“Unlike landscape, the sea has no past, no topography, Man’s presence on it leaves no mark; it is never still. Look out on it, try and define it and like Conrad, you will reveal only your innermost thinking. You can no more describe the surface of the sea that you can the surface of a mirror.” Phillip Marsden
In a place where sea, sky and land meld, the coastline dominates Essex. Here, people have long lived with the shift of tides and mudflats literally changing the ground beneath them, learning to adapt their ways of living to suit. That nimbleness is the ‘head start’ that Ken alludes to, and The Flood House, in the spirit of Essex living, is such an experiment. It floats an idea out there, and asks to imagine what it could be like to live among the seasonally-flooded seascapes. Designed by Matthew Butcher, the structure will drift from mudflat to mudflat throughout May, monitoring the weather conditions of the Thames Estuary.
“Where’s the Flood House tonight?” I ask at the Focal Point Gallery, as they kindly look up tide times.
“Oh, it’s out there, tonight’s it’s last night in Southend” beams Jes Fearnie, the House’s curator.
“You’ll find it moored opposite Adventure lsland. You’ll see the cargo ships in the distance. They’re beautiful!”
I’ve always had a soft-spot for industrial shipping, so I head to the seafront to find lights pulsing along the longest pleasure pier in the world. Last time I walked it was a reconnaissance trip for a friend shooting Alison Moyet’s comeback video. What better emblem of Essex for a Basildon girl?
Sea and sky have taken on blue and lilac hues, and the Flood House pops yellow gold against the dusk. Pointing my camera out across the water I come across a pair of well-groomed charmers who work the late shift at Adventure Island.
“What is it?” they asked, genuinely curious. “Is it a toilet?”
The form is based on bunker architecture, and seen from the shore it does have a utilitarian, somewhat sanitary air. So not an unreasonable question.
“It's a prototype for living on the sea” I smile, and hand them a Flood House leaflet from my bag. “If you go to the Focal Point Gallery, they’ve got the key, you can have a look around.”
“Ooh, you’re like Mary Poppins, you’ve get everything in there!” waving as they walk off. Aren't people just more fun in Essex?
I bet it’s balmy out on the Flood House this evening. The sun cascades purples and pinks to silhouette the gardens behind; couples stroll and cars rev down the seafront. In the distance, the lights out at Sheerness Car Port flare and sparkle, as the structure bobs tiny among this vast seascape. I don’t want to go back to Hackney. I miss the sea. “Let’s buy a big plot of land and all move here” jokes Joe Hill, the gallery’s director, cajoling us all into a new life as the talk ends. Where’s the future in London? The only way is Essex.