Above: The sculptures seen from the walkway in front of the MI6 Building, looking north. When the beach is dry, they attract many visitors who want to get near to the figures.
You have to look twice at these sculptures to realise what is really going on. At first glance, we see four life-size shire horses, apparently grazing while their riders sit on their backs. By taking a second look we see that the horses and their riders have been beautifully sculpted but that the ‘heads’ of the horses are not heads at all. It is certainly a piece of artwork to make you think.
The four pieces, titled ‘The Rising Tide’, by British sculptor Jason deCaires Taylor, were unveiled on 2 September 2015. They will remain on show for about a month. The 41-year old artist is best known for creating the world’s first underwater museum in Cancun which transferred to the Bahamas. The four ghostly statues are only fully visible twice a day at low tide. For the rest of the time the figures will either be partially submerged or completely covered by water by the Thames which rises and falls about 15 feet at this point. The exact site of the artwork is at Vauxhall, near Vauxhall Bridge. Beside the bridge, on the south bank is the large MI6 Building and beside that is a slope allowing vehicles onto a large beach at low water. The four pieces are just next to the slope, in front of the Albert Embankment.
Above: View from the beach, with the Houses of Parliament in the background.
For the past decade, Taylor’s work has been motivated by conservation and thinking about climate change, with his underwater museums solely designed to draw divers away from the most fragile and delicate parts of coral reefs. His newest work in the Thames, he says, is no different in its political purpose. The four pieces represent the origins of industrialisation and act as a warning about the bleak future it is creating for the world by their representation similar to the four horsemen of the apocalypse.
The bodies of the horses are moulded from real life. However, each of the horses’ heads has been replaced by the ‘horse head’ of an oil well pump-jack, making a political comment on the impact of fossil fuels on our planet. The artwork was deliberately placed as near to the Houses of Parliament as possible where the politicians, who are involved in climate change but are in denial about its profound impact on the planet, carry out their work. Two middle-aged suited figures each sit on top of two of the horses, looking defiantly into the distance. They are a direct reference to the politicians and businessman who Taylor believes are allowing climate change to take place on their watch. On each of the other two horses there is the figure of a child – representing the future generations that will live with the consequences of over consumption. The work was commissioned as part of the Totally Thames festival. It is the first of its kind to be installed in the river and Taylor admitted it had been a challenge to ensure the works could withstand the water and the strong currents due to tidal changes. The horses, which were brought down the Thames in a large barge, were moulded from reinforced marine cement and have several tons of steel in their legs to keep them in position.