The Navigators – London, England - Atlas Obscura

The Navigators

Ship-sized kinetic sculptural fantasy. 


A rivet-covered bronze sculpture with the face of a man and the body of an industrial-age ship, The Navigators is actually an enormous kinetic machine.

The 60-foot sculpture by artist David Kemp was installed in 1987 during the renovation of Hay’s Galleria, which saw the conversion of the old wharf into a shopping center. When activated, its oars move through the water at its sides.

Kemp is a British artist best known for his large assemblage sculptures. He lives on the Atlantic coast of West Cornwall where he scavenges for interesting bits to make his art from.

About his art he says: “I make things out of things, big things, little things, old things and new things. I like to recycle things, and find new uses for things that have been thrown away. Some things say something about their surroundings, and other things become something else.”

The Navigators was one of Kemp’s first major public installations. Since then, he has created a number of large works including the “Old Transformers,” a pair of huge outdoor sculptures near Consett, County Durham.

The property’s history dates back to the 1600s and was originally known as Hay’s Wharf, after the original owner of a brewery at the location. Located on the Thames, over the centuries it has been a center of trade and shipping until heavy damage from WWI bombing raids nearly destroyed it. By the 1960s it had fallen into disrepair. In the 1980s the property was restored and converted, and enclosed under a glass roof with Kemp’s sculpture installed as a tribute to its working class past.

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November 16, 2010

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