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Aeolian Piano

Aeolian Piano

Aeolian Piano

Flood Barrier

Flood Barrier
16mm film and digital transferred to digital media
Produced by Create London
Funded by Art Fund, Arts Council England and The Elephant Trust.

The Barking Creek flood Barrier in East London is a massive structure and the blade-like barrier that is lowered once a month for maintenance comes down like a massive guillotine, seemingly pointing to our collective guilt.

2023 is the 70th anniversary of the 1953 flood in Barking Creek that buried the whole of Creekmouth village and forced all the inhabitants out. So the barrier carries the weight of all that local history.

The barrier is a huge concrete structure that looks quite clumsy, like some outmoded fantasy of being able to control the river. And it is now quite outmoded. All nine of the Thames barriers require updating 30 years earlier than expected due to rising sea levels which are expected to be 1 meter higher by 2100. In 2013/14 the barriers were closed 50 times, and when these defences were built it was known they could fail if they had to be closed 50 times a year or more on a regular basis, which is looking quite likely.

The film follows the flight paths of birds around the barrier, looking at how they navigate this structure which has been produced by humans whose rubbish is killing them. Gull populations increase incrementally with sewage pollution, and Beckton Sewage Works is on the Roding River just by the barrier, which can be seen in the film. Seagulls feed off the rubbish and Roding River has the highest number of ‘forever chemicals’, ie insoluble plastics, of any river in England. The gulls often die from the poisons and substances found in their stomachs. Ironically the Environment Agency celebrates the 148 species of bird found in the area, but the bird population thrives on the insects feeding on the algae that is formed by sewage spills.

Filmed partly from drones flying at precarious angles, the footage reflects the instability of the barrier and the climate crisis. The bird flights were filmed with vintage wind up 16mm cameras and out of date film as a way of conserving energy, and this led to light leaking into the camera and flooding the film with light, which became an analogy for flooding.

The light leaks also colour the film with intense and unexpected colours. Birds have an extra colour cone in their eyes compared to humans and this made me fascinated by how the birds at Barking Creek might experience the barrier. They would see millions of colours that humans can’t see, so the light leaks also became about different ways of experiencing the world.

Recent scientific research suggests a world that does not have inherent colour, where colour is purely interpretation depending on how the eye is structured. So the vision of a bird, or any animal, is as valid as human vision. Even within species there are variations, and colour blindness is rather colour difference. By analogy we all interpret the world differently, and all human viewpoints are equally valid whatever their experience, ethnicity, age, gender or ability.

If anything is to change environmentally, we need to listen to these diverse voices and pay attention to other species. Climate change has been hastened by the mainstream voice of capitalist interest, most directly by the water companies not putting their profits back into sewage treatment but more generally by industries putting profit before sustainability. So diversity and sustainability are inextricably linked.

For this reason, the participation of the Progress Project for teenagers with varying abilities is central to the project, challenging the normative point of view and advocating for inclusivity and diversity. It gives them, and the ways they see the world, visibility. Create London worked with Barking and Dagenham to set up a series of colour and sound workshops. The input from the young people has been vital to the film as they have contributed their own particular viewpoints. They chose coloured filters through which to see the surroundings, and these became reference points for the use of colour in the film. They also contributed to the soundtrack with Martin Osman, a sound artist based in Barking, gathering sounds from underwater, beneath bushes, under reeds and inside reverberating old waste pipes.

Further workshops are planned with Laleham Gap SEN school in Margate when the film will be screened at Turner Contemporary. The film will also be shown to specific groups in Barking such as the people who were displaced by the 1953 flood, and to asylum seekers who have been displaced in their own ways, bringing different parts of the community together.

The Barking Barrier is in some ways similar to other redundant or outmoded concrete structures that Yass has filmed. Often they are trying to control and separate people, as in the Israeli Separation Wall, or to control and hold back nature, as in the Three Gorges Dam across the Yangtze River. These structures are emblematic of 20th century modernist ideologies that placed humans at the centre of the world. Now there is a gradual realisation that we are at the end of the Anthropocene, and other species have an equal right to inhabit the earth on their own terms.

16mm camera: John Adderley, Nick Gordon-Smith
Drone camera: London Drone Company
Editing and colour: Sebastian Buerkner, Progress Project
Sound: Simon Keep, Martin Osman, Progress Project
Production: Create London
Thanks to Marie Bak-Mortensen, Celeste Ricci, Kieran Swann, Victoria Norton, Sorrel
Hershberg, Christopher Kul-Want, Enna Thea Kul-Want, Sandra Valencia,Sabine
Unamun,Gareth Evans

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