‘Daydreaming is really underrated’ – ArtAttack interviews the duo behind ‘Flood House’

This Saturday, 30th April, sees the launch of another event in the Radical Essex programme, ‘Flood House,’ an architectural design project conceived by Matthew Butcher with accompanying events/commissions curated by Jes Fernie in collaboration with Focal Point Gallery. 

The structure itself is an investigation into the living conditions of the seasonally flooded landscape it will inhabit, a floating collaboration of art and architecture that is both a projected dwelling for a floating habitat, as well as a labaratory to monitor local environmental conditions.

The exciting commissions to be presented include an artwork by Ruth Ewan entitled ‘All Distinctions Levelled,’ which is a weathervane attached to the ‘Flood House’ itself.

ArtAttack had the chance to speak with both designer, Matthew, and curator, Jes, to get some more insight into this exciting and evocative project.

1 Flood House, 2016, Photo Brotherton-Lock.jpg
Photo Brotherton-Lock

ArtAttack: ‘Floodhouse’ is one of those projects in which art and architecture truly merge. Can you tell me if your approach in these cases differs from a traditional architectural project and if so, how?

Matthew Butcher: Hopefully within this project there exists a reciprocity between art and architecture rather than a merging of the disciplines – they are related but still have differences that define each of them. This will never be totally removed due to the complex histories of how they each emerged into the forms we understand them today. What I like about these collaborations is that it allows architecture to be seen and exist as definitively a cultural discipline away from systems of economics and politics that can shroud architectural production. Through this process the poetic and aesthetic discourse within architecture can be brought to the fore. 

AA: Do you have any special connection with Essex? If not, what drew you to working on this project?

MB: I am fascinated by that landscape within the Estuary. It is totally unique. Part rural, part suburban and part industrial. There are so many strange juxtapositions in what you are experiencing from one minute to the next. Within this there is a very interesting background for ideas and narratives about the nature of landscape and architecture.

3 Flood House, 2016, Photo Brotherton-Lock.jpg
Photo Brotherton Lock

AA: With ‘Floodhouse’ you are examining the idea of impermanence and instability in architecture. How do you feel the work expresses these ideas? 

MB: It presents the idea of a dwelling that rises and falls with the tide and that can be moved with the ebbs and flows of the current and tide. It is something that is responsive and malleable by its environment.  This is a condition that architecture has historically tried to negate, instead providing protection from the elements and from the weather.  

AA: When one thinks of curating, a work that moves from place to place does not usually come to mind. Can you tell us a bit about the particular challenges that have come with this fascinating and very unique project?

Jes Fernie: There’s a rich history of artists working within the unstable context of the sea, from Robert Smithson to Bas Jan Ader, and more recently Alex Hartley. The challenges are enormous (as Bas Jan Ader found when he went out to sea and never came back), because of the weather but also the extraordinary amount of red tape that has to be unravelled if you attempt to locate any type of structure within spitting distance of the sea, or the Thames Estuary in our case. But these challenges can also be peculiarly rewarding. 

In relation to the Flood House art commissioning programme, the main challenge was not having any idea what the artist Ruth Ewan would propose. Although I guess that was more exciting than challenging. We gave her an open brief to respond to the project in any way she wanted. When she proposed a weathervane we all loved the idea (including the brilliant team at Focal Point Gallery who we worked with on the commission), and the rich connections she made with the word ‘LEVEL’, John Ball and the ebb and flow of the tide. Both Ruth Ewan and Joanna Quinn, who has written a beautifully evocative story about a notional future inhabitant of Flood House, have brought something special to the project – which we didn’t have a clear sense of when we started out. 

5 Flood House, 2016 © Jason Coe.jpg
c. Jason Coe

AA: What are you hoping for viewers to take away from this piece? 

JF: There seems to be an expectation now that contemporary art and architecture projects located in the public realm should be interactive in a physical sense – there to inhabit, bounce on, or run through. This is a reflection perhaps of the intense pressure on funding bodies to justify their involvement. ‘Flood House’ is positioned more as a provocation. We’d like people to inhabit the structure imaginatively; project themselves into the future, consider their relationship to water, land and architecture, and the ways that we might be living in a hundred years. I’d like people to see it and think “Is that real?”.  It would also be good if they did a bit of daydreaming around the ideas in the project. Daydreaming is really underrated.

6 Flood House, 2016 © Matthew Butcher. Courtesy Matthew Butcher .jpg
c. Matthew Butcher, Courtesy of Matthew Butcher

– India Irving

The ‘Flood House’ launch will take place Saturday, 30th April from 4:30PM to 8PM at Southend Pier. Admission is FREE and will include a drinks reception. The structure will remain on view here until 12 May. For more information, visit the ‘Flood House’ website HERE.


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