During the silence of lockdown, questions about how the pandemic would affect the development of cities began to circle frantically. While established models threatened to crumble, in the property world, planning restrictions were relaxed to encourage building and accelerate development. In an ex-military site in north London, curator Camilla Cole has made use of this transitional period for a new project that reflects upon the current, peculiar moment in history.
‘Ritual For A New Regime,’ transforms the aforementioned site into a forum of sculptural intervention and ritual movement, presenting an exhibition of works by Sol Bailey-Barker and Candida Powell-Williams, and performances by siblings Rebecca Bellantoni and Rowdy SS, and dancer Emma Fisher. Conceived during the height of lockdown, the exhibition is one of the first real life shows to open in London, allowing viewers to experience art safely at a distance.
Framed by the changing relationship between human and artificial intelligence, which has been exacerbated by the new necessity to communicate online, ‘Ritual For A New Regime’ questions whether humanity can emerge from this period of silence in a way that positively regenerates our relationship with the natural world.
Sol Bailey-Barker presents a series of sculptures that draw upon a plethora of references, from ancient Neolithic tools and contemporary AI innovations, to science fiction writers such as Ursula Le Guin, who views new technologies as vessels through which to sustain culture rather than destroy it. Bailey-Barker is fascinated by the inextricable link between technology and the formation of landscapes, reflected in his hybrid forms, which fuse the organic with the industrial. His sculptures are evocative of ancient, ritual objects such as ceremonial axes, fragments of structures pulled from archeological digs and objects washed up on the banks of the River Thames (which the artist regularly collects). A large-scale metal sculpture houses a terrarium with a living biosphere, sustained by UV light and a misting system, that includes ferns, bromeliads, springtails and a praying mantis. The piece explores the rapid extinction of insects, imagining a future in which certain ecosystems only exist as museum relics. Other pieces made in resin appear like skeletons from the imagined Post-Anthropocene world, when artificial intelligence will terraform the Earth.
Employing the language of theoretical physics, speculative science and ancient mythology, Bailey-Barker advocates for technobiophilia, collaborating with hyper-intelligent technology to restore the natural world. Teetering between revering and warning, these works feel like gateways to alternate realities. They provoke avenues of discourse, whilst paying homage to Bailey-Barker’s masterful craftsmanship.
Candida Powell-Williams’ pastel jesmonite and resin forms recall prehistoric pictograms and hieroglyphics. Propped against clusters of ferns, crumbling brick walls and wire fencing, each sculpture feels like a phrase in a new language. These works echo the semiotics of political movements, religious groups and cults, subverted through her playful ‘Disneyfield’ aesthetic, which utilises the palette and softness of cartoon imagery.
Humorous and probing, Powell-Williams’ sculptures encourage the viewer to question the way we ascribe political dogma to forms and are then bound by our own projections. We are reminded of iconic symbols, which now hold permanent space in the collective consciousness and spark specific connotations, like tarot images, the peace symbol and swastika.
Speaking of standing up against regimes, Rebecca Bellantoni and Rowdy SS’s tryptic performance ‘Do I Worry? (MAMA)’ (2020) meditates on the force of worry that is forever present for people of colour, and specifically mothers living in a world where prejudice and police brutality prevail.
Positioned before a black flag, embroidered with shells and phrases, including “no dust shall settle” and “no love lost,” the performance opens with Bellantoni crouching with a machete in a circle of charcoal; this act mirrors an earlier work that referenced the uprisings of slaves and indentured workers in St Kitts, the birthplace of the artists’ maternal grandmother. As Bellantoni stares defiantly at the audience, ‘Do I Worry’ by Scotty is played through a speaker: a love song reflecting the lament of the mothers of victims of racial violence and a direct reference to the tragedy of George Floyd’s murder and the ongoing fight for justice and equality for Black people. “This work talks about the plight of Black people in a moment where there are no words possible,” shares Bellantoni.
Rowdy SS sits in an outcrop of greenery opposite his sister as he DJs. The music transitions into a voice-over where Bellantoni speaks a mantra of female power “I have overcome the destroyer…I am a woman, I am a healer.” Bellantoni smashes up charcoal and crawls over concrete, rising and falling in a cycle evocative of the ritual of prayer. Together, they encapsulate the power of community and family love, the ceremony of communing with the land and one’s ancestry, and the irrepressible spirit of survival.
In a final act, Bellantoni frenetically writes with charcoal across a concrete column – a familiar method in her established practice of filling sites with messages of hope. Seeking to reimagine the city as a place of positive meditation, the performance sits within a series of ongoing works titled ‘CRY’ (Concrete Regenerative Yearnings) that use the materials of the urban environment as conduits to higher consciousness.
Finally, dancer Emma Fisher performs ‘Lamentation For The Space Between’ (2020): a movement piece set to music by Bailey-Barker that responds to the sculptures on display, which pivot between subservience, reverence and seduction of form. Wrapping limbs around works and folding into them, Fisher’s movements vary from gestures associated with ballet and contemporary dance to more abstract actions, unconcerned with beauty or technical form. She allows her body to become a sculptural medium, diverse in texture and symbolism. Fisher’s dance is a poignant reflection on the purpose and possibilities of the body as we emerge from the confinement of lockdown into a new world where the signifiers of culture have rapidly shifted.