Elemental Influence

Elemental Influence

As part of their 400-year celebration, The Historic Dockyard Chatham hosts Powerful Tides: 400 years of Chatham and the Sea, an exhibition that showcases artists who were inspired by the ships and submarines that were built in The Dockyard, as well its links to the tidal waterways and the seas that the vessels moved through. Reflecting the influence that this unique and historic location had on important practitioners from the 18th to the 20th century, some of the names on show include John Constable, J.M.W Turner, William Wyllie, Norman Wilkinson and Eric Ravilious.

Exploring a transition in artistic style and focus, from the romanticism of shipbuilding found in earlier works to the industrial interest and perspective in later pieces, the show traces developments in technology and engineering and how they have been explored through a broad range of practices over an extended time span. J.M.W Turners The ‘Victory’ Coming up the Channel with the Body of Nelson (c.1807-1819) is displayed alongside footage of Richard Wilson’s Ships Opera, which was scored using the sounds of ships’ vintage sirens, hooters, bells and whistles. Maps and historic models of lightships are juxtaposed with Steffi Klenz’s installation of images of the refracted glass from lighthouse lamps, complementing the enigmatic glow of one of Tracy Emin’s neon sculptures.

The contemporary works in the exhibition provide a link to the present day and assess the influence that the River Medway, the Thames Estuary and the North Sea have had on artists working in the here and now. Anselm Kiefer’s photographs of the sea which he overlaid with drawings of mathematical formulae are on show, as well as Catherine Yass’ lightbox of the Thames at low tide and Nikolaj Larsen’s extended film portrait of the Thames, which visually reflects on the river, its banks, bridges and its constantly changing surface. New work by Langlands & Bell lightheartedly explores the names of Chatham built ships through wordplay while Nelson’s Ship in Bottle by Yinka Shonibare MBE (RA) delves into the history of British colonialism through a scaled-down representation of HMS Victory, which previously held the fourth plinth position in Trafalgar Square. Meanwhile, Nadav Kander’s visually arresting and deeply coloured compositions communicate the beauty of the organic world and the sheer breadth of water as an impressive and overwhelming element.

Until 17 June. Find out more.

Celia Graham-Dixon

1.Nadav Kander, from the series Dark Line – The Thames Estuary, Courtesy of Flowers Gallery London and New York.