Susi Arnott and I have been working with a portable daylight studio on the Thames foreshore, to produce an almost indiscriminate catalogue of objects, many collected during Thames 21’s clean-up and research events.
Objects of disgust will be returned to the river or bagged-up for recycling into something acceptable. Historical or ‘artistic’ items may be collected and raised to a higher plane. Other items may be taken as evidence, or present a baffling amalgam of the living and dead, human and natural, toxic and benign.
The studio is designed to photograph the objects on the foreshore while they’re still trailing water and slime. They hover, privileged, above the tidal ground on which they have been found, poised between the museum and the mud.
Immersion in the tidal water causes objects to come adrift from their origins. Things we wish to go away, from religious offerings to wet-wipes, return with a sea change. Our habitual associations and connotations are often switched about. The ugly becomes beautiful, the deeply personal becomes public.
Beneath Dark House Walk in central London, a plastic duck is locked in a time-lapse selfie. On the rising tide, they’re lifted by the Thames and generate visual and audio readouts as they experience the river. Is that a fixed grin, or a Kuleshov experiment?
Meanwhile, a fixed observer watches them from above. And listens. And makes its own recordings. Frames of reference, timescales and data visualisation are juxtaposed in this composite film that plays with place, perception and point of view.
Originating from our work on tides with data scientist Prof. Sophia Olhede, this film combines the human compulsion to anthropomorphise with a random aesthetic and the plot of a picaresque novel. ‘She dreamed she was delivered of a tennis-ball, which the devil (who, to her great surprise, acted the part of a midwife) struck so forcibly with a racket that it disappeared in an instant; and she was for some time inconsolable for the lost of her offspring; when, all on a sudden, she beheld it return with equal violence, and enter the earth, beneath her feet’. From p.1 of ‘Roderick Random’ by Tobias Smollett, pub.1748.