Rich Mix – Bombaysers de Lille


ROLE: Producer/Exec-Producer, Co-curator

Working at Rich Mix between 2005 and 2007 as Head of Creative I was charged with developing a multi-artform cultural programme at what was intended to be a producing venue* serving the local community of London’s East End.

Despite the venue having been built with £23million of capital funding, it was to open without public revenue funding. I joined when the multi-million pound capital budget had expired before completion of the business rental spaces which would have provided rental income for the social enterprise. There was no money to fund a cultural programme.

Shortly before the opening, Rich Mix was invited to develop an exhibition and music programme to occupy three floors of the former warehouse Maison Folie in Lille, France as part of the second Lille3000 Bienalle – Bombaysers de Lille. The theme that year was the culture of the Indian sub-continent. We had proposed an exhibition entitled Brick Lane after the famous street across the road from the venue. The programme would explore the reciprocal influences of British and Indian culture on each other of which Brick Lane is microcosm.

There was political risk in that the venue was under public scrutiny with a community expecting a local return on public investment. The decision to deliver our first programme in France was a controversial one, but one that would provide funding to produce enough visual arts work to fill the venue for a year.

Having secured a budget of £140,000, I commissioned and led a team of curators, producers and artists, including exhibition designers Lotos Collective, to develop work with the active participation of members of the local community. The resulting high-quality programme (below) attracted over 100,000 visitors to the Maison Folie in Lille over 3 months. The visual arts content was subsequently iteratively programmed into Rich Mix throughout 2007.

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  1. Desi Pop Art
    The ground floor of Maison Folie was given over to curators Green Cardamom to fill with work demonstrating the influence of the work of artists such Warhol and Lichtenstein on contemporary Indian art.
  2. KidZone
    A welcome requirement from Lille3000 was for an exhibit targeted at children aged between 6 and 14 years old and their families. I drew on networks formed through my own practice in interactive installation work to commission the creation of an audio-visual installation that would respond to physical movement and play. The Igloo collective are leaders in the field, but in order to achieve a specific cultural aesthetic I partnered them with the then young and emerging British Bengali-Indian photographer and video artist, Coco Das. The piece was developed through workshops with children from local schools to develop environments and stories that reflected their experience of their local East End neighbourhood.
  3. We  bought the rights to Gavin FernandesEmpire Line series in which Fernandes creates a fictitious history of Indian women dressing themselves in British Victorian fashion such as tight corsets and long puffed sleeves. This contrasts with the soft materials and open styles of traditional Indian women’s fashion. We also commissioned Fernandes to create an entirely new series of photographs to follow on from ‘Empire Line’ entitled Monarchs of the East End that looked at the variety of cultural influences on contemporary East London fashion. Local young people were invited to work with professional stylists and model for the new photographs.  Each print from one series was paired with one from the other and mounted back to back in a frame to form an installation occupying much of the first floor.
  4. Sonic Bed
    The Sonic Bed was the latest incarnation artist Kaffe Matthews’ Music for Bodies project. “The bed creates an intimate and unique environment for up to 4 people at a time to experience music and sound with the whole body.” Matthews had been working with researchers in psych0acoustics and with computer programmers to develop systems to stimulate particular moods and sensations. It occurred to me that soundscapes for the bed based on and using drones from the Hindustani raga system that maps musical scales to time of day and mood would be a good fit for our exhibition and would extend Matthews’ exploration of the impact of sound on physiological and mood states. I proposed a collaboration with the UK based Indian musician Shri – a bass player, flautist and composer of music that fused Indian classical music with western electronica. They worked in the glass fronted, street facing space at Rich Mix inviting contributions from the public in responding to and influencing the work. One local group of women made a quilt for the bed.
  5. Fresh Asian by Ali Zaidi
    Indian by birth, Pakistani by migration and British by choice, these cultural paradoxes contribute to Ali Zaidi’s creative speculation around issues of identity and representation. He explores ethnic hybridity in a video installation in which the faces of an ethnically diverse group of individuals all morph into that of a “single ideal”. We programmed a series of workshops in Lille where participants were invited to be photographed and have their images morphed, taking away the resulting personal prints.
  6. Music programme
    Asian Dub Foundation
    The pioneering East London based alternative electronica band still pull in crowds in their thousands in France and across Europe. The French audience would have expected to see them at Masion Folie as part of our programme. For a night at Maison Folie, I put them together with Dohl drummers, Ministry of Dohl, along with a roster of DJs from the “Asian Underground” scene. Co-founder Aniruddha Das is the elder brother of Coco Das who worked on KidZone and so it made perfect sense to have her VJ for the night incorporating imagery from KidZone into her set.
    The Nasha Experience
    Is a showcase of the talent recording on the Nasha label which emerged from Talvin Singh’s trend setting Anokha project. A line up of DJs, a violinist, tabla player (Aref Dervish of Nitin Sawnhey fame), vocalists and VJs provided a narrative score for the project, the performance of which evolved into hours of floor shaking Drum n’ Bass that provided an exuberant closing celebration for the programme.

*Rich Mix is no longer a producing venue, but operates as a cinema and live venue serving as a platform for London’s diverse community of cultural producers.

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