Heavy Rock | Plymouth Sound

‘Heavy Rock’ was an exciting public art commission that aimed to shed new light on Plymouth’s historic breakwater. Inspired by a painting in Plymouth City Museum and Art Gallery artist Keith Harrison developed an exhibition and live public event to take place out at the breakwater.

Photograph of one of the cast wave breaker.Artist: Keith Harrison
Category: Temporary
Date: 2015
Location: View on our Public Art Map [desktop and tablet; requires Google sign-in]
Find past location on a mobile
Commissioner: Plymouth City Council (Plymouth City Museum and Art Gallery)
Partners: New Expressions 3, Royal Navy, Babcock, KARST
Producer: Plymouth City Museum and Art Gallery
Supporters: Arts Council England

 Project Description

Photograph of the orginal painting that inspired Harrison Keith was inspired by a historic painting in the ‘Plymouth: Port and Place’ gallery, entitled ‘Laying the Foundation Stone of Plymouth Breakwater’ by George Barrett Jr. He then went on to discover the giant concrete 100 tonne ‘wave breakers’ that are placed out on the breakwater each year. The blocks play a key role in the ongoing defence of the breakwater, Plymouth Sound and the city itself. Keith’s idea involved intervening in the casting process and creating a live public event out at the breakwater as one of the blocks was dropped into position. The wave breaker was dropped into position on the breakwater in August 2015. A related exhibition featuring a wooden replica of the mould that was used to cast the wave breaker and Keith’s developmental drawings were displayed at KARST. A special celebration event was also held during which three brand new musical scores inspired by the breakwater were performed by 24 members of HM Royal Marine Band, Plymouth. The scores were written by Will Gregory from Goldfrapp and orchestrated by Ian Gardiner. Keith’s intervention celebrates the breakwater and makes this hidden process more public. The commission was delivered through a programme called New Expressions 3, which aims to establish a national approach to collaboration between contemporary artists and museums. Each project provides a fresh approach to collections and engaging visitor experiences across England.

About the Artist

Photograph of artist Keith Harrison Born in West Bromwich, raised from the age of 8 in Birmingham, and now based in Plymouth, Keith Harrison challenges preconceptions about the use and practice of ceramics. Since 2002, he has been involved in a series of process-based live public experiments that investigate the direct physical transformation of clay. Keith was Ceramics Resident at the V&A, London from October 2012 to March 2013. He has also realised large-scale works for a range of public galleries and museums. In 2017 he was awarded Jerwood Open Forest Commission for his project Joyride which saw a life-size clay replica of a Rover 75 released down a temporary 10-metre ramp in the middle of Cannock Chase Forest.

  • Photograph of a Keith Harrison sketch of the Breakwater block
  • Photograph of casting mould for the wave breakers
  • Photograph of the HM Royal Marine band playing at KARST for the exhibition opening