Chaos, but make it art: research in practice
So in going forward, I want to elaborate on themes I've looked art before. In many ways, I want to literally copy the aesthetics of The Right to Opacity, even though it isn't quite my intention. For better context, I'll briefly debrief.
With my previous project, I wasn't in the greatest place with my mental and physical health, and I spoke to virtually nobody about it. I'm just not a sharer of feelings really; not since I was in school. It all goes into my work. But last year, I just couldn't quite do it with TRTO. I'm not even sure why if I'm honest. Maybe I just didn't have the time I'm used to having.
But anyway, the aim is to capture the chaos I was feeling then and still am now. This time, I feel a lot more prepared to bury myself in some potentially draining subject matter and respond effectively to it.
This unnamed project (let's currently name it 'Eva' after my grandmother) is inspired by a lot of things: firstly, my grandmother. Eva Murray was born in Portland, Jamaica. Her mother had given birth to seventeen children, and Eva was the oldest of those who had survived. My great-uncle said that if you weren't born healthy, you wouldn't have survived. Literally this week, we were celebrating her birthday. She and her siblings were reminiscing on their time in Jamaica. My grandmother has memories that scare her and make her cry - even now. She told us that she couldn't go to hell because she's already been there.
That likening of hell to lived experiences reminded me of the Shakespeare quote. You know the one about hell being empty and all the devils being on earth. I'm not going to Google the quote because I think Shakespeare is slightly overrated (unpopular opinion). From there I remembered dystopian fiction like Handmaid's Tale being described as [insert tragedy], but what if it happened to white people?
And I was like, yeah. I mean, it's a little reductive, but pretty much. I get the gist. I don't find programmes like Handmaid's Tale escapist because it reminds me of stuff that still happens. Maybe not here, and maybe not to me, but out of sight doesn't mean out of mind. People are born on this earth, suffer, and then die. That is their lived experience. They experienced hell on earth, and sometimes for no reason.
'Everything is so meaningless... Do people really gain anything from all the hard work they do in this life? People live and people die, but the earth continues forever. The sun rises and the sun goes down, and then it hurries to rise again in the same place. The wind blows to the south, and the wind blows to the north. The wind blows around and around. Then it turns and blows back to the place it began. All rivers flow again and again to the same place. They all flow to the sea, but the sea never becomes full. Words cannot fully explain things, but people continue speaking. Words come again and again to our ears, but our ears don't become full. And our eyes don't become full of what we see... I looked at everything done on earth, and I saw that it is all a waste of time. It is like trying to catch the wind. If something is crooked, you cannot say it is straight. And if something is missing, you cannot say it is there.'
- Ecclesiastes 1:2, 3-8, 14-15 (ERV)
For this project, I want it to look at heritage and history. Almost everything I've made or written has been influenced by heritage, so it's not a surprise really. I'll be exploring early 1980s Handsworth and the calm before the storm that was the Handsworth Riots of 1981. So obviously Vanley Burke will be a huge presence in my research. Rivers of Birminam won't be the only thing I'll be referencing again: there's also Annegret Soltau and John Stezaker who distorted their portraiture in some way or another. Temi Coker does this too, but his work is far more light hearted and vibrant than what I want to do.
Theory-wise, my frameworks will likely be Critical Race Theory, Semiotics; and Chaos Theory. Human Geography is also present. Chaos Theory is a new one for me.
Chaos Theory basically states that extremely small changes can produce enormous effects, but ones that can only be clarified in retrospect. Climate Change is a good example when we consider what chaos a one degree change can do.
Throughout the known universe, there are systems that are inherently chaotic and unpredictable. However, order can come from chaos, and often does. The reasons this are debated, but ultimately, all things should work in cycles. A time to be born and a time to die. Surely chaotic systems are a sign of the end of a cycle?
Chaos Theory is heavily math and science-based. Now, even though I hate maths, I can absolutely acknowledge it's place in universe. Mathematics is the language of God. Absolutely. No doubt about it. Whether we're looking at religion or science, this is the case. Numbers mean things.
But Chaos Theory and Art? Yes. Leonard Shlain's work on Art and Physics is based on the belief that '[r]evolutionary art and visionary physics attempt to speak about matters that do not yet have words.' (Shlain, 1991: 20). It focuses on things that don't quite fit into a system in an orderly way. But what may be looked as at chaotic could actually be 'a complex dynamic system controlled by, and dependent upon, all of the factors involved.' So actually, despite the name, Chaos Theory doesn't actually mean complete randomness. The study of various chaotic systems has revealed patterns even within unpredictability (Wilcox, 1996: 3-4).
In the instance of my research, the chaos would be the Handsworth Riots. So what is the factor that threw things out of order? I imagine there is more than one.
What happened in Handsworth was not the only one of it's kind - even back then (hello Brixton, Liverpool & Manchester - and Handsworth four years later!). But even now, we see unrest. Next year will be 10 years since the 2011 Riots happened all over the country. Stephen Kellert explains in his book Wake of Chaos: 'chaos theory does not provide predictions of quantitative detail but of qualitative features; it does not reveal hidden causal processes but displays geometric mechanisms [… and] reveals patterns' (1993: 96). Personally, I believe you don't have to go much further than the study of history and heritage to see such patterns.
To develop my work, I will be visiting relevant exhibitions and archives, for example, there's apparently an exhibition on past and present revolutionary movements in Birmingham, at BMAG. But the Library of Birmingham also has an archive. And if there isn't enough information on Handsworth in the late 70s/early 80s, I may fill in my research with context around the Brixton Riots (more than enough content should be available at the Black Cultural Archive).
Also, I'm hoping to get access to BFI's archive so I can view Handsworth Songs too. And hopefully by talking to Handsworth Experts like Dr Lisa Palmer. But already, this is far richer than TRTO.