British artist Felicity Hammond has created Surface Treatment, a site-specific installation that mines architectural history and Bath’s evolving built environment to question the city’s relationship to water, wellness and spa culture. Produced in direct response to Cleveland Pools, the UK’s oldest surviving outdoor public swimming baths, Hammond’s work tackles themes which are both historical and urgently contemporary.
Both the site and the work itself draw from the multiple, and often conflicting, layers of architecture that we see throughout the city of Bath. Columns, pediments, crescents and arches are presented in photo collage creating a playful dialogue between Hammond’s intervention and the pools from which it emerges. Classical forms break the water’s surface with ambiguous origins; are these ruins soon to be lost under the surface, or are they rising from the depths to live again?
The insistence of working with Bath stone – a material that is easily penetrated by water – demonstrates that architectural surface holds more importance than the functionality of the material. Bath’s love affair with this material, alongside the continual threat of flood points towards a new ruin, one which might be excavated in the future and whose failure is born out of a continual nod to the past.
Surface Treatment explores ideas of excavation, archaeology and restoration, all of which are fundamental to the civic identity of Bath. Looking to respond to the distinct identity and context of Bath, Surface Treatment mimics the materials, scale and rhythm of many of the city’s most recognisable buildings. The installation’s submergence in water also draws on the perilous environmental position we find ourselves in. Surface Treatment puts this problematic relationship with water in a context specific to Bath, offering a glimpse of the very real outcome we face as sea levels continue to rise.
Thanks to the residents of Hampton Row and Cleveland Pools Trust
Supported by Arts Council England and the University of Bath