All At Sea was an evolving art performance, coordinated by myself, and created through collaboration with 10 other artists of Rhizome Artists’ Collective, for Plymouth Art Weekender 2020. Located on a terrace at the iconic, art deco Tinside Lido, with the backdrop of the beautiful Plymouth Sound, it was a perfect setting for this work exploring our relationship with the environment and the current ecological and climate crisis. Viewers looked down on the dramatic work from the terraces and promenades above. The sun shone throughout the 3 days, encouraging visitors to the numerous venues and Plymouth Hoe.
The work reflected on the environment, particularly the oceans, and our relationship to it. It told the story of our industrial ‘revolution’ decimating ecosystems, pumping carbon into the atmosphere and polluting natural environments. Featuring everyday domestic plastic items reminds us all that we can make choices to reduce our carbon footprint. Most plastic comes from oil, and less than 40% is recycled across the UK. Unless incinerated (requiring more energy) the remainder will be in our environment forever, in the soil, in the air, in the seas and in the food chain.
The main focus of the 3 days was a live drawing performance on a re-purposed swimming pool cover, measuring 7 x 3.5m, on the concrete ground, utilising largely salvaged, non-toxic, water-based paints. The performance ‘canvas’ was attached to an even larger blue tarpaulin, all weighed down with sea-water filled, plastic milk containers. Ghostly ammonites, fossils of the Anthropocene, made from over 800 plastic milk containers, were scattered around the arena, together with shadowy black plastic fish forms and streamers of plastic packaging.
On day 1 the performance commenced with a 3m diameter yin-yang symbol, threatening to blow away, then fracturing to reveal a circle which transformed into the earth viewed from space.
This became overgrown by large organic forms in bright colours reflecting the ABUNDANCE and harmony in a natural world untouched by humans. Stencils of fish, octopus and turtles helped create an underwater utopia.
Day 2 reflected the impact of human industry, commercialism and exploitation on the environment, with dark ripples obscuring the colours underneath. Performances included the dumping of a fishing net full of domestic plastic rubbish on the performance canvas, and subsequently a ‘fish’ dressed in plastic packaging ‘dying’ on the heap.
Fluorescent yellow footprints were added by walking across the ‘canvas’ in yellow boots, replenished at each step with yellow paint, and paint ‘bombs’ were dropped from a ladder in black and red. Stencils included fish skeletons and toxic hazard symbols, pound and dollar signs, and the word DESTRUCTION.
The performance on day 3 was about HOPE for the future. Bright colours were once more introduced, with waves of blue and a large central ‘sun’ obscuring the darkness of the previous day’s work.
Viewers were invited to contributed their own words to the ‘canvas’, which included CARE, RESPECT, NATURE, NO WASTE, LIFE, LOVE and TOGETHER. Plants were brought onto the performance area, reflecting new life.
Some of the plastic fossils were placed peripherally, reminding us that the plastic in our environment is forever. Finally the yin-yang form was reintroduced, although still fractured, at the ends of the work. There is hope for restoration of the balance and harmony in nature that was the privilege of our ancestors.
This project was a risk as many of the multitude of ideas were fluid, essentially concepts, the scale was huge, and no-one was ‘in charge’ orchestrating the work. Through online Zoom meetings (at a time of COVID restrictions) we had discussed broad themes and imagery, and organised venues and materials. We ‘practiced’ collaboration by exchanging collages which could be deconstructed and reappropriated to reflect our personal practice. This gave us ‘permission’ to paint over each other’s work, to destroy it, no matter how beautiful it appeared. These collaborations also enabled us to get to know each other better, to understand each other’s thinking and talents.
The project proved a great success, providing both personal satisfaction for all involved, and the comraderie that comes from such a group venture where the outcome is much more than the sum of its parts. All At Sea exceeded our expectations, and will be remembered for years to come.
Rhizome Artists’ Collective would like to thank PAW2020, Plymouth City Council, Everyone Active and Balfour Beatty for their support in this venture, and particularly the ever-helpful, welcoming staff at Tinside Lido.
Photos are by myself, and courtesy of Fotonow.