Arts Catalyst presents an online project by Matterlurgy that highlights the importance of river dwelling organisms
Sensitives Stream is an online digital artwork that highlights the importance of river-dwelling organisms and how their presence or absence indicates broader stories in relation to ecosystems, environmental stress and human activity
How do water organisms register and reveal complex meaning in relation to river health? How can environmental data be both sensible and sensuous? What fieldwork is required when you cannot access, see or hold that which is being studied?
Ecohustler tracked down the artists and found out more...
Photo: Fergus Carmichael
Why did you want to give people the perspective of a river worm?
We wanted to foreground organisms as vibrant actors that expand human-centred views of the world, that river organisms are more than data (within a scientific context). And to play with subjectivity, destabilise perspectives and amplify the difficulty of translation and knowledge between water organisms and humans. The river worm (or sludge worm), offers a way to start from a different place or perspective when thinking about or engaging with rivers. An abundance of sludge worms in rivers can indicate pollution, particularly from sewage outflow and phosphates. However, the worm breaks down, reduces and recycles wastewater and sewage, they also till and circulate nutrients in the river bed. We thought it important to foreground this aspect of the worm.
What do you hope people will get from engaging with this artwork?
The work highlights the importance of river-dwelling organisms and how their presence or absence indicates broader stories in relation to ecosystems, environmental stress and possible futures. People are offered three distinct journeys: you are invited to dive into the river with two organisms, Caddisfly Larva and Sludge Worm; to flow with a collection of text scores; and to dwell by listening to audio chapters about the process of our cross-disciplinary fieldwork. River organisms often live outside our human, terrestrial, point of view. We cannot necessarily access, or know what is in the water, or what it is to dwell, permanently in the river. We wanted to invite ways to engage with the river from the perspective of river organisms. We also hope that the work is informative and prompts people to find out more about their local river. Aside from the work itself we have we have included some links, tools and resources on the website so people can follow up if they would like to know more.
Is there any way people can get the perspective of animals that used to be in our rivers. For example, beavers used to live all over the UK. they have largely gone now - what about a beaver perspective?
This is an interesting idea for a project and does indicate how rivers in the UK have changed over time. We did talk with Professor Philip Warren our river ecologist collaborator about his local river where he had witnessed the decline and eventual extinction of crayfish. However, for our project that was made during the height of the pandemic, we chose to focus on the liveliness and ecology of the river and the potential perspectives, or stories, of two organisms.
Sensitives Stream is an online project by Matterlurgy (Helena Hunter and Mark Peter Wright) that shares research and practice from their residency with Arts Catalyst as part of Test Sites.
Located along the waterways of the River Calder and Aire in Castleford, West Yorkshire (UK), the website unfolds materials from the residency as an online encounter, combining elements of site-based and remote fieldwork, watery media and critical poetics.
The website offers three distinct journeys; you are invited to (1) dive into the river with two organisms, Caddisfly Larva and Sludge Worm; (2) flow with a collection of text scores; and (3) dwell by listening to audio chapters about the process of cross-disciplinary fieldwork.
The project reveals river organisms as both sensitive indicators of change and world-making actors that perform sentience and knowledge in ways that exceed the human. Topics relating to art and science methods, the production and analysis of data, as well as industrial pasts and chemical futures, interlink throughout the site.
Matterlurgy worked with environmental scientists Prof. Philip Warren and Prof. Lorraine Maltby, from the Department of Animal and Plant Sciences at the University of Sheffield to understand how river ecosystems are studied. This collaboration involved sharing research methods and approaches, fieldwork and data interpretation.
The digital site was co-developed with Neo-Metabolism, a planetary research and design practice. In collaboration, immersive raw media feeds were adapted into various formats, so that the project can be streamed through many channels.
Sensitives Stream has been commissioned as part of Arts Catalyst’s Test Sites co-inquiry, through which, since 2017, Arts Catalyst has been working with artists, anthropologists and stakeholders from the Calder region to collectively examine water governance and its relationship with health, wellbeing and the resilience of communities and environments.
To access the platform, visit - Sensitives Stream.
You can find out more about the residency via - Arts Catalyst’s website.
Learn more about the artists at - matterlurgy.net