Voices of the Flood

Voices of the Flood

Andrea Oke, Josie Ashe, Laurence Hawker and Jonathon King

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The exhibition will draw together a number of themes running throughout the Land of the Summer People project; it aims to provide a space that informs and encourages dialog on the connectivity of the landscape (social and hydrological), drivers for change, and our response to recent and historic flooding.

The exhibited work will include audio from interviews with local residents, which combine with sound bites from interviews with politicians, scientists and government organisations as they attempt to resolve the flooding on the levels. The audio installation is intended to stimulate the listener into a personal response to the flooding of the Somerset levels, whether social or scientific.

The audience is directed towards the large-scale image of a landscape, representative of the hydrological catchment combined with visual representations of data derived from the flooding. We would like to encourage interaction with the image by asking the audience to write or draw messages on the paper provided before attaching these thoughts to the surface of the large-scale image. It is our hope that the audience will help us to cover the landscape with their thoughts, feelings and responses to flooding.

The material generated through this dialog will be incorporated into a unique hand printed book; bound within a print of the Levels landscape and containing all of the messages gathered from the large scale image. By looking at the key words, messages and questions rained through this process, further research will be undertaken to produce accessible and engaging visual representations of the scientific data collected. These will be used to help us understand how people are responding to flooding, the links across landscape we live in, and how our interactions with this landscape affect the way it works.


Somerset Flood Kit,

Somerset Flood Kit

Seila Fernández Arconada, Barney Dobson, Ioanna Stamataki and Ludovica Beltrame.


The Somerset Flood Kit is a package containing items related to the Somerset Levels and Moors and its relationship with flooding. This work connects art and engineering by looking at how questions and solutions can work together to find creative ways of representation and communication. The Somerset Flood Kit is a package containing the products we created from a multidisciplinary approach and process. The items of the package are made from materials and symbols of flooding in the Somerset Moors and Levels. These include a boat made from clay collected in Somerset rivers, a willow cutting from Sedgemoor, a natural sea sponge, an inflatable artefact made of recycled plastic carrier bags, rice, gravel and sand from Ebbor Gorge near Cheddar and a recycled plastic bottle to create a mini water filter. These items are connected to a booklet where stories are presented in different writing styles such as poetry, drawings, newspaper articles, games, academic text, etc. By using different language formats we play with an open narrative full of questions while presenting connections with the past and the future of Somerset. These kits were generated with the intention of giving them away in Somerset to generate a flood conversation. The performance took place in Taunton on Tuesday 17th of March 2015. The group formed by Seila Fernández Arconada, Barney Dobson, Ioanna Stamataki and Ludovica Beltrame met in the city centre. During an afternoon we had a number of conversations that were triggered by the Somerset Flood Kit. We found that studying the physical processes of flooding and the topography of the area does not make you aware of the effects of flooding at the local community level or of their experiences. We were surprised that most of the people we met and talk to had directly encountered flooding (either recently or in the past) or knew someone who had. Our contribution with the Somerset Flood Kit made a little step forward in other creative ways to communicate and engage with a different audience in an exchange of learning from different perspectives about floods.

somerset action





“‘Something emotive abides in the land, and…it can be recognised and evoked even if it cannot be thoroughly plumbed’. This ‘something’ is inaccessible to the analytic researcher, and invisible to the ironist”. (‘Landmarks’, Robert Macfarlane, commenting on the work of Barry Lopez)

Art and Science in the Landscape

This series of site specific work was made on 02/03/15 at The Willows and Wetland Centre in Stoke St Gregory on The Somerset Levels and is a direct response to learning more about how this particular area was affected by recent flooding. Part of our research involved speaking with staff at the Centre and understanding how the floods were perceived by residents and how that informed local discussion surrounding potential land management, including the possible benefits of more willow beds and vegetation. Informed by James Webber’s initial ideas, the group collected materials from the ground, along with withy sticks and water from the River Tone, and constructed three dimensional environments on paper to represent various flooding scenarios. We added writing ink to the collected waters, and this was rained or tidally flooded into the various topographies and allowed to wander at will…to ‘write’ the story of how water reacts in different situations.

The making of the work led to some interesting observations and discussion between the group. Dave Glover said that seeing the works form helped to reinforce his understanding that “…you can’t apply the same solution to the same problem in every area. You need careful land management in the Somerset Levels.” Olivia Cooke felt that the project made clear to her that “Having previously carried out research on communication of hazards and risk, this project highlighted a different method of communicating scientific information through art. It is just as important to be good at communicating science as it is to be a good scientist..”.

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 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.

Flood Warnings

Flood Warnings

Seila Fernández Arconada, Barney Dobson, Ioanna Stamataki and Ludovica Beltrame.


Flood Warnings are attempts of communicating flood risk. It is connected with nature and our relationship with it. This work comes out of a collaboration in which communication between different disciplines is vital. What is the relationship between the current societies and their environment? How are we dealing with climate change?

This collaboration’s starting point was looking at the future of flooding in the Somerset Levels and Moors. From the beginning we were inspired by the Tsunami Warnings made in Japan. Those warnings are written engravings in huge stones. They are attempts to communicate to the future for next generations telling them not to live in tsunami-affected areas.

