The Great Thames Disaster.


LV21, Isle of Sheppey and Gravesend.

Following  The Princess Alice project in 2017, Daisy Farris and I were awarded funding from Arts Council England and local authority partners to develop and tour ‘The Great Thames Disaster’.

From July to September 2018 we performed and held workshops at unconventional venues, from Sheerness to London, working with local young people from schools and youth clubs.  The final performance and installation culminated in a two day residency on LV21 at Gravesend.

During The Princess Alice project, seen here, my work focused on an open parasol used as a life buoy by a female passenger to  float to safety. For the Great Thames Disaster I concerned myself with the incongruous flotsam of objects; hats; shawls; shoes; long flowing tresses, that collected with the sulphur fumes on the surface of the black Thames, these objects then displayed at the ‘Black Museum’ at Woolwich, bundles of possessions numbered to coincide with burial plots.

I created a large installation from drawings on fabric, Daisy and I programmed drawing workshops into the dance rehearsals.  Techniques I used were easy for the young peoples to access and pick up while resting from dancing. Objects were drawn and cut by myself and young people from the Isle of Sheppey and Gravesend.

The tour concluded with a two day residency on LV21 on the Thames at Gravesend. Dancers and young people performed throughout the ship with my final work sited in the Generator Room, a huge space in the hull of the ship. This room is dominated by two large white steel foghorns and the stench of diesel, as the tide ebbs and floods the sound of water makes an eerie banging noise on the metal hull.

My installation covered the cold green steel floor with 6,000 fabric pieces, cut into the shapes of objects that would have floated up to the surface of the Thames from the sinking Princess Alice. Pitiful possessions of various articles of male and female apparel emerging from the disaster: bonnets; walking sticks; gloves; newspapers; tea cups; purses; toys, and unidentified scraps of fabric. The floor of the Generator room  became a symbolic space, like the surface of the river, when decorated it reversed the ordinary value of things, acting as a canvas, a space to display; of beauty; of value;  a sacred space for gathering; like a ground drawing.

Fabric pieces were laid with purpose, some in orderly rows, as the belongings would have been displayed in the ‘Black Museum’, and some collected together like floating islands. The work was intricate and fragile, the fabric objects appearing smaller on the negative space of the steel floor. The installation demonstrated the scale of loss, the toil of the human hand, domestic and decorative. Fortunately the Generator room has no windows as a slight breeze or ripple of water would have made the work disappear.

Photographs show my initial research aboard LV21 followed by sketch book research, workshops and the final installation.

Film ‘ Drawing in the Generator Room’, development work for the installation.

Photographs by Artist and Paivi Seppala, and Gigi Giannella.

In memory of my Dad who showed me how to be adventurous, thank you.