We were all winners that night. The efforts of so many admirable women were celebrated and, put them together in a group, it just leads to more progress. I was on a table with women rowers who support youth groups coming through the ranks. The discussion lead to the Henley Woman’s Regatta, established in 1988 to promote equality for women in the sport of rowing. Henley Royal Regatta started allowing very small number of women to compete in 1981, 142 years after it was established. Instrumental in changing the gender bias of the past, this new event gave independence to women rowers.
I approached the Chairman of the Women’s Regatta, Miriam Luke, who had also been nominated at the Sue Ryder Woman of Achievement awards, and I proposed the idea of doing a site-specific sculpture addressing climate change. The temporal necessity, the liminality of this historic period in time and the demographic of the event, afforded itself to such a piece. She was interested in what I would come up with. I came up with a plethora of ideas, and then, I watched ‘Question Time’. A Conservative representative stated that Thatcher was the first person to mention climate change. Thatcher, the visionary eco-warrior… It threw me straight back to a visit to the Big Pit Museum in Wales, where posters such as ‘Coal Not Dole’ adorned the windows of a 1984 picket-line caravan. GOAL NO COAL immediately sprang to mind. ‘Save the nation’s energy future’, not, ‘Coal the energy’s future’. The piece started to address the issue of Zero Carbon.
Henley-on-Thames Town Council is in a liminal, potentially, brink ‘Duchamp-Burdenesque’ phase, of declaring a Climate Emergency. The sculptural piece, at this stage, began to transform itself to also include messages relating specifically to Henley. Considering the demographic of the Women’s Regatta, it also addressed the international student protest movement. The significance of Henley to the 1984 Miner’s Strike is evident through its MP of 27 years, Michael Heseltine, who, as Minister for the Environment, closed 31 pits in one day.
It’s the liveness of a project that draws me to art. I find that invariably pieces get better as they hatch and grow. Space restrictions meant that instead of going across, one solution would be for the work to go up. I deconstructed the caravan and suddenly had an allusion to the tipping point of the climate crisis. Turning ‘protestial’ agency into collaborative agency, the work also lended itself to evolve into a participatory installation, taking form in the spirit of working together to protect the future.
Now for the irony. Heavy rain in the weeks leading up to the event cast doubts on the ground conditions. The potential necessity of trackway to protect from waterlogged ground meant that it couldn’t be installed on site. The climate change installation was ‘scuppered’ by monsoon-like downpours…