Submitting InstitutionMiddlesex University
Unit of AssessmentArt and Design: History, Practice and Theory
Summary Impact TypeSocietal
Research Subject Area(s)
Earth Sciences: Physical Geography and Environmental Geoscience
Studies In Creative Arts and Writing: Other Studies In Creative Arts and Writing
Language, Communication and Culture: Cultural Studies
Summary of the impact
Simon Read is Senior Lecturer in Fine Art and a practising artist
specifically engaged in the investigation of interdisciplinary approaches
to environmental change, notably estuarine and coastal processes. His
research (from which impacts have arisen over two decades) began with a
tidal protection installation, explored further through the value of
drawing as a tool for imagining change between researchers and coastal
communities. This then led to greater involvement with other researchers,
public sector bodies and water engineering companies in coastal/estuarine
management and mediation, and to further art and design commissions, which
together have led to impact on policy and practice via specific engagement
with professionals, catchment communities and policymakers.
This research trajectory began in 1993 with an artist's residency on the
Upper Thames supported by the Countryside Commission and Southern Arts,
with the National Rivers Authority (now the Environment Agency), sponsored
by Allied-Lyons. The research explored in depth how a river system works
and how flood management measures are built into it. This was exhibited at
Butler's Wharf, and the Design Museum as part of the launch of the Thames
Path Public Art Strategy (Read, author), with talks by Read there and at
the London Rivers Association. The report and exhibits are held in the
Rivers and Rowing Museum archive, Henley.
Starting out with the brief to reflect upon the river and to explore ways
of articulating the new Thames Path National Trail, the project came to
focus specifically upon how an artist can be a bridge between scientific
imperatives and community understanding. This led directly to a
commissioned project for the Thames Barrier to coincide with the opening
of the Thames Path: `A Profile of the River Thames from Thames Head to Sea
Reach' (1996). It was followed by work on the Poole Quay Flood Defences:
`Memory and the Tideline' (2001).
The research achieved greater reach as projects were developed with
coastal scientists from 2002 onward, consistently exploring ways to
establish the importance of a cultural dimension in the creation of
acceptable coastal and estuarine strategies. This is a methodology that
combines the established approach of artists working in local communities
with exploratory research that can be taken up by environmental scientists
and local government who need to develop public engagement and localism.
A series of research commissions, exhibitions, artistic and community
interventions have accumulated over this period through which the research
engagement, methods and impact pathways have evolved. This is being
further extended through Read's inclusion in two recently funded major
research consortia, Hydrocitizenship (AHRC Connected
Communities, with Evans) and Between the Tides (NWO-AHRC,
Netherlands-UK) in recognition of his expertise and impact on the
artist-hydro-community discourse. The following table summarises the
evolution of underpinning research over the past 5 years.
The New Cut Art Centre, Halesworth, Suffolk, March/April 2010 (800
Plots and Plans,
Hothouse, ‘Open House London’ (19/9-2/10/10), (500 visitors).
drawing for a purpose, 11 Spitalfields,
London, Sept. 2011 (500 visitors).
|Deben Estuary Partnership (DEP)*
Environment Agency (EA)
for the River
Site-based work - 90m timber structure: 62 screens mesh/ brushwood,
absorbing tidal energy and silt deposits, reducing erosion,
fostering saltmarsh vegetation.
Supporting artworks widely exhibited/published/presented
|DEP*; EA, Suffolk Coasts & Heaths*; River Deben Association*;
Natural England; Coastal Studies Unit, Cambridge University;
HMPrison Hollesley Bay;
National Trust (landowner)
Environmental Change network Learning
to Live with Water
Presentations at Royal
Geographical Society (London 2010) and American Assoc. of
Geographers (Seattle 2011) conferences; chairman’s plenary panel RGS
(2011); AAG, New York (2012) Intervention
& Embededness session.
AHRC film ‘Imagining Change, Coastal Conversations’ featuring
Screening of ‘Planet under Pressure’ conference/panel discussion,
Excel Centre, London Docklands, 3/12 (150 visitors).
Living with Environmental Change
|Drawing of the
Humber Estuary- South Ferriby to Burton upon Stather
Launch, ‘Lincolnshire Landscapes’, 16/4/13-University of Nottingham.
References to the research
Research outputs have appeared in highly respected outlets, as journal
articles, artefacts and exhibitions, following assessment by funders and
peers. Research grants were competitively won from the AHRC and other
funders with robust assessment criteria.
