In moments of change and transition what supports and keeps us afloat?

A raft is the most fragile vehicle of survival at sea or upon open water. Ancient as the formation of human language, its simplicity is still needed during urgent getaway or for crossing. From the Judaic/Islamic story of Noah’s Arc to the earth as a lonely life raft floating in space (during the awakening of the 20th century environmentalist movement), the symbol of the raft has often been that of the ultimate preserver of life.

Utilising different forms of storytelling, dialogue, movement, music and creative writing, people will explore ‘rafts’ in their lives while also contemplating what ‘rafts’ could be needed to navigate the future, especially in times of change and uncertainty.

Rafts development sketchbook drawing, 2019, courtesy of Rory Pilgrim. Festival artwork courtesy of The Public Art Company.

Taking this symbol as the central starting point, artist and composer Rory Pilgrim develops RAFTS as the second chapter from a body of performance, film and sonic work exploring the climate crisis. In the midst of immense change brought by the global Covid 19 pandemic, Pilgrim’s commission explores connections between work, mental health, home and care in a time of crises and the ongoing recovery needed. At a moment where a desperate course of action is needed over ten years, RAFTS attempts to do this by looking at the interconnections between our livelihoods and the support structures that enable us to live. While such urgent action is needed like a car throttling back on its brakes, the project places emphasis on the role of transition. With Barking and Dagenham itself experiencing increasing changes of industry, job creation and from social housing to increased privatisation, the project seeks to understand how we can look to embodied experiences of transition to help understand and take action in our current predicament. With the climate crisis threatening increased displacement, homelessness and our support structures, the project will focus on collaborating with those who have experienced migration, homelessness and redundancy/unemployment or are unable to work.

Over the period of the commission, Pilgrim will establish relationships with different groups and individuals including those from Green Shoes Arts, LBBD Hostel Services, Barking Dagenham Youth Dance, alongside Project Well Being based in Boise, Idaho, USA.

The RAFTS programme is commissioned by Serpentine Galleries in partnership with New Town Culture, and funded by Mayor of London as part of London Borough of Culture.