Man swimming on his back in the sea

Gary Coyle, from Lovely Water Series, digital archival print, 1999-2016

Saturday 18th February – Friday 31st March

Artists: Sally Barker, Tessa Bunney, Gary Coyle, Lynn Dennison, Peter Matthews, Anna Heinrich & Leon Palmer, Simon Pope, Gayle Chong Kwan, Anna Sikorska, Kit Wise & Tace Kelly, Sea Swim

Scarborough exhibition venues:
Crescent Arts, Woodend Gallery, Farrer’s Bar at The Spa and in the foyer at Stephen Joseph Theatre

Mondays – Fridays 10.00am – 5.00pm
Saturdays 10.00am – 4.00pm
Coastival: Sunday 19th February 10.00am – 5.00pm
Admission is free

Curated by Lara Goodband

We’re delighted to be hosting the exhibition Sea Swim: Head Above Water as it reaches its final showing in Scarborough on a coastal tour. Opening in February as part of Coastival 2017, it’s a multi-venue exhibition with a selection of work exploring sea-related themes. The exhibition includes work in a wide range of media, by artists of international standing.

The transformative effects of sea bathing that inspire artists and writers are captured in the exhibition, exploring its sensations, stories and psychological impact. ‘Head Above Water’ reveals the embodied imagination of the swimmer’s experience through film, photography, sculpture, drawing and poetry at venues around Scarborough.

Anna Sikorska, Buoys,(detail) ceramic, 2016 (clays of different origin)

Anna Sikorska, Buoys,(detail) ceramic, 2016 (clays of different origin)

The way the shoreline and the sea changes both our physical experience and the way we look at the human body, has long been a subject for artists and writers. Whether it be from rocks or a beach, the place where we enter the sea is a point of transition between weight and weightlessness, between our life on land with all its noisy complexities and the silence and strangeness of the sea. Through the development of a range of relatively cheap waterproof technologies the point of view of the swimmer can now be explored by artists more intimately than ever before.

‘Head Above Water’ brings together artworks that are sited in and around the coast, and which explore the transformative effects of this liminal zone. Time and timelessness are recurrent themes. The tide comes in and erases the traces of footprints on the sand and hides the shore; it goes out and reveals the hidden and leaves the beach fresh for us once again. This is paralleled in artistic acts and processes that record making and unmaking, doing and undoing. Swimming becomes an act of drawing, or measuring, in the full knowledge that the line that is taken for a swim will disappear into the sea. Drawn by and through water, this work is haunted by the memory of encounters with its fluid energy in a place where the trade-off between freedom and danger is constantly in negotiation.

Such physical experiences may be at the root of myths, religions and stories connected with the sea. Many of the artists in this exhibition seek to connect these narratives with the physical threat and possibility of taking the plunge. The shore is both a site of longing to set out, and a place of refuge and return. It’s both erotic and dangerous, a place of sublime sensation. When the swimmer enters the sea they’re stripped back to a common body, and when they emerge, they return renewed to the strangeness of their lives.

Tessa Bunney, Porthtowan Pool, Cornwall, Tidal Pool series, inkjet print, 2011

Tessa Bunney, Porthtowan Pool, Cornwall, Tidal Pool series, inkjet print, 2011

The shore and coast can be misread as the edge of the land when in fact it is central to our history as a species, and a place where the linear trajectory of our culture is thrown into sharp relief by the sea’s timelessness. Through participatory art practice, ecological perspectives, rubbish, voices, pleasure-seeking, industry, social interaction and organisation – all are transformed into things rich and strangely human by getting under the sea’s skin and letting it get under ours.

Sea Swim explores, with groups of swimmers in Plymouth, Folkestone and Scarborough, how swimming in the sea changes the way we feel ourselves to be in our bodies.


Funding partners and venues:


Participating and supporting venues in Scarborough: