18 July 2018

New Commission: Mikhail Karikis, No Ordinary Protest

Combining sound, performance and unscripted debates, Mikhail Karikis’ new moving-image commission takes its cue from the short story The Iron Woman (1993) by the poet and author, Ted Hughes. In the story, children are the first to hear an eerie, supernatural noise, which is an emanation of the collective pain of creatures affected by the pollution of the planet. Angered by the complicity and complacency of adults, children take matters into their own hands, infiltrating factories and demanding immediate action against the impending ecological catastrophe. 

Karikis adopts this children’s story as an ecofeminist parable and as a lesson in the power of sound to effect physical, psychological and socio-political transformation. He introduced the book to a class of 7-year-old students from Mayflower Primary School in East London whom he asked to reflect on the environmental themes of the story and to imagine the noise that assisted the book’s heroes in their protest.

Karikis engaged with the children throughout their school year and created a video in which the kids oscillate between the real and the imagined. As they gather to debate, the children discover a commonly shared sense of justice and responsibility towards the environment and other creatures. Revelling in the shape-shifting properties of sound, they begin to sense its potential as an agent of change. Improvising with toys, vocalisations and musical instruments, they conduct cymatic experiments, whereby a particular noise or utterance takes on its own unique visual form. The resulting cymatics images resemble mysterious abstract landscapes coming into being and dissolving apart – omens of the turbulent ecological future the children may come to inherit. From this shifting, unstable terrain, the kids emerge as luminous masked agitators confronting and closing in on the viewer. Becoming more than the sum of its parts, Karikis’ new project evokes the irresistible power of emergent, collective action.

Commissioned by Film and Video Umbrella, Middlesbrough Institute of Modern Art and Whitechapel Gallery, London.

Forthcoming Exhibitions: Whitechapel Gallery, London, 18 August 2018 - 6 January 2019; Middlesbrough Institute of Modern Art, Summer 2019.

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