MSL is an arts organisation based in Hastings, initially established in 2005, with the aim of developing and supporting individual and community engagement within the creative sector. The agency is informed by local heritage and cultural resonance, whilst also promoting an overarching framework of inclusivity.

MSL’s current project, The Sea Beneath, is an intriguing exploration into the hidden depths and rich maritime history of Hastings’ oceanic past, its present and future.

Funded by Arts Council England, The Trinity Triangle Heritage Action Zone and East Sussex Arts Partnership, this unique venture seeks to engage a variety of professionals from the dual spheres of Science and Art, through innovative discourse and exploratory interaction.

PICTURE: Sarah Macbeth

A socially distanced dowsing session, held at the America Ground in December 2020, formally launched The Sea Beneath’s programme of events. This was followed, in January of this year, by a virtual Creative Caucus meeting online to instigate wider discussion and help shape the project as it progresses.

I attended this event alongside a panel of experts that included historians, artists, scientists and activists, as well as members of the local populace.

After a brief introduction from MSL, the space was opened up to various contributors, such as digital artist, lecturer and creative coder, Judith Ricketts, who used the oceanic theme to reflect on its intrinsic links to the African diaspora whilst also considering how space and time can be mapped, in order to open up difficult conversations about ‘the Other’.

Freelance associate artist for The Hastings Museum and Art Gallery, Rosa Torr, gave a vivid depiction of the sea as a repressed, wild beast lurking in subterranean waterways, ready to re-emerge and re-claim the urban streets above, one of many highlights of this thought- provoking event.

There was also much debate about the Hastings locality as a seaside town and how this has defined its identity over the years. There was a shared acknowledgement of our responsibility as residents to be mindful of the sea and the surrounding environment, a pressing reminder of the ongoing, worldwide climate emergency.

A shared acknowledgement of our responsibility to be mindful of the sea and the surrounding environment

The Creative Caucus gave a fascinating insight into two forthcoming events (Covid restrictions permitting): Discovery Day and Semaphore. Due to be held this Spring, the Discovery Day will bring environmental scientists and geographers together in researching Hastings’ ever-evolving coastline, whilst contemplating the possible submersion of the town, if sea levels continue to rise as predicted. The findings from this will then be translated into more abstract forms by specially commissioned artists and storytellers, in an attempt to re-connect us with the unseen waterways underneath our feet. 

Finally, The Sea Beneath will conclude with Semaphore – a specifically curated public happening, taking place in both real and digitised space. Semaphore is a re-configuration of a performance piece by the acclaimed photographer Chris Wainwright and endeavours to convey the immediate threat of rising tides and the impact this will have on humanity.

The Sea Beneath acts as a pertinent reminder of the urgent need to work with nature rather than against it, positioning MSL at the forefront of a much-needed green revolution for Hastings and St Leonards.

Please refer to the MSL website for further details on The Sea Beneath and associated events: www.mslprojects.co.uk


We hope you have enjoyed reading this article. The future of our volunteer led, non-profit publication would be far more secure with the aid of a small donation. You can also support local journalism by becoming a friend of HIP. It only takes a minute and we would be very grateful.