What do a painting, a military band, a musical performance, an exhibition, an event on water and a giant wave breaker have in common? They were all part of a project called ‘Heavy Rock’ by Plymouth-based artist Keith Harrison which took place in 2014-15.
The starting point was a historic painting in Plymouth’s art collections that showed the foundation stone of the breakwater being laid. Harrison set out to deliver a public art commission that would shed new light on this amazing structure and make a hidden process public.
Each year up to twelve 100-tonne concrete wave breakers are cast at Oreston Quay and placed in strategic positions on the breakwater.
The wave breakers help reinforce the breakwater and the protection it provides to Plymouth Sound’s harbour and anchorages. It’s a vital piece of work overseen by Babcock and the Ministry of Defence that many people are unaware of.
Harrison intervened in the casting process for one of the wave breakers, inscribing the names of the men who create them on it and installing hydrophone sound technology inside it.
The original ambition was to drop the wave breaker into position during a live event featuring music and a flotilla of boats, rowers, kayakers, paddle boarders and canoeists – creating a contemporary version of the historic painting in our collections.
Three attempts were made to hold the event but the weather and wind did not co-operate. Instead, the wave breaker was placed on the breakwater during more favourable conditions and an exhibition was held at KARST.
The exhibition featured a large wooden replica of the mould that had been used to cast the wave breaker alongside developmental drawings and the sounds captured by the hydrophones inside the wave breaker. A celebration event also took place during which three new pieces of music inspired by the breakwater were heard publicly for the first time. They were composed by British musician Will Gregory from Goldfrapp and performed by a 24-piece contingent from HM Royal Marine Band, Plymouth.
‘Heavy Rock’ was made possible by New Expressions, a national Arts Council England programme that fostered collaboration between artists and museums. It’s a great example of how something contemporary can be created with a bit of inspiration from history.
We’ll be looking at the breakwater in more detail on 27 May.
Find out more about Keith Harrison at:
- V&A website (from when he was the Ceramic Artist-in-Residence)
- Crafts Council website
- Jerwood Arts website
This video also contains an insight into Keith’s work: