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Third Angel presents

Shallow Water

She washes and she doesn’t stop. She washes the dirty crevices that nobody else can see. She soaks herself in fantasies and grubby little secrets. Her legs dangle in the water and occasionally she wiggles her toes.

Performed by
Rachael Walton

Devised, Designed and Directed by
Alexander Kelly & Rachael Walton

Sculpture (bath and chair) by Robin Widdowson
Cinematography by Robert Hardy
Editing by Christopher Hall
Soundtrack by Paul Keatley
A Ferens Gallery Live Art Commission. Funded by Yorkshire and Humberside Arts.

Photography by Robert Hardy.

Shallow Water - performance for camera version - 19 mins.

In the centre of the space, there is a large steel bath, five feet square, two feet deep, half full of water polluted with cleaning products. Film plays across the surface of the water, lighting the space around the bath. A metal chair in the corner is lit by a single light bulb. On it is a pile of clean white towels. Too many towels. Piled in another corner are 6,000 bars of soap, filling the room with their scent.


A performance installation exploring the notion that cleanliness is next to godliness, for gallery spaces and other sites. The installation was designed to open separately, for the public to explore and spend time in; performances - an abstracted washing ritual - took place in the same space at specific times.
Originally presented at the Ferens Gallery in Hull in May 1997, Shallow Water continued to tour through until 2001, visiting Site Gallery, Worcester City Art Gallery, the Lovebytes Festival, Tramway, the Diskurs Festival, the ARENA Festival, Cheltenham Everyman and The ICA.

Programme Notes

When I was little, and feeling ill, my mother would always suggest that I wash my bubble. This would perk me up a bit and I would be ready to face the world. I wash my face twice a day, sometimes more. I forget to rinse one armpit. I have written secret messages on a lover’s back, and taken the taps end and I never wash behind my ears. I moisturise occasionally and sometimes piss in the shower when alone.


Shallow Water was the most visual and physical show we had made thus far and was quite a departure from the previous theatre pieces. It had a performance/installation dynamic similar to The Killing Show, the two parts working together, but either able to exist in isolation - but was definitely more in the realm of live art. By making work solely for the gallery without any theatrical expectations it liberated our thinking. We had space to look at the one thing - washing - and to magnify the subject, to exhaust all lines of enquiry.

The environment and the bath were developed first. We had a very strong picture of how we wanted the piece to look in the Ferens. We then shot lots of material to be projected onto the surface of the bath, but it took another week of experimenting to work out how exactly we were going to be able to project onto the water. Once all this was in place the strange water woman of the performances began to take shape.
Immediately we started to devise the performance Rachael knew she had to be slightly alien, thus allowing her to view everyday things in a new way. A lot of the movement was quite bird like and stilted. The costume a full-length blue ball gown, rubber stockings and gloves, goggles and a swimming cap also added a great deal to the quality of the movement. The space had very little lighting and seeing where to go and what was happening was at times very difficult; it had to be instinctual and she would pray the audience would just get out of the way as she moved around.
People aged from five to eighty came to see the piece. Some people had to sit by the bath, others wrote messages to us with the bars of soap, but what we will never forget is the smell. Everybody who came to see the show got their own little bar of soap to take home with them and those that left them in bags or pockets soon knew about it. It was that institutional smell, the smell of hospitals and school toilets. One bar of soap smelled bad, so you can imagine how six thousand bars of the stuff could really get up your nose.

There's lots more information about making and touring Third Angel projects 2008-2017 on our original blog, and 2017-2023 on the blog on this site.