Future Pasts (2023)
“Future Pasts draws together different threads from an extraordinary project spanning over three years, with people new to the North East. The living legacy of Hadrian’s Wall in Northumberland was a new starting point to explore perspectives of migration, belonging and national identity. Thought the lens provided by the living legacy of Hadrian’s Wall the project set out to examine questions of migration, sense of belonging and notions of national identity. Future Pasts presents a rich, layered and complex examination of the heritage of migration in the context of the beauty and fragility of local landscapes and ecosystems. Hadrian’s Wall is a poignant remainder of historical multiculturality in the context of the divisive ideas of English national identity we witness in contemporary times."
- Andrea Carter, lead producer at D6: Culture in Transit.
Through our explorations and walks within this landscape, we have unearthed friendships, connections, historical multiculturality as well as the violence of colonial extractivism. The living legacy of Hadrian’s Wall and the symbolism of the wall in general are highly relevant to present-day concerns. For a long time, the rural England (in which Hadrian’s wall happen to sit) has been seen as a largely white space, homogenous and with socially conservative values and these values have had a central and significant impact on what is conceived as English national identity.
But the Wall counteracts this idea of rural England as a homogenous, white space by being a poignant reminder of a historical multiculturality of this landscape. The construction and operation of the Wall brought with it large numbers of people – among them soldiers, masons, merchants and their families - from many different parts of the Roman empire - from Europe, North Africa, the Levant, the Caucasus’ and Mesopotamia – and they, in turn, brought with them their cultures, their beliefs and their food.
The Romans are said to be responsible for a wide array of introductions including, for example, the carrot, celery and the sycamore, the rabbit and the pheasant. All of these are now common elements of English landscapes. The changes that Hadrian’s Wall brought in its wake are now invisibly woven into our everyday lives and landscape and as such it serves a powerful reminder of just how much this identity is shaped by historical multiculturality.
The Wall serves also as a metaphor for some of our contemporary political and social issues. There is currently a propensity - not just in the UK – to establish barriers - whether physical or social and cultural - to those people and things that are perceived as different from elsewhere.
These ideas manifest in things such as the “hostile environment” and the related misconceived and misinformed idea of an ‘original’ population. The Wall can, then, stand as an obvious and easy metaphor for these nationalisms / tribalisms, or as ‘Future Pasts’ has shown the narrative of the Wall can be considered as a project of integration, as a transnational site of connection.
‘Future Pasts’ has unearthed and produced perspectives which intertwine with historical data, bring to surface other historical narratives, narratives that can be mobilised to give the present a root, a call for changes in the present – describing new pasts for the future.
Future Pasts was commissioned by D6: Culture in Transit