Singing for the Sea

Singing for the Sea is part of The Artangel Collection. Since its initial presentation in 1993 it has been exhibited at Abbot Hall Art Gallery, Kendal in 2013, ATLAS Arts, Isle of Skye in 2016, The Gymnasium Gallery, Berwick-upon-Tweed in 2017 and Millennium Gallery, Sheffield in 2022.

  • Artist: Bethan Huws
  • Title: Singing for the Sea
  • Date: 1993
  • Medium: 16 mm film, shown as single-channel video, projection and sound (stereo)
  • Dimensions: Overall display dimensions variable
  • Duration: 12 minutes
  • In the Artangel at Tate Collection


The simplicity of the setting – no lights, no amplification, no scenery beyond what nature supplied – had its magical effect. None of the local people I spoke to afterwards found it anything less than delightful. — Robert Hewison, The Sunday Times, 1 August 1993

In 1993, Bethan Huws orchestrated a memorable performance called The Bistritsa Babi: A Work for the North Sea. The work was made in collaboration with a group of Bulgarian grandmothers, The Bistritsa Babi, who, for an hour each evening for three days that summer, stood at high tide and sang to the sea. Huws first researched the music that she had heard in the National Sound Archive in London. It appeared to be a particular form of antiphonal choral singing which was still practised in Bulgaria, based on groups of women singing in the open air – calling out to each other. With the help of a choral expert she found the Bistritsa Babi, who she invited to perform in Craster on the unspoilt Northumbrian coastline. This 16mm film called Singing for the Sea documents the performance, their haunting melodies combine with the rumbling of the sea to create a unique polyphony of sound and voice.

Image: Installation view of Bethan Huws, Singing for the Sea, 1993 at Abbot Hall Art Gallery in 2013. Photograph: Courtesy Abbot Hall Art Gallery.


at The Gymnasium Gallery

Berwick-upon-Tweed, 17 June - 10 September 2017

Berwick Visual Arts presented Bethan Huws' Singing for the Sea at The Gymnasium Gallery. The film of a performance staged at Sugar Sands, an amphitheater-shaped beach a few miles south on the North Sea coast. The group of eight Bulgarian singers performed their traditional folk songs in this far corner of Europe as the continent grappled with the fall of the Berlin Wall. As Europe confronts renewed tumult, the haunting melodies of the singers combined with the rumbling of the sea to create a polyphony of sound and voice, once again.

Image: Bethan Huws, Singing for the Sea, 1993

Bethan Huws, Singing for the Sea. 1993 presented by ATLAS Arts, Isle of Skye.  Photo: Cailean MacLean


Isle of Skye, 24 August - 01 October 2016

The Isle of Skye has a strong musical tradition, particularly for puirt-a-beul (literally ‘mouth music’), which proliferated in the late 18th century in defiance of the Clearances and the subsequent attempts to quash Highland culture in Scotland. Instruments were scarce and musicians resorted to mimicking fiddle and pipe music, replacing them with rhythmic and often meaningless vocables. This form of song bears strong similarities to that issued from the Bistritsa Babi of Bethan Huws’ Singing for the Sea. The film of the performance was presented in collaboration with ATLAS Arts in Scorrybreac Boathouse overlooking Portree harbour on the Isle of Skye. The work was shown as part of the itinerant arts organisations 'A Work for the North Atlantic' project. A year-long programme that explored themes within Singing for the Sea through the context of its presentation in the Isle of Skye.

Image: Installation view of Bethan Huws, Singing for the Sea, 1993 at ATLAS Arts in 2016. Photograph: Cailean MacLean

at Abbot Hall Art Gallery

Kendal, 6 July - 8 September 2013

The Lakeland Arts Trust is delighted to have the opportunity to show Bethan Huws’s extraordinary film installation at Abbot Hall, a venue strongly associated with the British landscape tradition stretching from Constable, Turner and Ruskin to Sutherland, Piper and Lowry. The film presents an inspiring variation on this theme that will hold viewers spellbound. — Nick Rogers, Curator, Lakeland Arts Trust 

On the twentieth anniversary of the making of Singing for the Sea, the film was presented by Abbot Hall Art Gallery in Kendal. The film which celebrates the mystery and power of nature was shown in the Georgian art gallery, which has a long history of exhibiting works in the British landscape tradition.

Image: Installation view of Bethan Huws, Singing for the Sea, 1993 at Abbot Hall Art Gallery in 2013. Photograph: Courtesy Abbot Hall Art Gallery.

Previous Presentations

Since the launch of The Artangel Collection, Singing for the Sea has been exhibited at: