Flood

David Cass on Instagram

@davidcass.art

Instagram is an effective platform for me to present to you my paintings, alongside research, works in progress, new-media works and studio images. It's not as easy to simultaneously present each facet of one's artwork within the structure of a website. It's also important for me that you see where everything comes from. 

This week, you can see the most recent developments in my Florence flood project, as I prepare to transport works from the series (and the book Perimetri Perduti) to Florence. This week I'm also managing the instagram account of arts organisation Creative People in Florence: @creativepeopleinflorence. On their account I'm posting my 1966 flood research, videos, documentation of ephemera and Florence studies. 

Perimetri Perduti: The Book

I'm delighted to present Perimetri Perduti. This has been a massive task, but absolutely worth it. The book will be launched in the British Institute of Florence during November 2016 (opening Nov 4th), and in The Fruitmarket Gallery in Edinburgh soon after (January 20th). 

A massive thank you to all those who have contributed to the book, and supported it, you know who you are I hope.

A combination of records of and responses to the catastrophe of November 1966, Cass’s thoughtful and moving pieces are all the more powerful in that they are made by someone who was not yet born when the flood waters hit Florence.
— Julia Race: Director of the British Institute

Perimetri Perduti by David Cass

Perimetri Perduti by David Cass

Perimetri Perduti by David Cass

A Fragile Sense of Place

Two Thames Barrier studies (each approx 11 x 8 cm unframed: gouache on card)

If not for the Thames Barrier, during periods of extreme high tide and severe weather, London would look very different. The Royal Watercolour Society - for its Autumn exhibition 2016 - has briefed members to create artworks that explore the notion of a sense of place, specifically within the location of London. To me, a sense of place is something sensed and not usually identifiable, it's something intangible, a culmination of emotional and sensorial reactions to a physical environment to which I am connected. But taken literally, the event of physical inundation - a flood for example - can completely destroy one's sense of place within a location they [once] understood. 

When a river bursts its banks, its 'wetted perimeter' is no longer where it should be. As water travels upward and outward, the map of the city changes dramatically. A rise in water level even of only a few inches can mean the difference between ground level, and the invasion of someone's house. Worryingly, the Thames Barrier has been in 'record' use in recent years (from early December 2013 to the end of February 2015, its steel gates were closed "a record-shattering 50 times, preventing the river from running riot. Previously, the barrier had closed only 124 times since it began operating in 1982" - The Guardian).

As we are witnessing ever more frequently, in locations around the world, London is not alone in being vulnerable to flooding. A storm surge generated by low pressure in the Atlantic Ocean sometimes tracks eastwards past the north of Scotland and may then be driven into the shallow waters of the North Sea. The surge tide is funnelled down the North Sea which narrows towards the English Channel and the Thames Estuary. If the storm surge coincides with a spring tide, dangerously high water levels can occur in the Thames Estuary, and if not for the Thames Barrier system, London would face a frequent and dangerous set of issues.

The threat has increased over time due to continuous rise in high water levels over the centuries and the slow 'tilting' of Britain (up in the north and west, and down in the south and east) caused by post-glacial rebound. The barrier was originally designed to protect London against a very high flood level up to the year 2030, after which the protection would decrease, whilst remaining within acceptable limits. At the time of its construction, the barrier was expected to be used 2–3 times per year. It is now being used over 7 times per year.

In the 1928 Thames flood, 14 people died. After 300 people died in the UK in the North Sea flood of 1953, the issue gained new prominence. Early proposals for a flood control system were stymied by the need for a large opening in the barrier to allow for vessels from the London docks to pass through, the Thames Barrier was eventually completed in 1982.

Two of my Thames Barrier Studies will be exhibited as part of London: A Sense Of Place, in Bankside Gallery 7th October - 5th November.

1928 Thames Flood

Florence Flood Aftermath

Inch by inch, the filthy floodwaters lowered, as daylight gradually left Florence on 4th November 1966. Oily black perimeter lines marked the water’s journey down façades: from a height of four adults in Santa Croce, each stage of this slow recession was charted in level horizontal lines of varying thicknesses. This process was repeated, unbelievably, over hundreds of acres. Clocks throughout the city sat stationary, reading 7:26 AM, when power in the city had been lost as the force of the inundation took hold that morning.

As toxic muddy diesel and oil-infused sludge settled on pavements and roads of deep clay as daylight broke the following morning, Florentines searched for lost family, friends, neighbours and pets, as upturned cars bleated from short-circuited horns. “Steel blinds were twisted like paper”, records artist James Hogg. Antique furniture lay strewn across streets. The Ponte Vecchio was in danger of collapsing, having been stripped to a near skeleton, like the carcass of a whale stretched out between two banks. 

