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Adrift by Hew Locke

A Cultureship Project for the Thames Festival

“Adrift” is a large-scale sculptural installation for All Hallow Church by the Tower, the oldest church in the city of London and one that has a particular relationship to maritime culture, with strong links to the watermen and shipping industry of London.

All Hallows has a dedicated mariners chapel, and is awash with maritime reference, including the book of remembrance for “those lost at sea with no known grave” and at the alter of the mariners chapel, a crucifix made from wood of the Cutty Sark and ivory Corpus said to be from the flagship of the Spanish Armada. It is located adjacent to Trinity House and the Tower of London and in sight of the river (knowledge of the different church bells along the banks of the Thames helped mariners navigate the river in thick fog).

Following on from his piece “For those in Peril on the Sea” in 2011’s Folkestone Triennial, Hew Locke is again working in an active church, this time with a new configuration of his piece “Adrift” which incorporates a life-sized boat, embellished with plastic flowers and assorted trinkets, taking its place in the light-filled Mariner’s Chapel alongside the other votive boats and historical memorials. “Adrift” is a radical re-working of Locke’s piece for the Day of the Dead festival in the Old Vic tunnels in 2012.

Over the years the media has been obsessed with major shipping disasters – The Titanic, Mary Celeste or Princess Alice. “Adrift” is a monument to the ‘small’ disasters, which loom large in the personal and family lives of lost sailors and passengers, but do not get the media attention. A memorial to the unknown sailor. The piece acknowledges the spiritual and metaphysical symbolism of the boat and evokes the final journey over the River Styx, Viking funeral boats, or Ancient Egyptian funerary barques. Locke also imagines this boat as having been on a long journey, lost and abandoned up a jungle river, time has passed it by and nature is slowly taking over.

Locke has been making or drawing boats since he first started making art. They are beautiful, a symbol of hope and protection, and a thing that can carry you to a new life. “I have been obsessed with boats for a long time and have a deep compulsion to make one every few years. For me boats are symbols of the possibility of escape to some golden future.”