role of the elder/artist for a group of young teenagers in contemporary life? Is it to guide? Is it to draw from and adapt either the past or other worlds in order to understand this one? Or is it to only present our own experience – with all its inherent benefits and problems, and allow them to take what they will?

Adolescence is difficult for everyone. This exhibition, rather than ‘fix it’, has found a way to continue to explore it without it being painful or saccharine. It opens up the gallery and the discussion – from inside to outside, to allow for those questions and that difficult fuzzy space to hang; unanswered, but honouring the process of being allowed to work it out. Just like being a teenage girl.

 
This writing was first published on Interface (May 2013) www.a-n.co.uk/interface as the result of a Critical Writing Bursary provided to a-n by Peckham Space