Mild steel, stainless steel, bronze, and original fossils
The Wave with Fish was a unique art installation by Mark Reed in 2021 inviting people to walk through a 10m wave of 3,000 fish in Norwich Cathedral as part of the Dippy on Tour: A Natural History Adventure exhibition by the Natural History Museum at the Cathedral. Mark was incredibly proud that he raised over £2500 for the Cathedral’s Charities. Over 230,000 people visited and were enthralled by his interactive sculpture.
The sculpture was inspired by a quotation taken from the Psalms (42.9) – ‘All thy waves and storms are gone over me’ – a reference to how, while the Bible and modern science differ about many things, they are in entire agreement that life as we know it emerged from water.
On first view, the striking shoal of fish was an installation of great beauty but, on closer inspection, litter could be seen scattered among the fish – a stark reminder of the damage currently being done to our planet. Walking through the monumental breaking wave, visitors moved backwards in time from the modern day with its pollution and plastics, past flotsam and jetsam of past eras including Gingko branches, cast bronze mice, original fossils that we have collected from Dorset and Robin Hoods Bay and bronze Ammonites until moving through the Ichthys fish to the Cathedral and ultimately Jurassic Dippy. The work was a meditation of life on earth, from its origins in the very distant past to the time of the dinosaurs and our own day, and a reminder of the total dependence all life on this planet has on the generative powers of water.
Water is intrinsic to all life on earth and the Wave symbolises both its life sustaining powers and the potentially destructive forces that water can unleash, especially when combined with increasingly threatening man-made climate chaos.
Reed’s sculpture addressed many important topics ranging from the generative and destructive power of water and our total dependence on its life-giving properties, life’s evolution both within and away from our planet’s oceans and most importantly our own role in their destruction and despoilation.
The work invited the viewer to think about the central themes inherent in both the Dippy exhibition and the venue in which it is held and in a supreme twist of fate, just 3 days before the opening of the exhibition, flash flooding affected the Cathedral Close and submerged the sculpture in over a foot of floodwater.
Yet, the overall tone of the work is hopeful, the deliberately offensive rubbish situated at one end of the sculpture gives way to shoals of colourful fish which symbolize nature’s ability to withstand our egregious desecrations and to, given the chance, bounce back and heal the wounds we have inflicted upon it. The wave shimmered with the movement of fish whose shapes represent the evolution of species from the ancient Hadean eon to the present day. The fish was a symbol for Christians from the early days of the faith, in part because they came to new birth through the waters of Baptism. The ability of visitors to immerse themselves in this wave was a reminder of our ambivalent relationship with the untamed waters. We remember holidays by the sea and the excitement of plunging into waves, but also the overwhelming destructive power of water in storm, tsunami, and flood.
Visitor reactions far exceeded Mark’s wildest expectations and the visceral and immediate impact of this interactive and highly accessible sculpture was a joy to witness. Whether admiring the glittering shoals of fish, discovering the elements within the piece or simply soaking up the improbable vista of this monumental sculpture in one of Norwich’s most hallowed spaces, few failed to be moved by its power and eloquence and the profound questions it posed. School children had to be stopped from removing the rubbish because they felt it shouldn’t be there and several visitors were moved to tears.
“It was a wonderful experience seeing my work being enjoyed by such a large & wide-ranging audience who have been overwhelming in their reaction to the Wave and its message. I loved having a piece here in Norfolk; in the community that shapes me and to have raised so much money for the Cathedral has been brilliant. We had students from the Norwich University of Arts that were involved in the making and installation of the work and the also the Norwich Cathedral volunteers without whom the work would not have been possible, thank you to everyone.”