February 5th 2004 - An ongoing project on Morecambe Bay
On the night of February 5th 2004 23 migrant workers from eastern China drowned as they gathered cockles from the sands of Morecambe Bay on the coast of north-west England. As a response to the tragedy I created a 40m long ceramic pathway to commemorate those who lost their lives.
The installation is made up of 23 ceramic forms each constructed from red earthenware clay moulded on to individual plaster casts taken from the ripples and depressions in the sands on Morecambe Bay. Each piece represents one of the lost cockle pickers and uses screenprinted quotations from press reports to highlight the issues of migration, loss and modern slavery.
This is a live project. It will not be completed until 2027 by which time each piece will have been returned to the sea 23 years after 23 people lost their lives due to the power of nature and the neglect of others.
Individual names have been added in Chinese characters by Taiwanese artist and calligrapher Dr Chun-Chao Chui.
February 5th 2004
The piece is intended as a metaphorical pathway to the families in China who lost relations in the tragedy and expresses the way that the coastal communities of Britain are linked to them by the events of this night.
The work is about the universal urge to be adventurous, to improve life and to provide for a family that leads men and women to travel far afield in search of work and prosperity and it is about those who mislead them and imperilled their lives.
The project acknowledges the forces of nature that still rule our existence despite the sophistication of modern technology.
For Wu Hong Kang and Cao Chaokun
"He had a red bag with him containing items for good luck" -piece for Wu Hong Kang.
"In the rich world he was invisible. He became visible only by dying" -piece for Cao Chaokun.
I was brought up in Morecambe and have family roots that go far back into the history of the town and the fishing industry. The incomparable beauty of the sands, sky and tide and the dangers they represent in fine weather or foul have been the background to my life which has been lived close to the coast apart from two formative years spent teaching in Thailand at the time of the Vietnam war.
This connection between the Far East and my home environment gives the Morecambe Bay cockling tragedy a great personal significance.
For Guo Binglong
"Tell my family to pray for me. I am dying" -piece for Guo Binglong. The top of the piece is printed with a map of Morecambe Bay.
These are his last words sent in a text message as he realised he was lost to the tide.
A film of the installation was made by Alex McErlain, Stephen Yates and John Davis of Manchester School of Art (Manchester Metropolitan University).
To date it has been shown at 9 film or ceramic festivals in 5 different countries from Canada to Montpellier, France.
For Yang Tianlong
"This is one way in which they work out their passage" -piece for Yang Tianlong.
For Wu Hong Kang
"February 5th 2004" was shown as part of "Sigh of the Sea " a commemorative event for the 10th anniversary of the tragedy directed by More Music Morecambe and staged on the night of February 4th 2014 at the edge of sea.
Community groups and visitors, many of them of Chinese origin, came together to use art and music to remember and celebrate the lives of the drowned cockle pickers.
The pieces are hollow underneath and will float for a while before sinking.
For Xie Xiaowen
This piece is printed with 6 passport style photographs of the lost cocklers one of whom is Xie Xiaowen.
It does not have any printed text on the side apart from his name in English and Chinese characters.
The Final Phase; The Return to the sea.
Since the 10th anniversary commemorations in 2014 I have started to return the pieces to the sea. Within one or two days the pieces sink into the sand where they will eventually breakdown and become part of the Bay.
My plan is to return one or two pieces to the sea each year on the anniversary of the tragedy and to continue to do this for 23 years from the date of the disaster. This will mean that the final piece will be returned to the sea in 2027, if I am not alive others will do it for me.
This image shows the pieces for Lin Lishu and Xie Xiaowen when they were returned to the sea on February 5th 2015. The sinking was off the shore at Bolton le Sands within sight of Priests Skeer the sandbank where the cocklers were stranded.
Previously returned to the sea were the pieces for Cao Chaokun, Wang Xiuyu, Lin Zhifang and Lin Guohua.
February 5th 2004
Victoria Eden, Vicky Eden, ceramics, pottery, installation, exhibition, clay, craft, art