A packed weekend of online discussion, artworks, new films and performance.
AN UNKNOWN EARTH: 22 MAY — 23 MAY has been curated by four artists all of whom know the Thames Estuary as home: Jas Dhillon is a multimedia practitioner inspired by the people, script, language, symbolic objects, and poetic experiences, of the love and identity imprinted on her as a first-generation Indian female raised in Kent. Elsa James is a British African-Caribbean, conceptual artist and activist living in Southend-on-Sea. Recent projects Forgotten Black Essex (2018) and Black Girl Essex (2019) explore the historical, temporal and spatial dimensions of what it means to be black in Essex. James Marriott, writer, artist, activist and naturalist lives on the Hoo Peninsula and works as part of Platform. He is co-author of the forthcoming book Crude Britannia, which tells the story of Britain’s energy past, present and future with a focus on the Thames Estuary. Lu Williams who, through Grrrl Zine Fair, has been amplifying marginalised voices with a focus on DIY culture, workshops, intersectional feminism and working class culture since 2015.
The programme for An Unknown Earth includes a packed with live and pre-recorded broadcast discussion with artists, activists and scientists and specially commissioned online artworks. It takes its title from Conrad’s Heart of Darkness which opens with a vivid description of the Thames Estuary. Contended by many critics as a paradoxical and problematic account that is either a critique of colonialism or an example of it, many regard the 19th-century novella as one of the most important texts of Western literature.
The curators have worked together over the last five months to explore their shared concerns from very different starting points and experiences of the Estuary. The resulting programme is shaped around the distinctive 12 hour tides that have such a strong impact on the ebb and flow of life in this place. It opens with a performance of a dawn Raga by Jatinder Singh Durhailay at 09:29 on Saturday 22 May and finishes at 21:50 on Sunday evening with a performance from Ayesha Tan Jones, three tide-cycles later. Key low and high tide moments throughout the day will be marked by the artists and speakers.
New commissions include two filmed walks through the estuary landscape, from two artists with very different starting points and lived experience. Michael McMillan working with Dubmorphology and twelve Essex residents of African descent, documents a walk from the site of the arrival of HMS Windrush at Tilbury through industrial, rural and military landmarks to reach East Tilbury, examining identity and belonging along the route. Rebecca Moss walks the borderland between London and her birthplace, Essex. She begins at Rainham, passing under the QE2 bridge and on to Grays, sharing the inspiration she feels in these largely unpopulated spaces and why she believes they should be considered feminist spaces.
Akeim Touissant Buck and James Jordan Johnson have created filmed performances in two powerful Essex landscapes, Akeim at Thameside Nature Park, Mucking, a reclaimed ex-landfill site where wildlife now thrives, existing cheek by jowl with the heavy industry of the working river. And James, within the mud flats of the estuary during low tide at Chalkwell Beach. Both explore themes of migration, race politics, climate, imperialism, spirituality and nature.
Writers James Marriott, Terry Macalister (Crude Britannia, 2021) and poet Lucia Dove (Vloed, 2021) come together with high profile, international campaigners Dr Vandana Shiva and Lazarus Tamana to discuss climate, the past, present and the future threat, alongside the estuary’s role in global events. The People will Possess the Wind, a new film commissioned by Platform from artist Richard Houguez, will take viewers through the estuary on a sailing boat. A waterborne counterpoint to the experience of walking. The first part of the film will be shown on the opening weekend.
Live performance poet and playwright Inua Ellams explores the theme of water – through identity, displacement and destiny and, as a closing work to our first full day of festival, Antonio Roberts has created a new audiovisual work using data and technology to respond to the river and the predictions for near future sea level rise.
09:29—09:41 — Dawn Raga
We begin Estuary 2021 with a beautiful dawn raga composition and performance by Jatinder Singh Durhailay performed to mark the morning’s High Tide on the Thames Estuary at 06.25
10:00—10:55 — Yoga with Saara Turiya
A gentle movement session, embodying the gifts of the element of water.
11:00—11:30 — An Unknown Earth
Meet the curators of our Estuary 2021 Opening Weekend programme – Jas Dhillon, Elsa James, James Marriott and Lu Williams. Introduced by festival organisers, Colette Bailey (Metal) and Sue Jones (Cement Fields).
