Recently there was an exhibition called ‘Bridge’ at Museum of London Docklands. A print of Layla Curtis’ ‘The Thames (from London Bridge, Arizona to Sheerness, Canada)’ was included.
The Museum of London Dockland is so interesting and a pleasure to visit:
I have always loved Layla’s work. I went to her ‘Tong Tana’ (part of Matt’s Gallery’s ‘Revolver part 1′) a while back and it was riveting. Here’s the text from the website:
‘Curtis’s work has a focus on mapping and the ways we represent terrain and locate ourselves and our movements through space. Previous projects include collages made of maps; drawings produced through the use of computers and satellite GPS technology whilst in Antarctica with the British Antarctic Survey; and video work made with parkour practitioners from London.
Layla Curtis spent four weeks in the rainforests of Borneo with the semi-nomadic Penan – one of the last surviving hunter-gatherer tribes in South-East Asia and acknowledged masters of tracking and hunting.
Her intention was to obtain point of view (POV) video footage of a Penan hunter’s solo journey with blowpipe and poisoned darts through dense jungle near Ba Jawi, one of Borneo’s last remaining pristine rainforest wildernesses. A Penan hunter agreed to go out with a head mounted camera as well as binaural microphones – designed to accurately record sound as experienced by the human ear – and the resultant recordings provide the material for this project.
I aim to place the viewer in the centre of the action and thus experience the journey from point-of-view of the protagonist. I aim to create a heightened sensory experience for the viewer and create an immersive viewing experience within the gallery space. Each of the films will comprise of a single take of POV footage – the content and pace of which will be entirely dependent on the self-determined course of the hunter.
— Layla Curtis
But, more relevant for a blog about working on West India Dock jetty, here is the text and a selection of images from ‘The Thames':
The Thames (from London Bridge, Arizona to Sheerness, Canada), 2013
This ten-part collage examines the etymology of place names along the shores of the River Thames, tracing their global namesakes and name-givers and revealing in the process many of the river’s industrial and colonial histories.
In this new fictional geography The Wallace Line divides the river just east of the Dartford Crossing and an island in Canada, formed by a meteorite crashing to earth over 200 million years ago, replaces the site of the Millennium Dome. Further out to sea, the Thames Estuary spawns a host of new islands including Montgomery Island; a place surrounded by wrecked ships, ‘Uncharted Rocks’ and ‘Inadequately Surveyed’ waters.
The Thames (Section 1: From London Bridge, Arizona to Salt Island, British Virgin Islands)
In 1967 London Bridge was dismantled, relocated and reconstructed piece by piece in Lake Havasu City, Arizona, USA. This section of the work begins by returning the bridge to its rightful place upstream of Tower Bridge.
Some of London’s many namesakes are included in this section; examples include London, Ontario (Canada) and New London, Texas (USA). Additionally, those places on the Thames that have taken their name from elsewhere (Russia Dock, Canada Water, Greenland Dock) and thus reference the Thames’s historic whaling, timber and seal fur trading histories are represented using fragments of maps from their namegivers.
Maps depicting Dog Islands, a group of tiny islands in the British Virgin Islands, are collaged together to form the Isle of Dogs, while an island in Canada formed by a meteorite crashing to earth over 200 million years ago replaces the site of the Millennium Dome.
Many historic voyages of discovery have set sail from the Thames including Martin Frobisher’s 1576 search for the Northwest Passage. This part of the river was also the main departure point for the English colonisation of North America and the West Indies – many of the key protagonists, destinations, ships, and trade resulting from these voyages are represented by places bearing their names.
The Thames (Section 2: From Sugar Island, Maine to Cut n Shoot, Texas)
Many notable ships were built and re-fitted in dockyards along the Thames, including HMS Beagle, which was launched from Woolwich in 1820. Charles Darwin used the ship on his famous survey voyage around the world from 1832-6. Some of the places Darwin encountered, along with the Australian city that later took his name, are included in this section of the work.
Several more of The Thames’ namesakes feature on this stretch of the river. Thamesville, Thames Centre and North Thamesville, are all found in Ontario Canada, located along the familiar sounding ‘Thames River’ that also runs through the Canadian cities of London and Chatham-Kent.
On the site of the Ford Motor Company’s former vehicle assemble factory at Dagenham, fragments of maps from Dearborn, Detroit are collaged alongside other USA towns named Ford, Fordland and Ford City, while one of the largest sugar refineries in the world, located in Silvertown on the north bank of the Thames, is represented by the tiny Sugar Island.
The Thames (Section 3: From Convict’s Bay, Bermuda to Tilbury, Canada)
Maps of Wallace, Port Wallace, Wallaceburg, Wallace Center, and Russell Lake are clustered around the section of the map that would normally depict Grays – a small town on the north shore of the Thames and home to British naturalist and explorer Alfred Russel Wallace from 1872-76. Wallace identified the faunal boundary line between Asia and Australasia and in this new fictional geography Wallace’s Line divides the river just east of the Dartford Crossing.
