The Exbury Egg in its original location on Beaulieu River in Exbury, 2014.
In 2013, artist Stephen Turner moved into an egg. Made from red cedar and registered as a boat, the egg had a bed, chemical toilet, paraffin stove and woodburning stove as well as enough room to create, store and display art. Initially moored on the River Exbury in the New Forest, the egg was meant to be a year-long project, but with the support of the Canal & River Trust has since travelled to waterside locations throughout the country, including Burnley alongside the Leeds & Liverpool Canal and Trinity Buoy Wharf in East London where the River Lea meets the Thames. From April 2017, it will spend six weeks on the Grand Union Canal around Milton Keynes.
“The idea was to create something between a sculpture and living space, an observatory and a home,” explains Turner. “I wanted it made of a timber that would change and fade with the seasons. She began a warm cedar orange and over the year was bleached silver, she looks like she’s made of aluminium. I wanted the shell to be a calendar of the seasons you could read like a storybook. Inside are things I’ve made and collected and recorded, so it’s like an archive of my experiences, including the ash of every fire I burnt during winter. In the New Forest, I adopted the role of a parish beagle, a custodian of the land, and I did the same in Burnley. The response is different in different places. In the New Forest, I was called ‘hermit’; in Burnley, they’d shout from the bridge ‘eggman!’.”
This transient existence began in 2012 when Turner was asked to imagine a temporary studio space for an artist. He settled on an egg as the symbol of life, which also reflected his interest in nature. The Exbury Egg was designed by Turner and architects PAD Studio and constructed by boat builder Paul Baker. Turner uses the space in different ways depending upon the location. In Burnley the egg was moored in a disused boatyard as part of the Trust’s Super Slow Way partnership project. From the start, it inspired interest from locals who wondered if it was a spacecraft or had been laid by a dinosaur. Turner used the egg as a social space, to help local people re-engage with the canal. “One of the nice things about the egg is that it brought people to the canal,” he says. “We had a core group of about 30 who had never been involved in art projects but who came every week to do an event at the egg. We did a fishing day and a summer solstice. We created a newspaper, The Exbury Egg Echo. It was about bringing people together to enjoy the space.”
In Milton Keynes, the egg will start at Stanton Low Park before ending at Milton Keynes Art Centre at Great Linford. “We have local guardians who will live in and look after the egg and tell its story,” says Turner. “I will be living in a barge by the egg, engaging with the place. I want to interview people in the egg about the egg and canal, and these will be used in a new artwork. I will spend the final week of six with a small exhibition at the art centre and people will be able to go inside and explore the egg as she floats on the canal.”
Turner enjoys being around the canal as much as he enjoys introducing people to their local waterways. “It’s a place for contemplation, sitting by the water watching boats go past slowly,” he says. “It’s a chance to avoid the rat race, and fast, shallow society. You can spend time with yourself and go deeper, discover more about yourself and what life is about. I hesitate to call what I do art, I’m curious about so many things. If everybody was curious we’d all have very interesting journeys like the egg.”
‘Everything comes from the egg’ is the touring exhibition of Stephen Turner’s Exbury Egg and a wide range of new artworks developed and made by Stephen Turner while he was located and worked amongst communities in Exbury and subsequently in Burnley, London, Milton Keynes, Portsmouth and Hastings through 2016 and 2017. Between 3 April-14 May 2017, you can see the egg on the Grand Union Canal at Stanton Low Park, Milton Keynes, MK14 (nearest parking is at Black Horse Pub): https://canalrivertrust.org.uk/enjoy-the-waterways/events/2017-04-03-everything-comes-from-the-egg. Read more about upcoming art projects with the Super Slow Way http://superslowway.org.uk/