Inundation: Drowned and Dammed Lands

Regional History Centre Projects REACT Heritage Sandbox.

The Regional History Centre is working with landscape artist Antony Lyons on this Arts Council England funded initiative. Through fieldwork, community engagement and research at five key sites in Great Britain, Portugal and the USA.

This twelve month project will result in an immersive installation, centred around a multi-screen moving image work created and curated by Lyons. The finished work will act as a bridge between art practice, history and scientific investigation.

The RHC is partnering Lyons at two sites: The Severn Estuary and Chew Valley Lake.

Chew Valley

Built in the 1950s, this is a 'drowned landscape' from the tail-end of what has been termed the 'nature-domination' era. It is also a classic British drowned landscape, in that it involves drowned villages, churches, mills, fields, farmsteads etc, some of which are reportedly exposed when waters drop to very low levels. There is an extensive body of archival documentary material (including newsreels) from the clearing, building and opening of the reservoir.

Much of Bristol's water-supply comes from Chew Valley Reservoir, thus providing a strong connection between site and exhibition. The Regional History Centre will work with local community groups – hopefully to include the Harptree History Society and Bishop Sutton School – to research the archival background and record local memory for an audio-scape installation.

Severn Estuary

The Estuary acts as a counterpoint to Chew Valley, as a possible future dammed/inundated landscape, and a suitable site for conjecture. This is a coastal landscape on the verge of significant changes (in terms of habitats, water quality, siltation, fish species and shipping.) This site thus transforms and broadens what may otherwise be seen as a largely historically-focused project.

A key issue is the projected and controversial Severn Estuary Barrage which has now resurfaced as a major infrastructure development proposal. In historical terms, the Severn Barrage was first proposed as an engineering project in 1921. Looking further back, much of the low-lying lands bordering the Severn were seasonally flooded by the river/estuary. These are therefore former drowned lands as well as potentially future drowned lands. However since Roman times, they have been artificially drained and protected from flooding.

This protection is becoming increasingly difficult to maintain. One major historical event - the Somerset Flood of 1607 - is lately receiving attention as the possible consequence of a tsunami.