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Fleet: Art in the Haven Ports

  • Date: 2 June 2011
  • Artform: Visual arts
  • Area: South East
woman in red dress juggling 'Jaywick' by artist Fabien Rigobert, part of Fleet: Art in the Haven Ports, Credit: Fabien Rigobert

A major programme of temporary visual arts projects, that have been making waves around the Haven Gateway ports of Felixstowe, Harwich and Ipswich, culminates this summer.

Fleet: Art in the Haven Ports was developed by visual arts agency Commissions East with the support of a £50,000 Grants for the arts award from Arts Council England.

Lottery funded Grants for the arts awards are for activities carried out over a set period which engage people in England in arts activities, and help artists and arts organisations in England carry out their work.

Fleet: Art in the Haven Ports has been aimed at fostering a greater understanding of heritage, environmental and coastal issues, and promoting the use of sustainable forms of transport in the area. Importantly it established a dialogue between artists and arts organisations from England and France, with a view to forming lasting partnerships. It was developed to promote tourism to the area, create a greater sense of place for coastal communities, contribute to community cohesion, and drive economic growth.

In order to achieve all this, the project worked in partnership with six local authorities, two tourism agencies, environmental charities as well as arts and heritage organisations in both the UK and France.

Fleet offered a series of unique experiences from 2009-2011, led by renowned 'Young British Artist' Gavin Turk, highlighting destinations around the Haven Gateway and in France not traditionally seen as tourist attractions or well-known for their cultural heritage. The project included artist residencies, exhibitions and artist development opportunities, all of which engaged local audiences and highlighted issues such as the environment and the Haven Ports' defence heritage.

The project centered on Turk's piece entitled Les Bikes du Bois Rond, a fleet of 20 hand-customised Pashley bicycles inspired by Polish artist André Cadere's transportable, striped wooden poles.

As part of Fleet, the bicycles were used for two guided bike rides on the Suffolk and Essex coast, and also featured in an exhibition at artconnexion in Lille and a series of short public rides around the city. Les Bikes du Bois Rond was also presented at Frieze Art Fair.

Artist residencies

Fleet also gave several artists the unique opportunity to take up residency at Clacton-on-Sea's landmark art space and meeting point Jaywick Martello Tower as well as the HMS Ganges Museum in Shotley.

The first artist in residence was Sarah Dobai in October 2009 who created Jaywick Portraits: Documentation of a Film Shoot, engaging 70 local people over three days. Other artists in residence included Mary Lemley and Fabien Rigobert. Fleet's final commission, If the Invader Comes by artist, Dan Dubowitz and choreographer, Fearghus O'Conchuir launched at Jaywick Martello Tower on 11 June this year.

The exhibition will comprise of a film installation that explores the psychological impact of being in a state of constant vigilance. The work responds to the Martello Towers (defensive forts) along the East coast of England and their effect on neighbouring coastal communities, but simultaneously refers to the country's ongoing state of alert against potential terrorist threats.

Temporary exhibitions and film screenings

Artists Cedric Christie, Tod Hanson and Elizabeth Wright were invited to create three site-specific temporary commissions at Landguard Fort in Felixstowe throughout July 2010. 

Christie's work explored a broad range of cultural and art historical references, often using humour and irony to communicate them. His installation Dance 2010 comprised of two twisted forms constructed in aluminium strips installed on the North Wall (also known as the Mortar Platform) of Landguard Fort.

Hanson's installation, entitled Juggernaut Sunset, presented a kind of fairground mausoleum that encouraged the viewer to consider trade and war.

And Elizabeth Wright's project Shoot invited visitors to consider that the fort, now a heritage site, once facilitated combat. Divided into three parts, Arsenal, Manoeuvre and Capture, the work invited viewers to reflect on the way we describe photographic equipment as both camera and war apparatus.

The two sets of 'reportage', created as part of the project, were made into a series of postcards available to the public and displayed around the entrance to the fort.  The artist also developed a website ( where visitors to the Fort could upload their own images.

Bun Voyagi at Town Hall Galleries, Ipswich, curated by Gavin Turk, was an exhibition of works as part of Fleet from French contemporary art organisation FRAC Nord-Pas de Calais running from 17 July to 28 August 2010. The exhibition featured work by a number of artists including Volker Albus, Alighero Boetti and Stanley Brouwn among many others. It focused on the historical interaction between art and design, and also examined ideas of identity, language, journeys and transience.

Les Hommes by filmmaker Ariane Michel was screened at Electric Palace Cinema, Harwich, also part of Fleet in association with Saison Video, Roubaix. And Augury, an installation by textile artist Julian Meredith, was exhibited at Mistley Towers in Essex from 3 July to 21 August, exploring the relationship of fish, birds, animals and insects and to people and the environment.

Artists' professional development

Commissions East also worked in partnership with Colchester-based arts organisation firstsite on two events, as part of the Fleet project. This was delivered as part of firstsite's Artists' Support Programme, The first event offered a daytrip for artists from the East region to Landguard Fort and provided the opportunity for regional artists to network, visit the exhibition at the fort and included talks by Cedric Christie, Tod Hanson and Elizabeth Wright about their work. The second event took place in June 2011 at Jaywick Martello Tower, where artists were invited to submit a proposal for making a new work as a direct response to the site, the venue for the last Fleet commission, If the Invader Comes. The successful applicant selected by the artists, Dan Dubowitz and Fearghus O'Conchuir and firstsite received a budget of £500 towards the creation of the new piece and the work was exhibited in the Tower during August 2011.

Fleet was developed by Commissions East with funding from Arts Council England, Essex County Council, and the Calouste Gulbenkian Foundation. Fleet was part of the Face2Face art programme taking part in Nord-Pas de Calais (France) and Kent, Essex and Suffolk.  Face2Face promoted cross cultural co-operation through exchange, audience development and outreach activities and was supported by the EU through the European Development Fund and Interreg Iva 2 Seas programme.

David Wright, Director of Commissions East, said: 'Fleet was designed to encourage people to visit some of the more unusual coastal locations. We commissioned works from well-known contemporary artists, led by Gavin Turk, bringing a new understanding to these historic places. By the time, If the Invader Comes ends in August, we anticipate nearly 16,000 people will have been part of Fleet.'

To find out more about Fleet: Art in the Haven Ports go to the website.