‘Estuary’ exhibition at the Museum of London Docklands

December 15th, 2013 by Guy

Staging ‘Estuary’

'Estuary' poster shows WWII Thames Forts

‘Estuary’ poster shows WWII Thames Forts

“Thames Estuary airport plans prompt new contemporary art exhibition at Museum of London Docklands. A new art exhibition which explores the outer limits of the River Thames in painting, film and photography and printmaking…”

Estuary is a fascinating exhibition that seeks to explore how the Thames Estuary has been depicted in contemporary art. It features twelve artists from the last few decades as well as two new works. Francis Marshall, curator of Estuary said, “When we decided nearly two years ago to hold an exhibition of contemporary art, the airport proposal was at the front of Londoners’ minds. This renewed focus on the Estuary, combined with a fantastic body of contemporary art which depicts the place, cemented the museum’s plans to stage Estuary.”

Marking the tenth anniversary of the Museum of London Docklands, the collection takes a stunning look at the Thames Estuary after the collapse of the shipping industry that made it the largest, busiest port in the world. Old and new are thrown together in this historic place that leads to a confused identity and the exhibition aims to tie the fragments together to show the many dimensions of the Thames Estuary 2013. Most importantly, what it means to the people who live and work there.

Portrait of a River

Tom Cook Splicing

Tom Cook Splicing

The highlight for Topsail was the new film by the Danish film artist Nikolaj Bendix Skyum Larsen. Titled ‘Portrait of a River (2013)’ the film consists of various shorts focusing on the people and places that give the Estuary its contemporary character. This tackles the identity problem head on, threading together the people that rely on the Thames for work as well as the changing environment they inhabit. With such a large area, exploring the Estuary through these short ‘chapters’ is illumining and the patchwork films that emerges is as entertaining as it is relevant.

Barge Crew on Film

Barge Crew on Film

Excitingly, our very own Skipper of Topsail’s Sailing Barge Will, Tom Cook, featured in three of the shorts along with First Mate David Cooper. As the largest Sailing Barge still operating on the river, it seemed appropriate to feature Will as both something that used to be common place on the river and yet still remains there in an entirely different way. The first beautiful short involves Tom splicing an eye on a mooring line. This was, and still is, a basic maritime skill that was once part of life on the Thames for hundreds of Thames Barge crews. Now there are very few remaining Sailing Barge’s with none still trading and Will is one of several barges that operate in London on a regular basis in the tourism industry.

Secondly, and similarly, Tom talks the camera through a chart of the Pool of London between just above and below Tower Bridge. His knowledge of the area is phenomenal laced with incredible stories such as the pirates of Wapping and the Tower of London’s Polar Bear that used to swim in the river on a chain leash and scare local passing Watermen and Lightermen! The Third involves our crew singing an old river Shanty song while motoring though an open Tower Bridge. The old traditions mixed with the position of the Thames as central tourist attraction for London’s visitors.

A View from the River

If there is one thing that shines through this exhibition it’s that the history of the Thames soldiers on, thrust into the future. It is inexplicably linked with changing identity of the Thames and this is what makes our river so fascinating. Old Wharves mix with exciting glass architecture, our Sailing Barge’s hold now has a cargo of people, fine dining, and our high mast opening Tower Bridge not functional but a stunning experience for guests! Our Sailing Barge now has a virtual tour (click here) while being 85 years old! We feel privileged to work here, its really quite a ride!

The video is also part of last year’s Thames Festival projects that accompanied the ‘1513: A Ship’s Opera‘ performance in the Upper Pool. With steam ships, whistles, bells and a Trinity Lightship it was an amazing spectacle to witness. The Thames is now an artistic hot spot, we’ll keep you updated on any new projects for the Thames.

By Guy Wimpory guy@topsailevents.co.uk

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