FlS10: False Lights, Seaham

Art inspired by the marine heritage of the North East
Performance of Fl10S: False Lights Seaham at Seaham Marina, 15 November 2014

Inspired by the marine heritage of the North East region and specifically responding to the 1962 George Elmy lifeboat disaster, Fl10S: False Lights, Seaham combined sculpture, light and sound. The work was available for the public to visit in a local church for two weeks before being transported down to the coast where a specially written piece of music was played on the instrument, accompanied by a local brass band. The performance itself marked the time that the George Elmy sank 52 years previously.

The project

On the night of 17 November 1962, on its way back from rescuing men in a fishing boat, the George Elmy capsized, resulting in the loss of all but one of the 10 men on board.

Artist Ed Carter, who is based in the North East and creates physical projects and new musical compositions, worked closely with the local heritage society, who had managed to track down the original George Elmy lifeboat and had it returned and restored to its former glory in Seaham.

Forma Arts and Media, one of East Durham Creates' consortium partners, commissioned Ed Carter to make the piece for the East Durham Creates Festival 2014 and the performance on 15 November marked the grand finale to the festival.

The instrument itself featured 10 large-scale orchestral bell plates, a set of tuned steel plates played using electromagnetic fields with lights that arced around the structure, mimicking thelights of lighthouses. The resulting sounds were haunting and other worldly, with many who visited the exhibition feeling that they had been part of an almost meditative experience.

A local church, St John's, became the home of the installation and Seaham Marina was the performance arena. The event on 15 November featured Gez Lowe, a locally based and nationally known folk singer and a local councillor, Sonia Forster, who read a piece about her own experience of the George Elmy disaster, and ended with a 20 minute performance of the specially written piece where the instrument was played alongside a brass band.

The main challenge was the size of the work and that it needed to be within Seaham, it meant that there was a small number of venues to chose from for the installation period. The performance on 15 November was an outdoor event, which meant that a secondary venue was needed as a back-up.

What impact did the project have?

Fl10S: False Lights, Seaham proved to have huge resonance with the local community and those who attended still talk about it months on. This is largely because it was related to a local event and local organisations, for example East Durham Heritage Group spoke to the artist throughout his design stage and they felt ownership over the instrument and the final event.

134 people visited the installation, a local man became a most valued volunteer as he was able to talk to the public about the piece and his own experience of living in Seaham and the effects of the George Elmy disaster.

" The uniqueness of the piece of art and also meeting the creator Ed.  I enjoyed meeting and talking with the visitors.  It was great to think that this happened in Seaham and it linked in with the town’s heritage." Volunteer

Having the installation in the town before the performance also helped to raise awareness; in the future East Durham Creates would want to increase the amount of time that an artwork was available for local people to see as the time scale was quite short and more people could have seen it if it had been there for longer.

The project highlighted how contemporary arts can celebrate and commemorate and how heritage can inspire artists. Future plans include investigating touring the work outside of East Durham.

135 people came to the performance, as this was one of the only paid-for events were enthused to see that local people saw the value in the event and paid to come along. Local people payed £3 for tickets and those outside of East Durham £10.

The connection with the local heritage group, as well as the interesting final performance site helped to spread the word about what was happening. Seaham Marina has been reticent about having evening events for a number of reasons, however, after the success of the performance, the owners are working with East Durham College on a mini-festival to happen in the summer. This is as a direct result of the positive impact the event had on audiences and staff.

Installation at St. John's Church, Seaham