"A temporary structure floats on Lake Semerwater, some way out. Connected to the shore by a long, narrow walkway it resembles a kind of pavilion, its sharp tapering sides descending to the water, reflected gold in the shallows."
David Murphy's installation spear was commissioned by the Dales countryside museum as PART OF A WIDER PROJECT initiated by Arts & Heritage entitled 'Meeting Point', supporting CONTEMPORARY ART INSTALLATIONS IN NON-TRADITIONAL ART SPACES.
Murphy's project, which highlights the connections between the museum's collection and the magical landscape from where many of the objects came, was selected in october 2015 and was realised in october 2016, the artist and museum worked closely together for the duration of the project.
At the heart of both the commission and the museum's collection, is a beautifully preserved bronze age spearhead discovered at semerwater in 1937, which together with the rich mythology describing 'The sunken city of semer', went on to inform Murphy's installation.
Spear saw an architectural-scale spearhead installed on the Lake’s waters between Friday 28 and sunday 30 October 2016, its distinctive outline described by more than 7000 hand-riveted glistening copper rings. The installation physically acknowledged the treasures the Lake has bestowed on the area, 'returning' the famous spearhead to the site on which it was found.
TAKING PLACE DURING THE UK’S MUSEUMS AT NIGHT FESTIVAL 2016, A SERIES OF EVENTS HELPed BRING THE INSTALLATION TO LIFE. MUSIC, READINGS, demonstrations AND SPECIAL PERFORMANCES told the many STORies OF SEMERWATER, positioning it as a site of mystery and ambiguity.
"In commissioning Spear we had an opportunity to create an extraordinary event in a beautiful setting and to inspire a large and varied audience with an unforgettable experience. It offered a unique perspective on the lake itself, its mythology, and the significance of the museum collection in relation to it."
Fiona Rosher, Director, Dales Countryside Museum
A spatial experience
It might take a few steps along the pontoon to feel the structure floating; anchored at various points in the shallow lake and with a reassuring handrail it is perfectly safe - but there is the inevitable sensation that you have left the solid land behind. The walkway is long and its narrowness emphasises that. A hundred or more paces later you are about to enter the structure itself. It’s a boat-like sensation, floating on calm water. This space can be a kind of refuge, it can provoke feelings of intimacy and solitude. From here, the hills seem closer, your body seems smaller, the wind seems cooler. Inside the structure the light is coppery-gold, and shifting all the time, reflected from the structure itself and shimmering across the water.
An acoustic experience
The chatter from the shore seems louder and clearer out on the water, amplified as the sound-waves bounce across the surface of the lake. Similarly, the birdsong is noisier and more difficult to locate. The water laps against the edges of the pontoon. Everything is moving gently.
An informative experience
There have been several recent discoveries of ancient piers that have begun to change the way we think about our most famous protohistoric relics. At Vauxhall, on the River Thames, two Bronze Age spearheads were recently found alongside the remains of a wooden structure. The way that the spearheads had been driven deep into the foreshore suggested that they had been placed there deliberately, probably as some sort of 'votive' or ritual offering, rather than simply lost or abandoned in battle.
This suggests that the pier structure may have had both a practical and a more symbolic purpose, for As well as serving as a bridge or jetty it may well have been a ritual or religious site.
about lake Semerwater
Semerwater, located 5 miles from HAwes in Wensleydale, north yorkshire, is a small lake with a big history. One of only two natural lakes in the Yorkshire Dales, semerwater and its surrounding landscape was formed by the melting of the raydale glacier. Its picturesque aspect which takes in lake, river and encircling meadow has attracted artists and writers for centuries, each keen to translate or record something of its atmosphere.
Murphy's installation continues that legacy, and marks 200 years since J.M.W Turner sat on semerwater's shore to make preparatory drawings for his painting 'Simmerwater' (1816).
Semerwater legends and stories abound, including most famously the tale of the sunken city detailed in sir William Watson's 'Ballad of Semerwater' (1904). In it, a weary and destitute traveller is turned away from door after door, eventually casting down the curse of a deluge upon the city:
THE BALLAD OF SEMERWATER
Deep asleep, deep asleep,
Deep asleep it lies,
The still lake of Semerwater
Under the still skies
And many a fathom
Many a fathom
Many a fathom below,
In a king’s tower and a queens bower
The fishes come and go
Once there stood by Semerwater
A mickle town and tall;
Kings’s tower and queen’s bower
And the wakeman on the wall.
Came a beggar halt and sore:
“I faint for lack of bread!”
Kings tower and queen’s bower
Cast him forth unfed
He knocke’d at the door of eller’s cot,
The eller’s cot in the dale.
They gave him of their oatcake,
They gave him of their ale.
He cursed aloud that city proud,
He cursed it in its pride;
He has cursed it into Semerwater
There to Bide
King’s tower and queen’s bower,
And a mickle town and tall;
By glimmer of scale and gleam of fin
Folk have seen them all.
King tower and queen’s bower,
And weed and reed in the gloom;
And a lost city in Semerwater,
Deep asleep till Doom.
Sir William Watson (1904)
About the dales countryside museum