3. Encounter between artists and engineering students

During this workshop, artists and students got together for the first time. This meeting took place in Exeter University during December 2014.

Firstly, artists introduced themselves with a presentation of their practice, with a particular emphasis   in process and how creative methods where shaping the final artwork. This gave the students the opportunity to understand more in depth about the research their art practices carry from their personal experiences.

Afterwards, students presented their ideas of possible projects coming from their research about the Somerset Levels and Moors. This project has an experimental dimension as we didn’t know what was going to come out from their first responses, however, we found the result even at this stage was very successful. The projects presented were very varied, both in terms of conceptual approaches but also techniques that included interactive installations and interventions in the public space, among others.

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After a break we were all ready to work in groups. The dynamic of their group relied on each of the participants in order to find a common interest to tackle in their collaborative projects. They had sources to work from, their research in Somerset, the student groups ideas and the artists’s approaches.

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The groups were deep into their conversations sharing ideas, putting them together and shaping them in collaboration. After that they already had an starting point of what they wanted to work on during this project. Ideas will be shaped over the process, however, their essence will be carried on until the final stage of the project when presented to the public.

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To see more images click in the slideshow below.

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Artists, the first meeting in Somerset

The artists for this project were carefully curated to match each of the groups working about the Somerset Levels and Moors. Being both professional artists and Somerset community members, artists were invited to get together in Taunton in early December.

Jon England, Deborah Westmancoat, Simon Ledson and Andrea Oke, together with Seila Fernández Arconada will be working together with each of the groups. Very briefly, I explain their connections with the theme of flooding as well as their particular selected periods of time.

Jon England is allocated with the “Overview of the long term flood history of the Somerset Levels and Moors” for his interest into history and the importance of archives in his process, how they inform concepts and materiality of his works with special look at Somerset history. For more information about his practice click here.

Deborah Westmancoat will be working with “Recent flooding in Somerset Levels and Moors (2013-14) as her practice looks specifically at site-specific waters, often flood, which she uses as material in her last body of work. For more information about her practice click here.

Simon Ledson will be working with “Historical flooding in Somerset (last 100 years). Ledson has worked with representations of data in which his interest in water is an important part of his body of work in the last years, including representations of Somerset flooding. For more information about Simon Ledson’s practice click here.

Andrea Oke is in the group ” Societal response to flooding in Somerset”, her last project “Levels” had an interest into how people were affected by the flooding in Somerset, looking at storytelling Oke transformed those local memories into sounds and drawings. For more information about her practice click here.

Seila Fernández Arconada will work with “The future of the flooding in Somerset Levels and Moors”. Her current practice, including this project, looks at water with a particular perspective into the uncertain future caused by climate change. For more information about her practice click here.

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jon england

Wing Commander R.C. Hancock, (2006) by Jon England.

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Surface 3 (2013) by Deborah Wesmancoat.

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simon ledson

Spirit of the Levels, (2014) by Simon Ledson.

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andrea oke

Levels (2014) by Andrea Oke.

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seila fernandez china

Unconscious Power, the act of collective creativity (2014) by Seila Fernández Arconada

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First workshop

In the first workshop, WISE engineering students from the Universities of Bristol, Bath, Exeter and Cardiff got together to explore the topic of flooding from different angles in the University of Exeter. The titles of their approaches were the following: “Recent flooding in the Somerset Levels and Moors (2013-14)”, “Societal response to flooding in Somerset”, “The future of flooding in Somerset”, “Historical flooding in Somerset (last 100 years)” and “Overview of the long term flood history of the Somerset Levels”.

Each of the groups presented their particular research to the rest by explaining their posters which led to a discussion. They had the theme of flooding in the Somerset Levels and Moors from different periods of time, however, similarities over time and reflexions over the whole took place.

After presenting their views on these topics from an engineering perspective, the students were introduced to art projects looking at similar topics with a particular focus on projects with a socially engaged dimension. Firstly, the artist Seila Fernández Arconada introduced her practice with special emphasis on the creative process and how different media could carry similar approaches in her practice. Coming from a multimedia background, the artist, has evolve along the years to collaborative and participatory approaches focusing on environment and climate change. Her presentation was connected to the broader contemporary art in which projects by artists such as Francis Alÿs, Eve Mosher, Pedro Reyes, Olafur Eliasson and Alessandro Rolandi, among others, were explained.

exeter workshop

In addition, students were involved in some creative activities for them to look at storytelling and visual representation differently. With that purpose they were asked to bring an object to tell a story about their interest in water and share the story with their groups. This showed how by looking at defining a personal relationship with that object we can generate more engaging stories to connect with the “audience”. In addition, a collaborative drawing activity was connected to this and by choosing one of the objects each of the groups draw the different dimensions of the objects by following instructions from the artist. Those simple creative activities were an introduction for them to engage with communication and collaborative process.

