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Creating the Installation
The project culminated on Saturday 9th September 2017 as part of Totally Thames, with thousands of clay casts being laid out on the foreshore at low tide to recreate the Mason Stair Causeway.
This causeway was a ferry point, taking people and goods, to and from industrial Bankside for more than four hundred years. The casts, moulded into the shape of objects found in the Thames, were washed away by the rising tide. This referenced ancient traditions of ritual giving, meaning that these objects which are so often taken from the foreshore were given back to the river.
Exploring the Industrial History
Artefacts found on the Thames foreshore act as a window in to the lives of Londoners over thousands of years. For over two hundred and fifty years Bankside was packed with factories, wharves and warehouses. Pottery factories lined the Thames for most of this time, and the proximity to the river meant that heavy, raw materials could be shipped in by barge and fragile, finished pots could be gently floated out. Gradually, during the 1970's, the wharves fell into disuse, factories were demolished and high rise, high-end housing developments spread along the riverbank.
Local people, some who worked in these industries, were cut off from the river and its industrial history was soon forgotten as Bankside developed into one of London’s top cultural hubs.
The project Back to the River reconnected local communities and people to the history of the river through a range of workshops and talks led by artist Raewyn Harrison and archaeologist Mike Webber who created a temporary large public installation along the Thames foreshore in front of Tate Modern, with the help of participants and passers-by.
Making Clay Casts
Archaeology and ceramics combined throughout this project to trace the changing history of Bankside from an industrial centre to cultural hub. Find out more about how the clay casts used in the final installation were created in a series of workshops with children from Charles Dickens Primary School and elders at Blackfriars Settlement, connecting them with the river that has been cut off from them in recent years.
- Discovering the Archaeological History of the Thames' artefacts: Archaeologist Mike Webber took students on a journey of discovery, using objects found in the Thames to tell the industrial story of Bankside, with an emphasis on the thriving pottery trade as a number of factories once lined the river. There was also a trip onto the Thames foreshore to bring this to life.
- Making moulds of artefacts: This history was solidified when Ceramicist Raewyn Harrison taught children at Charles Dickens School to create moulds out of these objects, and some of their own, using clay from the Thames. These moulds were fired in a kiln, leaving behind the negative shape of the objects, ready for casts to be created.
- Creating casts out of moulds: In further workshops, children pressed clay into the moulds leaving behind a cast of the object, ready for use on the public day to build the installation. Elders at Blackfriars Settlement also had a go, and shared their memories of Bankside from when it was still a centre for industry, and insights into how these developments have changed their relationship with the river.
From the Project Archive
Illuminated River (2017)
Education Programme | Commissioned by the Illuminated River Foundation the Thames Festival Trust was asked to deliver a schools outreach programme to…
Life Afloat (2016)
Heritage Programme | The history of the floating villages on London’s Tidal Thames.