BOAT (for Peter)

8 Jun 2017 – 14 Jun 2017

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Pond Gallery

Suffolk, United Kingdom

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Artist Helen Stokes presents new work exploring alternative endings to Britten’s 1945 opera 'Peter Grimes'.


Finding the cruelty of Peter’s ending unbearable, Helen Stokes presents possible interventions into the opera with her work acting as an intermediary between the protagonist and his fate. The artist worked with music researcher and presenter Dr Katy Hamilton and was generously supported by Arts Council England.


The artist’s initial idea was to build a boat to rescue Peter from drowning. The opera, however, suggested its own means of renewal – and survival – in the passages of music recurring again and again, in the cycles of tides and skies. Imagining Peter in his boat, scuttled on the sea bed, just after the end of the opera, the visual languages of archaeological plans of shipwrecks and plans for new boats began to merge. The artist was also inspired by her grandfather who spent the last decade of his life building a boat from plans bought on the internet.

After coming across a paper pianola music roll in a vintage shop, (a perforated text designed to be fed into a machine to create a determined sound), the artist has explored what Peter Grimes might look like if the full orchestral score was punched into paper. How could the sea be represented using only dots? Taking sections of the paper music and working into it with paint, the artist disrupts the intended reading. The musical language can be read in new ways, and is opened to new interpretations.

The tragedy in Peter Grimes is in Britten’s unflinching depiction of an individual’s isolation in a hostile society, a theme surely as resonant now as in 1945. Rather than proposing a singular alternate ending to Peter’s narrative, Helen Stokes’ work offers an opening into the cycles within Britten’s music: construction and destruction; hope and despair; tides, skies and stars. The exhibitions invite viewers to rehabilitate Peter through plans and wrecks, to extend the character’s lifespan beyond his ending. The work occupies the space in which the opera abandons us at the final curtain: what is ending? What is potential?

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Helen Stokes

Helen Stokes


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