Fluid Tense: exploring the watery pasts and futures of St Werburghs

In keeping with the watery themes of Some:when, Bristol’s High Water Line Project is an ambitious attempt to map out the 32 mile edge of Bristol’s flood risk zone to highlight the threats of rising sea levels and accelerated climate change. Originally conceived as a solo performance by artist Eve Mosher, who walked the line in New York shortly before Hurricane Sandy made it a reality, the High Water Line project has become an international pop-up community project bringing together people in diverse cities around the world to think and talk about community responses to climate change. High Water Line Bristol is happening as I type – community groups and local residents from different areas have each taken on sections of the route, passing on the chalk markers from day today in a city-wide orchestrated performance.

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Though the line is based on Environmental Agency maps, the idea of the project is not so much to make an accurate flood prediction as to generate encounters and conversations. From planning and production through to the actual performance and subsequent events, the process provides a forum for people to meet and talk in ways they might never have considered. These connections and conversations are what make a community strong. As project coordinater Isobel Tarr says: “We know that communities come together after a disaster. We want to see if we can do that before a disaster too”.

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We both live in Bristol, close to the high water line. On Tuesday we will be marking out Seila’s local stretch of the line. In the evening there is a local history walk looking at St Werburghs’ flood histories of flooding, and following that we will be running a short participatory session at a local independent farm cafe:

This creative, collaborative workshop with local environmental artists Jethro Brice and Seila Fernandez Arconada will explore the past, present and future waterscapes of St Werburghs and the surrounding area. Through storytelling, mapping and collective performance, we will explore what water means in our lives and how can we learn to live with its wilder side.

Water in St Werburghs

Pal·imp·sest

Last week at the LitterARTi exhibition in Bristol Jethro ran a workshop for children with designer-maker Fiona Hobson – creating laminated collages with children, from waste plastic bags and sweet wrappers (Seila was running a willow sculpture workshop with the artist Sarah Edwards outside)

It was a great chance to experiment with techniques we also hope to use for the some:when sail/banner. It was great to see how tough the laminate is and to get a sense for the properties of the materials, colours and textures – which were far too much for my phone’s camera to handle:

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This was actually our second attempt – our first was an impromptu living-room experiment with Claire and her incredible collection of creative scrap, at Bow Wharf in Langport. There are few relevant artists to consider if we talk about working with lamination and layering. Anselm Kiefer is one of them, one of the main artists working with the palimpsest technique to generate his work.

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Anselm Kiefer

pal·imp·sest (plmp-sstn. 

1. A manuscript, typically of papyrus or parchment, that has been written on more than once, with the earlier writing incompletely erased and often legible.

2. An object, place, or area that reflects its history.
Henrique Oliveira

Henrique Oliveira

And the incredible Museo Aero Solar, a hot air balloon made from laminated waste plastic bags:

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Museo Aero Solar

A welly of water will do

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We were sitting in the library when the phone rang, books stacked about our feet and on the little side table. We had divided the morning between phone calls and local history books, on the trail of the elusive Parrett Flatner. So far we had three interesting photographs, and one promising conversation. Now on the phone was Ron Coombes of Bineham City Farm, kindly inviting us out for a look at his hand-built punt, recreated from the original specifications of Colonel Hawker

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Cycling as fast as we could in the baking sun, we made it out to the farm just in time to catch Ron on his lunch break. He took us out to the barn to admire the boat, a long, low craft built constructed from light timber and marine ply, painted a wintry pale grey. Holding his hand to the side of his Wellington boot to show just how little water was needed to float the boat, he described the extent of the Winter floods and the trips he’d taken wild-fowling with his dogs when the Levels were submerged.

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Standing by the boat with the sun at our backs and the cool musty smell of the barn before, our quest at last began to take on material qualities – the feel of the marine plywood, the weathered texture of the flaking paint, smells of straw and wood, oil, rust and dung. The swallows among the rafters and the wet nose of the dog gently sniffing about our ankles. This wasn’t exactly the boat we were after, but its flat bottom and homegrown feel gave us a taste of what we were after. Ron said the boat has carried them for miles across the floodplain, needing very little to keep afloat. Running aground on the mud, it takes only a quick shove to get going again. It seems an ideal boat for access and mobility in an unstable and unpredictable water-scape.

At the back of the house, another boat lay upturned on the narrow lawn, a battered fibreglass dinghy propped beside the rusting garden gate. Ron marked out the line for us, where the water had reached halfway up the  drive. The house, the yard and the cattle sheds were safe on high ground, but a boat was still a handy thing to have about.

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Cycling back, we stopped besides golden fields of sunbaked corn beneath an innocent blue sky. The smell of warm earth, tarmac and milky thistles revealed nothing to our of the wet, waterbound Winter months.

On the trail of the Somerset Flatner

The following text is reproduced from a forthcoming notice in the next edition of the Langport Leveller with thanks to Janet Seaton.

Artists Seila Fernandez Arconada and Jethro Brice are working on a project with community groups in the Langport area, to recreate this iconic local boat – a flat-bottomed craft valued for its stability in a changeable landscape. Please get in touch if you have information, stories or pictures relating to the traditional Somerset Flatner and its smaller cousins, the Turf boat, Withy boat and Flattie. We are interested in collecting local memories to flesh out what we know from museums and archives – and perhaps even finding an original boat in somebody’s barn!

For more information about the project please visit http://www.some-when.co.uk.
Contact us on somewhenproject@gmail.com

Mannering, J (2008), The directory of inshore craft: Traditional working vessels of the British Isles, Barnsley, Seaforth Publishing, [distributor] Pen & Sword Books Ltd

Mannering, J (2008), The directory of inshore craft: Traditional working vessels of the British Isles, Barnsley, Seaforth Publishing, Pen & Sword Books Ltd