No Ordinary Protest

Working across film, sound and performance, Mikhail Karikis’ project ‘No Ordinary Protest’ adopts the children’s science fiction novel ‘The Iron Woman’ (1993) by the British writer and poet Ted Hughes as an ecofeminist parable of the power of sound to effect physical and socio-political transformation. In this story, a female superhero gifts children with a mysterious power – a noise. Transmitted by touch, this noise resonates with the collective howl of creatures affected by the pollution of the planet. As the children take matters into their own hands, they infiltrate factories and ‘infect’ adults with their demand for immediate action. Karikis engaged with a group of 7-year-olds from a London Primary School throughout their academic year. Through workshops, experimental pedagogical methods, reading, debating and play, they created a project together which reflects on the environmental themes of the book and imagines the enigmatic noise that assists the protagonists in their protest. Improvising with their voices, on musical instruments and toys, the children conduct cymatic experiments whereby a noise or vocal utterance takes on unique visual forms resembling ever-changing landscapes – the results echo the power of communal noise-making to mobilise change through sound. In the central video of Karikis’ project, the children gather to debate and they discover a shared sense of justice and responsibility towards the environment, and the urgent need for solidarity with all creatures. They transform into playful yet monstrous masked agitators revelling in the shape-shifting properties of sound and its power to vibrate the material universe. While being uncertain about our ecological future, ‘No Ordinary Protest’ uncovers children’s political voice and activist imagination, where communal listening and noise-making become tools that can ‘move mountains’ and transform our world.

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

Supported by Arts Council England.