Of Fireships and Iron, Medway Council Arts Team Printmaking Bursary 2017, 350th commemoration of the Battle of Medway.
The Battle of Medway, also known as ‘The Dutch Raid’, or in Dutch ‘Tocht naar Chatham’ (The Battle of Chatham) marked one of the greatest disasters in England’s naval history. In June 1667, the Dutch fleet sailed up the River Medway to attack the English fleet at Chatham, who were caught completely unawares. The Dutch broke through a defensive chain that straddled the river, towed away England’s flagship the Royal Charles, and burned a number of ships. To prevent their capture and block the channel, the English Navy sank around 30 of its largest ships. The attack was nevertheless a humiliating defeat for the English. In Holland, the action marked the highpoint of the Dutch Golden Age. Despite proving to be a crushing loss for the English, The Dutch Raid heralded the start of a period of great financial investment in the English naval fleet and as a result, led to it becoming the most powerful in the world, for generations to come.
As part of the 350th commemoration of this event, Medway Council awarded bursaries to local artists to make new artwork using innovative approaches to printmaking. The starting point was the collection of contemporaneous Dutch engravings held at the Guildhall Museum in Rochester. I focused on the theme of chains as a rich avenue for highlighting the human suffering caused by these two two slaver empires. Also, the ineffectiveness of the defensive chain seems relevant at a time now when some nations seem keen to raise their own chains economically or politically.
I created two sculptures for the commemoration: 'Ebb' is a bust constructed from salvaged chains, wood and a handmade, 19th Century iron grappling hook, onto which I have used acrylic and laserjet transfers to imprint the links with fragments harvested from the Dutch engravings. The second piece, 'Flow', uses the same process but on a set of loading chains that straddle the length of the gallery in an emblematic fashion.