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SINK OR FLOAT : An Artificial Island

Entering the installation created by Jessica Wetherly, we find ourselves surrounded on all sides by a calming but complex multi-layered artwork. Much like the nearby Farlington Marshes where the artist began her research for this project, the faux natural landscape, enclosed by bricks and mortar, appeals to the affection we have for earth and the flora and fauna which inhabit it. But, lurking beneath the surface are clues to the muddied truth of how our environment has been negatively affected by our attempts to change and control it for our own advantage.


Sink or Float takes its name from a simple physics game, guessing the result of dropping an object in a body of water. Whilst the subtitle, An Artificial Island refers directly to the city of Portsmouth and a nearby manmade nature reserve, documented in photographs which adorn the gallery walls. True to the two part title, Wetherly’s exhibition is both playful and deadly serious. Pops of bright orange and blue are scattered across the space like game pieces but in the creation of unsustainable habitats (littered with discarded oyster shells), the soil elsewhere dries out or is so polluted that we risk losing the rich biodiversity of ecosystems like mudflats and seagrass meadows. Potentially fatal for much-loved and much-needed species.


Some of the animals under threat are present in the gallery. A siege of sculpted fibreglass egrets have landed but what is their role? Why are they here? Are they entirely passive or can they take an active role? Perhaps as stand-ins for the artist herself they can be understood as valued outsiders who help to make some of the overlooked concerns more visible.


Reflective of Wetherly’s research-based practice, the gallery exhibition at Aspex is only part of an extensive project developed over the last twelve months. In the accompanying publication the artist has collated factual texts by local researchers and conservationists and insightful poetry to create art that brings together multiple perspectives: human, economic and even animal. This dense multiplex of information; intertwining fact and fiction is non-binary. Much like the maps and symbols overlaying the pages there are references to varied fields of study and the timescales explored stretch back millions of years; within living memory and out into a speculative future. Even Portsmouth’s own Dickens makes a brief appearance.

Text by Vickie Fear, Curator and Programme Coordinator at Aspex Portsmouth.

To order the publication follow click here

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