Sonic Pixels: The secret history of the radical female shopper…

Rosa May Billinghurst used her tricycle chair to ram police at protests.

Step into a world of sound with Sonic Pixels. Wander through the stunning Victorian shopping mall, trigger speakers in real-time and experience what it feels like to be right at the heart of sonic compositions.

Member of the Cornbrook Creative team setting up the LED speaker system

Working alongside Cornbrook Creative,  my latest sound piece is a feminist interpretation of Barton Arcade.

Built in 1871, you might think of Barton Arcade as typifying the luxury culture of the nineteenth century, with a carriage entrance and raw iron gates. It is certainly not considered a particularly radical space. However, like many other similar arcades it was once one of the few places women could move freely without being chaperoned by a man.

Historian Erika Diane Rappaport explains that it was during this period that ‘a family’s respectability and social position depended upon the idea that the middle-class wife and daughter remain apart from the market, politics, and public space’. Shopping itself may have been fetishized into women’s greatest pleasure, but for many middle-class housewives in Victorian Britain, shopping was their first taste of real freedom and therefore marked the starting point for their push into public life. Barton Arcade was a place in which, for the first time, women were able to share ideas and meet in public without being accompanied by a man.

Whether it was the Women’s Emergency Corps meetings, Pankhurst’s shopping trips, or female pick-pockets, my piece will explore the secret history of the radical female shopper. Using archived materials, and “found” sounds, I will re-imagine the groups who met here; the conversations that may have taken place and bring to life the stories of the women that occupied this space.