2009 The Kirkham Gallery, River & Rowing Museum, Henley, UK
This multi-sensory installation (sculpture, video, print and sound) played on the interaction of thebinary oppositions of inside and outside, order and chaos. With work placed both inside and outside the gallery it considered the image of the river as one of potential catastrophe, with the power to destabilise and submerge the daily security of the domestic. Anxieties over climate change and the increased flood risk to the River Thames were part of the cultural backdrop to the work.
The work referenced Gericault's The Raft of the Medusa - a depiction of an infamous shipwreck where over 100 lives were lost in a fight for survival. The Medusa heads, cast heads of the three daughters of the artists, related to both Gericault's painting and the Greek myth of Medusa. Her hair, in the myth made of writhing serpents, here became the paths of flood-threatened rivers whose contours changed with the rising waters. Past and future anxiety connects in word and spirit both the painting and the built sculptural raft.
Our research took us on a walk from the source of the River Thames, along is banks, down to Henley, talking to Lock Keepers and bargees along the way. We also filmed the river in France; the Viaur, near our studio in the Aveyron, that also regularly floods causing mayem in the village. We visited the Pere Lachaise Cemetery in Paris to look more closely at the bas-relief of The Raft of the Medusa on the tomb of Gericault by Antoine Etex. In making the sound work we played with the acoustic links between the mythical sea Sirens singing to the sailors, to the sound of torrents of water rushing and slamming in and out of control as we passed the river locks.
As in our work Plot 16, we made a newspaper format printed text and image work, and incorporated elements such as sand bags with printed flooding statistics, an exterior ‘door-like’ structure, an interior wall with videos; a flooding house, connecting the surface of the flooding river to a map of the world and the central Raft, made using twenty-one doors, referencing the houses blasted apart by flooding, that closely echoed the planes and surfaces found in the painting of the Raft of the Medusa.
We held a public in-conversation with the contemporary critic and writer on modern and contemporary art, Michael Archer; in relation to the exhibition and how artists respond to making sense of global challenges in contemporary art.
Funding: Arts Council England and the R&R Museum
Acknowledgments: We could not have made this work without the engineering help of Tim Payne Ltd and assistance from John O’Connor, Cathy Gibb and Michael Black.