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‘Neolithic Cannibals – Deep Listening to the Unheard’

BN1 Magazine’s Rosie Paldi-Edwards caught up with the founders from Class Divide – a grassroots campaign drawing attention to the deeply unjust educational attainment gap in Whitehawk, Manor Farm and Bristol Estate, to explore the new Brighton Festival sound-art exhibition.

Co-founder Curtis James explains “The Class Divide podcast was the first step in sharing stories about the unheard and about the inequity in places like Brighton and Hove. Inequity exists in every town and city across the country to varying degrees. It stifles the chances of younger and older people in realising the talent, curiosity and sheer brilliance they have to offer, because without a social security system, or parents to support them, there is little opportunity to even see inside the door, let alone get a foot in. First and foremost, Neolithic Cannibals will be an amazing art piece, but, just like the podcast, activism is at its heart.”

Simon James, sound artist and twin brother of Curtis James, shares how he got involved “I worked on the Class Divided Podcast, I did the sound design production and we always planned to have the final episode made by the young people of Whitehawk, that was the seed of the idea. I’m a sound designer and sound artist so I thought I would just take a load of fun synthesisers, noise machines and microphones and just explore the noises around Whitehawk and make that into the final episode. Then Brighton Festival got in touch and it seemed really obvious to turn this podcast episode into a gallery exhibition and so the scale just expanded.”

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This sound art project and exhibition is set to debut at Brighton Festival and is open to the public on May 4th. Created by the young people of Whitehawk and East Brighton, led by sound artist Simon James, alongside Class Divide and arts charity Lighthouse to bring to you ‘Neolithic Cannibals’ a deep dive and exploration into the history of the neolithic in Brighton as well as bringing to attention the contemporary and often unheard narratives of modern day Whitehawkers.

BN1 interviewed sound artist Simon James who spearheaded this project, to discuss how it started, how the workshops are going and what this means for the young artists of Whitehawk. “There’s this connection between that invisible unheard and the unheard of people in Whitehawk and the stigma they face. I was at a party not that long ago and somebody used the term ‘shitehawkers’ to describe people from Whitehawk and so those kinds of names and stigma are still very common today. The Class Divide Campaign works towards allowing kids from Whitehawk to access schools around the city and we need to tell the people in the city that kids from Whitehawk are just normal kids who want a chance at a good education. There are some lovely threads and connections that run through this” said Simon. 

The exhibition has been created through a series of workshops held at the CrewClub, each week Simon has been introducing the children to archeology, psycho-geography, sound art, activism and more. Interestingly the group of children who are participating have more girls involved than boys. Simon added to this and said “It’s brilliant, because definitely sound and music tends to be dominated by boys and so it’s been fantastic, I’m always up for opening it up for everyone and making it accessible.” 

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The exhibition offers an immersive experience that intertwines ancient history with modern social activism. James highlighted how the Neolithic Camp on top of Whitehawk Hill had always been a plan of his and how after more research he realised that “It was going to be a central theme to explore through sound, as it’s a mix of contemporary listening to whitehawk, alongside a historical exploration about the people who first lived on that hill 5000 years ago.” James included the support from experts he has had, from the likes of Archeology South East and Brighton and Hove Museums. “We had a session at the museum where we had a Flint Knapper, to show the young people how tools were made 5000 years ago. We recorded the sounds from that and then a week after we used those sounds to make some soundscapes.” This creative way to learn, looks like a really brilliant, fun and engaging way for students to delve into the past and actually enjoy and connect with history.  Simon also mentioned how “the camp itself was discovered using sound, so it just felt like such an obvious fit.” James plans to bring the kids there to record sounds through the geographical listening technique known as Bosing, which is what they first used to discover the fort back in 1929. 

It is clear that James feels strongly about helping bridge the gap in the creative industries, he mentioned “seeing their faces when certain sounds are being made or when they discover something new or when they engage or connect with things in a certain way, it really touches me.” James realises that his project is rather ambitious and to say to these kids to listen to the feedback from a microphone next to a speaker is going to be a bit challenging, but that’s part of sound art and “at first they were like what? But then they got into it and they absolutely loved it and were really focused.” said Simon.

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The exhibition will recreate the Neolithic Camp – a place of community, celebrations and rituals to invite a compassionate and open listening space for the audience to delve into the rich tapestry of Whitehawks joy, playfulness and hope, empowering local voices through rarely explored sonic expressions. This has been a very personal project for Simon James who went to school in Whitehawk and “from doing a similar workshop that triggered my interest in music when I was 15. It’s personal because I wanna give the kids in Whitehawk a chance. I don’t meet very many working class sound artists – I’ve had a lot of luck along the way, but I wanna see more kids from my background in sound design.” This exhibition wants to leave audiences with a deeper understanding and more empathic listening when considering the power of collective effort and the part we all play in addressing complex and current social issues. 

The main exhibition will be accompanied by a series of talks, walks and workshops around the themes explored in the exhibition. Visit the Class Divide website for full details.

Exhibition Times:
Saturday 4 May – Sunday 19 May 2024
Wednesdays to Sundays
Doors: 12 PM- 5 PM. (Closed Monday and Tuesday, except Monday 6 May or by appointment.)
Lighthouse Project Space, New England House, Elder Place, York Hill Corner, BN1 4GH

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