A response by Stuart Hall Library Artist in Residence Ting-Ting Cheng
It was a Sunday morning. You woke up naturally late, still a bit hungover from the drinks you had the night before. You dragged yourself to the kitchen, hoping not to bump into any of your flatmates, you were not really in the mood for small talk. You made yourself a cup of tea, and quickly went back to your bed. You turned on the radio while sipping the tea that almost burnt your lips.
“There was patchy cloud overnight leading to a light air frost in North East England, with light rain and drizzle in South England that cleared South West during the morning. Most of the British Isles are having a sunny day under a weak ridge of high pressure, although there will be snow and hail showers over North and Central Scotland…”
The woman delivered the weather forecast with perfect ‘Received Pronunciation’. You started to feel confused about where you were and why you were there. It no longer felt like your room anymore. The sunlight shined through the window, which almost hurt your eyes. You closed your eyes, wondering if you could figure out where you were. You smelt sand, perhaps the sea. You must be at the border of something. The wind blew towards you. You opened your eyes, and looked towards where the voice was coming from. That was the first time you met him.
“Yes, Black and British, this is a funny combination.But people either want to be something, or so universally open to everything, that I don’t think either of these modes work. I think we have very strong but different attachments. And we need differences in recognition. But, of course, at the same time we need to feel that we can belong in our recognition in a much wider context.”
“But you could argue that, technically… anyway, that is obtained today. We have British Asians, British Muslims, you know, but you look forward to much more than that, don’t you? To the day when British denotes, as well as Westminster Abbey denotes, mosques.”
“Rise” by Gabrielle was playing on the radio. You couldn’t help but hum along with it, although you didn’t even like the song. You also heard that Charles M. Schulz passed away yesterday and Sam Mendes was talking about his chance of winning an Oscar with his new film American Beauty. ‘It’s not a typical Academy Award-winning movie,’ he said.
Yes. It’s been a while. ‘RBS takeover of NatWest should mean good news.’ You were also told.
Image: found by the artist during google image search of “13 February 2000”
“Yes, I think that the term British denotes all these different things. I mean, I don’t want them to conjure into a sort of hegemony, an undifferentiated mass. I want it to be differentiated. But, funnily enough, it’s an aspiration for Britain, not for me. I think the British have a future only if they can come to terms with the fact that Britishness is not one thing and has never been one thing. There have been a million different ways of being British and there have been a million different struggles about Britishness which only retrospectively are then smoothly accommodated into the story as if it’s unfolding seamlessly from beginning to end, but it isn’t like that.”
“But don’t you think it’s coming to terms with that?”
It was today, but 17 years ago. You are amazed by how appropriate it is for the current context. You are so tired of the bombarding Facebook feeds about Trump, Brexit and Lady Gaga at the Super Bowl. You are sick of the world but not knowing what to do. Yes, it’s very frustrating.
“Yes, of course. But if you think of last year, you know, the two celebrations, the first of all the celebration of the Windrush Arrival, which is 50 years since the first post-war migrants. On the other hand there is the MacPherson inquiry into the death of Stephen Lawrence. And it seems to me that Britain is facing these two possibilities as an alternative future. I want them to, the British, to consciously move towards, in a more concerted and open way, towards a more cosmopolitan idea of themselves.”
Are we coming to terms with that? What happened during the past 17 years? It’s always a turning point. We can always turn, like we always have been.
No, there is no answer here. Probably there is no answer after all. It’s just a thought, perhaps a journey, a journey that you are already participating in.
The quotations above in italics were extracted from the conversation between Professor Stuart Hall and presenter Sue Lawley on BBC radio show Desert Island Discs, first aired on 13 Feb 2000. Other texts were written by Ting-Ting Cheng, the current artist in residency at Stuart Hall Library, whose new project reworks this episode of Desert Island Discs to form an audio/visual/physical guide for the library, which will be presented at Stuart Hall Library in May 2017.
In memory of Stuart Hall, 3 February 1932 – 10 February 2014.
Unless otherwise noted, all photographs were taken by Ting-Ting Cheng in the library as part of her research.
For more information on Ting-Ting Cheng and the Stuart Hall Library Artist’s Residency, including details of Cheng’s artistic outcome when it becomes available, please see here.