Come hell or high water: performances on the Thames shore welcome the summer solstice

Luna Montenegro and friends performing music and incantations by the River Thames Photo: Louisa Buck

Hidden down below the shiny new developments and towering high rises of Londons Canary Wharf business district, is a small patch of River Thames foreshore that can only be reached at low tide. Since the end of last year, this muddy, pebbly beach at Limehouse Reach has been the site of some remarkable monthly events that stand as testament to a communal creative spirit even at the height of a pandemic. Come Hell or High Water launched on 21 December last year as a yearlong collective action instigated by the veteran performance artist Anne Bean, along with a band of kindred spirits, including the artist Hayley Newman and the artist-choreographer Harriet Latham (granddaughter of British conceptual art pioneer John Latham). According to Bean, the initial idea was to create a “pocket of resistance” by activating this overlooked space that appears on no map and enjoys a limbo status “between water and land, private and public, wealth and poverty, past and present and an unknowable future”.

The fact that that Beans “pocket of resistance” also lies outside the jurisdiction of Canary Wharf and the Port of London authority was put to the test back at the winter solstice launch in December when neither the river police nor private security guards could intervene to prevent an inaugural performance involving three body-painted Neo Naturists and a yuletide fire inside a metal wheelbarrow.

Since then, other monthly manifestations have included a solidarity walk for the Russian LGBT+ activist Yulia Tsvetkova; rituals to celebrate the Chinese New Year; and the naked septuagenarian artist Bob Parkes braving the full force of Storm Dennis in February as he processed down to the shoreline playing a flute and accompanied by the guttural sounds of the 30-strong (human) Animal Choir.

The Neo Naturists inaugurating Come Hell or High Water in December 2019 © David Hoffman 2019

Then came lockdown when Come Hell or High Water lived up to its name with Bean, who lives nearby, doggedly making sure there was something new to animate the exposed foreshore every month, even if the audience was only the occasional dog walker or local resident visiting the shops. “I was determined to continue in a physical way every month—it could not just become an online presence,” she says. Some performers preferred to stay away and send extended accounts of works enacted at home. Others integrated Thameside art-making into their legitimate exercise. Pieces were also installed in situ as animating presences to be encountered in a single day. Among these were Beans lengths of ribbons stretched above the shore to be played at different times by both air and water, or Fran Cottells blue and gold inflatable rings supported by invisible fishing line that seemed to be floating in the sky like a fleet of UFOs.

Now that carefully spaced gatherings are again permitted in public places, last Sunday saw a day-long Thameside gathering to celebrate the summer solstice as Come Hell or High Water marked the first half of this benighted year along with the halfway point of its own 12-month span. Among the socially-distanced Read More – Source