April 2022 / Cove Park residency, Loch Long, Argyll & Bute, Scotland
Beachcombed timber, steel screws, steel wire, brass sheet, tracing paper / 160 x 50 x 50 cms
I arrived at Cove with no project in mind, which felt both scary and exciting. I just knew that I needed to unpack my art head and pursue whatever emerged.
So, I was free to start by tuning in to the site. Swimming on my first evening, I realised that Loch Long is tidal… the water’s edge and what’s exposed on the beach is ever changing. I pondered the odd hybrid of inland water which rises and falls twice a day, leaving seaweed on the beach.
Once I’d figured out the low tide mark, I tried to imagine the spot at high tide, with 3 metres of water above it. And pictured a structure standing at that spot with a vessel holding water at the high tide level. Playing with time and place – lifted water – the height of water at that place but not at that time.
High water as a working title
3 metres was a daunting height to construct – plus its water would be invisible to all but giants unless the vessel was transparent… I was thinking on my feet and wanting to make something with whatever I could find or had brought with me.
Meanwhile I was learning about Trident, and realising that the whole of UK’s ‘nuclear deterrent’ lay within a couple of miles of where I was reading in deep silence and apparent obscurity. That set me thinking about power, immensity and concealment. About when power is on show and when it’s hidden.
In the face of this, my structure would be a ‘pathetic object’, lashed together from sticks, in ignorance or defiance of any technologies of the modern age.
It turned out that the beach was scattered with branches from who knows where, along with useful bits of rope.
It also turned out that my lashing skills were pretty pathetic, and needed to be reinforced with 21st-century screws… after which the thing seemed as if it could stand a chance in the sea. For the perched vessel I used some thin brass sheet I had brought, folded into shape without any extra fixings.
‘I’m dancing on the lip of failure and humiliation, & that’s important cos it’s about my life as a so say skilled maker, always expecting myself to be right, to succeed and to perform well enough to pass the judgement of others’
I was walking the line between making roughly and making badly, wanting the former but not the latter. Abandoning finesse but relying on function. I needed it to be able to withstand the rise and fall of at least one tide.
‘The tide movements will make it under/over; seen/not seen. Like Trident. Though its fragility is in stark contrast. Thinking about Greenham Common and the teddy bears on the fence – tiny playthings in the face of a nuclear arsenal. About what garners respect; strength, style, size, inscrutability, money.’
I carried High water down to the beach for the evening’s low tide, feeling scared and self-conscious at the prospect of making public work as an incomer. Alexia had also mentioned that the MOD might be interested, and not in a friendly way, by anything left on the beach overnight, so I had printed off an explanatory notice to hand out if necessary.
Here it is on the low tide line, well anchored with rocks on the lower cross braces… I had no idea what the forces of water would be and whether I would ever see it again.
Writing this some time later, I’m surprised at how emotionally intense the project was.
‘I watched for over an hour until her feet and lower cross braces had disappeared, & the evening water was silver behind and around her, then I couldn’t bear to watch any more in case she started to move or topple. And now the studio seems empty without her & extra silent.’
The next low tide was at 5.35 the following morning. Since that’s the only time I could approach her and check for high tide water in the dish, I needed to be there.
‘Completely windless and a clear sky. Loch like a millpond. Dawn chorus going all round. Light but before sunrise. Lovely to be out. Cold. And there she was, exactly where I left her, dripping wet and with a piece of seaweed draped over one leg. Not such a low tide as last night’s so her feet were in shallow water. I had to wade in to check whether there was water in the dish, which there was. It was very exciting.’
That day I remade the dish from tracing paper, folded into shape and waterproofed with PVA; it was translucent and would show its held water from below. (High water was only 1.6 metres tall, about my height, well below the height of the tide, but still I couldn’t see the water.)
I took the new dish down to that evening’s low tide and fixed it in place, leaving High water for a second night and a third tide. This time with no worries as she hadn’t moved an inch so far.
6.20 the next morning, low tide. Once again the loch completely still. Nothing to see but the boulders which had been ballast, and a roving swan. High water had gone about her business, to borrow a phrase from William Golding. Surely the swan was not responsible? More likely the MOD.
I walked the whole length of the beach in both directions, looking for debris or some sign, but there was nothing to be found. Only the mystery of a lost object, out in the world somewhere unknown to me.
‘Pangs of recrimination that I didn’t sit on the beach all afternoon yesterday and watch her emerge from the water after the lunchtime high tide. A timelapse photography record, or even a little movie, of the whole thing, would have been great. As it is I have to imagine those sights.’ – TD