On Sunday afternoon, Virtual Migrants presented a performance and talk: The Centre Cannot Hold, Part 1. The performance examined the social inequalities around the issue of climate change. The following discussion looked at why those most effected are largely not the industrialised economies causing it; the connections between environmental crises and migration; and local Bristol history that connects to these wider issues.
A crowd gathered in the gallery where an installation of projected video, text and audio formed the backdrop to a live performance of spoken word and song. The voices become increasingly layered so that only glimpses of their content emerged. It felt quite overwhelming in the small packed room, with so much information spilling out – on top of an already information-heavy weekend. I let my mind relax and noticed certain fragments float to my attention: the woman’s feet picking their way gracefully along a pipe over flood waters, a reference to the 1980s miners strikes, a slave auction poster, resonant singing voices.
Kooj Chuhan of Virtual Migrants introduced their guest, local black activist Guy Baily. He spoke of his childhood in Jamaica and told the compelling story of his involvement in the Bristol Bus Boycotts of the 1960s in response to the blatant racism of the bristol bus company. Conversation followed on life in contemporary Jamaica and the difficult contradiction between the economics of tourism and the visible impact of climate change, with hurricanes dramatically increasing in their frequency.
This multi-layered, rich discussion brought to light many issues that lie at the heart of this season, from the social implications of environmental change, to whether diverse communities around Bristol can access spaces like the Arnolfini.