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Coastguards

as installed at Bridgepoint Rye, East Sussex

2021

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Produced during a three month residency in Rye, East Sussex, Coastguards surveys a delicate coastal ecology shaped by impacting waves of architecture, climate, migration and militarisation.

 

Dominant in this landscape are Camber Castle and Dungeness Nuclear Power Station. Separated by half a millennium of history but only 10 miles of English coastline, these monumental structures share mirrored fates. Both were decommissioned within a hundred years of being built, the former left stranded by a retreating shoreline, the latter threatened by encroaching tides. Between them is a landscape littered with military and environmental defence architecture: 19th century Martello towers, WWII pillboxes, an MoD firing range, sea walls, granite boulders, shingle banks, dykes, gabions and groynes. Coastguards inhabits these monumental structures as they sink into sand banks, succumb to the undergrowth, and dissolve into wind and waves. Parallel to the natural decline of the project's sites of interest, the moving image is subjected to the elements and pushed to a point of degeneration. High definition drone footage is obscured by cloud and mist, shaky iPhone video shatters into pixels and 16mm film is exposed to damage and erasures while processed by hand in plant-based developers. 

 

The histories of warfare and moving image are intimately connected, with the development of advanced photographic technology catalysed by the desire to see behind enemy lines. During both World Wars, 16mm film was loaded into purpose built “gun cameras” on board British aircraft. Triggered by the firing of machine guns, the cameras recorded kills of enemy planes at a rate of one frame per bullet. The lineage of the drone (or unmanned aerial vehicle) can be traced back to the same era, in which self-timed cameras were fitted to homing pigeons in order to capture aerial reconnaissance, usually unsuccessfully. Coastguards turns the military gaze back onto coastal fortifications of the past: as stone fortresses fall into ruin, territories today are mapped and policed by weaponised cameras in the sky.

While humans are mostly absent from the landscape in Coastguards, they populate the installation’s soundscape. Conversations with local residents, historians, conservationists, activists, volunteers and lifeboat crew members offer conflicting definitions of what it means to protect the Sussex coastline. As the changing climate disrupts the migratory patterns of birds across Dungeness and Rye Harbour nature reserves, the categories of native and invasive species are thrown into question: when new arrivals land, who is deemed a threat and who is offered sanctuary?