The force of the inundation had been relentless as it pounded streets, ripping apart ground floors and basements, shopfronts, signs, generators, garages, cars. It tore the city apart from the ground up over the course of an entire day. The devastating and deadly force of black water. Had it not been Armed Forces Day on the 4th (a national holiday), the streets would surely have been busier as the tides entered the ancient city early in the morning. 

I've dedicated the last couple of years to researching and responding to this catastrophic historical event (drawing parallels with 'extremes' of today). Through this research I've come across all sorts of ephemera (newspaper articles and clippings, magazine features and appeals for help, short-run flood related publications...) but by far the best is these photographs. I purchased this set of prints on eBay.it last year, from a vendor who did not know the history or provenance of their lot. I've asked around and searched extensively for evidence of these images (by an unknown photographer) in other archives, with no results. If you know anything about these images please do get in touch. I'll be featuring a selection of these scanned prints in my book 'Perimetri Perduti' set for launch on November 4th this year: the 50th anniversary of the flood.

Permetri Perduti: Book Project Update

I am seeking text submissions from individuals to contribute to a book which aims to raise awareness; to describe the events of early November 1966; and to draw upon the past and present significance of the ‘Great Flood’.

Maybe you lived through the inundation or know someone who did. Maybe you travelled to Florence to help in the rescue effort. Maybe you have a relationship with Florence and wish to describe how the history of this catastrophic event shapes (shaped) your vision of the city. I would like to hear from you, whether you are a writer or not! All writing styles will be considered for inclusion: from descriptive texts to poetry.

Set to launch on the 50th anniversary of the flood (to the day), this is a book about a city transformed: boundaries and city-limits lost; the familiar rendered unfamiliar. Overspilled perimeters: the Valdarno dams burst and the Arno overflowed, the homes and lives of Florentines ferociously attacked. The flood irreversibly changed Florence, bringing the city - a mecca of the art world - to its knees. Read within the above document a blow-by-blow description by renowned author David Hewson, who kindly donated his time to this project.

Normal submissions are now closed. Thanks to the many artists and authors who sent texts! The project is ongoing, and if you have an experience you'd like to share, please email info@davidcass.co.uk.

FlashFlood

 

Basilica of San Frediano

Exaggerated Inundation in Lucca • Based on imagery of Lucca's 1996 flood • 9 x 14cm • Available for purchase

 

19th June 1996: Flash-flood in Lucca, Tuscany

I spend one day a week researching as part of my Florence in flood project - there's always new facts to discover (and new ephemera to source and purchase) relating to the November 1966 flood that's occupied my practice for the last couple of years. This research informs and supports my painted artworks. During this week's reading I came across news articles describing inundations in the province of Lucca in 1996 - somewhere I've visited regularly over the last few years. Caught completely off guard, the region endured severe flooding: one of the strongest flash-floods in history (in the Apuan Alps) according to EU MetStat. Several small villages in the foothills of the Appenines were literally ripped apart by the fierce floodwaters.

View archival news footage here

Read more here

David Hewson: Author of 'The Flood'

In collaboration with The British Institute Florence, I'm putting together an exhibition that looks at the history of Florence's 1966 Great Flood. I've been working on this project for around three years now, and hope that its climax will fall on the month and year that mark the 50th anniversary of this catastrophic event: November 2016. Below, internationally renowned author David Hewson (The Killing) describes his own critically acclaimed response to the flood, in relation to my project:

"In a single night in November 1966 the birthplace of the Renaissance was reduced to a sea of mud as the Arno burst its banks, engulfed some of the most famous and historic buildings and sights in Europe and took the lives of more than thirty people."

"And yet, as I discovered when I came to write a novel partly set during this extraordinary period, the event is now largely forgotten outside Florence itself, overshadowed in the public imagination by the dreadful aqua alta in Venice at the same time. The city, its stalwart people, and the thousands of angeli del fango who flocked to Florence to help the city recover deserve better. During many visits to the city while I was writing The Flood I was astonished to see how the disaster continues be visible on the face of the twenty first century city, from the signs in the street marking the level of the water down to more subtle effects, among them the restoration of the damaged masterpieces in the Brancacci Chapel to remove the prudish additions of earlier centuries."

Four years on from working on The Flood David Cass’s evocative paintings took me straight back to that terrible night in November 1966, a timely reminder of the fragility of beauty against the elements of nature, and the defiant human spirit that swept away the mud and restored Florence to glory. I hope they find a place in the heart of the city fifty years on from the events that inspired them.
— David Hewson

Find out more about David Hewson's The Flood by following this link

www.davidhewson.com