1. `Standing Wave' (1994) [solo exhibition 10-14.8.2004] at 31 Shad
Thames, Butler's Wharf and joint exhibition and launch at the Design
Museum of Read's report: 'Thames Path Public Art Strategy' (pp.65).
Commissioned by Artpoint Trust, with support of the Countryside
Commission, Southern Arts, and sponsor Allied-Lyons plc. The Thames Path
was the newest national trail to be created by the Countryside Commission
and opened in 1996. On Read's work and contribution, the Countryside
Commission wrote: `the results were fantastic and generate(d) enormous
enthusiasm for the River and the Project' (10.8.94).
3. `A Profile of the River Thames from Thames Head to Sea Reach' (1996)
[artefact]. Permanent art work cut into the wall of Gallery Walkway beside
the Thames Flood Barrier, commissioned by the Countryside Commission - a
direct outcome of the Upper Thames residency. Project managed by Artpoint
Trust with funding from Allied Domecq plc.
4. `Beauty and the Bureaucrat' (pp.6-13) and `Crumbling Assets'
(pp.46-54) [articles in book publication]. Read, S., Coutts, N (eds)
(2008) Plot. London: Confluens Fine Art Research Publications.
2,000 printed 1,900 sold/distributed.
5. `Tidal Protection Barrier' (2009) [artefact], Sutton Saltmarsh, River
Deben. (see REF2)
6. Jones, O., Read, S., Wylie, J. (2013) `Unsettled & Unsettling
Landscapes: Exchanges by Jones, Read & Wylie About Living with Rivers
and Flooding, Watery Landscapes in an Era of Climate Change' [refereed
article] Journal of Arts & Communities, 4(1-2). pp.76-100. Waterscapes
theme issue edited by Prof Lindsay McEwen, director of the Centre for
Floods, Communities and Resilience, UWE Bristol.
Grants and awards
Southern/London Arts Boards (1993) £3,500; Allied-Lyons plc (1994) £2,500;
Thames Path (1996) £15,000; Pool Quay (2001) £10,000; AHRC (2012) Landscape
& Environment Programme £5,000 commission to produce a specific
illustrative artwork towards Humber Shoreline Management Plan; Suffolk
Coast and Heaths Sustainable Development Fund (2009) £2,500; River Deben
Association (2009) £500.
Details of the impact
As a project in environmental arts research, this work has engagement
with civil society and public discourse at its heart. These are the
intended consequences of research of this nature, and fit with one of our
broad aims to facilitate public engagement as a natural part of the work
of our artist-researchers: `Read's artistic representation of complex
scientific issues and natural processes is already proving invaluable in
alerting the wider public to the many changes occurring in the coastline'
(GreenSpace Taskforce Commissioner). Here, public engagement starts at a
local level and broadens to include professional bodies and policy-
makers. Research practice has included the construction and intervention
in the landscape, as well as the exploration of methods of community
engagement with coastal management and flood defence projects undertaken
by researchers and government agencies: `Read brings another dimension to
estuarine management...his contribution is unique...he helps scientists
and other constituencies visualize the processes that effect the river'
(Senior Coastal Officer, Suffolk CC). Imagining Change has been
effective at stakeholder community level. Through a studio and an academic
context, Read developed further use of drawing and mapping as a tool at
the interface between coastal science and public understanding, that
`engage(s) the public and partners in a way that regular `corporate'
diagrams cannot...as an expression of the technical hydrodynamic issues
that I understand in my work' (Senior Coastal Advisor, Environment
The approach to impact started from the premise that since our
understanding of landscape and its value is essentially cultural (as a
`fourth pillar of sustainable development'), any attempt to drive
management strategies purely on a technological basis risks generating
acrimony at community consultation level: `Read's Arts-based approach goes
to the heart of the values we hold for the environment' (Chairman, CIWEM).
Government agencies and their consultants are often poorly equipped to
handle this engagement. The Tidal Protection Barrier was one such
construction project that has provoked a shift in policy and practice
towards the management of habitat by the Environment Agency (EA) and
Natural England through the use of community partnerships with Read
`engaging communities in a far more fruitful way, generating practical
outcomes that may prove more sustainable in every sense' (CIWEM). Although
this project was locally funded, subsequent projects at Sutton Hoo Salt
Marsh and Fakenham are now attracting national and regional funding from
the EA, Suffolk County Council and the Heritage Lottery Fund (Touching
the Tide £800,000). This is evidence of an agreement by national
agencies to incorporate alternative approaches to intertidal habitat
management: `the EA put aside their previous practice of producing an
Estuarine Strategy and undertook to work with Read and the DEP...a new and
rewarding dimension was offered...his interpretation highlighted the
fundamental issues and gave a different perspective which broadened the
debate' (Chair, Deben Estuary Partnership - DEP).
