One of the wonderful things about working on a long-form project like Occupation is being able to see the changes that take place on the site as time passes and the seasons change.
I have now spent the best part of eight months working regularly on the Island. I have worked in the snow, the rain and the baking hot sun, and when the river is so high the weir no longer makes a sound. I have seen how activity on the water has changed as the holiday season kicks in, how C&RT volunteers and staff have changed their focus to different aspects of the waterway in response to the requirements of the seasons, and how the Island itself has altered due to both natural and artificial intervention.
When this project first started it’s initial intention was to briefly return Diglis Island to a state of activity again - so that viewers passing by on the tow path would see something noticeable happening for a short period of time and wonder what might be going on. After many conversations with visitors, and overhearing comments from passers-by it is clear that this has been noticed and enjoyed by many people. One of the main comments, however, has been the expression of disappointment over the fact that the work is only temporary.
What I have come to understand is that the work is not only about the activity on the Island (of the past, present and future) but also about the effects of time and a sense of change. It was always the intention for the work to be temporary - a short moment where something appears, changes and then disappears again - but it also reflects the ongoing life of the Island and how this changes.
All aspects of this place are temporary, but some are more temporary than others. The Island itself seems pretty permanent, but there was a time when it was not an island, and there may be a time when it is not again. The people who have worked on the Island have come and gone, yet new people join the team at C&RT and start their working life. The Island looks the same, but it has also changed. Occupation itself is slowly changing through my regular visits, and, when it finally comes down at the end of September, the Island will be returned to the state it was in before the project began, albeit slightly changed.
I have been commissioned to produce a new work for Castell03 at Caernarfon Castle.
The project ‘brings together visual artists, poets, musicians, scientists and historians to reflect on the theme ‘To The Sea’, which coincides with Visit Wales Year of The Sea 2018.’
I am collaborating with poet Rhys Iorwerth to create a response to the slate dias installed in the castle for the investiture of Prince Charles as the Prince of Wales in 1969.
The exhibition takes place from 15 to 24 June.
Najia Bagi, Megan Broadmeadow, Caro C, Jackie Chettur, Nicky Deeley, Lynn Dennison, Alex Duncan, Thomas Goddard, Rebecca Hardy-Griffith, Harrop & Horrell, Gweni Llwyd, Joe Roberts, Rosalind Holgate Smith, Katie Surridge, Mathew Williams, with Cywion Cranogwen, Angharad Price, Gwilym Bowen Rhys, Iwan Rhys, Math Roberts, Iestyn Tyne, Marged Tudur.
Phase four, and a very high river.
As part of Occupation I have also designed a flag for Diglis Island.
The two different-sized blue sides represent the two levels of water achieved by the weir and locks either side of the Island, the ring signifies that it’s part of The Ring, and green for the Island itself - but with the same-level blue inside to reference the flooding.
Inside the ring is a symbol that represents the lock gates, the buildings on the Island, and the structures I am making. Finally, a life-bouy orange roundel with crown represents the Island’s only resident, Joyce.
After a year in development Occupation, my project for The Ring in Worcester, has finally begun. So now it’s time to begin documenting the work as it progresses, and reveal a little of the background behind it.
Diglis Island has been a place of purpose and activity from its creation in 1844 (carved from a bend in the River Severn) to the mid-80s when its use as a hub for maintenance along the Severn and connected canals was transferred elsewhere.
At its peak approximately 80 people would’ve been working on the Island, building and fixing lock gates, dredging the river, and operating the locks to guide petrol tankers to the basin.
During WWII the Island was fortified with barbed wire, trenches and loophole windows (and possibly land mines) in order to protect the delivery of fuel.
As the use of canals waned activity on the Island dropped away. Now it is a quiet place, with a workshop that is unused, a small staff from C&RT, and a single resident in one of the three cottages. The only activity being the passing through the lock of tourists in narrow boats and the blacksmiths forge - now repurposed by a pewter sculptor. There is occasional excitement when the locks are drained and the gates fixed or replaced, or when the Island becomes periodically submerged due to flooding. Few people realise it is an island.
The purpose of my project is to rekindle interest in the Island by returning it (albeit briefly) to a place of activity and production, and creating an identity for the Island - making it distinct from the mainland. I aim to do this by producing a structural sculpture that will grow over a period of time. This sculpture has been inspired by the form of the locks, the buildings present on the Island and its history as a place of practicality, construction, maintenance and defence. The title ‘Occupation’ refers to the aspects of work and habitation that have occurred over the years, along with my own temporary taking over of part of the Island.
To achieve this sense of activity and occupancy I have begun building a structure on the Island. This structure will grow gradually over a number of months, with two or three structures added every few weeks, slowly taking over a patch of grass and concrete next to the crane. Regular users of the towpath will notice as the structure grows, and also might catch a glimpse of me as I work on the Island. I’ll be updating this website with the work’s progression too.
The exhibition of my Art House residency work opened on Wednesday.
The show consists of 133 ink drawings (selected from 250) produced during the residency. It runs until 9 March 2018.