The last part of the session focused on questions such as: what do you think are the differences between art and engineering? What is an engineerWhat does creativity mean in your field of study? What do you mean when you use the term community? Among other to look for cultural backgrounds, stereotypes and perceptions that could influence communication leading to a discussion that took us from the role of engineers and how is perceived by society to community and how this term could be problematic. 

After being part in the workshop that helped them look at collaboration and art as a tool to express their research and ideas, they were given the task to generate a proposal in groups to tackle their particular research about Somerset Levels and Moors, but this time, incorporating artistic approaches.

100 years flooding

future of flooding

historical flooding

recent flooding

societal response

Posters made by the students

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Cycling in Somerset.

I like hydrology, the science of how water moves through our environment, and I like cycling. Cycling through Somerset to explore the region and to see its unique landscape that makes it so prone to flooding was therefore a very fitting start for our project. We spend a day cycling from Taunton to the uplands and back down along the river Parret. We experienced the flat Levels and Moors, and how the landscape rises in the upper parts of the catchment. It is easy to see how water will collect in the uplands and come down through a river whose edges are higher than the surrounding landscape. Nothing protects houses from flooding outside the towns ones the river reaches bankful discharge.

 

Somerset bike ride

 

One of the most startling images was seeing a large number of houses in different states of repair after they had been flooded. Being located just meters next to the river Parret and unprotected means that they flooded as soon as the river overflowed. Small differences in topography made the difference between getting flooded and staying dry. I can imagine how worrying it must be to see the river levels rise to the edge, just meters away from your house. How does this environment define people’s relationship with water?

 

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Thorsten Wagener

Barney, personal experience so far…

As someone who knows a bit about hydrology and not a lot (only what was in the press) about the Somerset Levels this project was quite an eye opener. The geographical situation of the region is interesting; it is certainly a perfect case study for land which is naturally susceptible to flooding and how human intervention/management doesn’t always pan out as planned. However far more exciting for me (having come from a more geography/engineering background) was researching the history of the region and how that has shaped the land today.

The most striking aspect of its history is the cyclical nature. This follows the rough pattern of:

  1. Investment, excitement and improvement of engineering/drainage works.
  2. Forgetting the bad times, lack of maintenance and slowly falling into disrepair.
  3. Severe events, economic and social depression.
  4. Acknowledgement of problems and the cycle begins again.

While exhausting to read over and over again, we should not be so surprised at this since it is commonly acknowledged that this is how investment into flood defence occurs. 1000 years of flood management history in the Levels displays this cycle occurring over many combined periods. There are century long cycles which follow the performance of the national economy and shorter, more local cycles which move within this, dependent on the actions of individuals.

The most entertaining of these local cycles was the interplay between drainers (engineers), King Charles (who owned the land) and the people who lived there in the first half of the C17th. It was at a time where investment on royal land could only be made by royal agents. The drainers had the agents so convinced that the drainage of the land was achievable that they considered it a done thing and turned against each other to vie for royal favour to get the best deal. All the while the unrest of the people grew, ignored, in the Commons. When attempts at drainage were finally proposed or made they all failed, rejected and opposed by the people. Interestingly in the Great Fens a similar sale of marshland (and thus livelihoods) for drainage on a larger scale by King Charles was occurring in parallel, this is cited for one of the triggers for the Civil War!

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Barnaby Dobson

The Land of the Summer People’s project background

Five years of interest in the Somerset Levels and Moors and over a year of ideas and conversations about how to make the project happening is the background of The Land of the Summer People project.

During this time, I have been looking at the Levels and Moors from different perspectives researching around the historical archives including art, archaeology, geology, biology, hydrology, trying to empathy with the complex relationship of people, land and water in this area. While my interest in Somerset was growing, the last severe winter flooding occurred, which enforced even more what at that time was the conceptual base for this project.

River Parretfloods article

Then I started visiting more Somerset to be present in the conversations happening out there as well as experiencing the landscape which meanwhile ended up being transformed in an art project called some:when. This project is a public art project in collaboration with the artist Jethro Brice together with individuals and community groups affected by the floods which is currently happening.

It is important for me how The Land of the Summer People project ideas have been shifted by the learning about the area, how experience have shaped what is vital in the research of this project, specially even more considering this project as an art-science collaborative approach. Since the last winter flooding in 2014, actions have been taking place, making even more relevant the exchange of knowledge, specially looking at the relationship between archival history and living memory, are decisions in the area influenced by (living) memory? Would it be important to look at history in order to learn from previous local inhabitants and combine their methods with the way we live nowadays? Would it be important to change approaches in local people’s lives to be more resilience about future extreme weather events? Could art play a role in the discourse, thinking of art as a language that enables reflection and analysis?

river Parret

Seila Fernández Arconada