Tag Archives: Marianna Dudley

Publication – Reflections on Water: Knowing a River

Cover RCC PerspectivesM Dudley, ‘Reflections on Water: Knowing a River’ in RCC Perspectives, 2016:4, 47-54, Environmental Knowledge, Environmental Politics: Case Studies from Canada and Western Europe, Edited by Jonathan Clapperton and Liza Piper.

Project Member Marianna Dudley has contributed an article to an issue of RCC Perspectives on environmental Knowledge and politics. Her contribution explores how we see, understand and (think) we know a river. It is a place that has multiple meanings and uses and therefore knowing means different things to different people.

To read more on “knowing a river” download the RCC Perspectives from the Environment and Society Portal.

Reflections on mud, art, history and an exhibition

By Marianna Dudley

For fotogallery please scroll to bottom

Mud. Commonplace, messy, mucky. It is something we squelch through on walks, wash off boots, and rinse away on hands. Have you ever stopped to ponder its historical significance? Its sensory delights? Its visual possibilities?

From 14 – 18 March at the University of Bristol, ‘The Power and the Water: Connecting Pasts and Futures’ project invited the public to do just that, in a free exhibition of work by ceramic artist Tana West, who uses river mud to create beautiful – and thoughtful – objects that connect maker and place, process and product, material and environment.

In 2009’s ‘Subject for Change’ Tana walked the length of the River Severn, researching and digging for mud as she went. It was this artwork that captured my attention, as postdoctoral researcher investigating aspects of the Severn’s environmental history on ‘The Power and the Water: Connecting Pasts and Futures’. Her rigorous research process, the importance she placed on experiencing the changing river environment, and the production of objects which held clues to the river’s history within them, connected with the research of the project on a number of levels.

When you work on the Severn, mud asserts itself, historically and physically. It is a river whose water is the colour of chocolate milk, dense with mud and silt particles kept suspended by surface run-off upstream and the tidal movements of the lower reaches. Environmental historian of the early modern Severn landscape, John Morgan, shared with me a source he’d found in the Bristol city archives, in which the river mud was held in high esteem.  In a letter from Captain Charles Symes to Edward Southwell about building out near Sea Mills in 1694, Symes claimed of local river sand that ‘when tis Dry its Licke aney Rock and much stronger then aney Other Morter, (as well it may) Takeing up Such a Deal of Lymme’.  This mud, much like the mud that Tana uses in her art, was valued for its malleable qualities, its strength and its usefulness.

In recent times, not everyone has valued mud in the Severn. John’s source contrasts with a modern source I’ve found, a 1966 article in The Western Daily Press. It discussed the possibility of a tidal barrage across the Severn which would have the effect, the author thought, of stopping the tidal movement and allowing the silt in the water to settle, turning the estuary from brown to a ‘more attractive’ blue.  Until that point, I hadn’t considered the muddy ‘brown-ness’ of the river to be a problem, or something that people might not value. I am fascinated by the tides and the rich ecosystem supported by the mud and silt of the river. But to some others, mud is problematic. It is not a passive substance, but something that has shaped opinion, and identities. Between early-modern builders and twentieth century tidal power enthusiasts is a big space in which to think about mud.  The idea for ‘Into the Mud’, and later ‘Land + Water,’ was born.

‘Into the Mud’ secured funding from the AHRC’s Connected Communities Summer Festival fund to hold an outdoor creative workshop on the banks of the river Severn in June 2015. Tana led the workshop, which brought together members of ‘The Power and Water’ and ‘Towards Hydrocitizenship’ projects (which share research interests in water, rivers, and local understandings of place and identity); amateur potters; members of a local community group, Ideal Action; and passers-by. By creating a temporary manufacturing base down by the river, the workshop enabled informal, creative, environmentally-responsive expressions and discussions to take place. Two participants wrote about the experience here.

But we weren’t done with mud yet – there was more to say, and do. Tana visited the University of Bristol and I showed her around Royal Fort House, the home of the university’s research institutes. The ornate rococo detail on the ceilings, walls and cornices, Tana revealed, were made using some of the same techniques she’d shown us in the workshop. There were alcoves crying out for vases; plinths pleading for pottery!

We decided to hold an exhibition called ‘Land + Water’, that combined new pieces made by Tana in response to the venue; older pieces made from Severn mud; and the products of the riverside workshop. Two talks were also planned, with the help of the Institute for Advanced Studies (who also made available the beautiful Verdon-Smith Room and all manner of logistical support).

At the first public talk, Tana talked about her work and research, with comments by the project leads of ‘The Power and the Water’ (Prof. Peter Coates) and ‘Towards Hydrocitizenship’ (Prof. Owain Jones), who both participated in the workshop. In the second, organized by IAS, a multidisciplinary collection of academics spoke on anything ‘mud’ related, for 5 minutes, to inspire conversations surrounded by Tana’s work.  Throughout the week members of the public were welcomed to the exhibition, and left their comments in a Visitor Book. Among the works on display were ornate vases and ‘mass’ produced tea-cups (river mud turned delicate, beautiful and functional); ceramic installations ‘Into the Vernacular’ and ‘Under the Road, a River’ (that echo the utility of ceramics in building, sewerage, and water systems); and a print of diatoms, the microscopic inhabitants of mud that sustain the wildlife of the Severn estuary, made using Severn mud on paper.

Through ticket ‘sales’ for the (free) events, and visitor comments, we know that over one hundred people interacted with the exhibition, notwithstanding the challenge of finding it – the University of Bristol desperately needs a dedicated exhibition space. We also know that, for some, seeing Tana’s work, engaging with the discussions around it, and thinking deeper about mud, land and water, has changed the way they view the river’s place in city life and everyday experience.

Mary-Jane, Librarian: ‘I shall look more closely at the different types/colours of the Severn estuary mud in future’

Ben, postgraduate student: ‘ A superb reflective experience. Thank you for letting me in to your way of the seeing the world. A beautifully layered exhibition portraying such a dynamic place’

Kelvin, unemployed: ‘Love the way the work fits in the building – coming up the stairs and seeing this is a brilliant complement’

Robert, historian: Fabulous. I begin my mornings at Sea Mills on the river bank by the station – 3 minutes by train into Clifton Down. This is such a stimulating exhibition and way of bringing the river into the city (and into Royal Fort House)

Faye, ecologist: ‘An interesting study of the environment, history, and art. Thank you’.

