Institute of Archaeology


Ghosts of Solid Air premieres at 67th BFI London Film Festival

3 October 2023

The UCL and AHRC-funded Augmented Reality experience Ghosts of Solid Air launches this week as part of the 67th BFI London Film Festival.

A man wearing headphones holding a smartphone up in front of a black statue of a seated rider on a horse on a white stone plinth

Ghosts of Solid Air, a site-specific Augmented Reality (AR) experience designed for smartphones which takes place in and around Trafalgar and Parliament Squares in central London, premieres this week as part of the 67th British Film Institute (BFI) London Film Festival, coinciding with the start of Black History Month.

The project grew out of an Arts and Humanities Research Council (AHRC)-funded Research Fellowship undertaken by Colin Sterling at the UCL Institute of Archaeology (IoA) titled ‘New Trajectories in Curatorial Experience Design’ (2019-2021). As an action research component of this fellowship, which aimed to document and analyse emerging trends in experiential design within the heritage sector, the award winning experience design group Anagram were offered the chance to suggest and develop a project.

Following a period of research and development, Rodney Harrison (IoA) and Colin Sterling (now University of Amsterdam) were awarded AHRC Follow-On Funding for Impact and Engagement to support the production of the project, with an understanding that editorial control would rest with Anagram and the team of co-creators. Further funding for the project and app production has been provided by the UCL Centre for Critical Heritage Studies and UCL Innovation and Enterprise.

The project has also benefited from connections with the education and heritage strands of the UCL Sarah Parker Remond Centre for the Study of Racism and Racialisation's Black Atlantic Innovation Network.

YouTube Widget Placeholderhttps://www.youtube.com/watch?v=VNMa15Imm0M


Ghosts of Solid Air is an interactive story designed to be explored on location in central London. Wearing headphones, you open the app on your phone, standing somewhere in Trafalgar Square. You hear two voices, speaking to you in unison, swirling around your head with meticulously crafted sound design. These are the voices at the gate - and they persuade you to speak up. Bit by bit, as you softly murmur into your phone, the ghost world is revealed - a strange world of pink sky, drifting mist and indistinct figures. As you explore, you meet a host of characters from across time who were radicalised through personal experience and forced into disobedient action.

Ghosts of Solid Air was developed by Anagram in close collaboration with a group of young people of colour from London, aged 18-28. The project was initiated in the summer of 2020, in the wake of global protests over the murder of George Floyd in the United States during which statues and monuments across the world became a focus for debate over whose histories and heritages are recognised, celebrated and valorised in the public sphere, and whose are not. But as the project developed, the political context of walking the streets of London shifted towards threats to the right to protest and the role of the police. In the piece, you encounter three characters based on rebellious historical figures who were involved in civil unrest and challenging dominant narratives - and at the end, in Parliament Square, four contemporary voices involved in contemporary activism. The story unfolds against the backdrop of the monuments of state power in central London.

A man of colour in a blue t-shirt, wearing earphones and holding up a smart phone, standing in front of a stone column, with an abstract coloured sky (pink/silver) overhead

Ghosts of Solid Air will launch as part of the London Film Festival Expanded programme, running from 4-22 October 2023. This presents a range of approaches to storytelling at the cutting edge of screen technology. It will be accompanied by a series of public events developed by Anagram in partnership with We Are Parable. Beyond the festival, the piece will be free to download and experience for at least one year.  Over this time Rodney Harrison, Colin Sterling and Anagram will also continue to develop the heritage and education sector knowledge exchange aspects of the project, which aim to explore the potential contribution of such immersive storytelling to engaging with contentious histories.

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