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Thames Estuary airport plans prompt new contemporary art exhibition at Museum of London Docklands
Old Father Thames: Estuary opened yesterday at the Museum of London Docklands in West India Quay. The free exhibition of contemporary art, prompted by recent energy and transport proposals in the region, is the largest the museum has ever staged to celebrate its 10th anniversary. Each of the twelve artists have been inspired by the outer limits of the River Thames. The exhibition is open until Sunday 27 October.

LONDON.- A new art exhibition which explores the outer limits of the River Thames in painting, film and photography and printmaking opened at the Museum of London Docklands on Friday 17 May. Estuary, which was conceived in light of recent airport proposals in the Thames Estuary, allows visitors to see how the zone has been depicted in contemporary art. The exhibition features the work of twelve artists from the last thirty years including two new commissions.

Francis Marshall, curator of Estuary said, “When we decided nearly two years ago to hold an exhibition of contemporary art, the airport proposal was at the front of Londoners’ minds. This renewed focus on the Estuary, combined with a fantastic body of contemporary art which depicts the place, cemented the museum’s plans to stage Estuary.”

The free exhibition, supported by Arts Council England and the official media partner, Londonist, presents both the natural and urban landscapes of the Estuary – from vast mudflats and saltmarshes to industrial units and container ports. It is the largest exhibition of contemporary art held at the Museum of London Docklands, providing a focal point to the tenth anniversary of the museum – a grade-one listed Georgian warehouse, near Canary Wharf.

Francis Marshall added, “By bringing together these contemporary pieces we hope to give a sense of just what an extraordinary landscape London has on its doorstep, and to explore some of the issues which characterise the city’s relationship with the Estuary today.”

A new film by the Danish film artist Nikolaj Bendix Skyum Larsen entitled Portrait of a River (2013) has been commissioned in collaboration with the Film and Video Umbrella. The film proceeds downriver, weaving together fragments and traces of the people and the places that define the character of the Estuary. Conceived as a work in several parts, it will add new 'chapters' over the course of the exhibition.

Christiane Baumgartner’s Medway (2013) was also especially commissioned for Estuary. The nine prints by the German artist-printmaker combine traditional printmaking techniques with photographs of ships half sunken in the mud at the River Medway.

Each artist in Estuary is independently displayed; yet there are recurring themes throughout. For example Horizon (Five Pounds a Belgian) (2012) by John Smith (commissioned by Turner Contemporary, Margate). The artwork captures the changing view out to sea from Margate over several months. Andrew Kötting’s Jaunt (1995) and William Raban’s Thames Film (1986), both depict two very different Thames journeys, the latter retracing Thomas Pennant's 1787 Journey from London to Dover.

William Raban said, “I am delighted that a 2013 version of Thames Film will be shown in the Museum of London Docklands Estuary exhibition. The appearance of the river has changed dramatically in the intervening twenty-seven years but essentially the power of the river remains timeless and will always be a rich source of inspiration for artists."

Other artists also use the river to meditate on London’s history. Stephen Turner’s remarkable Seafort Project (2005) is the result of his thirty-six day residence alone on a derelict tower of the Shivering Sands Seafort. The Maunsell forts were a series of military platforms built in the Estuary to provide defence against Luftwaffe squadrons during World War Two.

Historically, the Estuary also served as a playground for Londoners escaping the city, and Simon Roberts reflects a contemporary view of pleasure-seeking with his Southend (2011) photograph of the popular seaside resort from his Pierdom series. Michael Andrews’ two paintings, Thames Painting: The Estuary (1994-95) and Study for The Estuary (1994), also capture the mood of the river. They are based on material gathered during trips to Canvey Island, combined with 19th century photographs of the river.

Estuary opens against the backdrop of an ambivalent relationship between London and the Estuary. The Estuary threatens to swamp the city with powerful tidal surges and rising sea levels but is itself threatened by the capital’s transport and energy generating proposals. The ecological theme appears in Gayle Chong Kwan’s The Golden Tide (2013), a photo series of refuse found in the Estuary which began as a social media project on Instagram, and in the paintings by Jock McFadyen - Purfleet: from Dracula’s Garden (2001) and Dagenham (2006). Peter Marshall’s Thames Gateway (2000-04) also presents the urban landscape surrounding the Estuary.

51º 29'.9" North - 0º11' East, Rainham Barges (1985), a film by the Bow Gamelan Ensemble, will also be screened, which includes the percussion group performing a bold experimental composition in the midst of rising tide waters at Rainham marshes.

Meanwhile as artists explore the relationship between London and the Estuary, a mini exhibition will present the historical debates around the use of Estuary as an airport location (opening in July 2013).

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