Learning through Shipwrecks

A 75-foot shipwreck is about to be “unearthed” next to London’s City Hall. The wreck, a sculptural and sound installation entitled Reclaimed by the Thames, will be the centerpiece of “The Environmental Zone” at the Thames Festival, which runs September 10-11. The festival’s website explains:

Made from reclaimed timber, the life-size skeletal wreck of a ship will be built to look as if the earth has swallowed part of her hull … Over the summer term each school will take part in a half-day workshop with an artist to create a collage experimenting with the media of photography, drawing and painting, inspired by texture and colour from along the River Thames. Each collage will be printed, frame-stretched and then riveted onto the ship’s timber skeleton. In addition to the artwork, schools will be encouraged to write poems which will be recorded and played as audio within the sculpture, creating whispers from the ship’s past.

By all appearances, 2011 may very well be the summer of shipwreck-themed public art (see these earlier posts for other examples). Why? Becuase shipwrecks work–they attract large crowds of people and they offer fresh perspectives on any maritime landscape. Take Reclaimed by the Thames. Not only has it already educated thousands of London schoolchildren about history, art, geography and science, but it will soon serve an equally vital role engaging the general public. Best of all, the wreck won’t just be something to look at; Reclaimed by the Thames is going to be a tech savvy instillation that actually fosters public engagement. The festival website gives the details:

Over the festival weekend we will be running a public programme, encouraging participants to take photos using smart/mobile phone pictures of the textures seen in and around the River Thames and then texting them to a number (tbc), in order to create a large bank of images to be fed through a laptop and projected onto blank sections of material on the ship’s shell. There will also be the opportunity to re-create these textures using drawing and painting in on-site public workshops.

Genius! Shipwrecks–tools of the modern educator and public intellectual. If only London wasn’t so far away! I look forward to following the exhibit from afar.

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