(all comments from the ‘Land + Water’ visitor’s book)

 

Photogallery

All images by Marianna Dudley

Inside the Mystic River: Riding the Severn Bore

By Peter Coates

When thinking about rivers – and trying to think like a river – I like to compare (with apologies to Arthur Miller) the (more detached) View From the Bridge with the (more involved) View From Under the Bridge. Last Thursday morning (29 October) there was a 4-star bore on the River Severn, which is not as big as a 5-star bore (the highest rating), but impressive enough. This was my third bore. But the previous two occasions had been mainly visual experiences (with a bit of an aural accompaniment thrown in as the onrushing waves scoured the sides), standing on the bank near St. Peter’s Church, Minsterworth and then at The Old Passage pub on the Arlingham horseshoe bend.

Rollercoaster

All aboard the rollercoaster. Photo: Leona Skelton

This time, though, with my colleague, Marianna Dudley, I got on and (somewhat) in the river, thanks to world record-holding Severn Bore surfer Steve King and master mariner Duncan Milne of Epney, whose 4-metre RiB (rigid inflatable boat) with an Evinrude outboard sometime glided across the smooth surface yet also bounced around on the bore in both directions. At times, unbidden, the water filled up the boat nearly to the gunwales; then, within seconds, the boat emptied of its own accord.

Duncan delivered us safely back to the bank where, though soaked, we were none the worse for our experience. Deliverance is the title American writer James Dickey chose for his first and best known novel (1970), about the adventures and misadventures of four middle-aged suburbanites from Atlanta who take a weekend canoe trip down a turbulent river in the Appalachian wilderness. Like John Boorman’s 1972 screen adaptation (starring Burt Reynolds and Jon Voigt), the book has lost none of its power to thrill and shock (I bet they all wish they’d decided to play a few rounds of golf instead).

But Dickey was also a poet of the river. ‘Inside the River’ (1966) invites the reader to ‘follow your right foot nakedly in to another body’ and to ‘put on the river like a fleeing coat’ [1]. After taking a tumble, Marianna put on a coat of the more conventional kind: a dry suit. Yet whether or not you were literally dunked in the Severn estuary’s big muddy waters, the ride injected a healthy dose of material meaning into that hackneyed phrase, immersive research.

Upper limit Severn

The view downriver from Maisemore Bridge. Maisemore Weir and Lock are the upper limit of the tidal Severn. Photo: Leona Skelton

As we chased the Bore, tacking back and forth across the head of the tide, we got as thoroughly soaked to the skin as Dickey’s four friends who hurtled pell-mell down the fictional Cahulawassee River in northern Georgia. I hasten to add that the similarity between Gloucestershire and Georgia ends there (Epney is a far cry from Aintry). Well, almost. The river whose rapids the foursome decide to shoot is about to be impounded by a dam. I knew that a barrage across the Severn to harness its tidal power will kill off the Bore. But to hear it from the river’s mouth – the surfers who’ve been riding it for decades and of whom it’s said that their veins run with muddy water – drove this ominous prospect home with eloquent force. For the bore is a source of wonder as well as a site of exhilarating recreation.

In Life on the Mississippi (1883), Mark Twain recounted his pre-Civil War career as a steamboat pilot (the ultimate dream of every boy raised on the banks of the river T.S. Eliot called a ‘strong brown god’ in ‘The Dry Salvages’ [1941]). Sipping tea in the café at Saul after we got off the river, listening to the likes of Duncan, Steve and the two Stuarts talk about the enigmatic tidal flows and infinite variety of subtle and unpredictable permutations and differences between stretches of water, referring to the data bank of fluvial knowledge stored in the head of every experienced bore surfer, I was reminded of the passages that left the strongest impression when I first read Twain’s reminiscences as a callow youth.

The face of the water, in time, became a wonderful book – a book that was a dead language to the uneducated passenger, but which told its mind to me without reserve, delivering its most cherished secrets as if it uttered them with a voice. And it was not a book to be read once and thrown aside, for it had a new story to tell every day [2]

But then he speaks of his growing disenchantment and sadness as he gets to know the river better and becomes more accomplished. Mastering the ‘language of this water’, though a ‘valuable acquisition’, came at a heavy price.

I had lost something too. I had lost something which could never be restored to me while I lived. All the grace, the beauty, the poetry had gone out of the majestic river…The romance and the beauty were all gone from the river. All the value any feature of it had for me now was the amount of usefulness it could furnish toward compassing the safe piloting of a steamboat [3]

I was never convinced by that supposedly inverse relationship between enchantment and knowledge, between poetry and prose. And my recent experience on and off the Severn in the company of boatmen confirmed that knowledge and enchantment can happily co-exist on a mystic river, whether over there or over here [4].

 

Notes

[1] From Drowning with Others: Poems (Middlebury. Conn.: Wesleyan University Press, 1966), 91.

[2] Mark Twain, Life on the Mississippi (New York: Airmont Publishing, 1965), 57-58.

[3] Ibid.

[4] The Mystic River is a short river in Massachusetts, whose Wampanoag name (muhs-uhtuq) translates as ‘big river with waters driven by waves’.

Into the mud

Severn Beach

Location of the workshop at Severn Beach. Photo: Marianna Dudley

‘Into the Mud’ (21 June 2015) was an outdoor workshop organised by Marianna Dudley, from the University of Bristol’s Department of Historical Studies as part of a collaboration between ‘The Power and the Water’ and ‘Towards Hydrocitizenship’ projects, funded by the Arts and Humanities Research Council’s Connected Communities Summer Festival.

Artist Tana West ran the workshop which used clay extracted from the Severn riverbed at Aust. Tana is interested in exploring the intersections between nature and culture by using materials at hand.

The location, at Severn Beach, was ideal to work creatively with mud from the river and to make connections between object, processes, origin and materials, by creating a temporary manufacturing base on the riverbank.

Here, two workshop participants, Mireia Bes and Ana Miguel, reflect on why they attended the workshop and how it has changed their understanding of, and relationship with, rivers.

