The Land of the Summer People (2014- ongoing) is an art-science research collaboration between the artist Seila Fernández Arconada and Prof Thorsten Wagener of the Water and Environmental Engineering Research group at the University of Bristol, UK. It explores the unstable relationship between society, water and place by exploring flood impact in Somerset, England. Using creative and scientific methods this multidisciplinary project applies participatory research to understand societal response to extreme weather events.
The artist is developing a number of creative activities to facilitate dialogue with both engineers and locals in the context of this case study. Understanding of each part by the others is vital to this dynamic and complex research. Exploring methodology of both art and scientific disciplines, the project aims to generate new ways of understanding research and education.
Through meetings and shared workshops, both within the university and with the community in Somerset, the project aims to implement new methods for ‘collecting’ people’s experiences, through exchange (rather than appropriation). This cycle of connections expands disciplinary research. By using creative approaches it enables participants and collaborators to generate an open dialogue from the local (Somerset flooding) to the global (climate change) scale.
In addition, crossing the boundaries created within disciplines can generate innovative methodologies, to evolve to be more resilient to future uncertainty caused by climate change. It is important to think about language and how each discipline generates its own particular terminology, which can isolate and detach it from a common discourse. Although through disciplinary training [academics] acquire the capacity for the specialised “coding” of information, the question remains whether they are equally equipped to perform the reverse process, and decode knowledge to make it available for wider apprehension. Could art offer a language to facilitate this process?
In addition, the research looks at how the limited availability of historical hydrological data can be supplemented through surviving visual representations of extreme weather events in art, like engravings, paintings, drawings, etc. The additional evidence that can be extracted from such art works can help to refine the picture of the past in terms of flooding. With this approach we are exploring how perceptions of the historical context for extreme weather events is subject to a shift determined by living memory. Archival history, on the other hand, presents a different picture and recalls the long history of natural events and traditions to help us understand how short-term connections with nature have shaped the way we live today.