Watching WaterForthcoming
A 24-hour participatory performance on Portreath Beach in Cornwall, UK

watching water portreath nov.jpg

Dawn breaks and a lone woman saunters onto the beach walking directly towards the water pausing just at the water’s edge. As the water recedes, she takes a few steps to follow it, as if she were about to enter the water. Then pauses. The next wave arrives and she takes a few steps backwards, again staying close to the white foamy line. Over the next 24 hours she is joined by small groups and whole classes of schoolchildren, mothers, the elderly and teens. Moving in unison, they create an undulating, repetitive movement, which forms a living drawing of the line where the water meets the land. 

Watching Water is a mass participatory performative artwork conceived by US artist Nancy Murphy Spicer during the time when she was based in England for six years. This performance work invites participants to embody the movement of the tides within a collective experience, joining community with the natural landscape, over a 24-hour period.

This work brings together many concerns of the artist such as physical approaches to drawing, artworks created collaboratively through participation, and the power of community connected to place, be it urban spaces or the natural world. This work raises important questions such as: What constitutes drawing? Where does authorship reside when an artwork is created through public participation? How can art be used to bring attention to important social issues?

Watching Water has been in development since 2007. The performance has been tested in both the UK and US with a limited number of participants. It is the artist’s ambition to produce a large-scale version of the performance in the dramatic setting of the North Cornish Coastline. The location of Portreath is ideal because of its unique geography – broad sandy beach with cliffs rising on one side – providing a natural stage for the performative and sculptural nature of the artwork.

Watching Water will include

 - 24-hour performance

- an artist film and a documentary

- an interdisciplinary symposium exploring the idea of ‘participatory producing’

- a limited edition print based on the preparatory drawings for the performance

- a poster run of performance instructions to encourage individuals and groups to stage Watching Water independently


Project Team

Nancy Murphy Spicer, Artist

Murphy Spicer’s practice sites drawing in geographic, architectural and social space. Resulting works have a physicality ranging from liminal to emphatic. The works are site-specific or site-responsive and often participatory, inspiring improvised action within a basic framework.

Katie Daley-Yates, Producer, Host Productions

Host Productions specialises in the development of artist projects and events that take place in public space. Using frameworks that can be either physical (unusual or forgotten buildings/ structures) or social (community groups or societies), the programme devises curatorial parameters to challenge and expand artistic practice. The programme is particularly interested in working in non-arts contexts in order to form a holistic approach to developing a visual arts programme that is aimed at a wide range of audiences.

Community Collaborators

Portreath Community School, Cornwall College, Portreath local businesses and organizations