Cultural Waves Project for Lee Valley Regional Park - 2002

The design, and construction of a 12 metre dugout canoe,  paddled from one end of the park to the other,  carrying symbolic exchanges of cargoes of objects from communities along the route of the Park to be exchanged at various stopping points. These cargoes  represent the ideas of the communities about themselves.

Log Boat Designs and the Project

The final design reflected a number of things.  First the actual dimension and condition of the tree obtained.  Second the design reflected the ancient craft that navigated the river Lee thousands of years ago and there are also be references to modern waterways craft such as narrow boats. Central European waterways have seen log boats used in the recent past  while Africa and South east Asia have a long tradition of building and using such craft. The North West Coast native American tribes refined the design, decoration and performance of these craft into beautiful and seaworthy vessels Their techniques and processes will provided the starting point for our project.
Log boats reflect a long tradition of skilful and  arduous combinations of tools, technology and the expenditure of considerable time and force. There have been various reconstructions of ancient log boats some on a similar scale and others smaller than our own  craft and we  drew upon the knowledge gained  by this work. We  combined traditional techniques working with adzes, axes, mallets and gouges   with  the modern technology of  chain saws and cutting discs.

The project involved professional woodsmen, boat designers, canoeists, painters and professional and volunteer carvers and painters. It took place at Trinity Buoy Wharf in East London through the generosity of Urban Space Management and Wakehurst Place and Kew Gardens. The project drew enthusiastic crowds fascinated by the tools techniques and the tactile and visual power of the emerging vessel. However the creation of the canoe was only the first part of the the process. The canoe was about to  be embedded in a matrix of festivals, symbolic landings and cultural exchanges as it journeys along the waterways.  The journey and events, actual and symbolic, will touch the lives of many individuals and communities associated with the Lee Valley Regional Park  and its riparian boroughs in a dynamic and creative way.

The project has many areas of interest for me as an artist. The first involves the personal, physical involvement with the shaping of material, the use of tools ancient and modern. This in turn involves a concept described by the sculptor Bill Pye as “breaking bread with the ancestors”.  Having a sense of continuity and contact with past traditions of artists and craftspeople stretching back to the stone age. A link with the knowledge and skills of long dead hands.

A second is a concern with communality and social identity.  The journey and the creation  of the cargoes is designed to encourage the various disparate communities to define, select and create a cargo that represents their identities, hopes, fears, their past , present and future.  The exchange of these will, it is hoped,  foster a sense of the Lee Valley Park Community as a whole and enable the various groups involved to gain greater knowledge and understanding of each other.

There is also a belief that a work of art can act as a nodal point around which various factors, individuals, ideas and visions can gather, coalesce and create new pathways and possibilities.  Lastly it is deeply pleasing to me that while  the object itself is solid, physical and relatively permanent and its construction is an important group process, its real meaning is in its action, travelling along the waters of  the river and the navigation, transient , transformative and celebratory. There is a video of the canoe The Lee Valley Messenger recording construction and participation in the Great Thames River Race.