9m (l) x 3m (w) x 1.6 (d)  

5,300 origami paper boats, yacht varnish, fishing line, steel supporting structure

Commissioned by the National Trust for Inside Out at Cragside.

This is a temporary site-specific work situated in the grounds of the former home of an influential 19th Century industrialist, Lord William Armstrong. It is a replica of a gunboat that was designed and built by his company and it is situated within a functioning spillway coming from one of the lakes that fed the hydro-electricity for his home.

Text taken the statement written for Inside Out at Cragside catalogue by Claire Morgan:

'Water On The Brain' Water, its properties and uses, clearly had a huge influence on the life and work of Armstrong. It is said that his family used to joke fondly that he had 'water on the brain'. I have used this as the basis for my work. The site I have chosen is the spillway at Tumbleton Lake. For me, the nature of this place suggests a point of transition or change, through the visibly moving water, and through the original use of the lake - the power of the water being harnessed and converted into other forms. I have decided to take elements from very distant elements of Armstrong's life, combining these as a way of exploring possible sources for his inspiration. I read that he often visited the area of Rothbury as a child. A watercolour of the three children of the Prince and Princess of Wales playing by a stream in Coquetdale (H. H. Emmerson 1884) drew me again to the theme of water, but from a different perspective. I wondered where Armstrong's fascination with water began, and started to make links between his childhood trips to Rothbury, and his home at Cragside and work in industry later in life. I liked the notion of him idly folding paper boats and sending them down streams as a child, how this may have formed the beginnings of his fascination with water, and where this fascination eventually led.


In order to reflect these ideas I decided to create a sculpture in the form of one of the ironclad warships Armstrong's company built. Over five thousand small paper boats suspended within masses of transparent nylon threads form the basic contours of a gunboat based on designs of the S.S. Drudge, a ship built by Armstrong Whitworth in the late 19th Century. The paper boats have been coated in Yacht Varnish in order to preserve them to some extent, though their true lifespan will be dictated by the strength of the water and wind they are exposed to. They may remain completely intact, positioned in a military fashion; or the strings may snap and the boats may distort, eventually forming the outline of something akin to a wreck or ghost ship. 

The work involved excessively labour intensive processes: folding the boats, counting them, varnishing them all twice, puncturing the base of each one, tying all the threads in position, sewing the boats onto the threads, positioning each one, gluing each one in place; the unpredictable nature of the installation means it may the case that it deteriorates more quickly than it was created. I enjoy this kind of transience and the fact that it reflects on universal processes and the unreliability of all things. The processes I choose to undertake force me to develop a closeness to my work. Making the decision to place such valuable things in danger is my way of trying to come to terms with the inevitability of things like death, and attempting to see this as just one part of an ongoing cycle. I have placed the installation in the spillway, which may flood at any time, in order to watch the tension created by the force of the water, and hoping to tempt fate. 


Photos taken by Claire Morgan.