With its abandoned World War II concrete pillbox, and partially ruined Elizabethan star forts, Berwick is defined by its abandoned defensive architecture. To one side of the town is the crashing intensity of the North Sea, eroding the cliffs, and to the other the border with Scotland, which has shifted back and forth during battles with England over the centuries. Like a palimpsest, the outline of Berwick has been continually drawn and redrawn, eroded then reformed.
This evocative setting drew William Cobbing back to Robert Smithson’s 1967 account of ruin and entropy in Passaic, New Jersey. Smithson evoked a ‘jejune’ scene in which a sandbox is divided in the middle between black and white sand, which is then merged to grey by the action of a child running through it in a clockwise direction. The same action is repeated in an anti-clockwise direction, and, rather than restoring the original division, the sand is mixed even more thoroughly. The story provided the basis of Cobbing’s own musings on the temporal state of material and absurd performance, resulting in the video ‘Moon walker’, created by walking backwards along the coastline between Berwick and Holy Island. When reversed, this footage looks like someone simply walking forwards, but, on closer inspection, it is apparent that the footprint exists prior to the step. It is as if the artist is furtively clearing his tracks, rewinding this entropic dispersal of the beach.
‘Clapper tongue’ is a bronze sculpture of a life-cast portrait bust resembling a bell. Component parts of a bell are commonly known as ‘crown with ears and eyes’ and ‘staple of tongue’, with the technical terms evoking the anatomical. Cobbing was drawn to the pivotal scene in Andrei Tarkovsky’s film ‘Andrei Rublev’ , in which a boy casts a bell against the backdrop of the visceral Russian landscape and medieval Tatar battles. ‘Clapper tongue’ hints at the obsolescence of the disused bell tower on the northern walls of Berwick, where a bell was formerly struck to warn of encroaching enemy attack on the border.
The installation ‘small/medium/large/extra large’ consists of hundreds of clothes bought from Berwick’s charity shops that have been sewn up and padded out to resemble sandbags. These bloated garments are piled up to form misshapen walls along the fortifications, and crammed into stone door arches within the barracks. Despite their patchwork of gaudy colours and kitsch logos, the sculptures uneasily evoke the bloodshed of previous skirmishes along the ramparts.