11:30—12:45 — Crude Britannia Pt.1
The Estuary and the Legacies of Oil. Authors of the brand new book on the subject, talk with Dr Vandana Shiva, Lazarus Tamana and Peter May about the role of the Estuary in the story of the UK’s fossil fuel empire.
12:45—13.15 — Walking in the Wake
A new film by Michael McMillan, a meditation on the wake of the River Thames ebbing and flowing; the wake or ‘Nine Night’ as a Caribbean diaspora event to celebrate the life of the deceased; the wake in the wave of a moving slave ship, ships of Empire, container ships of globalisation; of contemporary black life in the wake of illness and death.
13:30—14:45 — Crude Britannia Pt.2 The Estuary, the Climate and the Future of Energy. What are the probable impacts of climate change on the Estuary in the coming decades? Join our panel of artists, writers, activists and scientists as they explore the Estuary and its climate across time, looking at history, what is happening today, and what is to come
15:00—15:20 — I am From
A short, experimental film by Akeim Toussaint Buck and Sam Baxter, reflecting the overlaying of events that have taken place on the Thames Estuary exploring themes of migration, race politics and climate change.
15:25—15:45 — During the Hour of Darkness
James Jordan Johnson. Soon Come is the presentation of a filmed, site-specific performance on the estuary when the tide is at its lowest ebb, to create and think through the appearances / disappearances of land. Using found material from the nearby ex-military site, Gunners Park in Shoeburyness.
15:50—17:00 — Zine as a tool for Activism
Throughout history, zines have been used as a tool for sharing information, stories from voices who have been marginalised. Meet zine activists from around the world as they explore their medium and its inclusive, accessible power.
18:00—18:50 — Whip it Good
A screening of Jeannette Ehlers performance Whip It Good (2013 – ongoing) followed by a discussion led by Fiona Compton (Know Your Caribbean) with Jeannette, alongside Aleema Gray, (Community History Curator at the Museum of London).
19:00—19:50 — Water. Ink. Voice.
Live performance from poet and playwright Inua Ellams. Join him to explore the theme of water, through identity, displacement and destiny. Readings from both published and unpublished work.
20:00—21:00 — A Short History of Nearly Everything
Antonio Roberts closes our first festival day with a sharing of a new audiovisual artwork that takes the river and its relationship with technological advances as its starting point.
09:30—09:45 — Dawn Raga
Our Sunday programme begins with a second beautiful dawn raga composition and performance by Jatinder Singh Durhailay to mark the approach of the morning’s High Tide on the Estuary.
09:45—10:40 — Yoga
Join Dirish Shaktidas to begin your day with yoga. Dirish combines his deep knowledge of movement, mindful meditation and sound with a unique blend of Shakti Dance, Yin Yoga and Eastern Philosophy to create an inspiring, dynamic and elevating setting.
10:45—11:00 — Welcome
A welcome to the day with festival organisers and An Unknown Earth curators.
11:00—11:20 — Walking in the Wake
A second opportunity to see the new film by Michael McMillan, followed by Michael in conversation with Anita Sethi and Maria Amidu in the following session.
11:20—12:30 — I Belong Here
Anita Sethi, author of I Belong Here (Bloomsbury, 2021) which explores identity, place and belonging as she walks the ‘backbone of Britain’ reads from her recent book before being joined by Michael McMillan and visual artist, Maria Amidu, creator of Watermarks, eight beautiful works that mark the 107 mile Thames Estuary Trail.
12:30—13:00 — Here/Her: A Walk Along the Edge of the City
In her new documented walk, Here/Her: A Walk Along the Edge of the City, artist Rebecca Moss shares a route that she has frequently returned to during lockdown, between Rainham, on the edge of East London, and Grays in West Essex.
14:00—15:00 — Her Dreams are Bigger
Curator Jas Dhillon introduces designers, artists and activists, Osman Yousefzada and Caryn Franklin. in conversation. Session includes a film screening of Her Dreams are Bigger by Osman Yousefzada.
15:00—16:00 — Fashion Upcycling Workshop
Maya Scarlette leads a workshop, upcycling clothes – inspired by her Caribbean heritage and carnival culture.
16:00—17:30 — Estuary Bioregionalism
Join James Piers Taylor to explore Bioregionalism, and how this concept might look here in the English orient. Cabotage, Enclosure, Rewilding, Sea-level rise, and more. Organised as part of Mary Mattingly’s Vanishing Point, an Estuary 2021 co-commission with Focal Point Gallery.
