The Thames Estuary is a difficult theme. As noted in the blurb to this exhibition, it is a largely overlooked landscape, but one that has continued to be an inspiration for artists (think Turner and Constable, Dickens and TS Eliot). It’s often bleak and industrial, solitary, but also beautiful, and now, regenerating.
While predominantly an art exhibition full of art and film installations I was really impressed with one film piece that had so many layers of history it was like a visual historical exhibition.
Thames Film (William Raban) takes you on a 50-mile journey along the Thames from Westminster to the open sea. Shot in the 1980s it is already a piece of heritage in its own right as the areas it looks at have changed so much in this time. But cut throughout the film are other pieces of archive footage from the 1920s-1950s along with earlier archival images and paintings. And to top it all off commentary is taken care of by the words of Thomas Pennant who followed the same route in 1787.
Portraying the Thames on film with its historical context in this way was very effective. It had a rather bleak underlying theme however, with images of the mills on the river wall that became Millwall, complete with hangman’s gallows, while images of the Maunsell forts merge into close-ups from Pieter Breughel the Edler’s Triumph of Death. This view is made even more interesting by its 1980’s heritage as the regeneration that would appear in the 1990s and 2000s hasn’t happened yet and this film captures a moment in time that is already a distant memory for many.
Other pieces in the exhibition look at the lives of those who live and work on the river (you’ll have to go up to the third floor for this, so don’t miss it), the sea itself, coastal towns and ship wrecks half sunk in the mud (another favourite of mine – Medway by Christiane Baumgartner).
This isn’t a big blockbuster exhibition, rather it is a well curated and intriguing one, with the exhibition seeming to capture the feeling of the Thames Estuary and it is perfectly suited to its location at Museum of Docklands.
Museum of London Docklands
West India Quay
London E14 4AL
10am – 6pm
17 May to 27 October 2013