Building Bristol: Memory, Monuments and Power

Text by Anthony Killick and Lee Salter

The Slave Chain, Little Popo, 1849

The Slave Chain, Little Popo, 1849

In this film Edson Burton asserts that “where people are disenfranchised from sources of knowledge the space opens up for new ways of understanding”. One of the purposes of the film is to facilitate this process. The opportunity to re-examine certain histories through the practice of film-making allows us to derive new interpretations, against what Burton describes as the “homogenous, imperial discourse”.

In Representation and the Media, Stuart Hall highlights the importance of  this form of counter-hegemonic cultural production. Culture, he says, is our way of making sense of the world. It is giving meaning to things through frameworks of understanding, without which communication would be impossible. When these frameworks are dominated by powerful social and political forces, so culture is shaped by those same forces. What we say, and how we say it, is subject to subtle, indirect interference by external agents. To put it in Habermasian terms, our life-world becomes colonised by the interests and rationale of economic and political systems.

We begin to chase private, individualistic ‘goods’ over the common, shared goods of the community. In turn, we reproduce the frameworks of meaning that oriented us in this way via the externalisation of culture through language and other forms of communication. Capital reproduces itself, then, by colonising culture, restricting the horizon of possible meanings to those permitted by dominant powers.

The task of the independent filmmaker is to resist colonisation, opening up the possibility for the creation of meanings through experimentation with new discursive strategies. This counter-hegemonic practice falls under the banner of the political avant-garde, experimenting while creating texts that are accessible to those of us who are culturally colonised to various degrees. In return, filmmaking is the medium through which we realise theory in the concrete world.

Many social theorists, from Michel Foucault to Henri Lefebvre, have considered how the structure and architecture of cities reflect dominant relations and their historical roots in what Lefebvre called the “social production of space”.

Building Bristol: Memory, Monuments and Power investigates these relations by considering the meaning of two of Bristol’s bridges, one the great Clifton Suspension Bridge and the other the less well-known “Pero’s Bridge”, constructed as an attempt to commemorate Bristol’s slaving past.


Author: Anthony Killick

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