Flood Warnings are a reflection in how communication between different organisations and individuals is happening in present times. How does the battle between short-term human interests clash with nature at different time scales? Could examining this question be applied to Somerset and its historical connection to water? Is current society learning from the past and its mistakes? Are human beings acting as good stewards for future generations to come?

The work consists of 4 stones that have been placed in Moorland as a compass from the centre of this area: 51°5’3.91″N, 2°56’54.52″W. This village gained nationwide recognition in February 2014 due to extensive flooding which particularly affected this area. The four stones are currently located in the area as an intervention in public space. They have an engraved message: TXT “HI” 2: 07860053076. This invitation for communication is a temporary autoreply service in which the audience, who could unexpectedly encounter the stones, will have the chance to communicate. Will they be curious about the message and text with their mobile phones looking for an answer?

Technology, which has an important impact in the aforementioned, also represents the rapid times we are living in, it changes, decays and develops. Meanwhile engraving drawings or writing in stone, an ancient technique to preserve human knowledge, was the first attempt of humankind to represent and preserve experiences in time.

‘Parish Notices’

‘Parish Notices’

Jon England, Nejc Čož & Wouter Knoben



‘Parish Notices’ consists of a pair of artworks each created in former parish notice boards. The works respond to two of the most dramatic events in the history of the Somerset levels, separated by over 400 years, the 1607 tsunami and the floods of 2014.

The works are simultaneously characterised by a series of commonalities and oppositions, representing the contrasts between these historic and contemporary events but also their cyclical and repeating nature.

The first work portrays a section of an engraving depicting the 1607 flood, reproduced in rusty pins and nails. The combination of image and materials (including historic square, cut nails) expresses both the single event, the accumulated histories communicated through this receptacle and repeated attempts to engineer a solution to the problem.

The second piece takes the form of a QR code (linking to the Land of the Summer People website) constructed from shiny, galvanised nuts and bolts. Its pixelated form contrast the pictorial form of its companion piece reflecting both the mediated experience of recent events and renewed efforts to engineer solutions to issues of flooding.

In using the notice boards as our canvases we reflect how regardless of the date of flooding events, the effect on local individuals and communities remains profound and that within the Somerset Levels the relationship between society, water and place is continually evolving and always complex.

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?”.

The group would like to thank Nicola and the staff at the Willows and Wetlands Centre, Stoke St Gregory, for their support.





The Land of the Summer People, event-presentation

The first exhibition-presentation of the project The Land of the Summer People took place in the Exeter Community Centre on the 25th of March.

The results of this project were presented as an art exhibition where artists and engineers were able to talk about their work with the public. The varied nature of the projects created a very dynamic event, given that some of the projects required public participation in the exhibition space to be completed. In addition, there we presented documentation of work done specifically in Somerset, both work with the landscape and with the local people, following our aim to communicate flooding issues in the Somerset Levels and Moors through public engagement.

During the day we were able to work together in creating the exhibition in the available space for the evening event. This last step of the project was interesting as the engineers participated in a new experience to them, displaying art installations. The result was that we had a group of people both concerned with pictures hanging straight and equally spaced, while also worrying about what emotions it might evoke in the visitors. This part of the collaboration again enabled both groups, engineers and artists, to engage with each other’s thinking and creative processes. And even if the exhibition was the final step of the project at this stage, it is likely to become just a milestone along a path that will lead to further joint work.

We would like to say thanks to everyone who was involved in the research process and the making of the work, especially to all the participants:

Olivia Cooke, David Glover, James Webber, Deborath Wesrmancoat, Andrea Oke, Josie Ashe, Lawrence Hawker, Jonathon King, Jon England, Nejc Coz, Wouter Knouben, Barney Dobson, Ludovica Beltrame, Ioanna Stamataki and Simon Ledson.

We of course would like to thank EPSRC, the WISE CDT program and the office for public engagement at the University of Bristol for their financial support, and a special thanks to the Exeter Community Centre for being such a great team to work with.

For us, Seila Fernandez Arconada and Thorsten Wagener, the project has been a whole new learning process and hopefully we will be able to work together again so that we can develop new ideas building on this first pilot project and experiment. Please have a look to the images of the event – “a picture is worth a thousands words”. Also, in the following posts of this blog, each project will be explained by the participant group and we will kepp you updated with news about the project. We would like to hear from you, so please do share your thoughts with us.

Some images of the process of putting the exhibition up and taking it down.

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Some images of the event

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Seila Fernández Arconada and Thorsten Wagener.

The Future of flooding in Somerset Levels and Moors. Group updates.

The performance took place in Taunton on Tuesday 17th of March 2015. It was a sunny day and it was great to be out of the office engaging with the local community in Somerset. We met in the city centre and had two boxes filled up with our flood kits ready for the performance. The plan was to give them away to people while engaging conversations with them about the floods and their experiences.

At first, it was exciting and maybe a bit intimidating at the same time: how to approach people walking on the street? Will people be prepared to talk to a few strangers about flooding? What will they expect? What will they tell us? However, very soon we felt much more comfortable and giving our kits not only provided us with the chance to talk about our project, but also opened the opportunity for establishing deeper connections with the people, sharing stories and memories about floods in Somerset.

One of the people we met was a middle aged guy. When we told him we wanted to talk about flooding he seemed sceptical. However, the lady next to him very excited told us he was actually the perfect person to talk to, as he had been working at the Environment Agency for over 40 years and as part of his work he had been involved with the Somerset flooding. What were the chances? We started talking about the flat landscape of Somerset, making it so prone to flooding, and the map we had included in the kit became a useful tool to discuss about the topography of the region and the most critical areas. He opened the kit in front of us examining each object and asking us further questions. At the end of our chat he told us ‘You made my day!’ which was a very amazing response for us.

Another interesting conversation was that with two ladies who had not experienced flooding personally, but who helped us realise once more how flooding is significantly present in everyone’s memories, having shaped the history of the whole community. They explained how the last year’s event came as a surprise to several people as there hadn’t been extreme floods in the last years and people were not prepared. We also talked about flooding being always present in the history of Somerset. It was interesting to hear the story of a church on the Levels which has hooks outside its entrance that were used in the past to moor the boats!

A lot of people seemed scared to talk to us and many did not have time to stop and chat but overall, the people we met appeared keen on participating in the conversation and their responses varied but were mostly very positive. We were happy when, talking with two girls in their 20s, they seemed interested with the overall project and told us that as their houses had never flooded, they would pass on our kit to friends of theirs who had actually experienced flooding.

After we had distributed all of our kits, we were left behind with a willow cutting that someone did not know where to plant. On our walk back to the train station we saw a small corner flower shop and we immediately walked in. After explaining the project and talking with the florist about the floods we immediately realised that we had found the perfect person for our left over willow. She explained to us that her and her son grow willow in Taunton and make real size animals out of willow.

Studying the physical processes of flooding and the topography of the area does not make you aware of the effects of flooding at the local communities or of their experiences. We were surprised realising that most of the people we met and talk to, had actually experienced flooding (either recently or in the past) or knew someone who had experienced it. It was very interesting engaging and listen to their stories. For us, engineers, trying to find an alternative way to talk to people about flooding and actually understand realities that data cannot teach us was interesting but also challenging at times. Using our flood kits as a communication item turned out to be a nice way of generating interesting discussions and stepping forward in understanding the reality of flooding and the challenges the communities have to cope with.​

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Barney Dobson, Ioanna Stamataki, Ludovica Beltrame and Seila Fernández Arconada

Testing Times

The work is continuing to gather pace as the exhibition approaches. We are all working furiously to test our ideas and make sure everything is ready for the show.

My initial concerns regarding how the collaboration would work due the constraints of physical distance have been allayed as the group have fitted into a regular exchange of information and ideas via email. However, this exchange of information led to me being provided with numerous interviews and recordings regarding the flooding, which I have spent the last few days going through to finalise our sound installation. It seems to me that there are many conflicting views over the management of the levels and I seem to struggle to find a definitive answer to the question of dredging, something I intend to question the rest of the group over. I will let you know their thoughts.

I have attached a small sample of the sound piece below so you can get a feel of the work


Andrea Oke

Visiting Moorland

Our group were extremely lucky to be invited to Moorland to talk to Janet Winslade and her son James about the effect that the flooding had upon their lives. Janet has lived in her home for 50 years and in that time has never had her home flooded which meant that the events of the last 12 months have been extremely difficult for her and her family.

I have spoken to Janet about her experiences before but it is always the details that surprise me. In my experience it has taught me that many of us make conclusions about what must have happened but in reality we really have not idea of the reality of the flooding or what challenges still face the communities. I was hoping that the meeting would have the same effect on the rest of group and I was really pleased to see that the encounter left all of us with a far deeper understanding.

Looking at the repairs to the River Parrett

When writing of his experience after the visit Laurence said ‘from the field visit, it was immediately apparent that flooding was not an obvious threat. When we were shown the levels that the floods reached, I was astounded. The episode has profoundly shaped the family and has triggered them into becoming experts about the flood hazard and the current wrangling to mitigate them. The community spirit that this event has fostered was evident with several young farmers still helping to clear the debris. Hopefully this response will help alleviate the risk in the future, yet one could argue why this could not have happened before the event. Janet’s strength of personality and resilience in lieu of the devastation to her house and personal history was inspiring. This event has shaped the Winslade’s and the local community for the foreseeable future.’

Some of the damage still remains from the floods

I think the experience is also helping to shape the work. Josie is still working tirelessly on her illustrations but her latest drawing, which is shown below, really demonstrates the effect that, hearing first hand, how the flooding affected the community has on the work. You will see Josie’s uses many of the facts we heard. Janet told us that the water came across the land from the west and high winds resulted in damage to the buildings, which is referenced on the right of the drawing. James telling us that the insurance companies disputed whether flooding or storms, referenced on the top left, of the illustration, caused the damage also fascinated us. Each time I look at Josie’s work I can see more and more of Janet and James’ story.

Moorland sketch

Post written by Andrea Oke, Josie Ashe and Laurence Hawker.