I have today changed the title of my sonic artwork on Bristol and the Transatlantic Slave Trade from ‘Colston’s Last Journey’ to ‘Shipshape and Bristol Fashion?’ (note the ‘?’)
My intensive research over the last 9 months into all aspects of the Transatlantic Slave Trade (also called TTEA: the Transatlantic Trafficking of Enslaved Afrikans) means that I have a greatly increased appreciation of the scope, scale and complexities of the trade in an overall African/British context and am reflecting that in the scripts I’m currently writing for the audio artwork. The whole project has thus expanded very much beyond ‘Colston’ and a focus on ‘Colston’ in the title of the project simply does not fit the direction the project has taken anymore.
Calling my project ‘Colston’s Last Journey’ gives rise to the participant (and media) expectation that the project is about Colston, when – as stated in my Arts Council application – it’s actually about Bristol and the Transatlantic Slave Trade. It won’t help the project if I am continually having to explain, “er, actually, the audio work is not about Colston, I’m using him as a place marker or signifier or representator of …“, or, “no, it’s not about that day in June 2020 when his statue was toppled off the plinth and dragged through the streets of Bristol, it’s about…”.
‘Shipshape and Bristol Fashion?’ frees me from the bane of that man’s long shadow, refers more indirectly to the seafaring tradition in Bristol and exactly who and what was being ‘sea-fared’, and brings the focus of the project back onto the work and how it is structured: a sea of interactive sound overlayers the historical and present Broad Quay (‘the Centre’ of Bristol). Upon this interactive sea, 7 ‘audio ghost ships’ are afloat, each representing a different facet of the slave trade, each of which was an actual ship which set sail from Bristol in the 17th and 18th centuries.
The project still references the whole Colston debacle in that the audiowalk still starts from the Colston plinth and ends where his statue was thrown into the water. Just that the connection is then made by the audience if you so wish. It is not explicitly stated by the artist, but implicit within the work.