Conclusion of public art project To The RiverNovember 7, 2022
After much careful thought and reflection and in conjunction with Cambridge City Council, it was announced on Monday 7th November that the permanent Selvedge sculpture, proposed as a permanent outcome of To The River, will not go ahead.
A combination of factors has impacted the project since it was commissioned in June 2018. These include the two-year delay of the overall project timeline, for reasons including the increasing costs of materials and resources requiring further provisional funding to be approved, the suspension of council processes during a number of local elections, and the impact of lockdowns halting the momentum of community engagement in the project.
Over the then extended project period, changes to the river’s health became an increasing local concern. When the council consulted on the proposed Selvedge concept in spring 2022, only 20% of feedback directly addressed the proposed sculpture’s design (with 10% showing support for the sculpture, and 10% against), while the majority of feedback focused instead on concerns related to installing a sculpture on the river at all. The combination of these practical considerations, alongside a sense that the local community would not support any sculpture being sited on the river, led all parties to agree that the project should now conclude.
It is with great sadness that this conclusion has been reached, heightened by the extraordinary level of support during the engagement phase of the project. Nevertheless, some elements of the project do continue, for example the digital guided tour of Gwen Raverat’s river paintings and prints which can still be accessed online, and the films documenting FLOW and Knit for the River are also accessible through this website.
Through these examples of public art we have built community cohesion and engagement, a sense of care and ownership of the river, and supported and enabled critical debate on important subjects, such as the health of the river. Environmental responsibility and proactive promotion of that conversation and care have been central to the work throughout.
Although the sculptural work proposed would have supported the river’s health, providing a space for nesting birds, water plants to safely grow and water species such as voles to live and thrive, there has been a level of misunderstanding and miscommunication which has resulted in a loss of confidence in the role that public art can serve and the environmental benefits of the proposed work which has contributed to our decision to stop. I wish that I had been granted more opportunity to engage those with concerns in a direct conversation.
I would like to thank the small but dedicated Public Art team at the Council for the work we did together to engage so many people in To The River, and appreciate all they do to ensure art reaches the people of Cambridge, through Section 106 funds.
The press release from Caroline Wright and Cambridge City Council can be read here.
Immersions into the River CamAugust 4, 2022
Curator Mattie O’Callaghan staged a fascinating exhibition entitled Immersions: Into the River Cam at Robinson College, Cambridge in the summer of 2022. She invited a contribution of work from To The River and as a result, the film documenting Knit for the River was presented alongside a new monoprint made specifically for the exhibition.
Immersions: Into the River Cam combined an exhibition and public programme with 30 artists and contributors, exploring stories told from the water’s eye. Opening up a space for reflection, the exhibition asked who does the river belong to, how can it become a space of commons and not of division, and how can we better care for this fluid being?
SelvedgeFebruary 8, 2022
Bringing together the different elements and concerns that have developed and been shared throughout a project is one of the processes that feed into designs for a permanent work in a public art project that includes community engagement. The narratives, feelings and experiences of the river Cam that emerged during 2018 to 2020, alongside research into the river from a cultural, economic and historical perspective have informed the proposal for a sculpture to be sited on Mill Pond riverbank. This process of development includes, for example, a structural engineer’s report, advice from the Council biodiversity officer, an ecological survey and a public consultation.
The sculpture, entitled Selvedge, is a fine flowing and undulating ribbon of metal affixed to existing riverbank supports. It will be embossed with the pattern of Cambridge lace and the ebbs and flows of its form takes its influence from fabric and waves, acknowledging the location adjacent to Laundress Green, a place where laundry was washed in the river and laid out to dry on the nearby grass. This was women’s work, as was the creation of art in the form of paint and print by Gwen Raverat who not only depicted this place in her work but is known to have sketched from the Darwin College bay window overlooking the Cam at this point. The sculpture, which would glint as oil does on water with a golden hue, is positioned where river meets land, between solid and fluid, thus demarcating a boundary alluding to river access in the city and demographic difference.
Watery ConnectionsJanuary 6, 2022
Waves breaking onto the beach at Dunwich, Suffolk, 2021
Lockdown has brought much contemplation in many quarters of life and across the world. It has not always led to positive conclusions with issues of difference, exclusion and access heightened. Nature, on the other hand, has been a constant source of solace and calm for many during these turbulent times. The state of our environment has been brought into sharper focus during the pandemic, and protecting it has become forefronted as people have turned more and more to nature.
Watching waves break onto the shore has been a regular activity. The power and enormity of the impact of the sea on the land and coastline, the very force of nature witnessed through sound and sight invades and absorbs the mind. Rather than resulting in increased stress, the regular rhythm and sheer scale of the waves, calms and eases. Like watching a fire in a grate, nature has a way of holding our attention over and above all other thoughts.
