“THIS PROJECT HAS HELPED ME REALISE THAT YOU HAVE TO BE ABLE TO COMMUNICATE SCIENCE AS WELL AS BEING A GOOD SCIENTIST” (Olivia Cooke)
On 2nd March 2015 Deborah Westmancoat took the two of the students working with recent flooding to the Willows and Wetland Centre in Stoke St Gregory. The aim was to learn more about how this particular area was affected and to make some site responsive artworks using materials collected from the area. Despite the chilly winds, Olivia Cooke and Dave Glover threw themselves into the project with great energy and interest, starting with a useful conversation with Nicola, one of the staff at the Centre, about how the floods were perceived locally and how the surrounding land had been affected. They also discussed ways of potential land management, including the planting of Willow. The Centre kindly donated some materials for the students to use in our artworks. We found out that art keeps the Centre going – artists charcoal made from their Willow beds being their most significant export!
The centre kindly allowed us the use of an outdoor classroom overlooking The Levels for the day. As soon as we had moved our kit onto site we started collecting materials from the ground, withy sticks and water from the River Tone to use in the works. Nobody fell into the river…but it was a close call at one point! After some initial discussion and trials our art started to take shape. Following on from ideas initially presented by fellow student, James Webber, we manipulated our gathered materials on the paper sheets we were working on to represent various flooding scenarios. We added writing ink to the collected waters, and this was rained or tidally flooded into the various topographic elements to ‘write’ the story of how water reacts in different situations. We all agreed that the finished pieces are very striking, and were interested to see just how well the ink/water images represented the different hydrological scenarios so well.
The making of the work led to some interesting observations and discussion between the group. Olivia Cooke felt that the project made clear to her that “…you have to be able to communicate science as well as being a good scientist”.
Dave Glover said that seeing the works made helped to reinforce that “…you can’t apply the same solution to the same problem in every area. You need careful land management in the Somerset Levels.”
Later, reflecting on our day of making flood art in the landscape, Dave wrote:
“It was great to get out from behind the computer screen and to actively model some ‘flood scenarios’. Some of these ‘flood scenarios’ were interesting to compare; the chromatography showed where the water ‘pooled’. If you have ever watched how water runs down a window; you will have seen how droplets will merge or follow similar paths. This was something that was visible today in the artwork which you would not necessarily see that detail in a computer model. One important aspect to note is the speed at which these observations take place; in a river channel erosion may take place over days or even months. However the process of creating these models allowed us to appreciate these processes in minutes. It was a very useful teaching tool which is a fair reflection of the purpose of the project; to communicate science visually. After talking to Nicola (one of the staff members at the Centre) it left me with the impression that there will not be a concurrent solution, such as dredging. She stated that although the last years flood actually damaged very little Willow, it did prevent its harvesting which was a problem specific to themselves. Obviously this links back into the discussion of better land use management. Do we flood a small town or do we flood an area of willow and compensate the owners?”