The Museum of London Docklands marks ten years in existence with a succinct and well-formed exhibition.
ESTUARY unites complementary readings of the Lower Thames – a bleak, beautiful landscape that has inspired artists for centuries.
Michael Andrew’s sprawling Thames Painting: The Estuary, made with ash and diluted paint communicates the muddy transitional nature of the river banks, evoking Whistler and Turner stylistically. The focussed aerial view of Andrew’s painting provides a dynamic counterpoint to Jock Mcfayden’s sweeping, panoramic visions, where the focus is on the big sky and an endless Gursky style horizon.
Simon Roberts is always a pleasure. He has been documenting Britain’s crumbling piers for his Pierdom project using a traditional Large Format camera and the results are invariably spell-binding – detailed, well considered artefacts that freeze time and place.
John Smith’s approach is more liquid. His shifting, tripped-out film installation Horizon recalls Turner’s studies of light and atmosphere and Friedrich’s meditations on existence. These Romantic inclinations are conveyed with short clips of the horizon as seen from the shore, with varying weather and light, punctuated by the sudden appearance of boats, birds and people, accompanied by a relentless but soothing audio loop of a crashing wave.
Thames Film made by William Raban in the eighties is a feast. The twenty minute film plots a course from Westminster to the sea, splicing his own footage with clips from the Port of London archive, details from Triumph of Death by Peter Brueghel the Elder and the words of the 18th Century Welsh naturalist Thomas Pennant (read by John Hurt no less) who took the same route in 1787. The result is an immersive, tributary document, as open-ended as the Thames itself.
The most radical and fascinating work comes courtesy of The Bow Gamelan Ensemble. The troika of Anne Bean, Paul Burwell and Richard Wilson operated as an experimental collective from 1983 to 1990. They engaged in site specific performance and documented the process. The Rainham piece was recorded over a day amongst abandoned concrete barges, the kinetic performance – basically treating every surface like a drum – evolves over time as the performers and the site becomes slowly submerged by the rising tide.
ESTUARY attempts to distil an entire river. The result is measured and refreshing.