 


Mireia: I found out about this event at Festival of Nature and immediately decided to join. I’ve been doing pottery since I was a kid, but I rarely have the chance to do pottery with clay that comes directly from the landscape, it was always detached from my surroundings. There´s something quite primal about sourcing your own clay and doing pottery on the spot that really attracted me.

Ana: I found it fascinating as it brought together some of my passions: research, the environment and pottery. My experience with academia and the university has been through a formal approach of seminars and lectures. In this case, the location, format, material and topic were integrated in an innovative fashion. We engaged in a natural and relaxed way which allowed us to increase our creativity. Pottery is a recent discovery in my life. It allows me to connect with my creative side and disconnect from the daily life. I loved the idea to be outdoors with clay in my hands from the mud of the river.

Mireia: It was a luxury to be doing pottery at Severn Beach. The mix of the natural landscape left behind by the tide with the industrial buildings and the lack of people despite the sunny day, gave it a bit of a dystopian feel. For me the actual trip there, was as interesting as the final destination. Leaving the centre of Bristol and seeing a new landscape emerge and change until we got there. Sometimes we just jump into a train and get out at the final destination without even paying attention to the landscapes we see through the window. I had the chance to share the trip with Peter Coates who told me about the history of the area and that totally changed the experience, I felt I was more connected to that landscape.

Ana: The bank of the river Severn was the perfect location for this workshop. We were in the Severn Estuary which is one of the biggest estuaries in Europe. It was an impressive location: we could see the windmills and a really long bridge. The colour of the water is brown which created a real connection with the mud. We were surrounded by mud and different varieties of algae.

For me one of the most important aspects was the (de)contextualisation of the workshop. When I think about a pottery class, the image is of a room indoors. However, ‘Into the Mud’ was an outdoor workshop. We were surrounded by the origins of the clay, working with mud from the river and learning about the environment. Being in this new location generated an atmosphere, relationships and conversation completely different from a normal class.

Working with clay

Ana and Mireia working with clay. Photo: Marianna Dudley

Mireia: The clay actually came from Aust and it was there when we arrived, which was a relief as I didn´t have wellies! It was funny to work with that clay because it has a different texture. It was interesting to change this idea of the clay as something that comes in a bag for you ready to use to something that you can actually source from nature and work it to transform it into objects. We were also constructing something together, working as a group, which is not something that usually happens in a pottery studio.

Ana: Being so close to the clay’s origins connected me more with the environmental aspect of pottery. I have never thought before about the relevance of where the clay comes from and also that it was so easy to get clay from natural resources near me. We used the mud from the river to construct a waterpipe. We also used some objects around us to work with the clay such as algae or plastics. A key aspect in this process was that the researchers from the ‘Power and the Water’ project were explaining us the history of river Severn, the landscape and the connection with their projects.

We took some clay/mud to our pottery class, but all of a sudden it was decontextualized: it smelled and it felt wetter and stickier than when we used it on the beach. Our fellow potters didn’t really engage with the new material… but Mireia and I will use it anyway, we now have a special connection with this material.

Mireia: I really like cities that have rivers because I feel they create spaces for social interactions and connect you with other lands and people that the same water will touch. Obviously rivers are very important from an ecological point of view and for the societies that grow around them, but at a personal level I had never experienced a direct interaction where the river was actually providing me with something that then I could transform into an object that could have a function in my day to day life. It was a new way to look at rivers.

Ana: My main contact with rivers has always been from tourism and leisure. I have enjoyed the rivers with activities like canoeing or having a bathe. Another aspect of my relationship with rivers is from the point of view of the lack of water. Coming from a country [Spain] where we experience frequent droughts, I have experienced water cuts and the close monitoring of water levels in rivers and reservoirs in the weather forecast. This generates a completely different relationship with water than someone could have in England, for example, where there is a lot of rain, water and recent problems with floods. Since I have been living in England, for four years now, my relationship with water and rivers has been transformed.

 

As a result of the day we learnt things about pottery, history and landscape, and the relationships amongst those. But most of all it was a reminder on how important it is to create spaces to have proper conversations with people and how much you can learn from those. All of us had something to say about water and our relationship with it.

We really valued the opportunity to learn about the research that is taking place at the University through a workshop like that. Research is usually presented in a more formal way such as lectures or seminars and it is more difficult for the public to access. We also felt that the collaboration with other disciplines, an artist in this case, was key for us to engage with the research in a meaningful way through a practice that is relevant to our lives. It offered an opportunity to experiment, collaborate and learn in a relaxed way.

 

Historians at the Festival of Nature, 12-14 June 2015

By Marianna Dudley

In second week of June, ‘The Power and the Water’ project ran its first ever stand at the Festival of Nature, Bristol’s annual celebration of the natural world. It was a first not only for the project but for the School of Humanities too, as it was the first time a non-science subject had been included in the University of Bristol tent.

What?

FoN team

The Power and the Water Team, and 2nd Year Biology Student Volunteers, ready to engage with the public! Photo: Milica Prokic.

‘Hidden River Histories’ took the research that the Bristol-based team members are doing (Power and Water is a three-strand project with researchers at Nottingham and Cambridge Universities too) to create an interactive display that introduced environmental history to a diverse audience. We knew that the Festival is a popular event for all ages and backgrounds. Established in 2003, it is the UK’s biggest free celebration of the natural world with two days of free interactive activities and live entertainment across Bristol’s Harbourside. We wanted to introduce the field of environmental history to Festival-goers, and specifically some key themes in our project: how the natural world is intertwined with the human; how past water and energy uses might inform current and future environmental values; and how local issues fit with global environmental change.

Public engagement

Talking about river waters and history with members of the public. Photo: Peter Coates.

