Artist Fiona Banner is helping a Greenpeace mission to protect an area in the North Sea from illegal fishing, by creating ink-black sculptures that will be dropped into the water.
The British artist, who is well-known for her investigations of text and pop culture, has created three enormous granite works in order to aid the environmental organisation's campaign, which is focused on a 121-square-kilometre North Sea sanctuary.
Dogger Bank, about midway between the UK and Denmark, is a feeding ground for dolphins, seals, otters and sea birds. Despite it being a marine-protected area, activists say fishing boats trawl the ocean floor, destroying the natural habitat. Greenpeace has begun dropping boulders in a semi-circle within the area, so that boats cannot dredge the floor.
Banner created three artworks out of the granite boulders, carving them into a full stop – or at least, something approximating a full stop – and dying them black with squid ink.
“Greenpeace was already putting down boulders to stop super trawling and destructive fishing in Dogger Bank,” explains Banner. “I thought immediately about language and treaties; the impasse between what is agreed and what is actually happening.”
On Monday, October 5, Banner delivered the first boulder – titled Klang – to the steps of the UK's Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra), which oversees fishing. The police came "and we scuttled", the artist said. Klang has since been removed.
Greenpeace had said it would remove the boulders from the sea bed if the government enforced treaties that were meant to protect the area. However, a statement published on September 23 by Defra said that while "the Marine Management Organisation is unable to comment on specific allegations of offending, it can confirm that action would always be taken where there was sufficient evidence to suggest any prohibited fishing activity was taking place within an Special Area of Conservation".
After taking Klang to the Defra headquarters, Banner and activists headed to Greenpeace's boat, docked near Tower Bridge on the River Thames. There, the team loaded the other two sculptures – Peanut and Orator, which weigh 1.7 and 1.2 tonnes each – on to the vessel's helipad.
Banner has long been interested in punctuation, which offers a glimpse into moments where language is not sufficient. She typically sculpts or draws punctuation marks in different fonts, redirecting focus to the forgotten elements of written language. Her plan for the boulders had similarly been to mould them into different font shapes.
"But I had never considered rock in all its awesomeness. They’ve been bouldering around on the planet for eons.”
In practical terms, she added: “I never realised how incredible they were, how charged – or how heavy.”
The slightly imperfect full stops sit somewhere between natural object and rough-hewn memorial, as if the artist was bested by nature. The granite came from a quarry near Hamburg, and was shipped to a stone workshop in Oxfordshire, where they were shaped by robot-controlled implements. Each was then painted with the squid ink – “incredibly smelly,” says Banner – and chiselled with their title and the co-ordinates of where they will be placed in Dogger Bank.
Their names derive from the type of font that Banner imagined for the punctuation: Peanuts, for example, relates to Charles Schultz's cartoon of the same name.
This is Banner’s first direct activist action. Like many, she says she has been influenced by the period of reflection opened up by the coronavirus, as well as the increasing urgency of the climate crisis.
From the Thames, the Greenpeace boat will travel up to Dogger Rock, where it will drop more boulders – including Banner’s artworks – into the sea. Having worked on them steadily for the past three months, this is the last Banner will see of them.
“Some sculptures that are healing set sail,” Banner read in a prepared statement before the crane lowered the boulders. “Sculptures that are hopeful … and know that hope in this case means change.”