Pier to Pier is a public artwork exploring the 14 miles of coastline between Brighton Pier and Worthing Pier as part of the Brighton Festival. During May and June it appeared in the form of a very bright orange bench that vanished every few days and reappeared at points overlooking the shoreline.
The bench had a speaker inside it which played audio fragments from 14 conversations recorded with a range of locals of all ages and backgrounds forming a kind of coastal oral history that examined the themes of ‘living on the edge’ or ‘working on the edge’.
When I visited the bench at Shoreham Promenade it was in late May, the sky was bright blue but beachgoers were still in jumpers, at the edge between a long wet spring and the beginning of summer.
After a few minutes sitting on the bench I gave up my seat to two local women keen to find out more about the project. I wandered off down the beach to listen to the audio track that I had downloaded from the website.
A coastal choir sang a beautiful, body-tingling rendition of ‘Blow the Wind Southerly’. Different voices came and went, touching on their experiences of living along the south coast.
One woman with Lebanese heritage described how living on the coast made her feel connected to Beirut, being close to the sea gave her a sense of freedom and serenity, allowing her to straddle both places but not quite having to belong to either.
A scientist spoke about his work documenting marine wildlife strandings and explored the impact that human activity has on nature, finishing with a hopeful quote about the future of the planet by David Attenbrough.
Ron, a fisherman from Goring described a night out on the boat during an eclipse of the moon when ‘There was nothing between the sea and the sky. I had to keep looking back, but out there was a complete black hole. Completely black, not anything, nothing at all.’
Another woman reminisced about Jellied eels, whilst others talked about the sea as a place of solace during the hardship and isolation of the pandemic.
As I wandered around the beach listening to this I tuned in to the seaweed, the changing light on the ripples, the smell of the sea, the washed up cuttlefish and the pebbles. I felt an affinity with those strangers in my ears.
My half an hour with the orange bench made me feel more connected with other people than I had since the beginning of the pandemic. It was a welcome reminder that whilst we all experience ‘life on the edge’ very differently, we are all unified by our experiences of nature and our relationship to the sea.
RAPT theatre received funding from Enjoolata’s Community Grant towards its “Pier to Pier project”. You can still listen to the recordings here.