Jenny Pope, Artist

Art Walk Porty September 2023

As part of a Creative Scotland funded Vessel residency I launched my initial iteration of ‘Buoyancy in unprecedented times’.

Linking early Scottish innovative maritime exploration with unprecedented climate changes and our need for resilience to quell our collective anxieties I created a ‘lifeboat’ to symbolise navigating hope in uncertain times.

I constructed a sculptural woven coracle inspired vessel, promoted discussions and raised awareness of actions in response to climate emergency and our anxieties around climate uncertainties, as well as our connection with the sea.

There were opportunities for local people to contribute some clothing to form the boat as well as having conversations around how it felt to live by the sea, the joys, and concerns. I held workshops where people made sculptural objects creating a common ‘survival kit’ which was exhibited during the festival. A celebratory watery event, part launch of boat, part swim along the shore recognised the positive effect the presence of the sea had on our lives as well as the precariousness of our location.

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What I said at launch event in Sept 2023

I’m Jenny Pope, an artist, sometime sea swimmer, novice rower, local resident and beachcomber.
This event is part of Art Walk Porty and my residency over the summer on the theme Vessel

2 years ago, I visited Orkney, we had a lovely trip, wild beaches on Sanday, magnificent cliffs on Hoy, amazing archaeology at Scara Brae and delicious Pizza at Evie. One rainy day I visited Stromness Museum, the best of places, an eclectic mix of island related paraphernalia, loosely connected to marine, domestic and community life on the islands. What struck me most, from the museum, and the trip as a whole actually, was 1 item. It was a rather dishevelled, dark brown, perished rubber, musty oilskin form of an inflatable boat. In fact, it was described as a Halkett Air Boat, built in 1840’s. It’s just big enough to fit 1-person, patched fabric, a contrivance which also becomes a cloak when on land.
What I remember was the homemade-ness, sofa like vulnerability destined for the open seas. Of the audacity of user, explorer Dr John Rae to take out across Arctic waters in unknown territory looking for survivors of the lost Franklin expedition. The human scale of this fragile vessel reminded me of our own current predicament in the midst of a climate crisis and the uncertainties ahead as we navigate unknown futures.
What might we need in the times ahead? Maybe a lifeboat, equipped with a survival kit, for both physical and emotional emergencies? We will need to steady our nerves, face the future journey head-on with a clear mind, and open heart. To Remain buoyant and resilient.
What roles we could play? One of being passive bystanders as tragedy strikes, or one of an active responder, where each of us plays a constructive role? What difference can I make, as a citizen, and as an artist when faced with these dilemmas?
How can my art practice, in which I often use found and repurposed objects, be a personal response to climate crisis? What questions can I ask? How can I open conversations and promote awareness?
So, for this iteration of ideas and project, I have made a boat. As you do, My carrier of hope, ideas, intent.
A coracle, a basket like vessel, ubiquitous, accessible, steeped in history and almost little bit ridiculous. The generosity of countless people (usually men) to share their knowledge from their workshop sheds by making YouTube videos about coracle building and woodwork skills has enabled me to construct this fine object/sculpture /vessel/coracle on my kitchen table.
During this residency I have had conversation with local residents about living by the sea and the tension between loving being here and knowing things will change, sea levels will rise. I have collected donated clothes, to create a ‘collective skin of the coracle’, a communal protection from the elements. I have formed the hull of the boat from steaming, flexing and binding strips of wood into a fragile yet useable water-worthy craft.
Naming the coracle has been a challenge, so it has 2 names. ‘Adrift /response’. ‘Response’ because it’s a more considered action than react. Adrift because, as Nick Thorpe a coach and coracle lover says
‘in a volatile and changing world we’re arguably adrift rather more than we think’

The very wise and erudite Rebecca Solnit has written,

‘It’s important to say what hope is not: it is not the belief that everything was, is, or will be fine.
The evidence is all around us of tremendous suffering and tremendous destruction.
The hope I’m interested in is about broad perspectives with specific possibilities, ones that invite or demand that we act.
It’s also not a sunny everything-is-getting-better narrative, though it may be a counter to the everything-is-getting-worse narrative.
You could call it an account of complexities and uncertainties, with openings.’
‘Hope locates itself in the premises that we don’t know what will happen and that in the spaciousness of uncertainty is room to act.’

This event is a celebration of living by the sea, our companion on good days, stressful days, lonely days and playful days. To acknowledge the huge mental and physical wellbeing benefits from swimming on any day of the year, on our own or in chatty, tea drinking, cake eating groups. I have a somewhat ambivalent relationship with the sea.
I love beachcombing, exploring the edges of the sea, finding flotsam and jetsom as well as discovering wildlife.
I also like being immersed, bobbing around and floating, the exhilaration of the cold water on a bright sunny day.
However, I am also afraid, being out of my depth, literally, as well as often getting very seasick.
Building this boat has been a great test of my making skills, brought me into contact with lots of lovely, helpful people and challenged my paddling abilities, we shall see soon how that goes. My hope for this coracle is to convey the wobbly uncertain journeys we all face ahead supported with the assistance of many communal buoyant helping hands.
Thank you