Vintage Kayak, bitumen, hand-made greenland paddle
This work takes forward themes seen in Doggerland and expands on them to create a work that explores the notion of identity through heritage; and highlights how often our view of what we are descended from is inflected by the our present viewpoint.
Please be aware that this page will discuss the work in detail and explain some of the ideas behind it directly. It is here for those who want to read about it, and so that I can keep a clear record and document of it. But the context below is not necessary for your enjoyment of the piece, ambiguity is not something to fear.
This isn’t a work that needs to ‘got’ or ‘understood’. Read on at your own discression.
The pattern on the boat is based on scored patterns found on ancient dug out canoes found in cambridgeshire in 2011 and 2012 boats that were aged between 3500 and 10,000 years old. We know little about the people that made the boats but by looking at the artefacts they’ve left behind we can begin to read-in. These boats were definitely used by Britains most ancient ancaestors, but whatever we might imagine about them, or about what we inherit from them is just that imaginary. (For more about this see the italicised text at the end of this page).
The boat used in this work is a vintage wooden kayak I had purchased in order to study its construction. From its design, petena, and repairs I guessed that it could be as many as 60 years old. The painted number on its prow, and whale on its stern suggested that it was perhaps a hire vessel, for pleasure boating on a lake or canal. However, when I contacted the previous owner of the kayak (who had purchased it himself only a year prior) I was told that he painted the glyphs himself: Confirming that my assumptions about the boat were false. I had reconstructed an idea of its history from the evidence I had and was wrong – a neat corollary with what had emerged from my research into the ancient dug-outs.
Performing the work in Folkestone harbour is significant, as Folkestone has a similar mythologised view of its own history with boats. The fishing and the link with Europe (once at the harbour and now nearby tunnel) are rightfully massive parts of a Folkestonian’s identity. It is a wonderful and proud heritage stretching back to the 19th century with the building of the harbour and the rise of the British Seaside as a tourist destination. It is remarkable however that it wasn’t always this way, even though current residents might imagine that what is currently a pillar of its identity must stretch back to the town’s roots.
Folkestone Museum houses the skeleton of an Anglo-Saxon woman. She, amongst many many other remains were excavated nearby and give us an amazing idea of what life in Folkestone was like in those times – in the times of Saint Eanswythe (one of Folkestone’s most important historical figures). Amazingly, analysis by archaelogists reveal that fish was not present in the diet of Anglo-Saxon Folkestonians at all. But how could that be? The sea is right there, and fishing, thats part of what folkestone is. This fact stuns local residents when they hear it, because we like to imagine that there is a clear thread through history and that today’s Folkestone is built on an unchanging foundation because its who we are.
I visited an exhibition about the life of St. Eanswythe in Folkestone’s library. On display was a painting depicting how the artist imagined Folkestone’s coastline to look in those days, when the river Pent (now built over) flowed into where the harbour now sits. The artist painted a neat row of fishing vessels along the banks of the river, ready to go to sea. The artist painted an idea of the land that though geographically changed by time, he imagined to functionally the same. When imagining the human activity of the past, we shape it to our today.
So, the work therefore becomes about adding to the mythology of the past. I wanted to give Folkestone an ancient heritage of boats. This work is in some sense an attempt to do that.
In a field somewhere is a muddy patch of ground. A spot of dirt that never dries out. This stain of wet earth is all that remains of an ancient river.
Its name forgotten, Its path no longer a guide to travellers.
Within that muddy patch were buried tree-trunks. Some small, others broad and long;but each one marked with tools, carefully hollowed out.
These were boats.
Most dated from the bronze age, others are older still. These boats were how we moved, how we communicated over distance, how we did business, how we came to be.
These are the boats people used in britain when goliath stalked the plains of the gulf, and when Greek heroes faced their trials.
These ancient objects carried our ancaestors over ancient waters. And the return of their boats from the earth carries a story of our ancaestors to us.
Its a tale we only glimpse, the details of the lives lead by the pilots of these vessels will always be shrouded in mystery. But one boats gives us a little bit more.
It is scored all over with a criss-cross pattern of carved lines. An irregular hatching of marks appearing to be placed more by happenstance than by pattern or planned design.