Artist Stephen Turner has lived in his floating sculpture for almost three years, during which time it has been moored by the River Exbury in Hampshire and, later, the Leeds and Liverpool canal. Now his ‘Exbury Egg’ casts off for a different tour, exhibiting the artist’s work at watery locations across the country.
‘Watch your head coming through,’ says Turner as I climb into the giant, wooden egg. Inside is cosy living space that smells of the red cedar it is made from, complete with a small stove and shelves of books and art materials. A concave cabin. ‘The round shape of it meant that it was always warm,’ says the artist, ‘the stove heat had no corners to get stuck in, which kept it circling around the space.’ The egg has a skylight and a door on either side – one for land and one for river – allowing equal access to riverbank or kayak. Today, however, both look out on an exhibition space in the London Docklands. The egg has been brought indoors in order to exhibit many of the pieces that it helped Turner create.
There are small sculptures made from river detritus, natural and unnatural. ‘I don’t consider myself a carpenter, but I wanted to make use of what was brought downstream,’ says Turner. ‘Sometimes that was driftwood and sometimes that was litter.’ There are also products he created by foraging plants near the egg: inks from blackberries, oil from rosehips, teas from dried plants and gin from sloes. In a glass case sit dozens of pastels, moulded from the stove ashes of burned wood. ‘It was important to ask myself often “what is the human relationship with nature, in what ways are we disconnected?”’ he says. ‘I grew up in a town, live in a a town and, like 80 per cent of the population, my experiences are urban. As a society, we are often thought to be divorced from nature, not orientated by it and in control of it. So I needed to try and tune into a natural way of living and making things based on the what was immediately around the me.’ Fitting with his aim to subvert our top-down approach to the natural world, the egg itself is made from the shape of two hulls fused together. The bottom of two boats.
Turner is also interested in time and its effect on nature. In a second glass case are coloured jars full of plant stems, buds and flowers suspended in alcohol mixtures. A dreamy apothecary. The alcohol has drawn out the purple, greens and yellow colours out of the plants and into the liquid, leaving white vegetation behind. ‘I call them all ghosts because it’s a way of remembering what was there,’ he says. ‘But it’s not perfect – like memories, they carry on changing.’
Changes over time was a significant aspect of egg-lifestyle too, especially when it came to seasons. ‘With little electricity, I found that my waking hours were adjusted to natural light. It meant that in the summer I could work well into the evening, but in winter I would often be asleep by 4pm.’ It’s a far cry from modern culture and work ethic where ‘if we want to keep working we just prolong light artificially’.
The egg too, has changed with time. After three years in the elements, its shell has greened with submersion and greyed with the weather. Its sculpture and surrounding collection are a must-see for anyone with an interest in the art of outdoor living, and more philosophically, our relationship with nature.