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A Mirror for the Sea

A Mirror for the Sea’ is an HLF and Royal Docks Trust funded project, led by Phil Coy.

Flying Angel House on Victoria Dock Rd was built as The Missions to Seaman Institute, the organisations flagship hostel. The building provided much needed shelter and spiritual support to visiting Seamen while their ships were in the Royal Docks.  The building is now mixed use, containing artist studios managed by ACAVA, private residential accommodation and services provided by Look Ahead Care and Support. The project has been developed in partnership with a team of volunteers from the Flying Angel community.

‘The fine institute had been opened in 1936 and is the largest under the Flying Angel flag. It contains 150 bedrooms, each well furnished with a spring bed, chest of drawers, hanging wardrobe space and a bedside table. A comfortable lounge and a billiard room adjoin each other and a canteen serves both. There are good officers’ quarters, writing rooms, a restaurant with first-class kitchens and a hall equipped as a gymnasium, with stage and cinema projector. Over the hall is the seamen’s church.’

As described in ‘Convoy XK 234 Arrives: The War-Time Story of the Flying Angel’

The red-brick art-deco building was the largest to survive the WWII bombing of London’s docks and continued to serve the naval community until 1973 when it became the Angel Hostel Merchant Navy College.

In common with Coy’s earlier audio publications the process started by choosing a square of land within which to make the work. This was done by matching a single pixel from a satellite image with a topographic map of the same area at a 1:1 scale. In this instance the particular square of land includes the former Seaman’s mission ‘Flying Angel House’ and the Royal Docks and Custom House neighbourhood. 

After setting up a simple screen printing press and sound recording studio at Flying Angel House and researching the history of the building and locality at The Hull History Centre, Coy made audio recordings with the men who lived, worked and visited the Royal Docks, Custom House area in the post war years many of whom stayed at Flying Angel House.

The resulting primary source audio recordings served both as material for new audio works and as historic documents that have been transcribed, archived and made available for public access from Eastside Community Heritage in Ilford, Essex.

The project produced two screen-printed audio publications, ‘Old Men and the Sea’ and ‘Seafearing Priests, Chaplains and Padres’ both London, 2013. The audio publications treat the recorded words of the interviewees as physical material and draw upon Coy’s sculptural training and on-going interest in the relationship between land and language. Here a specific square of land is rearticulated through the words and people who experienced it with a result that hovers somewhere between poetry and sound sculpture. The combination of typography, graphic design and audio editing transforms a strait historical narrative into jump cut phrases whereby our understanding of history and place is intentionally undermined.

The publications have been printed and assembled within the square of land in limited editions using silkscreen, archival inks, papers and CD-R. The editions have been distributed amongst the participants and partners of the project.

The project also included the production of a new website www.unnoise.org to host the work in an online mixable version. This will play host to an evolving catalogue of new  and archival spoken word publications and print editions previously only available as limited edition prints to contributors and collectors. UNNOISE allows users to explore and live mix the audio content of each edition.

The UNNOISE site also contains a database film where the user can mix contemporary footage of the area surrounding Flying Angel House with footage taken from films portraying life at sea for seafarers and chaplains.

PDF’s of the screen printed editions can be downloaded here, the related audio content can be listened to and downloaded here.

If you would like more information about the project please contact Isabella Niven, iniven@acava.org

We would like to thank the following people who supported the development and delivery of the project::

All Look Ahead Volunteers

Volunteer Artists – Yuen Ling, Jim Foreman, Evelyn Kieran, Emmanuelle Godeau

Look Ahead Staff – Chiki Onwukwe, Mark Lawrence, Barbara Lynch, Rosa Napolitano and George Garrad

Mission to Seafarers Staff - Sarah Wehner and Joanne Sanders

Judy Burg of Hull History Centre, Judith Garfield of Eastside Community Heritage and Gabrielle Peck of ACAVA