Defining the edges of a continent, or island, relies largely upon distinct physical features. The White Cliffs of Dover are imbued with national identity as the English Border of the English Channel. But, where the seas meet low-lying land, the tidal levels can extend for miles: the island of Jersey doubles in size at low tide. Intrigued by the notion of where this line is drawn I wanted to explore the underlying physical geography that has shaped our island nation.
The malleable nature of porcelain lends itself well to scale depictions of natural topography. The fineness of the particles can capture the tiniest of marks, not dissimilar to the engraving marks that layer details onto paper maps. Painting onto raw clay I am mindful that the metal oxides settle into the surface like river sediments and that washing them into this porous surface is reminiscent of the tides lapping at the shore. I find it satisfying that, subsequently, the fired porcelain when lightly polished with a diamond pad leaves a surface that resembles a pebble that has been similarly affected by tidal forces.
A scribed line,demarcating the boundary between land and sea on a pocket globe at a scale of 1:170 million, would, if drawn on the earth’s surface, be 34 kilometres wide. The scale at which a map is drawn depends upon the level of detail required, and of course, the purpose of the map. Consequently,it is inevitable that mapping edits the landscape it represents; setting the point at which land is defined.
Ordnance Survey spent 6 years establishing a mean sea level, and since 1921 the UK coast and all elevations are derived from this Datum Point sited on the harbour wall at Newlyn in Cornwall. The fractal-like properties of the coast gives rise to the Coastline Paradox – it is impossible to determine a definitive length of the coast as it differs depending on the unit of measurement; in millimetres it follows every rock crevice, in metres it necessarily straightens the undulations and shortens the total. With longshore drift, shifting sandbanks and pebble ridges, and the North Sea nibbling at the soft strata of the east coast, the physical edges of the land are in a constant state of flux. How far the coast is deemed to extend inland along river estuaries is largely decided by the tidal reach.
From romantic notions of voyage and exploration from our history of trade and migration, to more recent leisure retreats, communities have flourished around expanding ports and resorts: as a maritime nation this transient place at the edge of the ocean holds a magnetic appeal. The River Thames was a vital conduit in the development of the City of London. At a recent exhibition in Canary Wharf I came across a tribute set in the polished stone floor – one of a series of mosaics by Emma Biggs.
London used to be known as the city of ships. A thousand vessels a week passed through the docks.
The prime meridian, set at the Royal Observatory Greenwich, dissects the heart of Docklands. As a cartographer with a love of the ocean, I am heartened that the Datum Points from which we map our island, and the world, are set in stone on a harbour wall and a riverside dock, providing a fitting connection to the charted and uncharted vessels that sailed to and from our shores.
Shapero Modern will have on display works from Loraine’s Coastlines Exhibition as part of an event featuring various works by this artist, to coincide with London Craft Week 2018. For more information please click here.