Reflections on Time Travelling (with Sea Piano Fret)
Lucinda Wells, Trinity Buoy Wharf
With the bare ground flooring of the Gatehouse at London Docklands' Trinity Buoy Wharf under feet, I sat mesmerized by the image of an unfurling St. Leonards seascape. The sea moving gently under an early evening sky is a familiar scene to many seaside dwellers. But even if it is watched on many occasions from the same viewpoint, the same favourite bench or balcony, a seascape is ever changing, and it can evoke different impressions, recall memories, and encourage reveries. Viewed from this sofa for sale on a peninsula where the Thames joins the River Lea, I watched the sea reclining, the tide and the waves creeping and curling away from land. Unlike any seascape I had seen before, a fear grew in me that this sea gestured to an end of an era, that we had gone as far as we could in time and now we were moving backwards, as land and time was being recovered.
A piano melody emerged from the seascape, faintly muffled as if the piano was being played on the seabed, growing in intensity and in harmony with the unfolding of each wave. The tune is evocative of a certain era in Britain - or of a wartime film (the era is before my time), say Distant Voices, Still Lives (Terence Davies, 1988). I learned that Lucinda Wells' "Mum" ("a Londoner through and through") played this tune, and as was her usual way, would play by ear - "the music was inside her head and her hands found the notes". Surreptitiously recorded by the artist, this reticent song that could not be emulated with the same sentiment by a pianist or a performer speaks remarkably loudly and expressively of histories in Britain, both personal and collective. Conceivably, I had travelled to a time I had never been before, a time loaded with histories and memories that are poignant for many, but to a place that was undeniably Britain.
On the walls were images of uncarpeted floors, with the artist's feet in red shoes at the foot of each photograph - at the foot of doorways, staircases, and garden paths. Here Wells seemed to have traced a path through her family home, where her mother's piano would have resonated between rooms, and from where, like many a British family, they would leave for and return from days out by the sea. The red shoes at each open doorway present an eternal future of possibility and at the same time reveal the marks of history. Indeed, we can learn a lot about ourselves from looking underneath our carpets and wallpapers, scratching beneath the surface. But as Wells takes us through the house, across the surfaces of her personal history, we arrive at the foot of a closed door. We might conceive that these photographs of open doorways document the last time Wells would have walked through them - what was once a gateway to a different room has become a preserved pathway to the end of an era.
As the waves recline away from land, and the piano plays the sea, it's as if the marks of time scarred in these floorboards and traversed by Wells' red shoes for the last time have become reopened wounds - where not only the artist's history but thousands of British memories and fictions are seeping out. When the tides creep in again, perhaps these surfaces will play host to new life, with new carpets and new families, and bear the marks of more comings and goings, with new histories and memories to take their place. At the same time, one cannot help but wonder of the fate of the St. Leonards seaside resort, and whether these connections and memories will be lost at sea in the following generations - only to be glimpsed when the carpets are stripped off the floorboards and the marks of history are re-opened in reveries of time travel or when watching and listening to the sea.
As I sat in the next room of the Gatehouse with a blank projection screen in front and the sound of the sea piano behind me, I contemplated the bare flooring beneath my feet, and pictured this London Dockland building in the time the now distant piano evokes.
Like Lucinda Wells' mother finding the notes on the piano that were in her head, visitors were invited to draw on wallpaper the marks of their time travel reverie as the sea piano resonates from the next room. This was not a simple invitation to write a reflective account of the experience in an installation guest book, but an invitation to mark out and visualize the experience, and respond to one another. Perhaps future wallpaper can be peeled away to reveal this one, and the many fictions and histories of Time Travelling (with Sea Piano Fret) will be discovered - as it is not often that we listen closely to the sea, look under our carpets, or draw on wallpaper to discover our roots.
(Jamieson is a Photographer and Writer based in Norwich, Norfolk. His latest book: Suspicions of a Peninsula Town (YH485 Press, 2010) is available from http://yh485press.org - Contact firstname.lastname@example.org for more details).