A collaboration between a fine artist and a bio-physical chemist is bringing new life to a neglected part of the River Thames.
Lambeth Floating Marsh, which launched in September 2015, sees Loraine Leeson – director of cSPACE and Senior Lecturer in Fine Art at Middlesex – work with biophysicist Nithin Rai and the University of Westminster on a project which promotes new marine life as well as raising awareness of environmental concerns.
On the site of the old Lambeth marshes, once a thriving habitat supporting many ecosystems, the shored up banks of the Thames and turbulent tides now make it difficult to sustain any forms of life. Leeson and Rai created floating reed beds to attach to the sides of the Tamesis Dock – a barge moored in the area – to provide habitat for micro-organisms and invertebrates in the water.
Creating smaller forms of life, Leeson explains, will encourage larger forms of life such as fish and seals to the area.
In the weeks following the launch, Leeson and Rai projected microscopic footage of the existing aquatic organisms onto the surrounding banks and streetscapes, to bring public attention to animal life which would otherwise go unnoticed.
In the next step of the project, teams will monitor the reed beds and organisms to determine which plant life is most suited to the environment, and which organisms survive best.
The Lambeth Floating Marsh project continues Loraine's interest in environmental issues and social change, following on from Active Energy – which saw her engage a group of senior citizens to develop a prototype turbine that harnessed tidal power from the Thames.
"I always work as an artist in a collaborative and participatory way," Loraine explains. "I'm interested in making the world better through art, and for art to support change that will improve life on this planet – whether societal or environmental. Historically, artists have always had the power to celebrate, consolidate and bring issues to public attention; art is about bringing meaning to life."
For her students at Middlesex, Loraine's projects demonstrate the immense impact artists can have on the world around them.
"I bring my projects into the classroom to show my students so we can talk through the issues," she says.
Sharing her work also helps her communicate what she calls the 'not knowing' of creative practice – as seen in the ongoing nature of the Lambeth Floating Marsh and its future research.
"For all artists, the creative process is a process of 'not knowing'. It is important to let projects evolve beyond the known, then in this way practice truly does lead to new knowledge."
The Lambeth Floating Marsh project has been funded by the Western Riverside Environmental Fund, which re-directs revenue from landfill tax for environmental purposes.