Suzanne Marie Taylor, University of Portsmouth
I am a third-year PhD student in the School of Art, Design and Performance at the University of Portsmouth, and my background is in the performing arts and archaeology. My current practice research is transdisciplinary whereby I interpret and engage with archaeology through performance. Still Life ‘Movy is my 45 minute one-woman ethnodrama for which I am researcher, archaeologist, curator and performer. The subject of my practice research project is WW1 submarine chaser ‘Movy’ motor launch [ML]286, whose shipwrecked remains are hulked at BJ Wood & Son Boatyard on the Thames foreshore in Isleworth Ait, West London.
Motor launches were nicknamed ‘Movies’ (Nutting 1920, 29-30) due to the animated way in which they
moved in the water.
‘There’s something about this name ‘Movy’ which seems to fit, for the motor launch is nothing if not movement. You require sea-legs, sea arms, sea-head and a kind of armour-plated stomach well described as the dreadnought type’Dawson 1918
Although ML286 appears to be still in her muddy boatyard landscape, the vessel is still very much a ‘Movy’ possessing an ongoing vitality and lively presence in her natural surroundings. ML286 is submerged in mud and stories and has a vibrant narrative to tell.
From May 1917 to October 1918, ML286 served in the Auxiliary Patrol Areas II and III (Orkneys and Shetlands), comprising of the Pentland Firth and Widewall, Switha Boom, Kirkwall, Stromness and Longhope Harbour (Auxiliary Patrol Areas II and III, 1917, January to June, Auxiliary Patrol Areas II & III, 1917, July to December, Auxiliary Patrol Areas II & III, 1918, January to June, Auxiliary Patrol Areas II & III, 1918, July to December).
By the Second World War, ML286 had undergone several ownerships and name changes such as Cordon Rouge, but was eventually renamed Eothen (Brann 1989, 127). The vessel as Eothen was one of the small craft listed in the Ministry of War Transport as utilised in Operation Dynamo on the 26th May 1940 (Divine 1945/2018, 258). In August 1940 Eothen was returned to her owners and continued her life as a houseboat until the 1980s, when the vessel was permanently abandoned by her owners and discarded at BJ Wood & Son Boatyard in Isleworth Ait (Brann 1989, 127) where she remains at present.
As a response to ML286’s linear timeline, my practice research project Still Life ‘Movy’ presents a multi-temporal ML286 whereby the vessel is ‘not made up of a series of successive temporalities but is basically multi-temporal at any time’ (Olivier 2001, 69-70). Still Life ‘Movy’ presents what I acknowledge as the vessel’s ‘stillness’ by creatively weaving past, present and future of the vessel’s ongoing story through the multi-narratives of personal accounts, historical and archival documents, poetry and sea shanties. Through performance, Still Life ‘Movy’ creatively tells the complex story of the archaeology of a decaying war ship and her ghosts, the Naval history of Portsmouth and Southampton, the wartime history of Orkney, the First and Second World Wars, and the thriving biodiversity of a boatyard ecosystem of which the shipwreck is a part, as an alternative way of interpreting and engaging with the vessel’s multifaceted past.
Utilising performance as my archaeological trowel as a less invasive means to excavate the network of stories of ML286 and her ghosts, the vessel is able to remain peacefully in situ as a Veteran of two World Wars, while actively contributing to the biodiversity of her boatyard’s ecosystem through her decay, facilitating new life in her lush and thriving landscape.
Still Life ‘Movy’ is very much a participatory project between ML286 and me, and between me and my research participants. It is also a communicative project with ML286 as medium for the spirits of the dead – the officers of the Royal Naval Volunteer Reserve who served in the WW1 Motor Launch Patrol. During my research, I have felt the palpable presence of those who served on the MLs, and I have been led to their personal narratives they left behind. Utilising those narratives as well as archival narratives, poetical narratives, the narratives of my research participants, ML286’s narrative and my own narrative, I was able to curate the history and archaeology of ML286 and devise Still Life ‘Movy’.
I have performed Still Life ‘Movy’ in situ in the body of ML286, as well as ex situ at the University of Portsmouth. Most recently I performed at Southampton City Art Gallery, where two of Lt Geoffrey Stephen Allfree’s watercolours (Camouflaged Ships in Portsmouth Dry Dock (1917) and Camouflaged Ships in Southampton Water (1917)) are archived.
Included in Still Life ‘Movy’ are the poetical works and narratives of Sub-Lieutenant Rupert Brooke RNVR, Sub-Lieutenant William Denis Browne RNVR, T S Eliot, Lieutenant Donald Maxwell RNVR, Lieutenant Gordon S Maxwell RNVR, Lieutenant-Colonel John McCrae, Lieutenant Coningsby Dawson, Lieutenant Eric P Dawson RNVR, John Keats, and Alfred, Lord Tennyson. I have also included the narratives of War Artist Lieutenant Geoffrey Stephen Allfree RNVR- Commander of ML286 who drowned saving the life of one of his crew on the 29th September 1918 (The Rayne Foundation 1988,10), as well as the narrative of his daughter Stephanie Allfree Godwin who greatly wished that her father and his paintings would be remembered (Godwin 1988). Through Still Life ‘Movy’, Lt Geoffrey Stephen Allfree and his paintings are honoured and remembered, and their poignant story lives on. It is a technically simple project, comprised of hand-made props, including a hand-drawn reproduction of the Zeebrugge Concert poster.
