Creation from collapse at Towner Eastbourne: Emma Stibbon’s shoreline research
In her solo exhibition at Towner Eastbourne, Melting Ice | Rising Tides, artist Emma Stibbon makes poetic connection between Sussex and Svalbard, Norway. The coastline of each place is made differently, but both are impacted by a changing climate. Blair Kern explored Stibbon’s research & outputs for

On a spring day in Eastbourne, the beach is alive with coastal recreation. Groups of people are arriving from the west of the town, having hiked the popular trail along the Seven Sisters Cliffs, a journey of over 10 kilometres marked by breathtaking views of the interface between land and sea. The sheer scale of the imposing white cliffs, seemingly eternal, create an illusion of permanence. Yet, viewed through a wider lens of time, these cliffs tell a different story.

Just a short walk from the ever-transforming Sussex shoreline, the contemporary art gallery, Towner Eastbourne, accelerates time and makes permanent landforms crumble in a single visit. On the third floor of the colourful community-focused gallery, the works of Emma Stibbon are exhibited in the exhibition Melting Ice | Rising Tides, where through visual research, Stibbon presents the ongoing deterioration of ice and land.

Stibbon is an artist whose works capture a series of transforming landscapes across the globe. In recent years, she has been researching the vulnerability of ice in the regions surrounding Svalbard, Norway – a landscape drastically transformed due the effects of climate change. In Melting Ice | Rising Tides, Stibbon uses works made in Svalbard as a tool to communicate the impacts of a changing climate, and therefore, demonstrating imminent risk to nearby Sussex coast. In the exhibition, Stibbon shrinks time and communicates the not-so-distant future of the Sussex coast in a local institution so intimate with the landform in question.

Upon entering the gallery, the visitor is introduced to the two regions of focus. Although the exhibition presents an intimate relationship between ice and coast, a limited connection is formed between the modest sized intaglio print of an Ice Shelf in Svalbard and a large ink drawing of the thrashing waves on a nearby Sussex shore.

Behind the entry wall is the most anticipated work, Cliff Fall, a large-scale wall drawing and installation of an undercut cliff along the Sussex shore, with scattered chunks of chalk breaking away from the drawing and filling the space in front of the canvas. Opposite this is an imposing drawing, Breaker, which underscores Stibbe’s skills as an artist. The expansive waves captured in Breaker are drawn with ink diluted in seawater and detailed with sea salt – a method which corrodes the ink on the canvas. The facing works draw attention to the undercut cliff, creating a suspended moment in time. Although the formidable display of Cliff Fall brings the visitor into the extreme nature of transforming landscapes, it is the reciprocation of the works on either side of the gallery that aids a warped perception of time.

An extensive collection of work is displayed throughout the two outer rooms of the exhibition. One side, Stibbon focuses primarily on the cliffs of the Sussex coast, while on the other she presents her experiences in Svalbard. Whichever side the visitor visits first, they are greeted with walls of drawings and prints completed in various mediums. Each collection differs in some way, but all speak to the locality of her research, exemplified by the use of respective sea water for ink dilution. In the centre of each room sits a single glass display table filled with research that chronicles the timeline of the landscape in focus.

To provide evidence of the changing Sussex cliffs, Stibbon displays a collection of historic postcards in a glass display case – her careful consideration identifying drawings captured from a similar angle to provide comparison with Stibbon adding to the timeline by drawing the current landform in each series. This data is different from the evidence base presented from Svalbard. In the display case related to the Norway site, the displayed research includes a series of hand sketches as various icebergs fall into the ocean.

The mirrored spatial arrangement of these displays plays a crucial role in the exhibition, as it introduces the community of Eastbourne as a unified entity, where history is mapped in the same series of drawings as the transformation of ice. In other words, by mirroring her independent data collected in Svalbard with communal data collated in Eastbourne, Stibbon defines the visitor as a significant actor in the transformation of land.

Beyond the presented data, Stibbon challenges time and transformation through her chosen medium. One unique series on display is a collection of works drawn with ground cliff chalk on black prepared paper. The inverted use us shades introduces another level of time to the exhibition, as it reads as though the study is observed in an absence of light. The use of cliff chalk on black also creates an exchange of material – the chalk extracted from the landscape to serve as the primary medium, then removed from the paper to create texture and dimension, as the chalk of the scene has fallen from eroding cliffs. The work Cafe Demolition catches this movement viscerally, where a fallen fence and piled debris introduce a chaos created by change.

When capturing time in Svalbard, Stibbon is challenged with a sense of immediacy. No longer is the drawing a careful process of adding and subtracting, as the freezing temperatures at sea can form crystals on the canvas while the artist works. By working with these physical changes, Stibbon becomes a single witness to the landscape – seeing, feeling, and showing the effects of the transformative icesheets.

Melting Ice | Rising Tides presents a daunting but necessary acceleration of time. Two different landscapes placed equidistant to one another, compressing change and loss with time, demonstrates the global impacts of climate change on such colossal landscape forms. By forming intimate relationships with material, Stibbon presents mediums which expand beyond the exhibition and challenge the way in which landscapes have an effect upon, and are affected by, humans.

Leaving Towner Eastbourne, the visitor is faced once more by the ocean. But after Stibbon’s work, the shoreline seems more of a temporary illusion, one which will be radically changed in a not-so-distant future.

Emma Stibbon is an artist whose large-scale drawings consider the complexities of extreme environments undergoing transition and change. She has participated in residencies including the Arctic Circle residency (2022) and the Queen Sonja Print Award Residency, Svalbard (2019); Hawai'i Volcanoes National Park (2016); and National Parks Arts Foundation, Death Valley (2019), AIR Antarctica, Scott Polar Research Institute (2013); the Albers Foundation, Connecticut (2016); and the British School at Rome (2010).
Recent exhibitions include Desert Sublime, University of San Diego (2023), Vanishing Point, Galerie Bastian, Berlin (2022), Fire and Ice, Alan Cristea Gallery, London (2019), Ruskin, Turner and the Storm Cloud, York Art Gallery, & Abbot Hall, Cumbria (2019), Territories of Print, Rabley Drawing Centre (2019), and Ice Limit, The Polar Museum, Cambridge (2015). Public collections include Towner Eastbourne, Stadtmuseum, Berlin; New Art Gallery, Walsall; Pallant House Gallery, Chichester, Bristol City Museum and Art Gallery; the Fitzwilliam Museum, Cambridge, University of San Diego and the Victoria and Albert Museum, London.
Emma Stibbon is Senior Lecturer at the University of Brighton and is a Royal Academician.

Blair Kern is a Canadian writer and landscape architect practicing in London, UK. With an academic background in architecture and human geography, her work focuses on the spatial strategies of movement and occupation in the public realm. She is currently working for the architecture practice DSDHA, collaborating on a range of design scales, including the sensitive restoration of heritage parks and the masterplan of existing communities.


Emma Stibbon: Melting Ice | Rising Tides is on at Towner Eastbourne until 15 September. Further details available at:


All installation images courtesy Towner Eastbourne, © Rob Harris.

publication date
20 May 2024

Anthropocene, Chalk, Cliffs, Climate change, Coast, Coastline, Collapse, Ice, Land, Eastbourne, Erosion, Blair Kern, Norway, Ocean, Postcards, Sea, Emma Stibbon, Sussex, Svalbard, Tides, Towner Eastbourne, Waves