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Land of the Summer People

Presenting the workshop ideas in groups

Illustration by Josie Ashe, showing how flooding affects the community

Unconscious Power, the act of collective creativity (2014) by Seila Fernández Arconada

13 April 2015

University of Bristol (UoB) researchers collaborated with artist Seila Fernández Arconada to develop a project that connects art, scientists and engineers, and the people affected by flooding in Somerset.

In June 2014 the Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council’s (EPSRC) Impact Acceleration Scheme, administered by the Centre for Public Engagement (CPE) and Research and Enterprise Development (RED), awarded funding to a group of researchers in the University of Bristol. Their project was Land of the Summer People (LOTSP): Bringing science and art to flood-affected Somerset residents.

Somerset is known for its winter flooding, the name means Land of the Summer People due to a history of not being able to use the land in winter. In spring 2014, vast areas of Somerset were badly flooded and many citizens adversely affected. The Water and Environmental Engineering Research group at UoB and artist Seila Fernández Arconada saw an opportunity to use public engagement and interdisciplinary collaboration to better connect research and society.

Seila is a Spanish artist living in Bristol who specialises in engaging with uncertainty through contemporary arts. She collaborated with the research group, led by Professor Thorsten Wagener, which included PhD students and support from the CPE in their activities.

The aims of the project are:

  • To share current knowledge of the science of flooding and flood prevention with Somerset residents.
  • To provide an opportunity for members of the public and researchers to describe their perspectives and knowledge of the recent flooding and for the shared learning to feed back into the research.
  • To create an opportunity for scientists and artists to work together to explore new methods of participatory research. In particular, to invite postgraduate students to participate as part of their training and to consider art/science collaborations.
  • To increase an appreciation of the arts as a way to communicate. By using creative participatory approaches we aim to communicate at a deeper level with flood victims than dialogue alone.

Activities included workshops with students. These were led by Seila and involved local artists presenting the creative methods used to shape their artwork. The students then came up with ideas about how to combine art with the research about Somerset flooding. Working with the artists in groups they helped the artists to present their work to the public.

"A very interesting experience that definitely gave me new insights in possible ways of communicating with a wider audience" - Wouter Knoben, student taking part

Professor Wagener and Seila have brought the public into an art/science collaboration and used creative and scientific methods to apply participatory research to understand society’s response to extreme weather events.

“I studied water engineering because it is about helping and protecting people. Before I started this project, I thought art was about pretty pictures and sculptures. Through this project I learned that art is also mainly about people and about communicating.” – Professor Thorsten Wagener

Land of the Summer People recently hosted an art exhibition showing the unstable relationship between society, water and place by exploring flood impact in Somerset. The work for this exhibition was jointly developed by Seila Fernandez Arconada, Jon England, Andrea Oke, Deborah Westmancoat and PhD students of the Water Informatics in Science and Engineering (WISE) Centre for Doctoral Training, jointly run by the Universities of Exeter, Cardiff, Bath and Bristol.

Further information

Take a look at the project blog