Our stand could not be boring: we were representing History and the Humanities among a sea of Science stands! For the kids we knew would visit (Day 1 of FoN is Schools Day), we had to provide something interactive – something they could get their hands on. Luckily, in environmental history, we have no shortage of fascinating natural, and unnatural, items to work with. River waters from four ‘Bristol’ rivers, the Severn, The Avon, the Frome, and the often-forgotten Malago (Bedminster) bottled in clear glass took an idea that was originally inspired by a Canadian artwork[1] to become an interactive way of thinking about tides, water quality, rivers-as-ecologies, and a quick way of testing people’s knowledge about their local rivers. Kids shook up the river waters and urgh-ed at the murky Severn and Avon. But they were fascinated to see old photos of salmon fishing and a beached whale in the estuary (in 1885), and we were able to talk about how ‘brown’ is not always ‘bad’, and how, from a salmon’s perspective, a nicely tidal, turbid (unbarraged!) River Severn is exactly where you’d want to be. The ‘pure’ Frome, on the other hand, was the river that was so dirty in the 19th century that the city chose to bury it.

Bottle water

Bottled water from the Bristol’ rivers, the Severn, The Avon, the Frome, and the Malago. Photo: Milica Prokic.

The bottled rivers were a way-in to talking about Bristol’s watery past, but we also wanted to discuss Bristol’s water future, particularly with an issue that we’d observed on field trips down to the riverbank at Sea Mills (a suburb of Bristol). On the intertidal zone there, plastics are a huge problem, brought in on the tides. The issue of marine litter connects local environmentalism with a global plastics issue – the river banks of Sea Mills with the Great Pacific Garbage Patch.

Plastic trash

One item of plastic trash from the banks of the Severn. Photo: Milica Prokic

We collected a huge array of discarded plastic items one morning in May. Guided through Health and Safety requirements by the Centre for Public Engagement, we decided to bag the plastic items (in yes, more plastic – the irony was not lost) and create a Trash Table, in which the rubbish was laid bare for the public to see, pick up, question and discuss. It had something of a forensics scene about it, compounded by the presence of numerous, enigmatic, lost shoes. We’ve been discussing ‘future archaeology’ as an interesting methodology, and it provided us with our key question: what stories would future historians and archaeologists tell about us now, based on these non-degrading plastics? In addition to confronting the environmental impacts of consumer culture, visitors to the stand could engage in some informal, but not inconsequential, narrative building.

Eloise Govier

Artist Eloise Govier and her hi-vis installation, made from polystyrene found by the Avon. Photo: Milica Prokic.

Though an exercise in public engagement in itself, we were able to highlight other public engagement and knowledge-exchange initiatives we’ve been working on. Artist Eloise Govier has been collaborating with researcher Jill Payne on installations that encourage people to think about energy. Her high-vis block of polystyrene – sourced on our forage along the Avon – was a great talking point, likened to cheese, Spongebob Squarepants, fatbergs and a meteorite! Artists from the Bristol Folk House also contributed works, based on an outdoor workshop we ran at the Ship’s Graveyard on the River Severn at Purton. We made them into free postcards that included our project website and contact info, encouraging future communication. The watercolours updated our visual record of the river and helped us to think about how people see and value the River Severn today, and how this connects with – or departs from – traditions of viewing land- and waterscapes in Britain.

Why?

A 3-day presence at the Festival of Nature was the culmination of months of planning by me and Jill (Payne, researcher on Power and Water). We had our first meeting before Christmas, and plenty since! Was it worth the effort? Unreservedly, yes. In terms of disseminating our project research, FoN allowed us to communicate our work – and raise awareness of the vitality of environmental history at Bristol – to a huge number of interested citizens. We await attendance figures for this year but last year, over 4, 385 people attended the UoB tent. In 2013 it was 6, 284. This year the weather was good and there were queues to enter the UoB tent, so we are confident that attendance was a strong as ever.[2]

Drewitt at Stand

Naturalist and broadcaster Ed Drewitt drops by to say hello. Ed provided a wildlife commentary for our project boat trip down the Avon

But public engagement of this kind goes way beyond sheer numbers. The process of planning the stand has been productive, helping us identify the themes in our work that hold interest (and are therefore useful for telling histories, in and beyond academia). The photo of the 69ft whale beached at Littleton-on-Severn was a side-story to my research, but people were fascinated by why and how this creature came to Bristol. A trip to Bristol City Museum to track down the bones is being arranged, and the animal inhabitants of the river will be more visible in my work as a result.

Moreover, good public engagement goes beyond disseminating research. They may be buzzwords in funded research, but ‘knowledge exchange’ and ‘co-production of knowledge’ are very real benefits of engaging with groups and individuals beyond the academy. For a project like ours, which is interested in public environmental discourses and people’s relationships with place, talking with the public is a key source of information, and a way in which we can build research questions, identify key issues, and meet people who can aid our research. We learnt of more hidden rivers in Bristol, community action groups, and old records of the Severn Bore. We were also asked why we were not being more active on the issue of plastic waste, prompting us to reflect on the aims of the project, and the role of academics in communities where sometimes, actions speak louder than words. It was useful to recognize our strengths and limitations, as perceived publicly, and to articulate our key aim of providing sound research from which people can become informed, and motivated. Getting involved in an event such as Festival of Nature is a useful reminder that rather than ‘us’ and ‘them’, we are the public too, offering a particular set of knowledge and skills but equally willing to learn from others.

As researchers funded by the public purse (through the UK Research Councils) the expectation that we take our work beyond the university is entirely reasonable. Public engagement is now built into funding applications, and the impact it can produce is a measurable output of research. Meaningful public engagement, based on principles of knowledge exchange and co-production, is a pathway to tangible impact, rather than a one-sided conversation. If we hope to achieve impact, that is, through our research change the way a group thinks or acts with regards to a particular issue or topic, then we must engage with the ‘group’; talk to them, identify key concerns, think about how our research can address issues and contribute to understanding and practice. The language of ‘impact’, public engagement and knowledge exchange, serves to reinforce the academic/public divide. The practice of such ideas, through events such as Festival of Nature, helps to overcome such distinctions. It’s also (whisper it) fun


The Power and the Water project would like to thank the Centre for Public Engagement (University of Bristol) for all their logistical and design support; the 2nd Year Biology volunteers that helped man the stand with enthusiasm; Eloise Govier, for the loan of her artwork and for helping on School Day; and Milica Prokic and Vesna Lukic, for filming, photographing, and mucking in over the FoN weekend.

