The Voice of the People

Embodiment, Collectivity and Power

  • Undercurrent_RPilgrim - Copy

    Film Still: Rory Pilgrim, The Undercurrent, 2019.

Past Event

This event was on Thursday 14 September, 7pm

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The Voice of the People:
Embodiment, Collectivity and Power

Thursday 14 September | 7pm | £5

Collective speech – the act of speaking, chanting or singing in unison—carries many important meanings in modern culture. From socialist hymns like the ‘Internationale’ to the Lord’s Prayer, and from ‘Not my King!’ to ‘Lock her up!’, choral speech combines ritual, resistance and spirituality in surprising ways.

This event explores how collective songs and chants work as expressions of group solidarity and political protest. Alan Finlayson discusses the history and politics of the protest song, Ananya Kabir considers the synergy of voices, bodies, and movement found in processions, Noreen Masud explores collectivity in voicing puppetry and Rory Pilgrim reflects on voice and activism in relation to their practice. The discussion is chaired by Matthew Taunton.

The evening concludes with the London premiere of Pilgrim’s 2019 film The Undercurrent, which poetically explores how 10 teenage activists in Idaho come together to find a collective voice in response to climate change.

In partnership with the University of East Anglia. Supported by the British Academy.

Rory Pilgrim, The Undercurrent, 2019, (50 min)

In a time of climate crisis The Undercurrent asks how we deal with such an overwhelmingly global issue on a deeply intimate and personal scale. Filmed in Boise, Idaho in the USA, the film was made with 10 Youth Climate Activists from Boise and small towns from the surrounding area who responded to an online open call. While the climate crisis appears to be the most important theme, the activists explore how climate change interconnects with other aspects of their lives including family, difficulties with religion, friendship, fighting for gender equality and the essential need of a home.

Soundtracked by an original orchestral score composed Pilgrim and singers in Boise, music and song flow throughout to explore the emotional means we have to articulate crisis. In these uncertain times globally, The Undercurrent questions what makes us feel like we belong somewhere – it is a home, a country or each other?

About the Speakers

About Alan Finlayson

Alan Finlayson is Professor of Political & Social Theory at the University of East Anglia. He teaches and writes about democratic theory, political culture and rhetoric. From 2020–22 he was Co-Investigator on the research project ‘Our Subversive Voice? The History and Politics of English Protest Music’ which produced this website cataloguing hundreds of years of song: A book will be out sometime in 2024. He is currently Co-I on the AHRC funded project “Speech! Speech!: Dramatising Rhetorical Citizenship” which involves going around the country with a theatre company teaching rhetoric and speechmaking to people who don’t usually get listened to. See here for details:

About Ananya Kabir

Ananya Jahanara Kabir is Professor of English Literature at King’s College London. Her research spans creolisation across the Atlantic and Indian Ocean worlds, critical philology, and the relationship of literary and embodied cultural expressions, including dance. Between 2013-2018, she directed the ERC Advanced Grant funded project, ‘Modern Moves’, which investigated the history and global popularity of African diasporic social dances. Her current theoretical explorations of ‘Alegropolitics’ and ‘creolisation’ flowed out of that project. Ananya has been awarded India’s Infosys Prize in the Humanities and Germany’s Humboldt Research Prize, and, in July 2023, was elected as a Fellow of the British Academy.

About Noreen Masud

Noreen Masud is a Lecturer in Twentieth Century English Literature at the University of Bristol, and an AHRC/BBC New Generation Thinker. Her first book is Stevie Smith and the Aphorism (OUP, 2022); her second is A Flat Place (Hamish Hamilton (UK) and Melville House (US), 2023).

About Rory Pilgrim

Rory Pilgrim works in a wide range of media including songwriting, composing music, film, music video, text, drawing and live performances. Centred on emancipatory concerns, Pilgrim aims to challenge the nature of how we come together, speak, listen and strive for social change through sharing and voicing personal experience. Strongly influenced by the origins of activist, feminist and socially engaged art, Pilgrim works with others through a different methods of dialogue, collaboration and workshops. In an age of increasing technological interaction, Rory’s work creates connections between activism, spirituality, music and how we form community locally and globally from both beyond and behind our screens.

Recent Solo Shows include: WAMX, Turku (2022), Kunstverein Braunschweig (duo-2021), Badischer Kunstverein, Karlsruhe (2020), Between Bridges, Berlin (2019) Ming Studios, Boise (2019), Andriesse-Eyck Gallery, Amsterdam NL (2018) and South London Gallery (2018). Rory has also made commissions, screenings and performances for Serpentine Galleries, London (2022), MoMA, New York (2022), Centre Pompidou, Paris (2021), Glasgow Film Festival (2020), Images Festival, Toronto (2019) and Transmediale Festival, HKW, Berlin (2019). In 2019, Pilgrim was the winner of the Prix de Rome.

About Matthew Taunton

Matthew Taunton is Associate Professor in Literature at UEA. He currently holds a British Academy Mid-Career Fellowship, for which he is writing a book called The Collective Voice. His most recent books are Red Britain: the Russian Revolution in Mid-Century Culture and A History of 1930s British Literature (co-edited with Benjamin Kohlmann).