Graveyard of Lost Species is an ambitious collaborative project and temporary monument by artists YoHa and Critical Art Ensemble commissioned by Arts Catalyst. The artwork – created from a local wrecked boat, and placed back into the Thames Estuary carved with people’s stories of changes in the area – is a physical but decaying memorial to what is passing as our environment and society transform.
The project records and acknowledges wildlife, marine creatures, microbes, people, livelihoods, fishing methods, landmarks, mythologies, and local dialects that once flourished in the Thames Estuary and are now disappearing under multiple threats. The artists worked with local inhabitants of the Leigh-on-Sea and Southend foreshore from 2013 to 2016, to gather knowledge and expertise about these ‘lost species’ and discuss how people and ecologies adapt and respond. The culmination of the research is now imprinted on the boat originally called The Souvenir.
Steve Kurtz of Critical Art Ensemble says: “How do you make a monument that, rather than creating a smooth ideological space in which all people are expected to feel and believe in the same way, instead accounts for difference and allows for the contradictions and conflict of history, that lets all the different voices speak out? It might be a community but there is not unity of story – there are vastly indifferent interpretations of what’s going on. We are creating an anti-monument that will come apart, like the memories, over time.”
During Summer 2015, The Souvenir, a 40ft 12 ton Thames Bawley boatwreck, was resuscitated from the Estuary mud flats. She was cleaned and re-configured, whilst sited in a prominent public setting on Belton Way, the main thoroughfare between Leigh-on-Sea station and the old town.
Arts Catalyst’s Programme Manager Claudia Lastra says “Without the thriving local industry there once was, The Souvenir had fallen into disrepair and become impossible to restore. Since it was built in 1933, local people have memories of this boat. It is a landmark, part of the Estuary’s landscape, and part of the archeology of this fascinating ecosystem. This project allows its heritage to remain public.”
The Thames Estuary is changing rapidly with new industrial infrastructure in construction, including the largest container port in the UK. The estuary’s sea marshes, tidal flats and muddy waters are critical wilderness zones for biodiversity conservation and species migration. Simultaneously, they are also zones for leisure and tourism, fishing grounds and the sites of historic wrecks. Graveyard of Lost Species is part of a wider project commissioned by Arts Catalyst, titled Wrecked on the Inter-tidal Zone,that seeks to explore art’s responsibility to understand and communicate such environments and cultures.
Photo credit: YoHa and Critical Art Ensemble, Graveyard of Lost Species, Leigh-on-Sea, UK (2016)