Lifesaver: Amy Sharrocks talks about her coastal mass stumble for Museums at Night

By Mark Sheerin | 14 April 2014

As she prepares for Museums at Night 2014, Amy Sharrocks chats about her plans for a live art event in Swansea

Perhaps Amy Sharrocks needs to get out of London more. “I’ve been swimming a lot in the Thames recently,” she tells me via phone from a station on the city’s Overground.

“I swim in the ponds. I’ve swum in the Serpentine. But a bounded stretch of water is an entirely different thing to swimming a few kilometres along a stretch where you don't know where you're going to get out. You don't know what you’re going to meet.”

This May, thanks to the annual miracle that is Museums at Night, Sharrocks will be transported to Swansea, a town with two nearby rivers, a harbour and a five mile-long beach.

“It's an incredible town," says the water-loving artist. “With this fantastic harbour and bay and this harmony being found between all the waters they live between."

She has already visited with Swansea Museum, and reports being charmed by their tour of the city. Returning with tales of re-routed rivers, of harbours being dredged and refilled, Sharrocks is still enthralled by what she saw, with “water history defining every street we walked down and every view we had."

In the meantime, the museum is looking into potential locations for a quirky and daring event in mid-May, when Sharrocks returns. Her basic plan is to wade into the sea and fall over. Yes, that’s right.

“I’m thinking of it like a day trip, like a family day trip, so that you can kind of trip in the middle. It’s just a little bit more than a daily stumble. It’s a trip with a different sense of the word,” she says, demonstrating a potential talent for setting riddles equal to her evident gift for involving the public.

“Everybody can join in,” she continues. “You just need to have an open mind, a willingness to take part and a sense of losing your shame a bit, a sense of letting go of the worries of stumbling, of not being sure footed, a sense of actually letting yourself trip. That's all I'm asking”.

The artist also assures me there will be “quite a few" lifeguards present. But one lifesaver who won’t be is the famous dog known as Swansea Jack, who rescued 27 people in the 1930s.

Sharrocks says that, like any coastal town, her destination has a history with members of the public falling in. But she adds: “I love that after a while people were falling in just to be saved by Swansea Jack. It actually became more and more staged."

At that time the Welsh town was still an industrial powerhouse and the artist finds it interesting that the two other venues in the running for her services were also the post-industrial settings of Preston and Oldham. She draws parallels between her participatory fall into the sea and the economic crash that can pull the rug from under an entire town.

But not only is Sharrocks to be a museum guest, she is also a museum director. And her Museum of Water has more than 200 exhibits, including everything from a holy river to a melted snowman.

“It’s interesting how much people use water for ritual, across all sorts of religions,” she says. “But I think that just means we have that feeling for water, we have a kind of kinship.”

Along with this ever-expanding project, the artist points out she does also make sculptures, films and photographs. “But I’m just interested in people. I’m just interested in conversation,” she says, defining her practice as “Live Art”.

“It’s shaped by the day, the time, the person who meets me, what happened to them five minutes before - you know, the scent of jasmine on the breeze. It's just super alive to the spontaneity of the moment,” she says. In other words, anything could happen in May.

An unpredictable world calls for unpredictable art. “It is a very strange world to be making work in at the moment, with this sense of flood and drought," says Sharrrocks.

“Growing up in London I’ve seen all our access to water is entirely curtailed, is entirely piped and chlorinated so it can be seen as a water shortage”.

“I do think a lot about that living in London, with more and more defending against the water, and the Thames Barrier and that kind of thing, what that does to our psyche,” she continues.

Just as well, she can expect a break from the capital on May 17th. It’s Museums at Night, and here's another reason to dive in.

What do you think? Leave a comment below.

More on Museums at Night:

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Volunteers share all: Spencer Tunick talks about his daring project for Museums at Night

The Museums at Night blog

Visit Mark Sheerin's contemporary art blog and follow him on Twitter.
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