When the Waters Recede: an exhibition of research at Plymouth Arts Centre

Artist Emma Critchley talks us through the making of her exhibition, which is at Plymouth Arts Centre until 10 May

On 20 January 1607, in the dark early hours of the morning, the inhabitants of Somersetshire were struck by one of the largest and most destructive floods in British history; an event so seismic that it could only be described by locals as God’s warning to his people of England. The flooding drowned some 2000 people and more than 300 square miles of lowland along 350 miles of coast was destroyed. The velocity and scale of waters has convinced many that the event was in fact a tsunami (Professor Simon Haslett & Dr. Ted Bryant).

As an artist whose practice is rooted in the underwater environment, I am particularly drawn to this event and the affect it may have had on the individual: how a simple, ordered life was thrown into chaos and consumed by water without warning. How does one prepare for an event that’s outside the realms of comprehension? What are the repercussions on the individual of such an extreme disaster? How would this event shift people’s perception of the world and of their reality?

The only visual records of the event are a woodcut depicting scenes of the flooding and plaques on a number of churches measuring the height of the flooding. But there are a number of eyewitness accounts describing the unfolding of the event that are arguably more vivid than any picture, which is where my particular interests lie.

When the Waters Recede is a response to the 1607 floods. The artworks themselves will be a series of site-specific installations that span the Bristol Channel area. Like fragments of a film the sites will be connected in an extended narrative, but will also stand-alone. Each element will consider an episode of the event: the moment before, the response and the repercussions.

A natural way for me to try and understand the impact of an historic event like this is to draw on contemporary equivalents, to gather first hand stories, research media reports and subsequent psychological studies. This story of course has resonant parallels with the recent flooding in the Somerset levels, where again after the initial impact, flood waters receded before destroying the homes of many. It also strikes a chord with contemporary tsunamis like the 2004 Indian Ocean earthquake and tsunami or the 2011 tsunami in Japan. The repercussions of these disasters in turn raise important discussion about climate change, community impact, psychological implications on the individual and more philosophical dialogue about deluge myths and collective consciousness.

There’s a lot to explore …

The exhibition of research at Plymouth Arts Centre is the beginning of a research and development period funded by the Arts Council. A website is currently under construction. In the mean time if you would like to stay up to date about the project please email: info@emmacritchley.com









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