Through the effort made by communities to become better organised,
agencies now realise that they can no longer act in a paternalistic
manner: `Read has definitely impacted the ways in which estuarine
management is conducted...without him the process could not have happened
in the same way' (Suffolk, CC.). Consequently this project was more than a
single community initiative — it represents a shift in the relationship
between government agencies and the public: `Read's work supports a
difficult dialogue...about how things may need to change...he does it all
with a humility and grace that I think we can all learn from' (EA).
As a consequence, through the DEP (a syndication of government and
community interests), a further, more ambitious project commenced in 2011
to restore a substantial saltmarsh area severely depleted over the past
twenty years. This is being carried out in collaboration with the National
Trust and with funding from Suffolk County Council and EA. Here, Read's
role has been to initiate a speculative approach to the estuary
environment where this would not be deemed financially justifiable if
carried out at an institutional level. The artist therefore works as
creative consultant and in the first case, project manager in professional
partnership with the EA and the local Council, as well as public advocate
on behalf of local stakeholders (farming and rural communities): `Read has
made a significant contribution to the direction of our work and the
vitality and forward-looking approach of the Partnership' (Chair, DEP).
Read's commission by the AHRC to produce a specific artwork in response
to the Humber Shoreline Management Plan as part of an Impact Fellowship
with Professor Pearson (Aberystwyth) (both of whom feature in the
AHRC-commissioned film Imagining Change: Coastal Conversations -
cost £25k) involved him working closely with the EA and water contractor
Halcrow to source the appropriate data and to clarify technical site
details. The impact has thus widened to include engineering professionals.
Read was also invited to contribute to a 5 day EPSRC sandpit Innovative
Solutions to Flood Risk, 2012. Produced with the purpose of gaining
an insight into the dynamic of the natural systems at work at Alkborough,
North Lincolnshire, the map explores the conditions that drove the
decision to realign the 440ha. site as part of the Shoreline Management
Plan. One of the largest flood storage schemes in Europe, Alkborough Flats
is now managed to encourage biodiversity and the development of a variety
of different habitats. The artwork is on permanent display en route to the
Map Library in Nottingham University.
In summary, this research trajectory, with the artist-researcher also
adopting many action research roles as project manager, designer-builder,
community mediator, has led to sustained, ongoing and expanding impacts in
the way policy-makers in the coastal/estuarine management and ecological
systems perceive and deliver communication, consultation and responses
(i.e. `defend or retreat'): `the combination of knowledge and creative
thinking that Read brings to each project is attracting attention and
winning local support — with more landowners interested in restoration and
willing to put money into future work' (Chair, DEP). The most significant
impact has been the acknowledgement and recognition given to the catalytic
role and creativity of the artist in visualising complexity, conflict and
scenarios, for a wide range of communities of interest. To quote CIWEM
(12,000 members): `The arts perspective can help environmentalists do
their job better by fostering enabling conditions...artists have a better
language' (CIWEM Chairman in Activating the Gap, Art &
Design/Flood Hazard Research Centre Symposium (Read co-convener),
Middlesex University 24-26/6/13). (See corroborators for quotations.)
Sources to corroborate the impact
Chartered Institute for Water and Environmental Management, Arts
and Environment Network: Case studies and experiences of using the
arts to address environmental issues in the UK and overseas.
- Simon Read case study - Sutton Saltmarsh Defence, a low impact
erosion control solution www.ciwem.org/media/406870/ArtEnv_Sutton_Saltmarsh_Defence.pdf
Arts & Humanities Research Council Imagining Change:
Coastal Conversions, film commissioned under the Landscape and
`Imagining coastal change: reflections on making a film', Cultural
Geographies in Practice (2013)
Suffolk Estuarine Strategies — Deben Estuary Mouth Workshop: 4
[Accessed 14/11/13] Read featured in the report as one of the
workshop contributors and participants. He presented and contributed
to the overall process.
Deben Estuary Partnership, Spring Newsletter 2011, "Sutton Hoo
Saltmarsh Restoration Trial": http://www.riverdeben.org/?page_id=103;
Activating the Gap proceedings of joint Middlesex Art &
Design and Flood Hazard Centre academic, policy and practice symposium
(convened by S. Read with Prof Sue Tapsell (Flood Hazard Centre) and
Prof Chris Wainwright, University of the Arts London: http://adri.mdx.ac.uk.contentcurator.net/activating-ws