Ghosts of Solid Air was born in the summer of 2020, soon after Edward Colston had been torn from his plinth and thrown in Bristol harbour. Statues were suddenly front page news – with debate raging over who is celebrated and protected by the British government.
But as the project developed, the political context of walking the streets of London shifted towards threats to the right to protest and the role of the police.
The Police, Crime and Sentencing Bill, the Kill the Bill protests that followed and the revelations about multiple sexual assaults committed by members of the Metropolitan Police changed the conversation to the nature of democracy and safety on the streets of Britain. The gaze of the project shifted to the humans in the space – the soldiers and police, omnipresent in central London in the streets around Downing Street and the Houses of Parliament.
We wanted to explore what is in a space beyond the immediately visible.
Trafalgar Square tells a story with buildings and statues – so what is, and what isn’t, represented? What does it feel like to stand near the fountains and surrounded by all these statues – who has been here before and what memories hang in the air?
We took these questions and turned them into a story about a ghost world.
The journey is a subversive trip through time – each character exploring a different aspect of Britain’s shadowy past and how it links to now. We are still living with the long tail of political decisions taken centuries ago, and finding a way to connect across time starts with the sensations of being here, now.
As with all Anagram projects, the experience and story is ultimately designed to hone in on you – asking you to explore your own capacity to speak up and voice dissent.
What might get in the way – and what would be your own personal tipping point into disobedience?
Ghosts of Solid Air was developed in collaboration with a group of young (age 18-28) people of colour from London.
This group was assembled by the producer of the project in the early stages, Amaya Jeyerajah Dent, and co-ordinated by Sahar Bano Malik. The members of the group are:
The process involved over ten initial research and creative workshops and site visits – as well as creative check-ins throughout the process of developing the piece.
The team interviewed a range of heritage practitioners from a variety of institutions including Historic England, Imperial War Museum, Bishopsgate Institute, East End Women’s Museum, Museum of London, Greater London Authority, City of London as well as other individuals involved in the public debate.
“Working with the co-creators group helped better understand the complexities faced by black people today, and how they feel about the inaccurate history being taught by the British education system and through the memorialisation of these statues. During the research phase of the project, I took the team on a (socially distanced) statues tour where we got close up to the towering statues to discuss them. We covered historical context, political prowess, wealth and atrocities that had been committed, as well as discovering why these statues were being commemorated. Many statues in the 19th century were erected to honour the contribution made by individuals and groups of men to the British empire. They were part of the honours system which was used to instil a sense of pride in the empire and were often a means of keeping the support of elites. One of our main points of discussion surrounded the idea of having these statues removed and replaced. However, we came to the conclusion that the often troublesome history of such statues had to be seen and acknowledged, not erased. From here, we talked through our AR app in development, and wanted the chosen statue to be surrounded by ghosts sharing their narratives and giving their truthful opinions of the statue.”
“I think this is an exceptional opportunity to challenge the rhetoric around some of the most respected and idolised people in British History, and it could lead to not only questioning what we know as the past and history - but also research into how slavery affects us today and if much has changed in morality. The experience and sessions reaffirmed my opinion that patriotism could be a wonderful thing but it could also be the driving force to ignorance and denial. I see this project as about educating those who are open to learning rather than trying to change the minds of those who wish to view life tunnel-visioned.”
“An amazing learning experience, with individuals that were passionate, driven and who had a thirst for knowledge. I thoroughly enjoyed myself and the time I spent participating in this project, and feel it should be shared - as London is not the only place with statues!”
“The experiences and sessions have highlighted how much the average person doesn’t know about British history and the so-called “great” men at the forefront of it.”
“The experience and sessions have reaffirmed my opinion that patriotism still exists - whether it's subtle enough not to cause offence at first hand, digging deeper will expose its true form.”