 

 

[1] Emily Rose Michaud, ‘Taste the source (while supplies last) (2006-present)’ in Cecilia Chen, Janine MacLeod and Astrida Neimanis (eds), Thinking with water (Montreal: McGill-Queen’s UP, 2013), 133-38

[2] Thanks to Mireia Bes at the Centre for Public Engagement for attendance numbers.

Plastic Oceans: Connectivities of waste

By Marianna Dudley

Bristol-based Power & Water researchers have been exploring the inter-tidal river banks at Sea Mills, a suburb of Bristol where the River Trym meets the Avon and flows to the Severn estuary. PDRA Jill Payne lives locally, and has observed the extent of plastic waste on the riverbanks, deposited daily by the tides and quickly subsumed into the riverine landscape thanks to fast-growing grasses that cover the waste. The plastic detritus is not biodegradable, however.[1] When we walk on the riverbank, plastics, polystyrene and glass crunch underfoot. The riverbank is impregnated with rubbish.

plastic rubbish

A small selection of some of the plastic debris picked up by project members during a riverbank forage at Sea Mills, Bristol (Photo: Marianna Dudley)

Marine waste is a truly global issue, due to the processes of production, consumption and distribution that connect people, places and plastics. I was vividly reminded of this recently, when, days after exploring Sea Mills (where marine litter such as deep-sea fishing crates is brought in on ocean currents and tides to land alongside more local detritus – drinks cans, shopping trolleys, etc) with Jill, I found myself contemplating marine litter on a beach in Bali (another feat of global connectivity). I’ve been there before, and recalled the beautiful beaches, lush vegetation and warm waters that contribute to the ‘island paradise’ reputation. What I’d forgotten (or blocked from my mind) is that the paradise is marred by plastic waste, on the streets, on the beaches, and in the seas. Where traditional waste management methods of burning rubbish coped with localized, largely vegetal trash, in a swiftly developing economy and society such practices are inadequate. Increasingly, plastic waste that doesn’t burn easily gets dumped, and washed into watercourses. The situation on Bali has been greatly amplified by the waste generated by its tourism industry. Tourists are advised not to consume tap-water, and in the tropical heat, guzzle bottles of water instead to stay hydrated. But with no island-wide waste collection or recycling scheme, the bottles pile up, or end up in the ocean, along with plastic bags and other non-biodegradable items. Here they meet plastics that have washed up from Java, and further afield. When surfing or snorkeling in Balinese waters, these plastic presences are visible and unavoidable. To give a sense of the scale of the issue facing the island, Bali expects to receive 4 million foreign visitors in 2015[2]. That’s an awful lot of plastic bottles yet to be consumed and discarded.

My experiences in Bali connected with my involvement in project activities at home, particularly working with Jill to develop ideas for public engagement that address the issue of marine litter, as it figures in the lives and landscapes of Bristolians.   My previous mental blocking out of the plastic problem on Bali’s beaches encouraged me to reflect, this time round, on expectations of landscape and beauty, vs. realities of responding to environmental problems.

In Bali, I found innovative and committed activism bringing communities of locals, expats and tourists together. I visited the Green School in Ubud, where green values are at the heart of a holistic approach to education that has been commended by UN Secretary General Ban Ki Moon (who visited in 2014). Two Green School students, Isabel, 12, and Melati, 13, have led a Bye Bye Plastic Bags campaign that has accrued over 60,000 signatures to date, and have succeeded in persuading the Governor of Bali, Bapak Made Mangku Pastika, to sign a Memorandum of Understanding to take measures to minimize plastic bag use on the island by 1 January 2016. Their dream is for Ngurah Rai International Airport to greet tourists with the words: ‘Welcome to Bali, do you have any plastic bags to declare?’[3] In Bali, student-led activism is making a difference, though it may take time for change to become tangible.

Tourists are also being made aware of their plastic footprint thanks to cafes, restaurants, hotels and guesthouses engaging with anti-plastics campaigning. Guests are encouraged to refill old water bottles (at a cheaper rate than buying a new bottle) or invest in a resusable (non-plastic) container and say no to the always-offered plastic carrier bag when possible. Though the visibility of the plastic problem is evident in Bali, so too are the responses to it.

Visibility is a useful tool in encouraging people to think about waste, environment, and the possibilities of local activism as part of a global issue. One of the challenges of the Sea Mills site is that the rampant grass effectively conceals the litter beneath. From a distance, or at a glance, this is a verdant liminal landscape. Closer inspection reveals the strata of objects beneath. So one idea that Jill and I have developed for the Power and the Water presence in Bristol’s Festival of Nature (FoN) is to retrieve some of the plastics from the Sea Mills riverbank, and make them visible to Bristolians. We will forage for these non-comestible, non-biodegradable objects, and present them to the public as artefacts of contemporary life, in which ocean currents and local actions both place plastics in the landscape. On our Harbourside stand (12-14 June), people will be able to handle the found items and reflect on what they might tell us about our relationship with land, water, and energy production and consumption. We have also been inspired by project PhD student Alex Portch’s interest in ‘future archaeology’.[4] These objects, already embedded in the riverbank, will form a historical record by which we may be judged in future. What will they say about us, our present time, past actions, and future hopes? Using the found plastics, members of the public may create narratives that express contemporary concerns, or simply tell a story about who we are and what we use in daily life.

Plastic art Longbardi

Pam Longobardi and her art on cover Sierra Magazine. Image: Pam Longobardi, with permission.

The visual remains an effective tool to communicate environmental change, and we are also engaging with artists, notably Eloise Govier to reinterpret found plastics and polystyrenes in creative ways. Eloise’s work will feature on our FoN stand. In this respect, we are connecting with a visual trope in the arts whereby found plastics are reappropriated as art objects and curated in order to stimulate reflection on personal and societal responsibilities, local and global environmental challenges, and natural and unnatural materials. Pam Longobardi’s recovered flotsam artwork Plastic Looks Back graced the cover of Sierra magazine in 2014.

Tattoo

SAS maritime tattoos to highlight the marine litter problem. Image courtesy of Surfers Against Sewage.

