Wait ‘til it Settles
1 – 27 April 2014
Installation (water containers, labels, and water samples)
The Jam Factory, Hollybush Row, Oxford, OX1 1HU
Exhibiting as part of a group exhibition, Inspired by the Canal, that forms part of a ‘taster’ exhibition showcasing the wide-ranging approaches to the same subject-matter taken by artists participating in the country’s biggest and oldest open studio festival, Oxfordshire Artweeks, Sarah Mayhew Craddock’s art practice is largely concerned with the psychology of space, the way in which people move around space, consciously or otherwise, and interact and engage with their environment.
Sarah became intrigued by canals, and the history of the canal network, when she moved to Birmingham in 2005. Venturing down the Grand Union and along The Oxford Canal Sarah moved to Oxford in 2008 and became enthralled by Oxford’s hidden secrets.
Captivated by the idea that charged personal histories build up idiosyncratic languages that are mostly hidden from view, buried in the sediment that lies beneath the slow flowing surface water, Sarah has ‘bottled’ unsettled waters for public examination in this exhibition. In doing so, she highlights the layers of history that make up The Oxford Canal (once one of the UK’s most important arteries of trade that was later threatened with closure as commercial traffic subsided before pleasure boating became popular) and draws parallels between the canal and the viewers’ own personal histories.
Frequently drawing on adages or aphorisms when entitling her works and utilising domestic objects to create her installations Sarah seeks to reinforce the sense of familiarity, or lack of, between viewer and experience. After spending time researching the history of The Oxford Canal Sarah has uncovered stories whose course has dictated its meandering shape, its physicality, its locks, its railings, its paths, its warning signs, its lifebuoys, its beauty spots, its cottages, its cottaging etc. throughout the canal’s history. Presenting water samples collected from points along the canal, Wait ‘til it Settles is an installation inspired by the dark layers of mystery identified in the curious, gentrified, quietude of The Oxford Canal as we now know it.
After the wettest January since records began more than 100 years ago Sarah became intrigued by the way in which the winter’s extreme weather changed the nature of The Oxford Canal Sarah identified parallels between the canal and one’s consciousness (or lack thereof) of the various different layers of human existence; that is, the way in which nature can intervene to mask, reveal or dictate direction. Furthermore, that one is frequently only conscious of what is taking place at surface level, failing to acknowledge the impact of what lies beneath or above that plane.
Re-adjusting her view of water Sarah began thinking of water in a different way, ordinarily so carefully preserved and measured, weather reports this winter revealed polluted, overflowing excesses of water along the country’s waterways, and many of the paths that she used along the Oxford Canal became impassable. Wildlife conservation that make up the beauty spots found along the country’s waterways was one of the things being blamed for water channels not having been sufficiently dredged over the past few years, and consequently unable to channel the quantities of water properly.
Sarah’s attention turned to water butts, and containers – vessels that are usually used to capture and contain ‘good’ water, however, her thoughts turned to preserving this ‘bad’ water, and the various layers of history churned up by moving these portable vessels. Sarah found it intriguing to observe how quickly unsettled waters resettled in their containers, giving the impression that, in the event of an emergency, one might be able to wait until the muddy waters settle and then syphon the clean water off the top ignoring the history, the old, settled murky water, and hope for the best for the future, yet if one looks carefully enough, that history remains for all to see.
The twelve water samples presented in this exhibition show water samples associated with the below listed stories and locations that form a small part of the documented history of this fascinating waterway:
For further information about how this piece of work came into being visit the Musings page.
Special thanks to Sharon Harker and Mike Craddock for helping me to collect the water samples, and to The Oxford Times and Oxford Mail archivist, Chris McDowell, for his invaluable assistance helping me to source stories about The Oxford Canal from the Newsquest library.
Other artists exhibiting as part of this exhibition include: Katherine Shock, Valerie Pett, David Willoughby, Michael Collier, Michele Field, Caroline Maas and works that form the winning entries of an Oxford Canal Art competition run by the Oxford Canal Heritage Project, supported by Oxfordshire Artweeks & ECCO.
Local historian and author, Mark Davies, who has lived on the canal for many years, is giving a free talk entitled The Oxford Canal: a pictorial history looking at two centuries of paintings, drawings, engravings, and traditional narrow boat decoration in The Jam Factory’s Boiler Room Gallery on Sunday 27th April from 2.30 to 3.30pm.
Oxfordshire Artweeks is an annual, free, open studios event taking place at hundreds of Oxfordshire venues from 3 to 26 May 2014. Pick a copy of the festival guide at The Jam Factory for more information or visit www.artweeks.org for the full listings.