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Edward Clydesdale Thomson

The Trauma rises up
from the mud

The boat hangs on a chain. It is a plain, flat fishing boat, suitable for one or two people. You can see this type of boat sailing the Volta Delta in Ghana. It has been around for ages and has spread all over the world. People who were transported to America in former times to be forced into slavery took their knowledge on boatbuilding with them, and therefore, this type of boat can still be seen in America as well. The boat hangs on a chain over the dock Prins Hendrikdok. It goes down, sinks and is being hoisted again. A repetitive movement of going under water and being pulled up over the water surface again.

The artist has had a thing for boats in the past couple of years. The installation that he made for Middelburg is the third in a trilogy. In Dordrecht, the first one will be realised: a big tjalk that is going to be dragged through the city streets next fall. Since the streets are too narrow -or the vessel is too wide-, pieces will break off on the way. The project refers to the important social role of inland shipping, but it has caused quite some commotion in Dordrecht.

The trilogy’s second part is virtual. In this project, the romance of a lone sailor at sea serves as a frame story in which questions about climate, weather, pollution, data, history and perseverance are being explored. It tells the story of Bas Jan Ader, a Dutch conceptual artist who wanted to sail from America’s Cape Cod to Groningen in a small sailing boat in 1975. His boat was found, yet he was not. By using live weather data and simulation technology, an online oceanic world is created in which the viewer can follow the small boat live in actual circumstances.

And then there is number three in Middelburg, named ‘Spellbound’. Edward Thomson: “The  installation is related to the dark side of Middelburg’s history: slavery. I wanted to create a work with fishing boats that had never been displayed in this context. Watching the water in the dock, I noticed how muddy it was. That gave me the idea of the theme ‘Freedom from Fear’. The muddy dock, together with the charged history of slavery; I consider it a trauma.”

The boat is being built in Dordrecht by people from his artist studio and local volunteers. This collaboration, this collective activity is part of the art project to the artist.

Thomson: “The boat is made from local ash. I didn’t want to import wood. We work from photos and illustrations. During our research, we found hundreds of different types of sailing boats, but they didn’t include construction drawings of the small local Ghanaian fishing boats. We do our best to work as accurately as we can and to come as close to the original type of boat as possible. The boat is entangled in a large chain being tightly tied with bondage art-inspired knots. In this work, we use the bondage-like knots not to have people, but a boat balance in a stranglehold grip. The weight of the chain and the holes in the floor make the boat sink. When it is being hoisted, the water runs out of it. Then it is like a fountain.”

“Absolutely,” he says, “the sound of the installation is important. We keep the motor that lowers and lifts the boat as quiet as possible. You can hear the chain, you can hear the water gurgling when the boat sinks, you can hear the water running from the boat when it is slowly hoisted.”

“My work is about time and space. I try to transfer certain histories into the present. That’s what is happening now in Middelburg.”

Edward Clydesdale Thomson (United Kingdom, 1982) is a Scottish-Danish artist living and working in Rotterdam. He is a graduate of the Master of Fine Art programme at the Rotterdam Piet Zwart Institute and the Bachelor of Architecture programme at the Glasgow School of Art. He was artist in residence at the international IASPIS artist programme in Stockholm, the Irish Museum of Modern Art in Dublin and the Rijksakademie van Beeldende Kunsten (National Academy of Fine Arts) in Amsterdam. In 2019, he established his own studio. Since then, he and his team have been working on various projects, both commissioned and self-initiated. Edward Thomson studied in Rotterdam. He had planned to stay there for two years. However, Rotterdam turned out to be a good environment for young artists, so the artist – Danish mother, Scottish father – stayed. He gained fame with films and installations about nature tamed by man.

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