I came across an open call for work responding to the theme ‘of the sea’, an upcoming exhibition at Art in the Dockyard in Kent.
“With this in mind, The Historic Dockyard Chatham invites artists to submit artworks which address any aspect of the rich British Maritime history of the Dockyard or any broader global concerns relating to recent social and political issues of the sea.” – from the above link.
I thought this would be a good opportunity considering my interest in socio-political issues of mobility and the ongoing refugee crisis. My initial idea is to create a small wall of sandbags, with each sand bag made from material printed with images of the sea.
This work addresses themes of borders and control, and is a metaphor for the fact that the sea is but one of many hurdles in the process of refuge-seeking. The image of the sandbag defence has connotations of war /battle and references the landscape of conflict that many refugees have come from, but also the sad fact that their arrival on foreign shores is not always met with open arms, but with conflict of another kind: unwelcoming political rhetoric and social views. I think the sandbag is also an interesting image in relation to climate change. Over Christmas 2015 news stories of terrible flooding in the north of England appeared every day, and images of communities; including migrants and refugees, working together, filling and stacking sandbags, symbolised solidarity in the face of adversity. Climate change is an important contemporary issue and contributes not only to rising sea levels and extreme weather, but also to the displacement of people whose homes and livelihoods become unsustainable.
My initial idea was to get some fabric digitally printed with images of the sea, but for a quick way to do some 3D experiments I have used a tropical shower curtain! I think this material is appropriate as a signifier of cheap, mass produced goods that feed Western consumer culture and global trade. I bought the curtain from Argos, where no doubt you could buy hundreds more, and there is a good chance it was produced in the far east (I could not find out where it comes from).
For my first prototype I cut a piece of the curtain to 50cm x 60cm and sewed two sides up to make a simple bag shape. I filled this with sand and tied it closed with wool, although I would prefer to use some blue rope.
I’m quite happy with this final version I submitted to Of The Sea, although I think it would benefit from being a bit taller, or perhaps in a square composition, as in one of my original sketches. Perhaps I will come back and add to it when I have more time and funds!