29 October 2013

"Estuary" at Docklands Museum

On the final day of the show, we went, and it was definitely worth it. Twelve artists exhibited photos, paintings, prints, and films/videos - we watched every minute of them.

Strictly speaking, estuary is where the river meets the sea, but some of the works, such as the film of a journey upriver, also drew from the river's upstream reaches. But it was two films of the wide expanse of water that interested and involved me most.

William Raban's "Thames Film" (1986) included the sea forts - defences during WW2 against German bombers using the river to navigate inland. Then, they had gun turrets; later they were used for monitoring tides; now they are abandoned, rusty and dusty, strange and glorious -

Stephen Turner - who is currently living in an egg-shaped boat - spent 36 days alone in one of these towers in August/September 2005, 36 days being the length of a tour of duty during the war - "the work is a kind of homage to these men," he says. He cleared detritus and pitched his tent, then documented his stay at seafort.org with webcam and blog. "The Seafort Project was an artistic exploration of isolation, investigating how one's experience of time and place changes in isolation, and what creative contemplation means in a twenty first century context."
Stephen Turner talks about Sea Fort on this video
The work was presented on two screens, one written extract per day and an associated photo, sometimes several photos. It moved slowly, I thought at first, but on sitting down and deciding to watch the whole thing, I realised that this slowness reflected the passage of time in his isolated tower. The things he found - old printed fabrics used as rags, newspapers from 1957, pin-up girls - started to form their stories in your mind.

It was fascinating to find out that the men would "escape" the tower by going fishing at the lower levels, and that workshop activities - knitting and embroidery among them - were compulsory to counter "fort madness"; the biweekly shows of work were very popular.
"Unravelling" on the artist's blog
My other favourite in the show was John Smith's Horizon (2012), a film of the sea itself, its shifting light - sometimes with a background of the sound of the waves, each wave bringing a new view of air/horizon/water. Hypnotic, beautiful, and not without humour - or, unexpected things that make us laugh. Smith got the idea of filming the sea when he was sitting at Turner Contemporary (in Margate), looking out at it: "what a great perspective." Every image is "completely a straightforward representation", but a lot of it looks very artificial.

John Smith on Horizon (Five Pounds a Belgian) from Argent Films on Vimeo.

More info and pix from the exhibition are in this review. Featured artists are Nikolaj Bendix Skyum Larsen, Christiane Baumgartner (Medway), John Smith, Andrew K├Âtting (Jaunt, 1995), William Raban, Simon Roberts (Pierdom), Michael Andrews (The Estuary, Mouth of the Thames), Gayle Chong Kwan (The Golden Tide), Jock McFadyen (Dagenham, 2006), Peter Marshall and Stephen Turner - and the Bow Gamelan Ensemble, doing things among and on abandoned barges in 1985 that would inflame Health&Safety today.
Bow Gamelan Ensemble, playing as the tide comes in

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