Art project reef gives every fish 15 their minutes of fame

You’d think a slowly sinking boat engulfed in smoke would attract a flotilla of rescue boats but the scuttling of Brioney Victoria was cheered enthusiastically – all the way to the ocean bed.

After winning the approval of arts organisations, conservationists, divers and specialist technicians, Simon Faithfull was granted permission to sink his boat off the Isle of Portland. 

The boat was rigged with cameras and the moving images streamed live online — the purpose of the conflagration being to show the creation and progress of an underwater reef to the world.

Fishy pursuit

Although it was not necessarily the persuit of a fish’s right to Warhol’s 15 minutes of fame the artist was persuing — the live streaming makes the installation a slightly fishy Big Brother parody. Surely another art lover’s armchair ‘immersive experience’.

Boat ablaze

The small fishing vessel was towed to sea and set alight and, as the fire burned, the boat slowly sank to the seabed To start a new life, gradually transforming to ecologically diverse reef.

Live feed

Onboard cameras live-streamed the sinking through a dedicated app and will continue to relay images of the defunct vessel’s slow metamorphosis from its final resting place into a new underwater ecosystem.

The cameras will remain transmitting for a year, with the images relayed to exhibitions in Brighton, Calais and Caen and archair critics the world over.

I can’t deny its a nice idea but the interaction seems so aloof.

“Rather poignantly it took longer for the boat to sink that we thought. Now it is beginning the slow journey of becoming a reef,” said Faithfull, a lecturer at Slade School of Fine Art. Half-brother to singer Marianne, Faithfull previously sent a domestic chair, tethered to a weather balloon, to the edge of space for an artwork.

New ecosystem

“A whole ecosystem will grow around the vessel soon. We’ll see plants starting to grow and fish swimming through the apertures. Something, which was part of our world until today, has now entered a different realm and is starting a new life. The whole process will take years.”

He bought the boat from a Canvey Island yard and customised it with a wheelhouse. Getting permission for the sinking was “extremely difficult”, said the Berlin-based artist, who aborted an earlier plan to launch the project in Brighton due to maritime restrictions. He is working with Wreck to Reef, a not-for-profit organisation seeking to regenerate an area of the seabed near Portland.

Wreck watch

In a gallery onshore two large projection screens show excerpts of the boat smoking and sinking beneath the waves. A series of monitors show the mysterious images coming from the drowned boat. The excitement for the artist is investigating “the mystery of the world beneath the waves and what happens when an everyday object crosses into that realm.”

The Portland authorities had no cause for alarm. “We informed the coastguard,” said Faithfull. “The biggest problem was keeping boats out of the way from our burning vessel so they didn’t block our cameras’ field of view.”


The Independent. Adam Sherwin, August 2014

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