Archipelago - Islands of the Wetlands
Artists: Edwin Aitken, Ruth Calland, Annabel Dover, Enzo Marra, Edgar Racy, Victoria Rance, Mimei Thompson, Jonathan Waller, your paradise island
Blog post/writer: Stephanie Moran
Filmmakers: Eva Calland-Waller (lead), Eoin Brogan, Arushi Chugh, John Powell, Ed Rousseau, Eleanor Williams, Marco Valerio.
Against a backdrop of global concerns about climate change, the haunting reality of the Anthropocene, and Extinction Rebellion protests in Central London, nine artists choose to visit the Walthamstow Wetlands on a jolly. Part oasis for waterfowl, part fishing paradise, and partly a theme park for nature itself, the Wetlands simultaneously feels both wonder-full and like an ‘end times’ experience.
The project takes place over two cold-fingered Sundays in April, with icy gusts sweeping across the reservoirs under grey skies. Insouciant, revenant cormorants stand in groups at the water’s edge, and angle their artfully outspread batwings into the wind undeterred. Likewise; the intrepid artists take up their positions, each assigned a view of one of the nine islands of the Wetlands.
Geese hiss wilfully at random and get into teenage gang fights, swans glide around above it all, and ducks try to look interesting. Herons tuck their heads back unfeasibly into their bodies and swoop around like dinosaurs. Adventures begin to unfold. A fisherman apologetically hammers a fish to death inside a bag, huddled in a bird hide with a painter sheltering from the rain. Another offers some heron eggshell to an artist, the way to her heart; an incident she later develops into a mythical story. Work gets made, even in the rain; even if midges looking for brief fame fling themselves suicidally between the sketchbook pages to be found later.
The artists become chilly and wander moodily about, pondering the sacred and the surreal, loss and death, and waiting until it is time to go back for a hot coffee in the caff.
Back in their respective studios, it all begins to make sense. Nine visions, one purpose: to engage with each other and with this extraordinary site.
Ruth Calland 2019