Sky Garden
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Contemporary Art Society visit May 2004

Intervention in The Sky Garden
by Matt Stevenson

Part I - Chart Datum
27 May–4 July 2004

In association with the Royal College of Art

Part II - Chart Datum
10 March–22 May 2005




Chart Datum has been created for the Couper Collection in association with the Royal College of Art. The artwork involved a 32 tonne movable wedge of water installed within a 1000 tonne capacity Thames Barge. The wedge of water was displaced by a crated counterweight, and the action of the incoming and ebbing tides at the fleeting and grounding moments, when the barge floated off or settled onto the beach.

In this artwork, Matt Stevenson dealt with the connection between the lunar gravitational pull, which creates the tide, and the elements of earth, water and air.

For the installation, Matt Stevenson collaborated with Max Couper on the architectural transformation of the barge, as part of the ongoing Sky Garden project. The end swim plates of the barge have been partially removed to reveal the rudder, and the water and beach below. The aft collision bulkhead has been opened to create a viewing platform between the garden and the ecology of the water below.

Chart Datum represents the first in a series of sculptural and architectural interventions by Matt Stevenson planned for The Sky Garden in collaboration with Max Couper.

Matt Stevenson is a graduate of the Royal College of Art Sculpture School. This installation was initially presented in 2004 in association with his final degree show at the Sculpture School in nearby Howie Street, Battersea.

Chart Datum + 1.25m

Chart Datum + 1.25m is the first in a series of sculptural and architectural interventions within ‘The Sky Garden’ – part of the Couper Collection Barges. A 32 tonne wedge of water has been installed within the open hold of a 1000 tonne capacity Thames Barge. The action of the incoming and receding tides displaces this wedge of water within the hold. When the tide is out, the barge sits on the beach of the river. As a result of the shape of the beach, the vessel lists to one side and to one end. As the river level rises and the barge lift off the beach (the fleeting moment), the water gradually moves from one side of the barge to the other.

This shift is activated by a counterweight - a crate weighing 2.5 tonne has been positioned such that when the barge is afloat the barge lists to the opposite angle to when it is grounded. As the water moves, it mostly disappears within the cavity between the two layers of floor. It then begins to bubble up through the broken mouseholes (oval shaped holes in the upper floor of the barge). The gradual change in the piece is almost imperceivable, yet the overall effect is a distinct change to the space. The action of the tide upon the piece imparts upon it a lightness, which transcends its actual physically brutal characteristics. In itself, the barge is a formidable structure, weighing approx. 250 tonnes. Yet set against the unerrable power of the tide, it’s mass becomes insignificant.

The tidal pattern of the Thames is controlled by the moon. It does not conform to the 24 hour clock, nor to the 9-5 day. It is an independent element. Twice a day hundreds of thousands of tonnes of water are displaced by the lunar gravitational pull on the earth’s surface. The river is in constant flux, it breathes like a vast organism, and everything on the river must succumb to it’s rhythm. It is this intrinsic aspect of the river that has inspired “Chart Datum”. All the ingredients are naturally occurring, in making the piece, these key elements have been re-arranged.

Matt Stevenson has collaborated with Max Couper on the architectural transformation of the barge. Access to the space has been provided via the aft locker room. The end swim plates have been partially removed to reveal the rudder and the water and beach below, and a viewing platform has been created between this and the open hold. This provides a visual link between the action of the tide and the movement of the barge. The viewer can witness the action of the tide, and identify its effect upon the vessel.

Spending half an hour within The Sky Garden, one can witness the space changing, ever so gradually yet unmistakably. Like the river, The Sky Garden is in constant flux. The change of the tide, the movement of the sun, the wake of passing boats all effect the space. The sky too changes. The 90’ x 20’ open roof of the hold acts as a giant frame to the sky. A canvas which changes as the wind carries the clouds through the frame. Aeroplanes too cut through the picture, as well as passing birds. Chart Datum demands that the viewer slows down and harmonises with the rhythm of the river. The more time one spends in the space, the more one is seduced by a natural rhythm, which is incongruous in the context of London’s normal pace.

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