Simon Read on Tides

Tides: By Simon Read

Who is Simon Read?

From his website

Simon Read is an artist who has a great deal of experience across several media. For a great many years he enjoyed considerable success working through a museum and gallery context, developing an expanded interpretation of photography, but has increasingly found that this does not allow the scope to interact with other disciplines and in other arenas.

This has led him to foster projects on a collaborative basis where the outcome might range from a public commission for an architectural site to consultancy, the medium might vary from a complex drawing or sculptural work through to something more discursive lending itself to publication. More recently he has immersed himself in the environmental debate where other kinds of collaboration on an interdisciplinary level are vital.

Simon Read on tides for this blog

4th April 2013:

Today, I had a meeting on Falkenham Saltmarsh with Karen Thomas of the Environment Agency, Emma Hay, Natural England and Trazar Astley Reid of Suffolk Coast and Heaths AONB Unit. Our purpose was to discuss a strategy to manage the degradation of the site due to increased tidal incursion. One difference between tidal and a fluvial systems is their relative complexity; there is no single driver for change on a site like this, as the tide floods and ebbs, it is subject to a different dynamic. The flooding tide seeps over the mud flats to fill the empty estuary, there is only an erosive influence where fetch and wind driven waves combine. The ebb is another matter; it is gravity’s subject and carves a channel, just as a river. We often talk about the diurnal rhythm of the tides, but its actual harmonic is not so simple; it sneaks in, but when it goes, it can’t wait to leave the room.

Managing a tidal environment is a guessing game; once you accommodate one perceived influence another will hoodwink you. It is a kind of chaos and therefore lends itself to the combination of control and acquiescence that chimes with an artist’s practice. Upon this particular salt marsh, there is a “borrowdyke” at the back; we say “borrow” because mud has been extracted from it to supplement the river wall, but in this case it is not returned. So now this is an open channel through which the tide passes freely, carrying with it a load of sediment on the ebb. At the top of the saltmarsh there is a land drain outfall. This is a pumped system, which serves to exacerbate the effect of the flow of the tide by drawing more water through the borrow dyke channel, washing out more sediment than it allows in, making the stability of the marsh even more tenuous.

These days our saltmarshes tend to be covered, not just on high springs but by almost every flood tide; this could be due to the inexorable increase in sea level coupled with “isostatic change”, the rebound of the southern landmass of the UK to the loss of the weight of glacial ice in the north of the country. Taken together this only amounts to around 3mm a year but over the space of fifty years its influence is discernible. Salt marsh vegetation is salt tolerant, which means precisely that; more frequent inundation lowers its tolerance and its ability to survive. It is now common to see entire saltmarsh communities degraded back to no more than a seasonal pioneer growth.

Due to a plethora of environmental designations that govern this particular place, if we are to attempt to restore degraded saltmarsh, we must with the dynamic of the system and use methods that are not intrusive. Any action must be the result of sitting with a site and conducting a conversation with its behaviour, only then may it be possible to act appropriately. As in any task, there is a strong likelihood that it will not work, but even if it doesn’t, something will have happened and as in my own artist world, there is something quixotic in pitting wits and flimsy brushwood against the wilful tide.

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