It’s the middle of August in the Pleasure Gardens of Battersea Park. Even though the Pump House Gallery is closed Mondays and Tuesdays you can still visit Samara Scott’s site-specific work in the heart of the park. Near the large fountains that are the remnants of the 1950s Festival of Britain, are the mirror pools and Scott’s latest work. Scott’s practice combines the physical and the explicitly bodily with the industrial and manufactured. Her concern with ‘Developer’ is the situating of the park in a former industrial heartland – how it came to be a place of pleasure within saltpetre works.
Normally clear and completely still, Scott has transformed the two symmetrical pools of water into intricate sculptures. Large wraps of a stiff material have been wound into water which has been dyed with biodegradable food colourants. The effect is beautiful and also disturbing. One pool is the dark greens and blues of diesel, reds and purples with the fabric breaking the surface in a few places. The combination of water and fabric echoes John Everett Millais’ ‘Ophelia’ and her drowned dress underwater. The other pool is a metallic copper, even a murky brown in places. From afar it looks sludgy and muddy as though clogged with leaves, but up-close there is a sheen to the colouring and the objects in the water are like flashes of fish scales.
What is so lovely about these two ‘liquid paintings’, as the press release says, is their static movement. The water is at most times totally calm, showing the twisting materials and the play of colour within it, but with the small ripples of wind or a squally rain shower, the surface is altered into a dynamic and living being. Unlike other fountain works that serve as protest and political statement, these pools are gently powerful. This is public art that doesn’t impose itself on you, the observer has to hover, to seek, to actively look into it to interact. As I sit under the shelter of the nearby bowers, dog walkers pass by. Some stop to investigate, others don’t even notice that they are in the presence of art, even when their animals leap into the water causing a slosh and ripple that again changes the face of this ever moving sculpture. Like much of Scott’s other work the pools have a gorgeousness, a bejewelled colour to them that gives pleasure to the viewer. They contain colours that seem unnatural – psychedelic blues and spacey greens – but can be found in shells, precious stones and light hitting water. While the works use manufactured processes they are referencing nature and our use of and place within it – asking questions of how structures and communities form around such simple things as salt, coal, oil, gas. The breaking of the surface in Scott’s work is where our interaction with the hidden is brought into the open. ‘Developer’ is a nod to the processes of change, at a micro-level with tiny chemical shifts, but in a wider context probing how we develop the land and landscape around us.