Convict’s Bay, Bermuda, once a location for British prison hulks, is re-located to the north bank of the river. Prison hulks housing convicts in decommissioned ships were once used on the Thames and convict ships transported prisoners from London to Australia and other penal colonies within the British Empire. Maps depicting many of the destinations of the prisoners are used throughout the collage.
In this re-imagined world Ebbsfleet International railway station literally brings Brussels and Lille closer to London; while Tilbury docks, a huge container port known for its grain trade, is transformed into a yacht anchorage and marina for cruise ships.
The Thames (Section 4: Pocahontas, Arkansas to Conrad, Iowa)
Writers Charles Dickens and Joseph Conrad both used places along the Thames as settings for their novels. Conrad, who lived for a time at Stanford-le-Hope, Thurrock, wrote many lyrical descriptions of the river, from its mouth right up to the inner London docks and wharfs. In The Mirror of the Sea he wrote ‘It is an historical river; it is a romantic stream flowing through the centre of great affairs’. Conrad’s reoccurring character Marlow, tells the story of Heart of Darkness onboard the ship Nellie anchored at Gravesend.
Gravesend also has historical connections to Pocahontas, daughter of Native American Chief Powhatan. Pocahontas sailed to England following her marriage to English tobacco planter and colonial settler John Rolfe. On route back to Virginia, Pocahontas became ill and died in Gravesend in 1617. Several landmarks and locations are named after Pocahontas including a riverboat currently operated from Gravesend. Pocahontas, Rolfe and Powhatan are all represented here by places bearing their names.
The Thames (Section 5: Petrolia, Canada to Shell Beach, Massachusetts)
The tiny towns of Oil Trough, Oil City, Oil Springs, Gasoline, Gastonia, Shell Beach and Petrolia pepper the map on the north bank of the Thames – a region synonymous with oil refineries and petroleum products. While on the south bank of the river, Cliffe’s building materials industry is hinted at by a splattering of place’s named Gravel and Sand.
The Thames (Section 6: From Admiral Cove, Canada to Colony, Texas)
As the mouth of the river opens out towards the sea, it spawns a host of fictional and displaced islands, thematically clustered into mini archipelagos. Sugar Island is spliced with maps of places named Colony and Colony Town, while a nameless island constructed from a naval reservation and a region named National Defence, playfully includes a bay named Dutch Harbor. The Thames’ strong links with the Admiralty, Navy, defence and colonial history are alluded to in this part of the map.
The Thames (Section 7: From South End, Canada to Northumberland Island, Canada)
Southend-on-Sea’s famous pier is reconstructed from fragments of South End container terminal located in Nova Scotia, Canada. At the end of the new pier lies Navy Island – placed there in reference to the Royal Navy takeover of the pier in WWII. To the east, the Southend amusement park known as Adventure Island is replaced by Pleasure Island.
Coals Island, Northumberland Island, Gateshead Island, Whitby Point and Miners Bay all reference London’s historic reliance on coal brought to the Thames on colliers from the North East. Captain Cook, who had worked for a firm of Whitby coal shippers, later took ships named Endeavour, Resolution, Adventure and Discovery on voyages across the globe; each of these ships were originally Whitby built colliers refitted on the Thames for expedition use.
The Thames (Section 8: From Drakes Bay, California to Tristan da Cunha)
A northern branch of the Northwest Passage takes a northeasterly course through Sir Francis Drake Channel, past the Cook Islands and then off the page near Drakes Bay. While a southerly branch takes a journey towards an unknown destination, curving through seas marked ‘no passage’ and ‘area to be avoided’.
The Thames (Section 9: From Medway, Maine to New London Bay, Canada)
In this re-configured geography, the Northwest Passage arrives at Wreck Cove, situated on the fictional Montgomery Island – a place surrounded by wrecked ships, ‘Uncharted Rocks’ and ‘Inadequately Surveyed’ waters. The island is named after the SS Richard Montgomery – a WWII ship that lies wrecked on this spot, still precariously packed with explosives.
On the mainland, just south of Montgomery Island, is Canadian New London, where the birthplace of a different Montgomery happens to be marked on the map. Along the shore, and around Kent Peninsula, lies Queenborough – now taking the name Portland after the cement works located there. Offshore a cluster of small islands hints at its timber trade. Nearby, fragments of maps reading ‘Deadman’s Point’, ‘Deadmans Island Park’ and ‘Dead River’ are collaged together to form Deadman’s Island – a salt march where dead bodies were once deposited from prison hulks moored in the Swale.
The Thames (Section 10: From Cape Verde Islands to Thames, New Zealand)
In the final section of the work the Northwest Passage passes by Madeira and Cape Verde Islands before ending its journey at Thames, New Zealand.
Today’s sound post from Seth Guy was ‘made using a prepared microphone hung off the quayside into the current of water flowing from an outlet into the Thames at Harbour Quay in West India Docks, London.’