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.
Raverat’s RiverAugust 6, 2019
Over the past months the artist Gwen Raverat has been a regular point of reference, not least when visiting the Fitzwilliam Museum and the New Hall Art Collection to see her paintings and prints in the flesh. My exploration into her practice has recently extended out to an investigation of the viewpoints from which she created her works depicting the river Cam, plotting these onto a map of Cambridge to reveal her frame of reference and the extent of geographical range from which she worked across the city of Cambridge. The resulting information has been designed into a physical publication and digital interactive resource which investigates twelve works, and pinpoints as far as possible, the viewpoint from which Raverat would have worked.
This process has revealed some fascinating discoveries – for example, the wood engraving entitled Winter/Back of the Mill that is in fact in reverse – was this due to a glitch in the process, a conscious compositional decision, or the use of photographic negatives? In some instances building work has obscured past vistas, requiring some careful deduction to settle on the correct map coordinates.
This resource document will be used as a starting point for six students from Anglia Ruskin University to make a collection of contemporary responses to Raverat’s viewpoints. You can download an interactive PDF of the document from the link below and use it to discover Raverat’s viewpoints as you walk with your smart phone or tablet near to the river Cam.
What colour is the river?July 10, 2019
In an age when snapping photos is an everyday, commonplace action, how much time do we give to stop, look and think about the things that surround by using all our senses. In walking the length of the river Cam, I have observed the public (and I include myself in this) capturing the river on their smartphones. The mobility of the smartphone as a device for recording affords users a performative approach to the consumption of surroundings where the taking of the image is as much, or more, the moment of looking mediated by the screen, as re-visiting images after the event. Matthews and Pierce research how the portable smartphone has added to the way we consume place and situation, noting that capturing images maintains awareness of certain dynamic qualities albeit on an often arbitrary schedule. The photograph taken on a smartphone creates an alternative spectacle that competes with the subject, but under different conditions. The multi sensory experience of the changing image in reality complicates notions of understanding.
Capturing the water in the river Cam fixes it at a moment in time, arresting fluctuating conditions. Asking what colour the river is, is a seemingly impossible task. Taking photographs of the river water using a smartphone, and sharing on social media platforms attempts to determine enough information from which to consider the question; an arrested moment offering a frozen palette.
Matthews T and Pierce J 2009, No Smart Phone Is an Island: The Impact of Places, Situations, and Other Devices on Smart Phone Use, IBM Research Report
Trees and riversMay 4, 2019
I was recently able to join Cambridge City Council’s arboriculturalist on a walk along part of the river Cam, to learn about the willows that grow alongside and nearby the river bank. One purpose of the walk was very specific – to identify and view a fallen tree from which a section might be suitable to form into printing plates through planking. Viewing the work of Gwen Raverat (see earlier journal post), and the connection many of her prints have to the river Cam in terms of subject matter, prompted an idea to visually examine the river through the influence, lens and positioning of Raverat, by creating a portfolio of work as a contemporary response. I am approaching this with an open mind as to media and approach, however, one starting point is to test out the wood from the fallen willow for its suitability as printmaking plates. Willow is a hardwood, though on the softer side of hard, and the tree in question fell some two years ago so there will be some seasoning that has taken place. An upper limb may have less sap, and as Raverat’s prints were modest in size, planked sections formed into plates can be kept small, thereby reducing some risk of warping. If the wood is very warped, then application and printing from the inked surface will prove challenging.
The tree itself has a beautiful curved form, lying as a body on the ground. Introducing this particular wood into the process of printmaking brings circularity to the production of work, bringing added resonance between site and artwork.