She believes that ‘a persuasive piece of eco-art can be an effective tool in the arsenal of social change’.[5] Alejandro Duran’s series of installations, ‘Washed Up: Transforming a Trashed Landscape’ addresses the presence of plastics in Sian Ka’an, Mexico’s largest federally protected reserve and UNESCO world heritage site and actively seeks to change our relationship with consumption and waste; while UK-based Surfers Against Sewage deployed the highly stylized imagery of maritime tattoos in their latest campaign to highlight the scale of the marine litter problem. As tattoos, they hope, the images convey a ‘sense of permanence, something that the marine litter crisis is threatening if action is not taken soon’.

Visual and material evidence are powerful communicators, and we are looking forward to observing how the different elements of our FoN presence – water samples, historical documents, works of art, and found objects – not only communicate project research to the public but also start conversations and build relationships which will shape our work – both how we research, and how we communicate it – in the months to come. We will also be developing ideas for community-based responses to marine (and other) waste, and welcome interest from groups or individuals who might want to collaborate with us. From Balinese beaches to British riverbanks, rubbish represents cycles of human production and consumption, borne on natural forces of currents, winds, gyres, and tides, and deposited at our feet. Do we walk on, or do we stop and pick up the trash?

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Notes

[1] I use the term non-biodegradable cautiously, as recent research suggests that some plastics (polyethylene) may be broken down by gut bacteria in plastic-eating waxworms. Though this offers hope for future solutions for eradicating persistent plastic waste, at the present time plastic remains stubbornly present in our ecosystems, long after its production and use. See Yang et al, ‘Evidence of Polyethylene Biodegradation by Bacterial Strains from the Guts of Plastic-Eating Waxworms’, Environment Science Technology 48:23 (2014), 13776 – 13784

[2] ‘Bali eyes 4m foreign tourists’, Jakarta Post 15 Jan 2015

[3] Green School Bamboo News, ‘Governor of Bali signs MoU with BBPB Team’, 1 Dec 2014 <https://www.google.co.uk/search?client=safari&rls=en&q=green+school+plastics+campaign+bali&ie=UTF-8&oe=UTF-8&gfe_rd=cr&ei=gxdaVZj0L-3H8gfc_ICwDQ>

[4] see Laura Watts, ‘Future Archaeologies: Method and Story’ keynote given at Society of Museum Archaeologists Conference, Winchester 2009; and ‘OrkneyLab: An Archipelago Experiment in Futures’, in Ingold and Janowski (eds.), Imagining Landscapes (Ashgate 2012)

[5] Steve Hawk, ‘Spout: the Finer Side of Flotsam’, Sierra online, September 2014 < http://www.sierraclub.org/sierra/2014-5-september-october/spout/finer-side-flotsam>

Between cultural and natural heritage

By Marianna Dudley

chateau Chenonceau

“Fairytale castle”, chateau Chenonceau. Photo: Marianna Dudley.

Chenonceau is a chateau worthy of a fairytale princess. It has turrets and gardens and galleries – and a river running through it. Built between 1514 and 1522 on the site of an old mill, it became the home of Diane de Poitiers, mistress of King Henry II. Diane loved the chateau, and built the bridge over the river. On Henry’s death in 1559, his widow Catherine de Medici demanded that Diane exchange Chenonceau for her chateau Charmont. Catherine built the galleries upon Diane’s bridge, and ruled France as regent from the building. Renaissance intrigues, not fairytales, brought this building to life.

Foundation Royaumont

Foundation Royaumont, a former abbey. Photo: Marianna Dudley.

I was in France following an AHRC-Labex Franco-British workshop, where Care for the Future project members were brought together with French Labex counterparts, to discover each other’s research and discuss possibilities for future collaboration. The 2-day workshop was held in a former abbey transformed into a cultural centre – the Royaumont Foundation – to the north of Paris, a stunning setting for the ‘Delving Back into the Past to Look into the Present’ workshop.

The workshop was the result of an initiative by Andrew Thompson, director of the Care for the Future programme for the AHRC in Britain, and Ghislaine Glasson Deschaumes, director of Les Passés dans le présent (the Laboratoire d’excellence based at the Université Paris Ouest Nanterre la Defense, France). The two funding schemes had such close themes – Care for the Future: Thinking Forward through the Past, and The Past in the Present: History, Patrimony, Memory – as well as an emphasis on working with external heritage partners, and supporting early career researchers, that Andrew and Ghislaine have taken the opportunity to forge collaborative links between the two. Future funding will allow members of the two schemes to connect and apply for funding for joint research projects.

Carry van Lieshout and I were there to represent ‘The Power and the Water’, describe our research and be alert for potential links with French researchers present. My paper, ‘Between natural and cultural heritage, and human and natural archive’, discussed the importance of placing environments and natures at the heart of our understandings of heritage – as they have been historically, for example in the conservation movement in the UK and the global national park movement. It suggested that the language of heritage acquires new meaning when situated in a public sphere with many and multiple ties to place and nature – heritage breeds, heirloom vegetables, and keystone species are just some of the vocabulary used to add value to things by invoking heritage both cultural and natural. I suggested that, as historians and heritage professionals, we should be alert to the natural archive as a source and site for history, in addition to the cultural archive, and continue to place importance on landscapes, animals, ecosystems, natural cycles – and the histories and cultures they inform – in our discussions of heritage. In her paper ‘River or Ruin? Connecting Histories with Publics’, Carry explored how different valuations and understandings of an intermittent river and its heritage are playing out in the Peak district, and suggested that to widen our understanding (and expectations) of heritage-in-place to accommodate both natural and human interventions might allow contestations between past, present and future use to move forward.

interior of Chateau Chenonceau

Splendour of the interior of interior of Chateau Chenonceau. Photo: Marianna Dudley

After an intense two days of workshopping, I took some time to see more of French heritage in situ. Thus, I ended up at Chateau Chenonceau on a bitterly cold January morning, fully absorbed in the Renaissance splendor of the house, from the kitchens down below to the roaring fires that brought life (and much-needed warmth) to bed chambers and sitting rooms. This was cultural heritage at its best.