It’s not only impressive waves and flickering fires that can enact this response, slower moving, gentle rivers can be a source of constancy and comfort. A river’s boundaried flowing waters meandering along the landscape provide a focal point, drawing in people from all walks of life and for many purposes, for example leisure activities, tourist photographs, employment or a calming walk along the riverbank. The small snapshot of a river seen locally, belies its wider connection to the watery masses of the globe, meandering river path taking water from source to sea. The river Cam connects to the North Sea via the Great Ouse in Ely, there being just 40 miles between city and sea.
This project aims to celebrate the river Cam, to bring to the fore its narratives and histories, and to offer new perspectives of the place of the river in the land and cityscape. Observing the slow flowing Cam, it is easy to forget that it was once a busy trade route, an artery along which goods such as textiles and pottery, could be transported by boat along faster running waters to Stourbridge Common, the home to Stourbridge Fair. The Common, located alongside the river was well positioned to benefit from river access offering an incoming and outgoing stream of commodities into the city of Cambridge for the market trade.
As a connector of people, objects and places, rivers reveal clues about the establishment and growth of transportation routes, trade hubs and towns and cities, locally, nationally and internationally. The waterways are much more than a feature in the landscape they are a live, generative conduit that connects everyone and everything.
A tentative returnAugust 18, 2020
After some time respecting and responding to the health requirements caused by the Coronovirus pandemic, people are slowly re-engaging with the world and the new ways of behaviour to ensure continued safety and care for the population.
For To The River, this is a moment to look back over the project, to reflect and build on all the different aspects to date. The natural world has taken on a greater significance for many in recent months, thus there is an added desire to bring this into the ideas and plans for the permanent work that will conclude the project.
CoronavirusMay 10, 2020
Following in the footsteps of Gwen RaveratMarch 1, 2020
A few months ago, six students from Anglia Ruskin University took on the challenge of visually responding to the viewpoints selected by Gwen Raverat when she created works depicting the river Cam in the early 1900’s. Their responses are nearing completion prior to being publicly displayed. The students combined different print processes with drawing and painting.
Here is a sneak preview courtesy of Katy Drake.
Knit for the River installationDecember 17, 2019
After months of knitting endeavour by the people of Cambridge to create hundreds of knitted squares, a dry day in November heralded their installation into the river water, affixed onto coir rolls that support the regeneration of the river bank. A small group of knitters worked to prepare the knitting, ensuring it was firmly fixed onto the coir, which was then installed by a team of people from the Cambridge City Council biodiversity team. The incredible efforts of the knitters, who came from ten of the city wards meant that there were more knitted squares than was needed and those left behind will be fashioned into a blanket to be given to charity.
You can watch the documentary video here
Flow and FluxOctober 17, 2019
In a recent philosophy group discussion around the notion of the fold and the flow, the presence of surface and dimension was presented as paradigm, as opposed to solid. Flow (or flux) is both happening and not happening at the same time. Where one thing starts and stops, another is starting and stopping, towards or as the infinite, a state of constant change and motion. It is a particularly human need to endeavour to define and boundary things, to pinpoint a start, middle and end; things that continually fascinate, such as rivers, open fires, clouds moving across the sky, are often indiscrete things in motion.
We may speak of rivers as a contained entity, a thing. Our language implies something fixed – we talk of the river, the river water, using language to contain it within a position. This can offer a security, it positions us in a place of control from which we can attempt to hold the river, where the space and time of the flowing river water is treated as though with static constancy. This might be more accurately reflected were we to reference the river bank. Perhaps the Mobius Strip, co-discovered independently by the German mathematicians August Ferdinand Möbius and Johann Benedict Listing in 1858, can offer a working visualisation of a river, the ongoing curving form of the strip reflecting a constancy that is situated beyond space/time and surface/dimension. As a chronology of a river, the Mobius Strip can serve as a symbol of continuous yet contained matter.
LookingAugust 30, 2019
How many times do you stop and really look at something?
In our fast paced world, taking time to really look, to study a subject intently, can be a rare pleasure. Moving from a brief glimpse to a thorough, deep look at something can be revelatory. It is always surprising what can be seen when you hold your gaze, nuances of colour, textures and the effects of light and shade, the relationship of things to their surroundings, all these (and more) become visible. We see only from our own perspective, directing our view to what interests us, to what captures or catches our attention and to what is required for us to function in the world, but what of the hidden world that is excluded from our everyday visual range?
The river Cam encompasses a shifting, moving colour palette, constantly affected by light and weather conditions. A shimmering, fluid, rippled surface of moving water punctured by various forms of river craft, wildlife or the occasional swimmer, breaking the reflective surface. What Colour is the River? explores the colour of the water’s surface through a series of photographs shared on social media. The images demonstrate the incredible qualities of water as a reflective material as it absorbs and plays back the surrounding conditions and physical features of the landscape. What these images do not communicate is the colour and imagery held within the river water. I have been exploring this in a series of surface and underwater images taken whilst swimming in the Cam. The photographs suggest other worldly landscapes, colours that are vibrant and luminous, light and water intermingling reality and reflection, the unseen river Cam captured in painterly underwater landscapes.