Deptford Deposit: The Making of the Wilderness-Eroded Suite

Deptford Creek is a tidal waterway. Once the site of King Henry VIII’s shipbuilding and slaughterhouses. It’s home to wildlife, people, industrial estates, artist’s studios, a dance school. It is an open space in a crowded city. Open to the elements, wind, rain, tide, sun, and air. Big skies, full of planes, helicopters and commuter trains as they pass over the lifting bridge, a sublime industrial structure.

To represent this landscape, I deposited prepared etching plates, which are crude recording devices. A geographical experiment but with connotations of alchemical rites. By fixing the plates firmly in place with copper wire, to an inaccessible, muddy, smelly, unproductive space, it becomes a ritual of sacrifice.

The physicality of going down into the creek, sinking into the lower depths, descending the broken ladder from the hulk of an old minesweeper becomes a Romantic act. Holding the plates in one hand and with the other gripping the rotting rungs, which break underfoot, my weight only supported by wire. A high wire act, balancing and being careful not to mark the plate surface before it’s positioned or the experiment is ruined. I’ve drilled holes in each corner to fix the plate to its bed of concrete. But the wire has a life of its own as I try to thread it through.

I experience a thrill at the anticipation of potential change, what is happening to those surfaces. Life starts to form on the surface. The metal reacts with and merges into the creek bed. Rust spots grow in the centre and silt accrues. After a couple of months the weathering process and sacrifice of authorship is halted, the artefact reclaimed.

The decision-making process of how to etch and print these plates has forced me to develop new ways of working. The first plate was deposited with rivulets of silt. The silt was baked on by the sun and slow etched in acid. Subsequent plates have been literally ‘creek-etched’.

In order to retain the mud, rust, algae and other deposits and effects of subsequent plates, traditional printmaking techniques prove problematic, I experimented with embossing using wet paper. Mud and rust impregnate the paper but are unstable and flake off. So I turned to digital techniques.

Digital scanning and printing makes it possible to faithfully represent the visual qualities of the surface. It also opens up opportunities to resize, manipulate and distort. By enlarging the image, scale and perception shifts dramatically. The microscopic becomes macroscopic and it becomes possible to negotiate the landscape as a surface map. The local tactile and kinaesthetic features of the surface which were previously invisible are now perceptually clear. It turns the viewer into explorers, roaming visually and creating their own cognitive trails.

The Wilderness-Eroded Suite