But then, in the gallery exhibition, a quote from Marguerite Yourcenar stopped me in my tracks, and brought the natural heritage of the chateau, somewhat hidden beneath the weight of tapestries and brocades and copper pans, back to the fore:

 

 

 

Let’s look at it from a new perspective, leaving aside these very well-known figures, these silhouettes on the magic lantern of French history… let’s think about the countless generation of birds that have flocked around these walls, the skillful architecture of their nests, the royal genealogies of animals in the forests and their dens or their unadorned shelters, their hidden life, their almost always-tragic death, so often at the hands of man.

Take another step along the paths: let’s dream about the great race of trees, with different species taking over in succession, compared to whose age four or five hundred years means nothing.

Another step further on, far from any human concerns, here is the water in the river, water that is both older and newer than any other form, and which has for centuries washed the cast offs of history. Visiting old residences can lead us to see things in a rather unexpected way. (Sous bénéfice d’inventaire (1962)

 

Yourcenar, the French writer and first woman to be inducted into the Académie Française (in 1981), looked beyond the materiality of the chateau to connect its history with that of the surrounding lands and waters that supported it, and suffered for it.[1] Her words spoke to me as an encouragement for environmental historians to raise the profile of the natural archive, and as a reminder that we are far from the only ones to seek and value natural heritage alongside other manifestations of history. I look forward to the opportunities that the initiative between AHRC and Labex presents for us to connect with French scholars with similar convictions and research interests. Sincere thanks to Andrew, Ghislaine, and the AHRC/Labex staff for bringing us all together, and starting conversations that are sure to develop.

[1] ‘Becoming the Emperor: How Marguerite Yourcenar reinvented the past’, The New Yorker (February 14, 2005)

 

Environmentalism from Below – A guest blog for the Rachel Carson Center

By Marianna Dudley

This August, I flew to Edmonton, Canada, to participate in a workshop organized by Jonathan Clapperton and Liza Piper at the University of Alberta. ‘Environmentalism from Below: appraising the efficacy of small-scale and subaltern environmentalist organizations’ brought twenty scholars from diverse scholarly backgrounds together to discuss each other’s work. Papers of 7,000 words had been pre-circulated, and we will continue to work on them for submission to an edited volume in the new year. The workshop was funded in part by the Rachel Carson Center, and I was invited to blog about it for them here: http://seeingthewoods.org/2014/08/26/environmentalism-from-below/

The workshop (and paper) was an excellent opportunity for me to think through the research I began with this project, looking at our use of water for recreation. Through my work I have identified a contestation of rivers by different recreational user groups, in particular anglers and paddlers/canoeists. My paper ‘Clear water, muddy rights: accessing British rivers for recreation’ suggests that historical notions of right use, insider/outsider identification, and contrasting philosophies of water as place and resource contribute to this ‘conflict’. To me, the campaign group Rivers Access for All (http://www.riveraccessforall.co.uk) can be seen as an environmentalist organization, though they identify themselves first and foremost as a recreational interest group. However, by working to assert a public right of navigation on Britain’s waterways and challenge current legal definitions of water-use, they are campaigning for a reconfiguration of how we use, protect and define water that recognizes those in and on the water, in addition to those who own or pay to use the riverbank. In effect, they are working towards a more holistic and all-encompassing definition of water than currently exists in British law, in which rights of property are privileged, and where the riparian owners also own the riverbed and water flowing over it. It is a complex issue, and I have been grateful for the help of my colleagues Chris Wilmore and Antonia Layard in the Law Department (University of Bristol) for helping me navigate the legal complexities of the subject.

The Rivers Access to All campaign, the contestation of water and the history of the dynamics between anglers, swimmers and canoeists have become a major focus of my research on the Power and Water project and I am very thankful to Jonathan and Liza for giving me the opportunity to present my research in an early stage. I will continue to work on these issues as the project evolves, so if you have any thoughts on recreational use of British rivers, legal definitions of water access and use, or any personal experiences of angling, swimming or paddling on rivers, do get in touch via the comments or twitter (@DudleyMarianna).

Reports on ‘cultural ecosystem services’

Project team members Peter Coates and Marianna Dudley have been involved in the preparation of two reports on ‘cultural ecosystem services’ that were published as part of the findings of the 2-year UK National Ecosystem Assessment Follow-On exercise (NEAFO)  that was launched in London on 26 June 2014.
The first report, ‘Arts and Humanities Perspectives on Cultural Ecosystem Services’, for which Peter was lead author, is the output of an AHRC-funded working party representing the broad spectrum of arts and humanities disciplines that Peter convened with the assistance of the AHRC’s Gail Lambourne. The other report, a ‘Keywords Manual’ on cultural ecosystem services, was prepared by Marianna with Peter’s assistance, and funded by Defra and various UK research councils through the Cambridge-based World Conservation Monitoring Centre (part of UNEP).
Download the reports below:

Making waves: will ‘wavegardens’ change surfing? Exploring artificiality and commercialisation in water-based recreation

By Marianna Dudley

Planning consent for a ‘wavegarden’ in Bristol was big news in the city (See: Bristol Post). Perfectly placed between the beaches of Cornwall and Devon to the southwest, and Wales to the west, Bristol is home to a committed surfing community who regularly exodus the city at weekends in search of waves. The Wave: Bristol promises ‘perfect’ waves on their doorstep, breaking on demand in an artificial lake just outside the city. But already the idea has generated plenty of discussion that gets to the heart of what surfing is about and what it means to those who practice it.

Waves

Waves of the open ocean. Photo by Marianna Dudley

Does it matter that the wave is generated by machinery, not winds, tides and swells that cross oceans? Artificiality offers some benefits: regularity, predictability, repetition. Surfers are used to poring over swell forecasts and weather charts to anticipate where the best waves will be on any given day. This takes time, but it also breeds an understanding of meteorological information, and how it affects certain waves and beaches. As a result, experienced surfers demonstrate a nuanced knowledge of the geographies of their local breaks, and can transfer their ability to read conditions to new or unfamiliar places. But if there is no motion in the ocean then surfers are at a loss (friends of mine get noticeable twitchy if they haven’t been in the water for a while and spend a lot of time scanning the horizon for a line of swell that never comes). A wavegarden provides waves no matter the weather.   This will appeal to many surfers, particularly during those flat spells when they are wave-starved.

