Phil Coy


Phil Coy, Grit (film still), 2024. Courtesy of the artist.

Phil Coy, Grit (film still), 2024. Courtesy of the artist.

Phil Coy, Grit (film still), 2024. Courtesy of the artist.

Phil Coy’s Grit registers that indistinct border between land and sea, its weeping eye and shifting sands, a material substitute for time and memory, the films granular optics bleed into pixelated artefacts, in a fleeting glance at our flailing human vision.

Emerging from the increasingly murky depths of the sea, the film draws on the little-known phenomena of ‘coastal darkening’ a steady decline in water clarity, and a literal darkening of waters around the world’s coastlines over the last century. Grit captures the imperfections of human vision, the degenerating rods and cones of the human eye, the darkening coasts of a world made turbid by human activities, a diseased human vision potentially cured by the genetic propensity that the retina of a Zebrafish have to regenerate.

Filmed and recorded at locations around the coast of England, it investigates the peculiar shifting landscape of the aggregates industry – where materials formed over millennia, on a gradual passage to the bottom of the ocean, are dredged up and deposited back onto land to rise back up to form the buildings and architecture that surround us.

The film references the aggregates sites of the Thames Estuary; Goodwin Sands, a large sandbank in the English Channel; as well as Admiralty Pier in Dover, during one of the record number of storms hitting England during the 2024 storm season – the same location that Birt Acres filmed Rough sea at Dover in 1895, at the birth of British Cinema. Today the scene appears almost unchanged, and yet the Pier, built when the British Empire was at its territorial peak, now shields from view the dock where immigrants who have dared to make the journey across the English channel in small boats are processed.

A film reader, featuring an essay by William Fowler, writer and Curator of Artists’ Moving Image at the BFI National Archive, accompanies the film, exploring how the film’s “amphibian vision” presents a resetting of historic ways of looking through its links to the history of experimental film and cinema. An abridged version of the reader, including an Afterword by Phil, is available to read in our journal.

Grit was commissioned by Cement Fields as part of Estuary 2021 and has been kindly supported by Arts Council England, the University of Hull, Moorfields Eye Hospital, and The Historic Dockyard Chatham. The works feature the voices of Joanne Milne, Kevin Prince, Mariya Moosajee, and Rodney Forster.

Grit was screened on Thursday 7 March 2024 at Chatham Historic Dockyard, alongside Phil Coy and Jonny Graham’s Sound Mirror (1999), and followed by a conversation between Phil and William Fowler, writer and Curator of Artists’ Moving Image at the BFI National Archive.