‘Carnival of Carnivals’

“Ryde is the ‘carnival of carnivals’, dating from Queen Victoria’s Diamond Jubilee in 1887, it is the oldest in the UK.”[1]

Ryde is a small to medium-sized town, situated on the north-east coast of the Isle of Wight and characterised by a wealth of natural and cultural resources, and some unique oppositions. At once a traditional English seaside town, it is also a gateway to the Isle of Wight UNESCO Biosphere reserve. Vital to the culture and economy of the Island it nevertheless looks across the Solent to its neighbour on the ’north island’, Portsmouth. It even has two high streets (not really, but sort of); one for islanders, overners and perhaps even the odd caulkhead, the other for the grockles.

It also has hovercraft!

The subject of a recent Memorandum of Understanding – I was present at its signing – on a hovercraft on the Solent midway between Ryde and Portsmouth – with the University of Portsmouth, Ryde Town Council is an innovative, creatively inclined and forward-thinking local authority actively engaged in the support and promotion of interdisciplinary alliances with other community institutions and with academia.

Although I am developing some research and knowledge exchange projects there (or should I say here – I also live in Ryde, most of the time – in island dialect I am an ‘overner’) it is in its role as an historic and growing centre for situated performance (in particular carnival) and making that I will be siting my Portsmouth School of Architecture 3rd year studio projects there this year.

Excerpt from Studio 2 brief[2]

Added to all this, the year’s theme is ‘generation(s)’ so through our studio we will be asking, amongst other things whether, if culture is a transgenerational phenomenon (cultural artefacts and ideas passed backwards and forwards between generations)[3] what roles can architecture play in this process? And if, as we will argue, architecture is a crucial part of this transgenerational cultural transmission, can situated performance (for example city and street-specific carnivals) be forces for spatial justice and the commons?

So, we visited Ryde and did all the usual things you do with students on field trips. This one began with an inspirational talk from Ian Boyd of Arc Consulting at the amazing Monkton Arts and ended with an impromptu mini-carnival thanks to Hannah Ray of the New Carnival Company, that went a bit like this:

Impromptu mini-carnival Portsmouth School of Architecture 3rd year students with Hannah Ray of The New Carnival Company

[1] A Place Plan for Ryde, ed. Ryde Town Council (Sandown: Arc Consulting, 2020).

[2] Jane Jacobs, The Death and Life of Great American Cities (Bodley Head, 2020 [1961]), 60; Richard Schechner, Performance Studies: an introduction, 4th ed. (London: Routledge, 2020). 38.

[3] Kevin N. Laland and William Hoppitt, “Do animals have culture?,” Evolutionary Anthropology: Issues, News, and Reviews 12, no. 3 (2003),https://doi.org/https://doi.org/10.1002/evan.10111, https://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/abs/10.1002/evan.10111.

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