Curator Tamsin Dillon shares her vision for Waterfronts, the series of art commissions for England’s Creative Coast.
On a clear day it’s possible to see the coast of France from the shores of South East England. This is not so surprising given it is the closest part of England’s coastline to its near neighbours, France, Belgium and the rest of the continent of Europe. But it is this proximity that makes the coastline of England’s South East counties, Essex, Kent and Sussex, of enormous political and historical significance for the country as a whole.
Shaped by natural forces and by human influences, this coastline border is in a constant and dynamic process of change. But what is its history and how did it develop in its current form? What, and when, have been the incremental and the more abrupt changes that have made a difference? When was the land named and when were the surrounding waters given their designations? What impact has human activity had on the physical land and seascape?
The most imminent issues for this border are part of its story now and will be in the near and distant future. The land it encompasses on one side and the waters on the other are affected by questions that have local, national and international significance, particularly issues such as the climate crisis, its impact on biodiversity, and the threat of extinction for millions of animal species; and by issues such as mass human migration stimulated by many influences, from global warming to the political and economic shifts and changes that are driving people to find better places to live.
The England’s Creative Coast Waterfronts series of commissions takes the history of the coast and some of these current issues as starting points. Seven artists will create seven new works, situated on and made in response to seven places on the coastline: Andreas Angelidakis, Mariana Castillo Deball, Holly Hendry, Jasleen Kaur, Katrina Palmer, Pilar Quinteros, Michael Rakowitz. The artists, from across the world, bring their own knowledge, experience, understanding, influences and interests to these situations. They will draw on a broad range of artistic practice including sculpture, drawing, painting, digital and sound work, video and performance, to create seven very different yet clearly linked works.
Each artist offers new perspectives, or fresh assessments of existing viewpoints, on seven specific places; each with its own layered histories and complexities. Each new work will be created with certain facts, stories, issues and histories, whether social, natural or geological, as inspiration. The works will reflect the artists’ interest in or response to the shifting and unstable nature of many social, political, and ecological situations across the world.
Some works will be made with specific reference to the waters around the border. As well as providing a natural barrier between the UK and other international borders, the ocean is a rich resource for many things including food, energy, employment, leisure and travel. Shipbuilding, shipping and sailing are historically key activities particularly in Chatham with its 400-year-old Dockyard. Fishing is also hugely important, especially in the Channel and the North Sea. More recently huge wind farms have been established out at sea and can be seen from the north Kent and other shores as they offer a new source of energy. With the waters having been crossed by immigrants making their way to England for centuries, new contemporary organisations, such as Kent Refugee Action Network and Hastings Refugee Buddy Project, have been set up more recently to address the needs of people forced to move by current international situations.
Some of the seven works will focus on the land, including stories relating to the geology and archeology of the area as well as the local ecology and the impact of coastal erosion through weather events caused by global warming.
For other works the coastal border is the primary focus, linking with a range of histories including that of the border as a site of actual invasion, such as at the Battle of Hastings in 1066, and of potential invasion, as was feared during the World Wars of the Twentieth Century.
Unifying this group of works the title, Waterfronts, represents the set of liminal places that these commissions sit in and amongst. Waterfronts are, by definition, places of uncertainty. Adapted as part of the name of many luxury developments, and re-developments, a waterfront is a place where the rules don’t quite count, where things can happen that go unnoticed as the tide races in and those apparently standing on solid ground find themselves squinting across and often into the sun. A waterfront has multiple connotations, both positive and negative, and also allows for many interpretations of place and function. Representing this project Waterfronts speaks of several places on the edge, places that are inherently unstable, both physically and conceptually.
Hear some of the England’s Creative Coast artists talk about approaching their commission for Waterfronts.