21:50—22:00 — Yearn 2 Dream
Ayesha Tan Jones as YaYa Bones brings our opening online programme to an end with a filmed work to mark the approach High Tide moment. An exploration into the sludge of the in betweens. From river to ocean, between earth and water, borders and binaries.
More information about the Estuary 2021 programme, including online events, can be found here.
For further information, images and interview requests, please contact Four Culture:
+44 (0)7881 510 181
+44 (0)7384 917 947
Estuary 2021 is an ambitious, highly visible and transformational programme of work, linked to an innovative skills programme delivered through a wide range of arts and agency partnerships across the region. It is made possible through Creative Estuary, an ambitious long-term project to develop the Thames Estuary into the world’s largest creative corridor; a world leader for the creative and cultural industries. Estuary 2021 is led by a partnership between estuary-based arts organisations, Metal (South Essex) and Cement Fields (North Kent).
www.estuaryfestival.com / @estuaryfestival
Metal was founded by Jude Kelly CBE in 2002 working with current Artistic Director and CEO, Colette Bailey since its inception. Metal provides innovative, multi-disciplinary residencies and development opportunities for artists from the UK and overseas, from spaces in Southend on Sea, Liverpool and Peterborough. Interested in how artistic process, and the practice of artists can input into, and influence social, economic and political issues of the day, Metal works with artists, educators, communities, individuals, businesses and agencies across all sectors to create a wide range of activities and projects that include residencies, exhibitions, commissions, festivals, performance, talks, workshops and publications. Estuary 2021 is delivered from Metal’s Southend site and team. Metal is supported using public funds by Arts Council England, Southend-on-Sea Borough Council and many other partners.
www.metalculture.com / @MetalSouthend
Cement Fields is a visual art organisation working collaboratively with artists and communities to create ambitious new art along the Thames Estuary, from Dartford to Whitstable. Cement Fields invites people to collaborate with artists to encounter, research, make, and exchange views on contemporary art, and broadens access to art by creating learning opportunities for young people to develop imagination, skills and find meaningful pathways into creative careers. Cement Fields has grown out of Whitstable Biennale, a visual art festival founded in 2002 with an international reputation for developing experimental new work, often giving artists their first commission, and attracting over 70,000 visitors to each edition. Cement Fields is supported using public funding by Arts Council England, the University of Kent, and other partners.
www.cementfields.org / @CementFields
Creative Estuary is supported by The Department of Culture, Media and Sport (DCMS) and led by a consortium of public sector and cultural organisations. They include the South East Local Enterprise Partnership (SELEP), Kent and Essex County Councils, the Greater London Authority, 11 local authority areas represented by Thames Gateway Kent Partnership and Opportunity South Essex, South East Creative Economy Network (SECEN), University of Kent, University of Essex, Locate in Kent and cultural organisations Metal and Cement Fields.
In early 2019 the University of Kent was awarded £4.3m from the DCMS Cultural Development Fund on behalf of the partners. The Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport funds the Cultural Development Fund which is administered by Arts Council England. More information about the fund can be found here.
www.creativeestuary.com / @CreativeEstuary
About Estuary 2021 curators
Colette Bailey is Artistic Director and Chief Executive of Metal, where she has worked since the company’s inception in 2002. She works across all three Metal sites and brings extensive experience of working in large scale public arenas via public art consultancy, exhibitions, participatory design and education projects. She was managing director of the Royal Society of British Sculptors (RBS) from 1998 – 2002 and is a freelance writer and commentator on the arts and has published articles in a number of journals and publications.
Sue Jones is Artistic Director and CEO of Cement Fields. Sue has worked closely with early-career visual artists for 30 years to enable and support the making of over 500 ambitious and experimental new artworks. She was Curator and Director of London’s Chisenhale Gallery 1990-2000, before joining Whitstable Biennale as Director. The next Whitstable Biennale will be the tenth edition, and more recently Sue has overseen the organisation’s organic evolution into our new company, Cement Fields.
Jas Dhillon is a multimedia practitioner inspired by the people, script, language, symbolic objects, and poetic experiences, of the love and identity imprinted on her as a first-generation Indian female raised in Kent. Her practice is deeply rooted in the exploration of her identity, with a palpable reverence for her ancestors, ancestral traditions, symbology, and spirituality. Drawn to folk art traditions based on; the toil, skill, devotion, poetry and community, folk art objects embody; she strives to express these qualities in her own work. She is particularly drawn to objects that serve a utility purpose, and textiles, with an eye towards a very traditional Indian colour palette. This is also reflected in her approach to art facilitation where she is committed to the accessibility of art and artistic expression, through the utilisation of everyday experiences, activities, and expressions. A lifelong consumer of the arts in all its forms – visual, experiential, poetic, musical and theatrical, Jas developed her own practice late in life, encouraged by her artist friendship group. Her western influences include nature, fashion, hip hop, photography, and multicultural urban living. Jas recently produced her first commission as part of the 2020 Margate Festival curated by People Dem Collective, which has since gone on to be displayed in the window gallery of Intra Arts in Rochester, where it was made. The installation is born from a desire to preserve the poetic blessings from her grandma in India and is centred around printed choonis (headscarves) in Punjabi. The hanging scarves symbolise the power and beauty of language, the gift of love and its ability to transcend oceans, boarders, and realms. In her professional career Jas is Head of Marketing for a public art gallery in London, where she is focused on the areas of audience development, visitor experience, digital optimisation, equality and diversity. She holds the position of Trustee at Margate House Arts, has been acting as an advisor to People Dem Collective, and programmes art, music and poetry events at the London based homeless shelter – Shelter from the Storm, as well as being a qualified yin yoga teacher.
Elsa James is a British African-Caribbean, conceptual artist and activist living in Essex since 1999. Her work intervenes in the overlapping discourses of race, gender, diaspora and belonging. Her black British identity ignites her interdisciplinary and research-based practice, located within the fields of contemporary performance, text and language-based art, socio-political and socially engaged art; occasionally dabbling with drawing and painting. Solo works employ recollection and the archives, to examine ideas surrounding regionality of race and black subjectivity. Recent projects Forgotten Black Essex (2018) and Black Girl Essex (2019) explore the historical, temporal and spatial dimensions of what it means to be black in Essex; England’s most misunderstood, and, homogeneously white county. Her social practice includes advocating for the inclusion of marginalised voices and communities in the arts sector; New Ways of Seeing, Making and Telling (2018), a visual provocation and live debate, challenged how the art sector can ‘genuinely’ address barriers to participation and involvement in the arts for Black, Asian and other minority communities. Elsa has exhibited, screened and presented projects nationally, including Autograph (ABP), London; Big Screen Southend at Focal Point Gallery, Southend; Create London, London; Firstsite Gallery, Colchester; Furtherfield, London; Metal Culture, Southend; Site Gallery, Sheffield and Tate Exchange at Tate Modern, London. Forthcoming exhibitions include a solo exhibition at Focal Point Gallery in Spring 2022. She is currently a Syllabus VI artist.Elsa is a member of Girl Gang (2014 – present); a UK wide group of womxn artists utilising performative actions to challenge expectations in public spaces. She is also a member of the feminist activist collective the Essex Girls Liberation Front (2017 – present); a small group of womxn based in Southend campaigning to challenge and change the perception of the county’s much-maligned female stereotype. Elsa completed a BA in Fine Art and graduated with a first-class honours degree at Chelsea School of Art in 2010.
James Marriott is an artist, activist & naturalist, and works as part of the internationally renowned group Platform which combines art, education, activism & research to create initiatives which are focused on social and ecological justice. (platformlondon.org). Since the mid-1990’s Platform has concentrated on the ecological and social impacts of the global oil & gas corporations, as part of the movement to address climate change. James has created projects including the Delta micro-hydro scheme, the download opera And While London Burns and the travelogue The Oil Road – Journeys from the Caspian to the City of London (Verso 2012). His forthcoming book Crude Britannia (written with former Guardian energy correspondent Terry Macalister), tells the story of Britain’s energy past, present and future; of a black gold empire built on financial power, political meddling and environmental destruction. He lives in Higham, on the Hoo Peninsula.
Lu Williams creates cross-disciplinary artworks, social practice, events and printer matter with a focus on accessibility, labour, DIY culture, intersectional feminism and personal experience of queerness and working-class culture. They founded Grrrl Zine Fair in 2015 which platforms womxn, trans and non-binary artists and zine makers through workshops, events, Grrrl Zine Library and Grrrl In print Zine.