An experimental site specific installation developed in response to scientific data about the local rising sea level. Installed in beach hut 134 for the pop-up exhibition series Beach Hut Sundays held over summer 2021 in Whitby, UK by Whitby Contemporary Arts.
The work takes as its initial inspiration a seemingly unrelated quote from the book ‘Story People’ by Brian Andreas;
“There was a single blue line of crayon drawn across every wall in the house. What does it mean? I asked. A pirate needs the sight of the sea, he said and then he pulled his eye patch down and turned and sailed away.”
The idea of symbolically bringing the sea inside a house with such a simple representation as a line across each wall, seemed such a wonderful idea to translate to the beach hut for a site specific installation. I began to imagine how that line should be, I wanted it to somehow convey the power and movement of the sea, the waves, the tides, as opposed to a still horizon. As the idea developed I began to think about the movement of the sea on a global scale, and began to research into the impact rising sea levels will have in the coming decades, focusing specifically on how the local area will be affected.
Using this data as a starting point, the piece draws us around the inside of the beach hut with a rising line inspired by the coastline and the waves on the beach, but which is in fact based on a graph indicating the recorded sea levels for Whitby over the last 40 years. A map of the area turned on its side indicates this same rise, and uses a series of dots and dashes as an SOS to how the coastline could be affected in years to come, as the sea gradually claims more and more land. The piece references marine code to explore ways of transmitting an urgent message and uses the early photographic process of cyanotype as a metaphor for the process of climate change. Maps of the area are coated with chemicals that react to sunlight by turning a blue tone as they are exposed. For this site specific piece, the map pieces are exposed for the duration of the exhibition, gradually changing colour as they receive more sunlight over time. Through this process the piece wishes to reflect on the changes brought about by the process of global warming and our lack of action to stop them.
A sound piece repeating the title of the piece in morse code further emphasises our incapacity to understand the message being transmitted to us. The title of the piece is taken from the meaning of the nautical signal flag that hangs outside the hut, and references the purpose of art as a form of communication, as well as the idea of the need for us to receive, understand and act on the warning messages the earth is sending us.
The installation takes as its point of reference the graph found on the Permanent Service for Mean Sea Level website showing the annual mean sea level for Whitby. The Permanent Service for Mean Sea Level (PSMSL) is responsible for the collection, publication, analysis and interpretation of sea level data from the global network of tide gauges.
The piece also used as a starting point the map developed by the research organisation Climate Central which uses scientific data to project the impact that rising sea levels will have across the globe. According to this interactive map, parts of Whitby and the surrounding area could be affected within the next decade, with the area around Middlesborough being the worst affected.