The Rising Tide by Jason Decaires Taylor. London, 3rd – 30th September 2015
Sculptures underwater or partly underwater is the idea that intrigued me when I read about this new art installation on the banks of the Thames. The statues were ghost-like people on horseback who had already been likened to The Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse. And the heads of their steeds were replaced by the nodding donkey head of an oil well. The statues would only be properly visible at low tide. At high tide they would be virtually submerged. I had to go and see them before they disappeared.
The experience of working out where they actually were and when I could see them in various states of exposure, took me back to 2012 and the thrill of the chase with the BT ArtBox hunt. Getting the images took time and planning each time I returned to the site.
The Rising Tide: my first visit at low tide 7.30pm
My first visit was quite casual. I was meeting friends on the Southbank and some reviews had said the sculptures were opposite Westminster which is nearby. When I discovered that it was low tide that day, I thought I’d nip along with my camera before hand. I had studied photographs online and realised that they were beyond Westminster Bridge but telephoto lenses are deceptive. They distort the sense of distance. I soon discovered that the statues were nowhere near either Westminster or Lambeth bridges. And even though I was now quite late for my meeting, I trudged on, determined to find them.
The photograph above was was my first sighting of the four horsemen. They are a tiny white speck nestled on the upper slope of the river bank. By now I’d been walking for over 20 minutes and I felt a thrill of excitement as I spotted them. As I got closer, I could see that the tide was right out and people were actually down on the shingle, walking around the statues. I hadn’t expected that would be possible.
I found the way down and took a few snaps. But I was so worried about being late to meet my friends, I decided to come back another time and take better photos. I was also annoyed with myself too, for not doing my research properly. That evening the sunlight was magical and I’d missed a good photo op.
The Rising Tide: my second visit at low tide 8.15am
Having had a taste of the experience of seeing the statues on the river bank, I was keen to return for a proper look. I checked for the next low tide and it was Sunday at 8.45am. I got there at 8.15am hoping that I’d be able to watch the water receding. But as you can see from the next picture, I was too late for that.
The early morning atmosphere was quite different. It was wonderfully muddy and there were fewer people than the previous evening visit. Looking at the sculptures close up, I was struck by the amount of detail on the people. They looked as if they had been cast from real, fully clothed bodies. The horses were more sketched in. And the lack of colour makes them ghost-like. I photographed them from as many angles as I could, soaking up the atmosphere before I went off to continue with my Sunday plans.
The Rising Tide: my third visit, high tide at 3.30pm
I’d seen online that high tide was 16.10 on the following Thursday. I wasn’t sure how much of the statues I’d see when I got there around 15.30 (3.30pm). I discovered even then, they were mostly underwater and looked as if they were swimming for their lives and determined to drown.
The Rising Tide: my fourth visit at half tide, 10.30am
By now I was keen to see them half in and half out of the water. Again I studied the Port of London Authority tide tables and saw that low tide was 6.30 on Saturday. So I thought if I got there for 8.30am I would see them as I wished. Wrong. The tide comes in and out so slowly, that they looked as they did on my second visit. Clearly visible and nowhere near the water.
The very patient and friendly staff who monitor the site told me that low tide that morning was actually 7.20am and showed me a live tide chart on their phone. And so I discovered, that like weather forecasts, the printed charts are only a guide. The staff advised me to come back 12pm to see them as I wished for. I returned home very disappointed because I was supposed to be in North London for 1pm.
The journey home gave me thinking time and I decided to be late for lunch. This was a one off opportunity and the sun was shining. I was going back. And not for 12pm but for 10.30am. I ate a hasty breakfast, put my tea in a thermos and returned. My timing was perfect as the water was now almost lapping the feet of the statues.
I took a few pictures and then found a spot to sit on the shingle and watch the water rise. It was fairly quiet. Only a handful of people were there like me. I sipped my tea and felt very tranquil.
I stayed for an hour. Initially the tide came in very slowly. In the first 20 minutes it still barely covered the horses hooves. More people appeared, including a couple of heavy duty snappers with gear and tripods. In the final 20 minutes I was there, the water came in more rapidly. I heard from some other visitors that the security were now reluctant to let people down onto the shingle. I felt a buzz of excitement. Would we be swept away? Only in my imagination. The water wasn’t coming in that fast.
The exhibit is a comment on climate change. The two male horse-riders are bankers who are facing away from government and society. The other two riders are children who look towards the Houses of Parliament. All four of them have their eyes closed either by choice or fear of the unknown future. And the horses heads are like the nodding donkeys of an oil well.
As I sat on the river bank watching, I did feel as if we were waiting for something to happen or even the end of the world. The location, the sculptures and the rising water evoked that feeling very well. It has been my favourite art exhibit of 2015, so far. It finishes on 30th September. I suspect for Health and Safety reasons, they can’t leave the statues there indefinitely because otherwise, they should remain there.
I leave you with a series of photographs as the four horses and their riders sink into the river.