Sound of the Outmarsh
Below the Radar is one of a series of works which considers the role that marshland plays in protecting and sustaining human and non-human environments and ecologies. Based on first-hand research, experimentation, and imagined futures these works focus on storylines and solutions for survival. Using ephemeral materials from Lincolnshire’s hauntingly beautiful wetlands, each embodies something of the self-organising properties of the dynamic marshland itself.
All habitats are active but marshland particularly so. Its capacity to move across the surface of the earth in response to global processes and environmental disturbances (such as sea level rise) can be observed in comprehensible timescales. Marshland’s self-rising mechanism is central to its ability to renew, rebuild and survive.
The local benefits of marshland are many. Examples include vital storm and flood protection, essential feeding grounds for migrating birds and fish nurseries as well as important breeding sites for grey seals. Less apparent, however, is the significant protection it provides globally. Like other wetland habitats marsh absorbs and stores large quantities of carbon dioxide from the atmosphere and ‘pound for pound,’ this can be 10 times greater than that of mature tropical forests. This is their super-power. Not everyone lives close to a marsh, but everyone benefits from its many layers of projection.
This work is a fragile and precarious ‘on-the-point-of-collapse’ event which relies on the interconnectedness and cooperation of all its elements to exist and function. This includes viewers’ amended behaviour. Viewers are obliged to slow down and become more spatially and socially aware of their surroundings, themselves, and others.
Sound of the Outmarsh reminds us that we must also be prepared to alter course and that our future relies on a political and social transformation that sees humans inextricably interconnected with the natural world of which we are a part, and upon which depend.
The ephemeral material used in this work was gathered from ancient fields in the marshy Witham valley in the heart of Lincolnshire's outmarsh. The stalks were assembled and organised to generate the sense of a unified force moving forward through the vast nave of the former church of St John the Divine in Gainsborough: their inferred migration orchestrated to reflect the dynamic properties and potential of marshland ecologies to change course and adapt to its changing circumstance.
I loved the rumbling sound of the church's 4-wheeled mop bucket (used as a camera dolly) and the unplanned provenance of the mop-bucket itself. This church is less than 100 yards from the River Trent, a river of many unprecedented floods already.
As sunlight floods in from this magnificent building’s windows the installation is transformed.
The allusion to water in the reflections in the acrylic floor tiles reveals something more about the nature of this space while, at the same time, reminds us of the landscape that the stalks were gathered.
I am again reminded that it is gravity that causes water to move and that the presence of it ‘passing’ is all around us.
The single red light of a builder’s laser level is used to help me pay closer attention to the unique properties of the ephemeral material. I love the way in which the red beam becomes disconnected and in doing so, form, position, and distance in this space becomes more tightly anchored and the unknown and unfamiliar of these stalks is more readily revealed.
Rhythmical deviations in the pattern of the stalks' dry-mud taproots touching, or almost touching the floor of the nave help to generate a balance between predictability and surprise. This appears as a temporary displacement of the regular and is used to help communicate the idea that this is a natural phenomenon. The forward flowing rhythm of the unique multiples of assembled stalks too, help to pull the viewer from east to west through the nave. Directionally, the stalks AND the viewers are heading east from the River Trent to the relative safety of Hemswell Cliff 8 miles to the east.
By persistently and systematically flying DJI drones lower and lower over this installation, its manufactured collapse is unavoidable. This was always going to be - just a matter of time.
This is a carefully and patiently orchestrated demise.
With a little persistence this [un]landscape is systematically destroyed.
'As sites for more-than-human dramas, landscapes are radical tools for de-centring human
hubris. Landscapes are not backdrops for historical actions: they are themselves active.
Watching landscapes in formation shows humans joining other living beings in shaping worlds."
Anna Tsing, The Mushroom at the End of the World, (Princeton), 2015.