Sea Change at the Royal Docks

11-29 May 2023 – Royal Docks & Thames Barrier Park, London E16

New commissions curated by Invisible Dust: Simon Faithfull, Melanie Manchot, Dana Olarescu and Raqs Media Collective

Commissioned by The Royal Docks Team in collaboration with UCL (University College London)

Sea Change was a three-week event bringing together international artists with leading UCL academics, inspired by research into sustainable responses to the climate emergency. Four new commissions were exhibited by Simon Faithfull, Melanie Manchot, Dana Olărescu and Raqs Media Collective. The season also drew from the fascinating historical context of the Royal Docks.

‘Sea Change’ is a term used for a substantial shift in situation or perspective and was first used in Shakespeare’s ‘The Tempest’, a play with a background, like the Royal Docks, of sea voyages, developing globalisation and colonialism. Sea Change points to the future, to the need for changing practices, but also alludes to a pivot point of the climate crisis in the dock’s history – the move from sail to steam power. This development led to an enormous expansion in London’s trade and exchange of goods and peoples, which enabled modern day industrialisation, globalisation and with it the problems of climate change. 

Linking future-facing science and research into sustainable solutions to climate change, biodiversity loss, energy, and urban futures, to the specific histories of the Docks site, this season of artists’ commissions highlighted the need for a ‘sea change’ in order to face the future sustainably.

Invisible Dust, the Artistic Directors, have worked with the artists and UCL academics to identify areas for the artists to explore including the empire and trade, energy, nature and labour. The artists have been in dialogue with the sustainability research of UCL academics, including Earth System Science, People and Nature Lab,  Energy Institute, The Institute for Sustainable Resources and The Bartlett Centre for Advanced Spatial Analysis. They have brought this research together with local history and communities to set the season firmly in the local context.

Sea Change was part of a significant new programme of artworks and events highlighting sustainability in the light of the climate crisis, which will be presented at the Royal Docks as part of their new summer season At The Docks.

Raqs Media Collective: The Waves Are Rising

‘The Waves Are Rising’ by Raqs Media Collective features an animated augmented reality (AR) wave on a large scale LED screen, superimposed upon live video feed video of the still waters of The Royal Docks, filling the vista of the usually calm waterscape with an animated surging wave as well as detritus and data from the high seas.

As fewer people travel by ship now, we are now more divorced from understanding its turbulence and power, which is exacerbated by climate change. The augmented reality wave references this untamed nature of the deep sea, the rising seas due to global warming, the waves of capital, trade and immigration brought to the Royal Docks during its history as well as wave patterns in print and fabrics and the wave in art history and popular culture (from Hokusai’s famous ‘Great Wave’ print, to its reproduction as an apple emoji).

Listen to Social Broadcast’s brilliant audio postcard exploring this commission, talking with the artists, researchers and collaborators:

Simon Faithfull: Biotopes

Biotopes is a series of interventions and proposals that visualise our entwined-ness with the rest of ‘nature’; by poetically turning the artist Simon Faithfull‘s own body into a series of habitats for other species. ‘Biotopes’ consists of 3D-prints of the artist’s head, adapted to be vessels or niches for other species to reside within, with proposals for other habitats presented as posters.

Listen to Social Broadcast’s brilliant audio postcard exploring this commission, talking with the artist, researchers and collaborators below:

Melanie Manchot: Flotilla

Melanie Manchot’s new work takes inspiration from the historic women’s protests around the Royal Docks, from the Suffragettes to the Dagenham Ford strikes, and the inequalities with regards to women working on boats. 

A cross-generational group of female residents were filmed on a ‘flotilla’ of boats and ships on the night-time waters of the Royal Docks. Standing at the bow, the protagonists become radiantly illuminated by pools of light while the flotilla itself is seen like a procession, gliding through the waters towards the City of London lit up in the distance.

Listen to Social Broadcast’s brilliant audio postcard exploring this commission, talking with the artist, researchers and collaborators below:

Dana Olărescu: Power In

To reflect on the root causes of energy-access inequality, Dana Olărescu created a temporary outdoor installation in the Thames Barrier Park, visible to passers-by as well as to those travelling on the DLR through Pontoon Dock station.

Made up of windsocks – simple indicators of wind direction and strength – the installation used low technology to display fragments of workshop conversations, collective energy-access concerns, and academic research. 

Listen to Social Broadcast’s brilliant audio postcard exploring this commission, talking with the artist, researchers and collaborators:

FORECAST

On Friday 19th May at City Hall as part of the Sea Change season, Invisible Dust presented Forecast 2023.  This international hybrid symposium featured writers, artists, scientists and cultural commentators to explore the nature of the stories we tell and how they help shape our planet’s future, drawing from the Sea Change location and curatorial themes. The speakers included artists Gavin Turk, Melanie Manchot, Julie Freeman, Raqs Media Collective, authors Amy Jeffs and Ben Okri, and Wangechi Ngugi and Daniel Muchina from Art & Science Films Afrika (ASFA).

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