Writing about the representation of 'La Rue' in Trauffaut`s post war France a few years ago, I found myself being saddened by the lack of street and community life in contemporary Britain. Pleasantly surprised by today`s Grassington festival, I found a real alternative to Ascot where people seemed to be having lot more fun.
This small Yorkshire Dales village was vibrant with colour and a certain Gargantua where everyone seems part of a collective celebration of the imaginary, ironically revaluating all values that defies a pre-ordained and pre-determined cultural classification and social structuration. The Devonshire Diva`s mimic the Devonshire family who own a good part of nearby land ironically playing with displays of entitlement through heritage. Today people loosened up their security of what appears to be and creatively explored the possibilities of what might be. Even seemingly most cherished values were open to question, parody and replacement.
This carnival allows a place where we can appreciate the malleability of social rules and realities by over-emphasising social and cultural codes. This gives us the space to practice a certain detachment to the world as is and reveals the power play between characters and their socio-economic space with the purpose of considering alternatives.
As youth from Grassington and the nearby villages masquerade as cartoon like Ascot horses with their puppet jockey`s sewed to their backs, the fetishisation of Ascot horses seems to be revealed and then ruptured in this Carnival Ascot by the fact that at any moment the two human dressed up halves will fall apart.
Obstacles such as the water jump are placed in their path to create ridicule and surprise further upsetting the expected competative outcomes. Animated horses now surprised have to use their wits and ability to be flexible to the play of parody and revelation that even the jumps are not what they seem.
Meanwhile, round the corner, the people who own and have created the Carnival Ascot help the dismembered horses over the haystack jumps valuing not a competitive state but rather a collective one, where the participants with their mask and ritualised performance cease to be themselves, but become something else that offers alternatives to their normal position that is behind usual social boundaries.
Even the Master of Ceremonies, in his authoritarian tone, asks the crowd as we straggle onto the course bringing unexpected props into play such as plastic sharks for the water jumps; if anyone is a suffragette amongst us that we must wait to state our views until after the race is over and refrain from jumping out onto the course as a horse gallops towards us.
His dark humour is of course referring to Emily Wilding Davison who by throwing herself in front of a horse at the Epsom Derby was making a statement to the authorities of their plight. To have the Master of Ceremonies himself speak out for her and like-minded women present, again shakes the power structures in a playful way.
Having never really understood the fuss over English society events, I felt content that this year I was at the true raison d'etre which is, of course, is always up for discussion, if you`re game.