"No Fixed Edge” is a filmic and musical response to men and machines operating in marginal landscapes. It is a collaboration between Mark French, and Elaine Edwards who composed 6 haunting pieces of music. Played live here by Elaine and Jenny Benwell. The films are punctuated with Haiku-like poems by Ken Edwards. They feature a collection of curiously human-like machines, operating on the edge of society but central to our existence. They include the last working dockland crane, boats that sail on land, a toy merry-go-round from the 1950's, the steam giants of Brede, rock eating machines at Hastings harbour arm and the wind turbines of Romney Marsh.
Many of these machines are now obselete, devoid of their original function or eeking out an existence in obscurity. Indeed the crane, which stood at the mouth of Deptford creek only survived because it unloads the gravel, which makes the cement, which builds the flats, which have now forced it off the edge. Shortly after I shot this, it was in turn dismantled and removed, effectively building itself out of existence. At one time the whole of the Thames was lined with dockland cranes and the communities that depended on the goods they supplied, now replaced by construction canes and fragmented real estate.
The fishing boats of Hastings working at the edge of town with no natural harbour, must be hauled up on the beach by antique bulldozers which themselves are virtually scrap, their landscape forming days long gone. The fishing industry itself is just clinging on and is under threat from increased industrialisation and reduced quotas. An ancient way of life is on the verge of extinction.
Preservation for posterity is the only way that some of them survive. The toy merry-go-round has been lovingly restored and installed in Hasting town centre, where it again works its magic from a bygone age, when escape meant being whirled around on a mythical metal animal or toy car.
The steam giants at Brede, which once pumped the water from deep underground down to Hastings, have long been replaced, first by diesel and then by electric. Still lovingly preserved in all their former glory, they are a testament to a time in the early 20th century, when great muscular machines powered by steam, facilitated all aspects of our lives from transport on trains and ships to heavy lifting. They are still in situ, too massive to move, and looked after by part time enthusiasts. It was almost as if nobody had the heart to dismantle them.
We take our landscape for granted but when a major feature of it is removed we all miss it profoundly. The instantly recognizable gap in the harbour arm features in countless photographs and paintings, but recently due to the relentless battering of the sea and longshore drift of shingle, great prehistoric looking machines have been filling in the gaps and making architectural history in the harbour, thus changing this iconic image for artists and tourists for evermore. They are guided by GPS, so even from space the shape is monitored as it metamorphoses.
They still require a man on the ground to check the position but they seem to follow their own agenda, moving around on a grand scale that dwarfs their human masters.
Many of these machines have also changed our landscape in their time and that change continues.
The powerlines leading from the nearly redundant nuclear power station at Dungeness now connect to the wind turbines on Romney Marsh. The last film of the six celebrates these in all their unworldly glory, sprouting like articulated triffids from the soil, harnessing the invisible and producing the power for the future. They seem to be unattended, following only the wind. Perhaps this is an example of machines working in their own perfect harmony.