I recently visited the Museum of British Surfing and chatted to its founder Peter Robinson about wavegardens. I was fascinated to see in the museum an illustration from the 1930s of a ‘wavepool’ in Wembley. The 1920s and 30s were the golden age of swimming, with outdoor pools, lidos and river swimming clubs providing many communities with opportunities for water-based recreation. A strong belief in the health benefits of swimming and being outdoors was prevalent at this time. Pete told me that these wave pools were not unusual, particularly in Germany, where swimming in ‘natural’ moving water was preferred. ‘Surf-riding’, what we now call body-boarding (catching waves lying down on short boards) was also popular on beaches across England at this time, and the museum has a great number of photographs, boards and even bathing costumes from this period. We don’t have evidence to show that people took their boards into wave pools at this time – but they may have. In any case, there are historical precedents to the modern wavegarden, and re-locating activities previously enjoyed in ‘natural’ environments such as rivers, lakes and the sea to a safer, more regulated environment of a pool was a feature of the modernization of recreation in the 1930s and 40s.

Surf bath London 1930s

‘Surf-bathing in a London Suburb’, The Illustrated London News 1934. Photo by Marianna Dudley. Source: Museum of British Surfing

Swimming pools allowed swimming to develop from a recreation to a competitive sport. Regular pool sizes, rectangular shapes, lanes and diving boards all allowed swimmers to practice their technique and directly compete against each other. A wavegarden has this potential, as surf journalist Roger Sharp notes in his article for Carve magazine. The waves produced in the test facility in the Basque country are long enough for an experienced surfer to do up to 6 turns per wave. Wave after wave, all day long. By contrast, if you are surfing in the ocean, you catch a wave, surf it for as long as you can (in all likelihood, a few seconds), paddle back out, catch your breath; it all takes time. Meanwhile other surfers in the line up are competing for waves with you. Catching waves in the ocean depends on paddling and positioning. These skills are accrued over time – a lot of time – in the water. The better surfers catch more waves, and have more time on waves to improve their technique. Beginners have to find their place in the hierarchy and wait for waves. And once they are on one, all too often they fall off after a couple of seconds. It is a lot of effort for, often, little reward. Those without access to waves struggle to progress.

The Wavegarden of Eden from CARVE Magazine on Vimeo.

Wavegardens will level the playing field. In a controlled environment, beginners will be able to learn, and enjoy more time actually surfing, while experts and pros will take advantage of the opportunity for repetitive practice and video analysis to work on the technicality of their surfing. But, the ‘indoorisation of outdoor sports’[1] isn’t for everyone (*though wavegardens are not ‘inside’, they do create an artificial surfing environment). ‘Wild’ swimmers have rejected the chlorinated confines of the indoor pool to return to the open water, in increasing numbers. For them, it is swimming as part of a watery environment and living ecosystem that gives pleasure. Surfers already experience and value that connection with their environment. For many, the idea of surfing taking place any where other than the sea is an anathema.

Surf competition

Crowds watch a surf competition on a French beach (Hossegor). Photo by Marianna Dudley

So is the notion of paying to surf (though at least one exclusive surf resort exists, on Tavarua Island, Fiji). Waves have, traditionally, been viewed as a free product of environmental conditions and a strong surf-environmentalist identity exists and works to promote water and environmental protection: see Surf-Aid and, closer to home, Surfers Against Sewage. Will wavegardens normalize the concept of pay-per-surf? The commercialization of other recreational waterscapes has already taken place. The popularity of angling by the mid-19th century, and decreasing stocks of fish, allowed landowners to charge fees to access good fishing spots, and the government introduced rod licences to control numbers and receive revenue. Anglers now enjoy propriety rights to the riverbank, for which they pay handsome sums. And the perception that other users – canoeists and swimmers, for example – use the river for free contributes to the ongoing conflict that exists for recreation on British rivers. The controlled space of a wavegarden facilitates the commercialization of the sport. The public space of the beach and the sea resists this.

But Bristol already has a wave that is surfed: the Severn Bore. It is not in the sea – though it comes from the sea, as tidal waters push up the river and create the wave – and it is anything but perfect, but it is regular (timetables are published online), and, unlike the wavegarden, it is free. I am researching how a community of surfers has centred on the Bore and am interested to see if and how a wavegarden in Bristol will affect this vibrant branch of Bristol’s local water culture. Will Bore surfers welcome the wavegarden as a shorter and better-behaved cousin to their beloved ‘Sabrina’ (the Roman name for the Severn)? And will the wavegarden encourage more people to seek out the river bore, connecting the static environment of the wavegarden to the dynamic environment of the tidal river? The wavegarden promises long rides per wave, but the Bore can offer a wave that progresses for miles, not metres. But as with surfing elsewhere, the close community of the Bore recognizes the efforts its members go to in order to surf the occasional wave – again, studying conditions and tide timetables, waking in the dark on cold winter mornings, travelling to the destination, where finally, effort is rewarded with an exhilarating surfing experience – one closely tied to place.

Bristol has a thriving water culture, with a lido and an outdoor swimming club at Henleaze (both are membership-based, but with provision for guest access), a triathlon training lake at Bristol Open Water, numerous indoor pools, and the Bore surfing community. It makes sense that a wavegarden should succeed here, and planning consent has been met with interest and excitement. Examples from the past show that innovations like the creation of pools and facilities can alter sports and the cultures that they generate. Wavegardens certainly offer a potential new space in which to contest surfing. But something tells me surfing will never lose its spiritual connection with the ocean. Ocean waves may be temperamental, sporadic and frustrating, but they are also dynamic, challenging and endlessly forming. The experience of sitting in the ocean patiently waiting for the gift of a wave is not one that can be re-created. It is where effort meets patience and energy meets calm. The moment an ocean wave takes you with it is flow incarnate, a gift from nature that draws people to the ocean. Wavegardens are interesting, and will make money, and provide a leisure service. But they can’t match the great Pacific, Atlantic, and Indian Oceans – or even the muddy river Severn.

 

Note

[1] Maarten van Bottenburg and Lotte Salome, ‘The indoorisation of outdoor sports: an exploration of the rise of lifestyle sports in artificial settings’, Leisure Studies 29:2 (2010), 143-160

 

 

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