Artist Simon Faithfull sets fire to and sinks boat off Dorset for coral reef project

Farewell to the ‘Brioney Victoria’ – hello to a new underwater installation

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The Independent Culture

The sight of a boat, engulfed in smoke and slowly sinking to the ocean floor, might normally be expected to attract the authorities.

But the final voyage of the Brioney Victoria was cheered on from the Dorset shore by a leading artist who created the conflagration in order to produce a unique underwater installation.

After winning the approval of arts organisations, conservationists, divers and specialist technicians Simon Faithfull, whose work has been exhibited at the Venice Biennale, was granted permission to sink his boat off the Isle of Portland.

The small fishing vessel was towed out to sea and set alight. As the fire burned, the boat slowly sank to the seabed where it will begin its new life, gradual transforming into an artificial reef.

Onboard cameras live-streamed the sinking through a dedicated app and will continue to relay images of the defunct vessel’s slow metamorphosis from its final resting place into a new underwater ecosystem.

The cameras will remain transmitting for a year, with the images relayed to exhibitions in Brighton, Calais and Caen.

“Rather poignantly it took longer for the boat to sink that we thought. Now it is beginning the slow journey of becoming a reef,” said Faithfull, a lecturer at Slade School of Fine Art.

“A whole ecosystem will grow around the vessel soon. We’ll see plants starting to grow and fish swimming through the apertures. Something which was part of our world until today has now entered a different realm and is starting a new life. The whole process will take years.”

Faithfull, half-brother to singer Marianne, previously sent “a domestic chair to the edge of space”, tethered to a weather balloon, for an artwork. He bought the boat off eBay from a Canvey Island yard and customised it with a wheel-house.

Getting permission for the sinking was “extremely difficult”, said the Berlin-based artist, who aborted an earlier plan to launch the project in Brighton due to maritime restrictions. He is working with Wreck to Reef, a not-for-profit organisation seeking to regenerate an area of the seabed near Portland.

In 2011, Spencer Tunick's aquatic artwork involved 1,200 individuals gathering naked on the shores of the Dead Sea in Israel

Commissioned by the Brighton Photo Biennial exhibition, the work will be staged in October at Fabrica, a former chapel in Brighton whose architecture is reminiscent of a huge upturned boat.

Suspended beneath its rafters, two large projection screens will show excerpts of the boat smoking and sinking beneath the waves. At ground level, a series of monitors will show the mysterious images coming from the drowned boat.

The excitement for the artist is investigating “the mystery of the world beneath the waves and what happens when an everyday object crosses into that realm.”

The Portland authorities had no cause for alarm. “We informed the coastguard,” said Faithfull. “The biggest problem was keeping boats out of the way from our burning vessel so they didn’t block our cameras’ field of view.”

Faithfull recently placed books of his sketches onto the shelves at a Tunbridge Wells Morrisons for shoppers to browse through as part of the Hoodwink art project.

His film 0°00 Navigation, projected on to a large screen at Salford Quays, shows one man’s obsessive and deranged journey exactly along the Greenwich Meridian from Peace Heaven in Hampshire to Cleethorpes, Lincolnshire.

All at sea: Other aquatic artworks

In 2011, 1,200 brave individuals gathered naked on the shores of the Dead Sea in Israel to participate in an environmental art installation by Spencer Tunick, designed to bring life back to the disappearing water table.

English sculptor Jason deCaires Taylor specialises in the creation of contemporary underwater sculptures which over time develop into artificial coral reefs. Created first underwater museum - Museo Subacuático de Arte - for sculpture in the waters surrounding Cancun, Mexico.

Sculptor Anthony Gormley’s Another Place, consisting of cast iron figures sculptures of the artist’s body, facing towards the sea, was granted permission to become a permanent installation at Crosby Beach, Merseyside.