Sculpture at beach stark reminder of sewage pollution battle, campaigners say

Local activists and volunteers who fight for environmental rights have been celebrated in an art installation in Whitstable.

The artwork called Sirens of Sewage is part of a series of designs to reveal environmental issues that are often hidden by underwater sculptor Jason DeCaires Taylor.

Mr Taylor created lifecasts of members of the local community including a cold water swimmer, lifeboat volunteer, kite surfer, school child, fisherman and members of water pollution campaign group SOS Whitstable, to highlight the role of ordinary citizens in times of crises.

SOS Whitstable co-founder, Bryony Carter, said: “To have his work on our shore is such a huge honour — for us and for Whitstable.

“The installation is a stark reminder of our ongoing battle with the sewage pollution problem but also celebrates the concept of community and how we have all come together as sea lovers to try and enforce change.”

Sirens of Sewage
A view of art installation, Sirens of Sewage, by Jason DeCaires Taylor unveiled on the beach in Whitstable, Kent (Gareth Fuller/PA)

The display is made out of stainless steel, marine cement and local natural materials, and will be at the Neptune pub in the Kent seaside town for the next six months.

Mr Taylor, originally from Canterbury, told the PA news agency he has worked all over the world including Australia and the Caribbean but wanted to do a project in his home region and address what’s happening with sewage pollution.

On teaming up with SOS Whitstable, he said: “I have been to some of their protests, following the whole campaign of all the different groups, the whole story from the beginning so it was definitely something I wanted to get involved in.”

He added: “It’s incredulous we actually need to raise awareness of raw sewage going into our water. I hope this sculpture can add to the thousands of other voices screaming against this.”

Sirens of Sewage was originally designed to be homed in the sea, like most of Mr Taylor’s work which changes to take on characteristics of the ocean, but the artwork was not granted the permission needed on this occasion.

The creative added: “I’m hoping in the longer term we can get them installed in the sea as a permanent protest.

“We would like to have a place to install them on a permanent basis.”

The sculptures took about a year to create, with the models recruited through friends, colleagues and SOS Whitstable who would be covered in plaster at Mr Taylor’s studio.

SOS Whitstable member Rose Bircham, who is one of the models for the art, said the casting was a “surreal moment”.

She said: “I remember being very aware not to move a muscle while the team raced to layer me in the cold wet plaster. As it dried and hardened I lost my sense of balance and it felt like I would topple over so I had to be held up.

“My head was covered for the last few minutes so it was complete darkness but strangely serene. It was hard not to have any expression on my face. Then the cast was cracked open and carefully peeled off my front and back and I was back in the bright studio.

“I’m so proud to feature in it.”

The installation was also created in collaboration with the human rights organisation the Bertha Foundation.