My costume is simple, comprised of my own archaeological kit, with my created logo for the project on the sleeve of my shirt. In addition, the set includes some boatyard mud, my gloves and brush, and a ukulele. I also created by hand a replica of ML286’s transom which I painted with mud from the boatyard site. Still Life ‘Movy’ demonstrates that imagination and storytelling are at the heart of my practice research project, and that my project does not require an elaborate set or sound and lighting design. I created my own sounds, movements and atmosphere using my own female voice and body. I am a conduit for ML286 and for those who went before in the WW1 Motor Launch Patrol, and the experience has been incredibly humbling.
In the performing of Still Life ‘Movy’, I am connected at all times to the story of ML286 and to her ghosts, and to the stories of all those who contributed and continue to contribute to the vessel’s narrative. Still Life ‘Movy’ demonstrates that the archaeology of ML286 is multi-vocal, multi-layered, multi-temporal, poetical and performative. It further demonstrates that archaeological interpretation is not limited to full scale digs, costly conservation, and material culture being reduced to distant untouchable objects in a museum. ML286’s vibrant archaeology, like performance, is a continuous, moving experience of past, present and future, with an everlasting animated preservation in the landscape of body, heart, and memory.
SIRFA Symposium 2023
With ML286’s significant connection to Orkney’s wartime history, it was a very poignant and meaningful experience to visit Orkney as a ScARF Student Bursary recipient and attend the SIRFA symposium in March 2023. It was an incredible experience to be on the waters of Scapa Flow, where ML286 and her Commander (Lt Geoffrey Stephen Allfree RNVR) once served. It was particularly meaningful to visit the Scapa Flow Museum on the Island of Hoy and experience a first-time viewing of Lt Allfree’s painting Submarined Ship Coming into Kirkwall 1917 (1917). I included my thoughts of this significant moment in my amendment to Still Life ‘Movy’. I very much hope to share Still Life ‘Movy’ and my transdisciplinary practice research of ML286 with Scotland and the Orkney Islands, where the vessel’s incredible story is intrinsically linked.
Allfree, G S 1917 Camouflaged ships in Portsmouth dry dock [Watercolour], Southampton City Art Gallery: Southampton.
Allfree, G S 1917 Camouflaged ships in Southampton water [Watercolour], Southampton City Art Gallery: Southampton.
Allfree, G S 1917 Submarined ship coming into Kirkwall 1917 [Oil on board], Scapa Flow Museum, Orkney. Available at: https://artuk.org/discover/artworks/submarined-ship-coming-intokirkwall-167445
Asquith, A 1940 The collected poems of Rupert Brooke: With a memoir, Sidgwick & Jackson, Ltd:
Auxiliary patrol weekly reports, areas II and III, Orkneys and Shetlands, 1917, January – June (ADM 137/522) 1917 The National Archives, Kew: United Kingdom.
Auxiliary patrol weekly reports, areas II and III, Orkneys and Shetlands, 1917, July – December (ADM 137/523) 1917 The National Archives, Kew: United Kingdom.
Auxiliary patrol weekly reports, areas II and III, Orkneys and Shetlands, 1918, July – December (ADM 137/944) 1918 The National Archives, Kew: United Kingdom.
Auxiliary patrol weekly reports, areas II and III, Orkneys and Shetlands, 1918, July – December (ADM 137/945) 1918 The National Archives, Kew: United Kingdom.
Bond of sacrifice – First World War portraits collection. Lieutenant Geoffrey Stephen Allfree, Royal Naval Volunteer Reserve. Available at: https://www.iwm.org.uk/collections/item/object/205289510
Brooke, R 1919 1914 & other poems (27th edition), Sidgwick & Jackson Ltd: London.
Browne, D 1940 The collected poems of Rupert Brooke, with a memoir, Sidgwick & Jackson, Ltd: London.
Dawson, C 1917 Carry on: Letters in War-time, John Lane Company: London.
Dawson, E P 1918 Pushing water, John Lane Company: London.
Eliot, T S 1942 Little Gidding, Faber and Faber Limited: London.
Godwin, S A 1988 Letter to the Directors of the Rayne Foundation, Museum of Modern Art: Oxford.
Marsh, E (ed) 1940 The collected poems of Rupert Brooke, with a memoir, Sidgwick & Jackson, Ltd: London.
Maxwell, D 1934 Colour sketching in chalk, Sir Isaac Pitman & Sons, Ltd: London.
Maxwell, G S 1920 The Naval Front, A & C Black, Limited: London.
Maxwell, G S 1920 The Motor Launch Patrol, J M Dent and Sons Limited: London.
Maxwell, G S 1919 The rhymes of Amot Orlaunch, and other M L odies and verses, J M Dent and Sons Limited: London.
Nutting, W W 1920 The Cinderellas of the fleet. The Standard Motor Construction Co. The Rayne Foundation. 1988, Geoffrey S. Allfree 1889-1918. The Fallen: An exhibition of nine artists who lost their lives in World War One, 8-11.
Sutphen, H R 1920 ‘Prologue’, in Maxwell, G S (ed) The Motor Launch Patrol, J M Dent and Sons Limited: London, 1-9.
Brann, C 1989 The Little Ships of Dunkirk, Collectors’ Books Limited: London.
Divine, A D 2018 Dunkirk, Faber & Faber Ltd: London.
Olivier, L C 2001 Duration, Memory and the Nature of the Archaeological Record’, in Karlsson, H (ed) It’s about time: The concept of time in archaeology, Bricoleur Press: Goteborg, 61-70.