Walking through tired halls of an old stone building, like a sweet smell, I am led by sound.
High frequencies leak through the doors and walls taking me to my destination… At the door, the bass welcomes me-y’know that kinda bass that fills you up, the kind y’feel in your chest.
I am second greeted by green light. The light is eerie, grungy and bog-like. The sound is haunting, strange yet familiar. The room is sad…
Double 6 is a collaborative audio-visual installation by Ashley Holmes and R.I.P Germain, presented by Poor Image Projects and Index Festival. Held in the former courtroom of Leeds Town Hall, Double 6 questions how race, class and British popular culture intersect with the political and social value of Black* British life. The space with its high ceilings, off-coloured walls and red carpets intensified Holmes and Germain’s expression of Blackness without, at the same time, giving their expression space to fully be.
Inside the old court, the green light hung in the air like an ethereal mist and was only interrupted by the boom-bap beats and thick bleeding bass. The fusion of sound and light captured me. I became awestruck. Stuck like a firefly looking to the moon. Here I found myself in my own shallow thoughts. In the sound, I was treading water. Holmes and Germain’s off-key edits of tracks from the African Diaspora became a wave of mix, mantra and loop. Their sound matched that of an ancient Gregorian choir. But it was different… It was spiritual. It was earthy. It transported you to a place where old brown-skinned voices sing their soul. This was Church –but without the institution.
As I sat among the dark wooden courtroom pews, I was met by familiar faces. I found comfort as we greeted each other in our coded ways, our own Ebonics saying so much with so little. This experience took me back to four-year-old me at Sunday service, watching Nanna and Grandad make words with Mrs So’n’so and Mr Whoever. And in this mixture of sound and light, seated on wooden pews, I understood what they understood.
The feeling of constant juxtaposition was eminent throughout Double 6. At times Double 6 felt like it was at battle, whether it was the wrong-red carpet clashing against the green light, or the vinyl-black steel sound cases against the equally black mahogany furnishings, or the influx of tech in a dead space. But the battle wasn’t always won. The grand room swallowed the mid-scale sound setup causing the audio to feel lacking; it wasn’t quite there yet. It was booming but not really BOOMIN’! -y’know…
Within the realms of the Victorian town hall, the whole affair felt like an attempt be black, daring and badass while an overarching institution kindly asked for said expression to be tolerable. At the same time, this fell into Holmes and Germain’s exploration of race within the context of a British political social discourse –you have a right to be angry, just don’t make too much of a fuss. But even though this meta experience was pivotal, I feel it was a result of space and constraints rather than Holmes and Germain’s initial intentions -but does that make it any less valuable? I don’t think so…
Walking around the court, the smells of old arose. I found myself stumbling across a large coffee-coloured chest, probably once used to hold important or incriminating documents. I decided to be brave and open it and was hit by a wall of smell, a smell I can only, again, describe as old -that church-book-Bible smell, Nanu’s Quran smell. Soon I was planted somewhere else… an unknown, sun-drenched plain where I could see seven behind me and seven ahead of me, my ancestors and my future children. This was a space of healing: for me and for them. I found myself in this space multiple times during Double 6, whether I was looking into the textile paintings or staring into the green.
The hand-painted banners, full of graffiti styled compositions were political, purposeful and defiantly out of place. Their lack of legibility gave voice to all the bodies that have been silenced in that place. A pair of No Fear eyes sat, front and voice to the bodies that have been silenced in that space. And their bright contrasting colours seemed so strange among the formalities of centre of the court, above The English flag. The ugly eyes and the flag hung like a sacrificial cross. It screamed National Front! All of this commanded a feeling of British hostility.
This feeling factored into my own feeling within the space. As a Black* body not knowing whether I fit in or was alien, whether I was an exhibitor or the exhibit itself. This was amplified by the lack of other Black-Brown* spectators. Even though the turnout was strong, we weren’t a big part of it. Now, this in itself is neither bad nor good, but it does inhibit the act of reclaiming space.
But what were Holmes and Germain to do? Through their raw, defiant use of voice, chant and shout they claimed their own space -but it was only for them. As a spectator I felt like an outsider looking in; I couldn’t permeate their bubble. They were two brothers vibing and I didn’t know how to join in. And I wanted to! Too often I found myself wanting to dig deep and scream but couldn’t.
All this spoke so heavily on the Black* British experience. It was powerful, booming and undeniably BLACK, but it also wasn’t quite there yet. I wanted to scream! Double 6 was a big dutty seed of something special, but with limited water. It was on its way to spectacular and maybe with a bit more water, it could be.
Double 6 was an audio-visual installation created by Ashley Holmes and R.I.P. Germain, that took place on the 9 August in the former courtroom of Leeds Town Hall. Part of Index Festival it was presented by Poor Image Projects.
Black*: The children of the African-Diaspora; referring to those who self-define as having considerate or strong African ancestry and heritage
Black-Brown*: used it the widest socio-political context to refer to those who self-define as Black or Brown without imposing any explicit definitions
Review written by Super BLACK: Omari Swanston-Jeffers