Large-scale artwork transforms Plymouth coastline to explore Mayflower legacy

Sep 04, 2020

A large-scale art installation titled 'Speedwell' opened to the public in Plymouth, UK on 4 September, 2020.

'Speedwell' transformed the Mount Batten Breakwater into a public forum for discussion and debate about the impact and legacy of the ship's journey, colonialism and the ecological state of our planet during the Mayflower 400 commemorations.

Created by local artist collective Still/Moving, 'Speedwell' was funded by Arts Council England and Plymouth Culture as part of Mayflower 400.

Measuring 63m long and 6m high, 'Speedwell' used illuminated signage comprising 3,723 LED lights to invite viewers to ask complex questions about themselves, the damaged planet and the legacy of the pivotal journeys made by the Mayflower and its companion ship the Speedwell.

It offered multiple readings; constantly shifting between words that were lit up and questioning the historic conceit that there ever was a 'New World'. The artwork remained illuminated through September, October and November 2020.

The installation was inspired by the events of 1620 when passengers on board the Mayflower set sail to settle in what they called the 'New World', a world already home to indigenous people.

Speedwell, the companion ship intended to sail alongside the Mayflower, was unable to make the journey across the Atlantic. Some of its passengers were therefore forced to return to England and find ways to make peace with the place they sought to escape.

In response, 'Speedwell' asked visitors to imagine new worlds of living, caring and dying well together and invites visitors to add their own voices in response to the sculpture in person or online.

Still/Moving artist, Léonie Hampton said: "In response to the Mayflower 400 commemorative programme, Still/Moving wanted to find a way to offer audiences an open invitation to stop, think and talk about the damage in the world.

Speedwell No New Worlds Plymouth Speedwell No New Worlds Plymouth Speedwell No New Worlds Plymouth

Pictures by Wayne Perry

"The voyage of the Mayflower, Speedwell and what we have learnt in the 400 years since they set sail, give an opportunity to reflect and find better ways to understand the impact of those pivotal voyages and the ongoing colonial process."

Dr Stephanie Pratt, said: "It is especially important to me that Speedwell's No New Worlds installation acknowledges the presence of the indigenous peoples of North America for some 12,000 years before Europeans came to their lands.

"As one of the most visible public works this autumn, Speedwell's illuminated messages question what it means to commemorate, and I welcome this addition to the Mayflower celebration in Plymouth."

Speedwell No New Worlds Plymouth

Adrian Vinken OBE, Chair of Mayflower 400, added: "In exploring all aspects of the Mayflower story, and particularly its passengers being part of the intensive colonisation of America, projects like Speedwell shed light on an important and often neglected fact of history... that people with rich societies and culture had lived there as successful custodians of their natural environment for thousands of years before the Mayflower’s arrival.

"The Speedwell and other Mayflower 400 projects together aim to present a rounded picture of all aspects of the remarkable Mayflower story and its legacies."

Martin Hampton, Léonie Hampton and Laura Hopes. Picture by Still/Moving

About 'Speedwell'

Speedwell was created by Still/Moving, an artist collective of Laura Hopes, Martin Hampton and Léonie Hampton who developed the concept through a collaborative process with experts and representatives of the indigenous peoples of North America.

This includes Dr Stephanie Pratt, a descendent of the Dakota (Sioux) Nation, whose guidance ensured the representation of the indigenous peoples of North America in the work.

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