From the mouth of the River Mersey to the Ribble estuary stretches England’s largest undeveloped dune system – the Sefton Coast. This coast has a fascinating history, containing a National Nature Reserve, many Sites of Special Scientific Interest and is a European Special Protection Area because of the importance of its natural heritage. The landscape comprises ‘endless’ beaches, coastal marshes, pine woods, heaths and tidal estuaries, which permeate the perception of all of those that visit.
It is landscape alive with special wildlife and its coastal waters are ‘home’ to famous shipwrecks like the ‘Star of Hope’ – and the loss of life associated with these wrecks prompted the building of Britain’s first lifeboat station at Formby Point, in 1775. This coast also has a long and rich history of leisure and tourism, dating back to the mid-1800s and is ‘littered’ with the remnants of buildings and operational sites from World War’s One and Two.
The Sefton Coast’s special flora and fauna comprises nationally scarce examples and its big skies offer views across the Irish Sea, to North Wales’s distant promontories and mountain peaks, and, to the north, Blackpool and the summits of the southern Lake District. It is a wind-blown land that is constantly in motion; its stories are fixed in history and the Ghosts of the Restless Shore will allow its participants to explore not just the sands of time, but the sand beneath their feet; passing literally, and figuratively, on their way through Sefton’s history, ‘step by step’.
‘Ghosts of the Restless Shore: Space, Place and Memory of the Sefton Coast’ is an exhibition of new contemporary art by four artists (Mike Collier, Rob Strachan, Jake Campbell and Tim Collier) integrating visual, aural, historical and oral/written/textual experiences of the natural/social history of the Sefton Coast. It ran at The Atkinson in Southport from 22 August – 29 November 2015 and consists of pictures, poetry, sound, audio-visual material and photographs. The artists walked the Sefton Coastal Footpath together in the summer of 2014 (click here for further information about this walk) and the work in the show is based around experiences of that walk as well as a sustained period of research in 2014/15 undertaken by the artists into the social/natural history of the coast. The exhibition and catalogue includes beautiful botanical specimens from The World Museum in Liverpool. The aim of the exhibition is to foreground exciting new work by contemporary artists and to engage the public in contemporary cultural debates around issues of space, place and memory in relation to a specific area they will, more than likely, be familiar with. (The Atkinson is situated near the end of The Sefton Coastal Footpath). It will link art and science (natural history) and encourage visitors to see their environment with fresh eyes. Please click here to visit the project’s website.
Mike Collier uses local, colloquial, dialect names integrated into a series of colourful images. As a child, he and his brother, Tim walked through these sand dunes and along the coast extensively with his family, and Mike has incorporated illustrations and texts from historical family guide books about flora as well as drawing on, using, and displaying, specimens from the botanical archive of the flora of the coast held by the Botany Department at the World Museum, Liverpool.
Jake Campbell’s poetry weaves together a range of social and natural history heritage themes, from shipwrecks along the coast and the launch, at Formby Point, of the first lifeboat in the UK in earlier centuries through to highlighting key events from our wartime history in the 20th century (internment camps and pill boxes along the coastal footpath) as well as the coast’s unique fauna (including the Natterjack Toad – or, as it is sometimes known – The Bootle Organ or Birkdale Nightingale)
Tim Collier’s work looks in some depth at the ornithological heritage of the Sefton Coast seen through the eyes of a keen birdwatcher. He explores the ways in which we perceive ornithology and natural history in many different ways, using historical quotes from ‘experts’ in the field such as Eric Hardy alongside images of waders and geese. The quotes reflect the wide diversity of approaches to understanding and appreciating the context in which birds are located; social, scientific, personal, poetical and historical, and will help the viewer to understand the social and historical context of birding along the Sefton Coast through time.
Rob Strachan, sound artist, has (with Sam Wielh) created new audio-visual work that draws upon a fusion of contemporary recorded sound from the coast (natural, industrial, maritime and social), highlighting the key role that memory plays in framing our sense of place … and of self.