With under 2 weeks to go till the opening of Exlab I’m rushing to finish some parts of our commission and am working on outputting an image of the seafloor of the area by Hive Beach to then lasercut. Ive finally managed to get some workable images from the 2008 Bathymetric surveys (a kind of sonar scanning) of the geology of the seabed available on the Channel Coastal Observatory website and this image shows the Burton Beach area. Its an area swimmers have described as being difficult to swim through – the waves are unpredictable and you get stuck in it. I’m reliably informed by many people who live and work here that his part of the coast is pretty dangerous because the shingle slopes very steeply into the sea causing powerfull undertow under the waves.
I have just packed Things I Have Found, Learned and Imagined on Burton Beach – the first set in a series of works on paper I am making to try and make sense of the the many narratives and local stories (of life, time, the sea, the land, folklore, history, industry, craft, science and geology) that have crossed our paths on Burton, Hive and Cogden Beaches for our Storyweir project. They are going to be part of an exhibition of work related to the Exlab commissions at the gallery in Arts University College at Bournemouth opening 9th July – 3rd August. There will be presentations by the 5 commissioned artists on the 12 July at 5pm.
US TROOPS IN AN ENGLISH VILLAGE: EVERYDAY LIFE WITH THE AMERICANS IN BURTON BRADSTOCK, DORSET, ENGLAND, UK, 1944© IWM (D 20135) From the Imperial War Museum Collection
“ Mrs Annie Northover (in traditional bonnet) uses a wooden needle to braid nets on the doorstep of her cottage in Burton Bradstock, Dorset. According to the original caption, net braiding is “an old established local industry. Before the war they made billiard table pockets, sports nets. Today they make camouflage nets for the Services.”
When we recently met up with Human and Cultural Geographers at the Exeter University who we are collaborating with on Storyweir. Nicola Thomas brought along a list of people from the 1851 census who were working in the fibre industry in Burton Bradstock: cord winer, hackler, net maker, flax dresser, cordwinder, twine maker, twine spinner, flax dryer, flax spinner, flax packer, rope maker… Ghosts of an industry that had been prevalent in this area for hundreds of years, shaped by the geology and in turn shaping the architeure, society and future.
Burton Bradstock where we are working on Storyweir (a project about the connection between the human story and the geology of the area) has a long association with flax production and rope manufacture. It is very close to Bridport which had a key role in the flax and help industry for over 750 years from well before 1200 till later in the 1900’s. Though rope is not made the net making industry continues to this day. King John in the 1200s commissioned;
“to be made in Bridport, night and day, as many ropes for ships large and small and as many cables as you can, and twisted yarns for cordage for ballistae”
Later Henry Vlll ordered that all hemp grown within a five mile radius of Bridport be reserved for rope for the Royal Navy, Bridport eventually was granted a monopoly to produce rope in the 1500s. Later the area provided rope to the East India Company. The geology of the area provided the well drained soils and sheltered slopes with warm weather that suited the growing of hemp and flax. I’ve come across some films on the British Pathe wesbite of flax and Bridport net production in the 1940s and 50s.
Since November we have been doing a lot of background research for Storyweir our commission to explore the relationship between the human story and physical geology at Hive Beach on the Jurassic Coast, working with local people, geologists, Human geographers at the University of Exeter the Hive Beach Cafe and the National Trust.
It is a place of many intersecting narratives of sea, land, farming, fishing, industry (the area was a flax, rope and net producer for several hundred years) and geology; which are all woven together amongst narratives of time. A walk on Hive beach takes you from the deep unimaginable time of geology to human time and through many cycles of tides, seasons, and patterns of life.
This month I head back to local village Burton Bradstock to spend a bit of time out and about again talking to people involved in geology and fossil hunting as well as people living and working in the area. I’m really interested in how the human ‘data’ that forms the aura of the place (stories, experiences, local knowledge) sits next to or can merge with scientific data and analysis.
We will be there from the 22 – 24 March and weather permitting will be on Hive Beach from 11.30am to 2.30pm on the 24th March offering a cup of tea in exchange for peoples experiences of the area so if you are in the area please come and join us.
Image: Strata in the Burton Sandstone Cliffs – an example of the distinctive layered geology of the cliffs which contain many fossils of the Jurassic era.
We recently had a chance to meet everybody in the Exploratory Laboratory 2 project on the Jurassic Coast when we all got together at the main briefing event down in Bridport. We caught up with our partners, Julie Penfold of pva MediaLab, Polly Gifford of Bridport Arts Centre, Graham Waffen of Hive Beach Cafe and Caroline of the National Trust, and got to meet our science collaborators, fellow artists and hosting organisations.
The Exlab commissioned artists got together with the Exlab earth scientists, human geographers, production teams and hosts to have a round-robin set of presentations which all got us clued up about themes, the teams and how they were linking with individual commissions. It was exciting to make new connections outside and across our disciplines and see very different points of view and approaches in our various practices.
On the second day of our trip we kicked off our local research for our own Storyweir exploring the relationship between people and the geology.
We got a better grasp the lay of the physical geology and land around the Hive Beach cafe area at Burton Bradstock, explored stretches of the landscape and the beach between Burton Bradstock and Bridport and started with a ‘deep dive’ into the local archives discovering many nuggets of local history and relations to this site that is rich in both the geological history of the mid Jurassic (with rich deposits of fossils in parts of the cliffs) and the social history, myths, folklore, industry (rope and net making), farming and mackerel fishing.