Wetlands • Alec Stevens

That Sinking Feeling

From left to right: Bangladesh Stilted House, Repurposed South East Asian Teak, London Victorian Semi-Detached House, English oak, Miami Art Deco Hotel, American white ash

That Sinking Feeling

From left to right: Bangladesh Stilted House, Repurposed South East Asian Teak, London Victorian Semi-Detached House, English oak, Miami Art Deco Hotel, American white ash


Artist's Statement

The world is changing with a great speed, growth, and purpose that is out of the control of most living things on the planet. The London Wetland Centre is an oasis, offering an escape from this chaos by being a person- made/maintained space where most aspects are regulated.

The effects of climate change can be seen here: the weather, wildlife and the changing fauna and flora. For some these are significant physical signals to wake up and take action to address a planet that is ‘not quite right’.

But there are certain things such as the ebb and flow, flood and drought of our waterways and coastlines that are not represented in this space. That Sinking Feeling focuses on the relationship between human habitation and rising water/sea levels. Using the centre’s controlled water level as a marker, the series of interventions, installed at varying heights, protrude from the water to signify current statistics related to water levels at high tide and their relationship with highlighted communities in the world. Change is happening.

Audio Description transcript

That sinking feeling by Alec Stevens


Three houses sit on poles at fixed heights in the water in an area of the wetlands that is framed by a rocky landscape.  The water here is a light grey/green that turns black where the foliage overhangs the water creating shadows.  The 3 buildings are different in style and size.  Made of different types of wood that have been intricately carved they sit at different heights in the water.

From left to right:

The first building is a stilt house like those found in Bangladesh.  It is a small square dwelling, only 25cm square and 60cm high although it  appears shorter as 10cms of the structure sits below the water line.  With its pitch roof  it resembles a shed that is sitting on 4 stilts.   Made from dark, recycled Asian teak, it is a rich, almost rust coloured wood.  The structure is created from small planks of the teak that create a striped appearance.  The roof has been carved to resemble reeds, the carvings breaking up the solid structure of the wood, and creating a silver-like glimmer across the roof.

The building in the middle of the group is more familiar, it is a copy of a two-storey semi-detached Victorian house as might be seen on the streets of Barnes.  Brick fronted and with bay windows, here recreated in carved English Oak.  It is asymmetrical, to the left there is a single storey porch housing a curved top front door.  To the right there is a dormer window protruding from the roof above the bay. The building is 63cm wide, 35 cm deep and 80cm tall.  Sitting on a single wooden post, it appears the tallest of the buildings because it is sitting 25cm above the water line.

The building to the right resembles an art-deco hotel, built in the 1920s or 30s. 3 or maybe 4  stories high and with a flat roof, it looks like the buildings that line the coastline in Miami.  It is light blond in colour and has been made from American white ash.  The largest of the 3 buildings at 85cm wide, 35 cm deep and 120 cm high, the edges of this symmetrical  building are smooth and curved.  On the left and right corner of the building, windows are topped with sleek ornamental pediments that protrude from the building.  Geometric patterns of lines and circles decorate the central column which has a central spire or flag pole rising above the flat roof.  The wood is polished and smooth with the circles of the grain visible on the side of the building.  

The Miami hotel sits 17cm below the water level – the water lapping at the ground floor and obscuring it.  Where the wood meets the waterline, it has darkened to an orange colour. 


The heights of these buildings reflect current statistics related to water levels for communities around the world.  Wherever we live, rising sea levels will impact human habitation.  Here at the wetlands the water levels are carefully controlled by taps from Thames water, ensuring that the water levels provide the optimum habitat for the birds living and nesting here.  Steven’s asks us to consider whether rising water levels caused by climate change are controllable.  

Close up, the tool marks made by the artist when carving these buildings are visible.  The different woods chosen have different properties when handled that impact the work that Stevens presents.  The white ash is a soft wood and easy to work with.  As a result, the Miami hotel is larger than the other pieces.  The oak is harder causing the tools to blunt easily and leaving a residue, but is a good wood for revealing details such as the bricks and the motifs that sit above the door.  Teak is a very hard wood and difficult to work with by hand.  As a result, it is a much smaller.  The three wooden buildings have been fixed into the silty base of this area of London Wetland centre.  Their position and their height is fixed and precise.