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Flood Barrier

Press Release
September 2023


Create London announces a new moving image commission titled Flood Barrier by Turner Prize-nominee Catherine Yass alongside a wider public programme supported by the National Lottery Heritage Fund.

Catherine Yass on Radio London 

00:00 / 15:16

Click here for more film stills. 

Create London is pleased to announce Flood Barrier, a new moving image commission by British artist Catherine Yass (b. 1963). Special screening events will be held at the ICA, London on Tuesday 14 November, Turner Contemporary on Saturday 18 November and De La Warr Pavilion on Wednesday 22 November. Flood Barrier was installed as part of The Princess Alice Disaster exhibition at Valence House Museum before touring to Eastbury Manor House, Barking, 6 November to 17 December 2023. Raising awareness of rising sea levels and urgent environmental changes, the work’s launch will coincide with the 70th anniversary of The Great Flood of 1953.


Click here for The Guardian's review of Flood Barrier 

The film is centred around Barking Creek Flood Barrier, which straddles the River Roding where its estuary meets the River Thames. Engineered in 1983, the barrier was originally built to prevent devastating flooding expected to take place every thousand years. However, in the wake of rising sea levels and urgent environmental changes affecting East London, the barrier has taken on a new critical role. As predicted by the 2021 Climate Central environmental study, the huge guillotine-like structure poised above the water is likely to come down and cut off flooding routinely in coming years, seemingly pointing to our collective guilt in the face of the climate crisis. The barrier stands in place of Creekmouth village, which suffered severe flood damage 70 years ago, erasing 55 Victorian houses, a school and a church built for chemical plant workers. As shown in the film, the structure is also adjacent to Beckton Sewage Works, where a large population of gulls contradictorily thrive on sewage pollution. As well as feeding off the insects around the sewage spills, the birds absorb the polluted water and often die from the poisons and substances found in their stomachs. According to data from the Environment Agency, the River Roding has the highest number of ‘forever chemicals’ of any river in England.

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Click here to read The Art Newspaper's review of Flood Barrier

Nominated for the Turner Prize in 2002, London-based artist Yass is widely recognised for her distinctive photographic and film-based work. Her practice disrupts notions of power through the disorientation of the camera and the distortion of colour. With Flood Barrier Yass uses this visual language to allow viewers to see the structure and its surroundings from a new perspective, showing the urgency of the environmental and political issues it embodies. The artist’s films are frequently turned upside down or filmed from unusual perspectives, often from a camera mounted on the moving objects they depict. As the image begins to unravel so too do our assumptions about how we perceive the world, and new orientations and possibilities open.

Where Yass’ past work has been concerned with how environments are constructed and experienced by their inhabitants, this new moving image work extends her practice by zooming in on the relationship between architecture and the natural world, observing how gulls interact with the concrete barrier. Filmed partly from drones at precarious angles, the footage reflects the instability of the barrier and the climate crisis. The bird flight paths are also recorded using vintage wind-up 16mm cameras and out of date film as a way of conserving energy. On a production level, this led to light leaking into the camera to create intense and unexpected colours. On a symbolic level, the process became an analogy for flooding and a reference to the fact that birds have an extra colour cone in their eyes compared to humans. This use of colours contrasts with the monochrome severity of the concrete flood barrier going down, to reveal the limitations of vision, and that what humans see is only one possible vision amongst many others. With this in mind, the artist sees the vision of a bird, or any animal, being as valid as human vision. By analogy all people interpret the world differently, and their viewpoints are equally valid whatever their experience, ethnicity, age, gender or ability.

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Click here for the film's webpage. 

“If anything is to change environmentally, we need to listen to these diverse voices and pay attention to other species” says Yass. “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 co-producers Progress Project - a charity for Barking & Dagenham teenagers with varying abilities - is central to the project, challenging the normative point of view and advocating for inclusivity and diversity. 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.

A season of public events and activities supported by the National Lottery Heritage Fund

2023 marks 70 years since the Great Flood of 1953, which led to widespread flooding in the East of England and is often considered the worst natural disaster Britain experienced during the 20th century. Flood Barrier by Catherine Yass forms part of a broader season of programming, entitled Breaking Waves, exploring and raising awareness of the link between our contemporary climate crisis and industrial heritage. Supported by the National Lottery Heritage Fund, and curated and delivered by Create London, the programme will include commissioning opportunities for local filmmakers, after-school workshops and masterclasses, open air painting classes, bird watching and mudlarking sessions with the local community and more. In addition, disappearing histories of life in Thames Ward will be documented with oral histories experts, residents and creative practitioners, giving a voice to those traditionally excluded from historical records. Full details of the programme and how to get involved will be announced in the coming months.

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

Flood Barrier by Catherine Yass was commissioned by Create London, funded by Art Fund and Arts Council England, with additional support from The Elephant Trust. The associated engagement programme, Breaking Waves, was made possible with the National Lottery Heritage Fund, with additional support from Arts Council England and Art Fund.


Catherine Yass would like to thank 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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