Multiple self-contained vignettes weave together fragments and traces of the people and places that define the character of the Thames. Internationally renowned video artist Nikolaj Bendix Skyum Larsen's latest work provides viewers the opportunity to engage with the people that use and inhabit the river, the waterman and lighterman families who know it intimately, and who have plied their trade along it for generations.
About the Work
Portrait of a River has evolved in three stages: part one opened at the Museum of London Docklands in May, and reveals 20 chapters filmed at various locations between the Pool of London and Gravesend. A second batch of chapters was added in July.
The culmination of the project, the third and conclusive part premiering at Thames Festival, portrays the river as it transforms into the North Sea. Larsen depicts places by the river and communities living and working on it, and also explores the history of the Thames and its transformation from being a bustling industrial river in the past to one today with a greater emphasis on tourism and leisure. The chapters in Portrait of a River have a duration of between 40 seconds and six minutes and are played in a random order generated by a computer.
Each chapter conveys its own story, told through beautiful cinematography (Jonas Mortensen), a carefully crafted sound track (Mikkel H. Eriksen), and video editing (Nikolaj Bendix Skyum Larsen). Some clips are based on interviews, while others are recorded impressions of what the artist finds when he is working on location with his cameraman: an oil drum stuck on the southern riverbank by the monumental Dartford Bridge; the launch of a river boat from a dry dock in Gravesend; 8 military helicopters that follow the twists and turns of the Thames as they pass Tower Bridge and fly towards the Isle of Dogs. Sailing Barge Master Tom Cook briefly sums up his version of the history of the Upper Pool of the Thames whilst pointing out places on a navigational chart, and Captain John Potter talks about the tradition of Watermen working on the Thames.
Portrait of a River is a visual document that portrays the River Thames as a living, breathing river that has always been, and still is, able to transform and adapt to the developments of the surrounding world.
About the Artist
Nikolaj Bendix Skyum Larsen studied Sculpture at Chelsea College of Art and an MA in Media Art at the Slade School of Fine Art. Since graduating in 2001 he has primarily been working in film and video. Often his video work portrays communities and places. Over the years he has made filmic portraits about people in Chatham affected by the closure of the dockyard; Palestinians in Jerusalem and the West Bank; Indian migrant workers in Dubai (and their families in Kerala, India); second generation immigrants in council estates in a suburb of Paris and in Aarhus, Denmark; clandestine migrants in Calais as they try to get to the UK; and the community along bus route 343 in North Peckham. Larsen’s recent projects also include a film about a small village of Üyüklütatar Köyü by the River Meriç, which runs between Turkey and Greece, and a joint Mumbai-London film piece that will be shown this summer at Tate Modern.
Portrait of a River by Nikolaj Bendix Skyum Larsen is commissioned by Film and Video Umbrella and Museum of London. Co-produced by Film and Video Umbrella and The Cultureship. Supported by Arts Council England.