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Vauxhall’s Thames Horse Sculptures Make A Statement On Climate Change
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Vauxhall’s Thames Horse Sculptures Make A Statement On Climate Change

Picture of Edwina Boyd-Gibbins
Updated: 7 July 2017
Please note that this article was published in September 2015. Some or all of the information might be out of date.

There’s something in the water in London at the moment. For two hours before and after low tide, those passing the River Thames near Vauxhall will be met with an eerie sight. Rising up out of the water, the ghostly forms of four horses, two ridden by despondent businessmen and two by young children, can be seen standing on the riverbank. But what are they doing there? And what do they mean?

Designed by internationally acclaimed British underwater sculptor Jason deCaires Taylor, the solid grey, life-sized sculpture installation has been commissioned by Totally Thames as part of a month-long celebration of London’s river and to raise awareness of climate change and its long-term consequences for the planet and its inhabitants. The deeply political sculpture, entitled ‘The Rising Tide,’ will be on display on the foreshore of the South Bank until 30th September, and will be revealed and concealed by the tide twice daily.

Sitting squarely astride their steeds, which are part-horse, part-oil-pump, the businessmen have their eyes closed, seeming to represent the wilful blindness towards climate change and its effects amongst those in positions of power.

Meanwhile, the children, whose hands rest tenderly on the backs of their horses – in clear opposition to the businessmen who seem utterly disconnected with their surroundings – appear to symbolise those future generations who will feel the repercussions of climate change, and who will be forced to deal with its consequences. The children’s horses look up, alertly, into the distance, while the businessmen’s horses graze on the riverbank, taking as much from the planet as they can for themselves.

All of the horses and their riders are realistically portrayed, apart from the oil-pump heads of the horses, which refer to our relationship with, and over-consumption of, the planet’s resources — specifically fossil fuels. And with The Houses of Parliament clearly visible just across the rippling water, there is little ambiguity as to who the installation holds to account for inaction on the issue.

A passionate conservationist, Jason deCaires Taylor is also known for the Molinere Underwater Sculpture Park just off the coast of Grenada in the West Indies, as well as numerous installations that use materials designed to be assimilated into the ocean and develop into living coral reefs over time. His Underwater Sculpture Park — the first of its kind — was unveiled in 2006 with the aim of engaging visitors and locals with the underwater world and environment while encouraging divers away from the natural reefs, which have become over-visited.

When it comes to his latest commission — his first in London — Jason deCaires Taylor told The Guardian: ‘Working in conservation, I am very concerned with all the associated effects of climate change and the state of peril our seas are in at the moment. So here I wanted a piece that was going to be revealed with the tide and worked with the natural environment of the Thames, but also alluded to the industrial nature of the city and it’s obsessive and damaging focus just on work and construction.’ He added: ‘I wanted to create this striking image of a politician in front of the Houses of Parliament, ignoring the world as the water rises around him.’

Visitors to the installation can find approximate tide times on the Totally Thames website to ensure they catch a glimpse of the sculptures. Other events taking place in September as part of the Totally Thames Festival include archaeological walks, boat trips, and wildlife photography.

The Rising Tide is located at the Thames foreshore at Vauxhall, adjacent to Camelford House, 87-90 Albert Embankment , SE1 7TW.