December 3, 2023

Identity and our Common Culture

Not Necessarily in the Right Order is an audio-video installation that responds to Nottingham’s diverse multicultural demographic, exploring the social significance of ‘carnival’ and ‘festival’ as one of the few public opportunities to celebrate cultural diversity. Using these observations as a starting point, the work has evolved to become an exploration of what it means to be British in the 21st century.

Film still from Not Necessarily in the Right Order (2013) - Image courtesy of Common Culture.
Film still from Not Necessarily in the Right Order (2013) – Image courtesy of Common Culture.

The work, a New Art Exchange (NAE) commission by artist collective Common Culture – David Campbell, Mark Durden and Ian Brown – is the result of more than a year’s research into the diverse communities and vibrant festivals taking place in NAE’s local area, Hyson Green, home to the largest ethnic minority population in the county and vibrant diaspora communities from Pakistan, India, Africa, Eastern Europe, the Caribbean and the Middle East.

Common Culture artist David Campbell said that during research for the piece – which brings together a number of locally based folk musicians, singers and dancers, suggesting the rehearsal for an enigmatic festival of the future – it became evident that place was inextricably linked to the issue of identity.

“It seemed to us that what underpins all of the manifestation of Carnival, Mela or Goose Fair is a desire to reiterate a sense of place, belonging, social and cultural binding through displays of identification,” he said.

Conscious of their own lack of intimacy with the local area, Common Culture made the strategic decision to find ways of engaging with Nottingham’s traditions of carnival by working with local musicians and performers to explore the wider meaning and function of carnival in contemporary Britain. To this end the work explores the relationship between identity and a sense of place, borrowing conventions from science-fiction (and science-fiction based musical alter-egos) to foreground issues of belonging and exclusion.  The work plays with different narrative voices, musical styles and subject positions in order to disrupt familiar assumptions of identification.  For example, the piece features a young actor who adopts different voices and subject positions to forge identifications with the viewer in a series of monologues that build up to an argument orchestrated between the same actor, but delivered through three distinct characters and accents.

The work is an important and poignant reflection on the area and its diverse festivals that include: Caribbean Carnival, The Goose Fair, Nottingham Pride, Nottingham Mela and Ishraqah (a festival of Middle Eastern culture). These are all important events, according to Director of Programme’s at NAE Melanie Kidd, to preserve cultural identity.

“Dismantling the imperial view that cultural identity is singular and not fixed, Not Necessarily in the Right Order explores the perspective that Britishness, like all cultures, has always been hybrid and our identity will continue to shift,” she said.

Not Necessarily in the Right Order by Common Culture will be at New Art Exchange from Friday 27 September and run until 12 January. 

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