It's August, and that spells only one thing for me = Carnival! Specifically Notting Hill Carnival!
This year I began celebrations with Boiler Room at Somerset House, where they have partnered with musician / performance artist Gaika who is a resident artist in the studios initiative. Gaika has created an interactive soundsystem installation using historical audio and visual archive footage of the Caribbean and Notting Hill Carnival. This material spans times and settings which he has sourced from the Black Cultural Archives, the BFI and Boiler Room's own recent recordings. The month long project coincides with Carnival and the 70 year Windrush Anniversary to celebrate the positive cultural impact of migration in London and the UK. This explores themes from creative expression to the more political aspects such as repercussions of the riots tied up in the roots of Notting Hill's own sound system culture.
Gaika's own father was part of a soundsystem so the project has come from a very personal place to share the love for his heritage. Carnival is integral to Caribbean identity in the UK and within that, soundsytems act as an extension of that voice. He has used this notion to demonstrate respect in the technical prowess of how the immense engineering has been built and developed. England didn't have venues to host the music, so they took ownership of their own space by setting up the sounds to share. At Carnival the soundsystems are literally termed "Static" which also alludes to their sheer physicality in being big imposing structures. They are defiant, combative, menacing, like strategic warfare defence - all to command space.
The design of his own interpretation on the stacks is constructed from scaffolding to mimic the Ghost Houses of Jamaica that are a result of generations changing hands and countries. It's important to Gaika to make work that emphasises his own sense of place for many different related themes from ancestry that has been moved to the fact that his studio residency is inside an institution built from funds linked to slavery. That's why it was fundamentally important to him to shake up the surroundings.......... to bring in Aba Shanti for a night to reverberate tremors enough to disturb the masonry. To literally displace and conversely invite a new context and community into the space.
To echo the chaos and spontaneity of Carnival, the sculpture is fully interactive for visitors to take over SYSTEM through an audio input jack. Once plugged in, the installation will be fully responsive to the beat with changing images and video. A webcam fitted at the installation will stream live on https://boilerroom.tv/ throughout SYSTEM's duration at Somerset House Studios. In addition there is also a schedule of live events as mentioned, with a different headliner curating a night each week. I went down to the opening with DJ Judah's roster representing UKG and Jungle with a sprinkling of Soca and Afrobeats. Last week was the classic Dub takeover of Carnival stalwarts Abi Shanti and this week will be BBZ's takeover focusing on the marginalised LGBTQI+ POC collectives who are traditionally left out of Carnival celebrations.
There's so much going on with these Summer parties twice a week and talks and events around the installation, be sure to check out the listings here.