To the River; live event/film/sound/instalation/book; Sophy Rickett; 2010

Image:Owain Jones
Sophy: Owain Jones

About the making of the artwork.

“The starting point, and inspiration for To The River is the Severn Bore – the amazing and spectacular tidal wave that runs along the river Severn during the moon’s equinox.  It is a subject that has resonance on a local level but also I’m interested in its ‘agency’ in much broader political and cultural terms as well.  I am interested in exploring ideas around politics and the environment, and also in the nature of the very demanding and teleological relationship we as humans have with the natural world.

Some of my photographic and video work has explored moments involving the encounter between people and nature, and the implicit human desire to connect with or to experience a sense of the ‘sublime’.  My work has also explored photography and film’s fundamental role as a mediator – that is, both in terms of imagery generated, as well as of the actual physical experience of using a camera in the ‘natural world’.

I am particularly interested in the relationship between contingency and the sublime, and saw something of this in the crowds of people who cluster along the banks of the river at night to watch the wave go past.  Working on location, on the bank of the river, I worked closely with these crowds of people, filming them in the dark under specially installed floodlights.  I also recorded them as they waited, and fragments of this spoken sound, along with the ambient noise of the landscape and the river forms a central element of the work.


3 large projection screens will be installed in the space.  They depict the crowd, picked out of the darkness by the floodlights as they wait in the landscape for the wave to pass.

A defining aspect of To The River is its signature use of sound.  Twelve tracks of sound, routed to 12 speakers placed at different heights around the exhibition space will convey the sound in two different ways:

1. Looped sounds from the crowds, voices, fragments of conversation, shuffling of feet etc, will be routed to each speaker, as if as group is present just through the sound of them, as if these isolated groups are haunting the space.  To encounter them, the viewer must move around the space.  As they leave the sound from one group, they begin to hear the sound from another, so that none of the groups can be heard at once.

2. In contrast, the sound of the wave as it approaches, and then retreats again can be heard throughout the whole space, because it will be routed, in a linear way, into all speakers, so that the sound passes from one speaker to the next.  The effect is of a continuous noise of water that, just for a moment, seems to physically envelop the entire space.

Photographs and Archive

Alongside the moving image and sound installation, I will produce series of photographs that relates to the installation.

I am also in the process of generating an archive of material that relates, in one way or another, to the Bore.  The archive is beginning to form an attempt almost to ‘explain’ as fully as possible the phenomenon, but at the same time acknowledging the absolute specificity and partiality of any ‘explanation’. I am particularly interested in the archive in terms of ‘real’ lived experience, and enjoy the absurdity inherent in the relationship between the two.

In the exhibition, parts of this research will be made into prints, and will be installed in a separate gallery, thus giving some context to the installation. I am interested in the archive from a conceptual point of view – but also acknowledge it will be helpful to the visitors for practical reasons, by providing a detailed description of the phenomenon itself in quite pragmatic, and relatively objective terms.”

Sophy Rickett 8th February 2011


A book version of the artwork was available for purchase from Conerhouse Publications.

To The River was commissioned by Elena Hill, in association with Arnolfini and Artsway.

Jump to the place marker on the SEAA map here

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