Flow, flora and fauna
Assistant Professor, Centre for Agroecology, Water and Resilience, Coventry University
Joanne Garde Hansen
Professor, Culture, Media & Communication, University of Warwick
How can we capture the river in ways that will generate conversation and conservation?
The Centre for Cultural & Media Policy Studies (Warwick) and the Centre for Agroecology & Water Resilience (Coventry) worked with artist Jo Gane to explore the flow, flora and fauna of the River Sherbourne, just at the point in Spon End where it slips beneath the city of Coventry.
We shared these images and stories with those who live right on the edge of the river in the high rise flats and social housing. Our previous research on the river found that it generated conversations, public engagement and a desire to improve the water quality and surrounding landscape. Gane used a unique process to capture the river and the resulting images revealed hidden elements (such as fish), as well as visualising flow and pollution in the space.
The parallels between the location and creative process established a theme; the hidden nature of the river Sherbourne as it flows under the city, and the hidden patterns captured artistically within the river.
The new prints were shared as artwork online, and postcards to local residents in order to direct them to their online presence. The project encouraged local residents to share their ‘hidden’ images and stories of this space. The importance of local outdoor areas has risen during the current public health crisis, and seeing the River Sherbourne from a different perspective was very timely. If extended in the future, the project could also be showcased on billboards or hoardings around Spon End to make the hidden river more publicly visible.
This project has allowed me to further develop and make use of techniques and processes which I have been developing throughout a long term project on the River Cole in Birmingham. The Calotype process which I used to create the photographs of the area around the River Sherbourne in Spon End dates from the early 1840s and creates images which mess with the linear nature of time.
The process involves submerging light sensitive paper below the surface of the river at night, and firing a flash gun at it to print the river on site. The outcome suspends the modern architecture of the area within images which feel much older, and reveals unexpected details.
The use of this process and my camera from 1870 led to some interesting conversations with residents. We were working about historic photographs of the area, something I’m keen to explore further using the #hiddenrivercov to include stories and images from residents.
I’d like to spend more time gathering stories in the area and running workshops about the river, if the project can be extended in the future. It is important to me to reach local residents, hear their thoughts and knowledge about the river, rather than me simply projecting a view as an outsider.
We have shared the project by delivering postcards which have generated some responses about what the water adds to the experience of living in Spon End.