Memorials, and especially statues, are a highly sensitive subject. Who should we memorialise and why? How should they be remembered? Historic England has long been concerned with these questions. Two years ago, in 2018, they held an exhibition on the subject in Lambeth, called ‘Immortalised’. As part of this, they held a Design Competition to ask: What does the future of memorialisation look like? They invited artists, architects and designers from across the country to suggest a memorial that they felt was currently missing. From these proposals they selected ten designs and the artists were asked to develop their concept for display in the exhibition. I was incredibly honoured that my design for an audio memorial to the women and men of the Northumbrian fishing community was one of those chosen.
Other winners included two strikingly imaginative responses to controversial existing memorials. I was moved by each of these. Each seemed an intelligent way of challenging and subverting past orthodoxies, without obliterating them altogether. The first, ‘Contextualising Colston’ by MSMR Architects, responded to Bristol’s contentious statue of Edward Colston, which was dumped in the river earlier this month by protesters. It placed Colston on board the outline of a ship, in which the source of much of his wealth – enslaved African people – were represented, each as the outline of an individual with dignity. In this open, contemplative space, Colston’s problematic philanthropy was acknowledged in its true historical context.
The second, ‘A Long Shadow Over London’ by Studio MASH, gave General Robert Clive’s statue in Whitehall a ‘shadow’, etched into paving material, that contains details of the contested history of his involvement in India, representing the suffering of Bengali people during his leadership of the East India Company. In each of these designs, a contentious historical figure was opened up to debate, rather than closing down discussion by obliterating their memory. You can find out more about these memorial designs HERE.
My own prize-winning design was far less controversial. ‘The Long Line’, a five minute audio collaboration with Peter Zinovieff, commemorates the traditional coble fishing communities of the Northumberland coast. It includes archive recordings of women and men involved in fishing, and a Northumbrian song sung by retired fisherman John Dixon. Peter’s electronic soundtrack derives instrumental sounds from John’s singing.
I hope that our piece creates a different kind of memorial, made not of bronze to aggrandize a single individual but from many local voices, women’s as much as men’s, to remember a whole community of inshore fisher people who contributed so much to this country, but who have been largely forgotten. I hope that it raises important questions about sustainability, industrialisation and our relation to the natural environment. Long line fishing involved an intimate, sustainable relation to nature, but came at a terrible cost, especially to women, whose unpaid job it was to bait 1,400 hooks a day. The first engines, introduced into sailing cobles in 1918, marked the beginning of mechanisation, which eventually freed women, but which also had wider, ultimately unsustainable, consequences.
Women’s unpaid work: Kate Douglas baiting a Long Line,
Beadnell, Northumberland, c1910
This year, I’m working again with Peter Zinovieff, on a very different project. We are creating a second piece with NUSTEM and Northumbria University research scientists, this time on the STFC-funded ‘Exploring Extreme Environments’ project. Our new poetry and music collaboration explores Antarctic Ice Science. You can hear me read a short poem, ‘Invisible Mending’, as part of Fly On the Wall’s Planet In Peril publication, HERE.
This poem was inspired by research by Dr Kate Winter, Baillet Latour Antarctic Fellow at Northumbria University. Kate is investigating iron-rich sediments, carried by glaciers from inland areas of the Antarctic to the Southern Ocean, which are thought to encourage the growth of microscopic phytoplankton, which help to reduce Carbon Dioxide in Earth’s atmosphere.
My poems from three of my previous audio collaborations with Peter Zinovieff are published in ‘Edge’, available from Bloodaxe Books. You can read reviews of this book if you click on the following links:
A You Tube version of ‘Sun’, my earlier collaboration with Peter Zinovieff, NUSTEM and Northumbria University research scientists, is available HERE.