Reflections on curating a Seaweed Festival

Reflection sequence of a line painting of my favourite seaweed Ascophyllum nodosum (knotted wrack) one of the most common seaweeds found on Isle Martin’s shoreline.

Seawall painting announcing the Seaweed Festival : Aug 2021

This temporary painting was made on the islands seawall to announce the Isle Martin Seaweed Festival, Scotland’s first seaweed festival, an event that I had the pleasure and challenge of curating. As with so many creative ideas the simplicity often belies the complexity of the process of making.

As challenging as it was painting between high tides and working from ladders positioned between rocks covered in Knotted wrack, it was one of the least stressful jobs of my role as Festival curator. While I have previously curated my own art installations and group exhibitions, curating a multidisciplined seaweed festival on a small island presented me with massive challenges. 

One of the legacies of the Festival has been the training of local volunteers to identify common seaweeds. Eight trained local volunteers helped festival goers identify seaweeds on five local beaches, the majority of whom said they could now confidently identify at least four seaweeds correctly.  

My idea to stage a festival focusing on seaweed began years ago while learning to identify seaweeds growing in the clear inshore waters of NW Scotland. My dream seemed straight forward enough, to share my passion for this remarkable ‘flora’ that seaweed represents. Like so many simple ideas it quietly grew as I collected marine litter and made artworks about marine plastic pollution. The idea then gained momentum when Visit Scotland announced funding for projects that would highlight Scotland’s Year of Coasts and Waters originally planned for 2020 but then rescheduled for 2021 with the #YCW2021

Isle Martin, a community-run island within the Summer Isles archipelago, was the obvious location to stage the festival, with its clear waters, rocky shorelines and ethos of environmental sustainability. Photo: Caroline Williams

A small number of dedicated Isle Martin Trust members banded together with me, to form a dedicated Festival Working Party (FWP), and together we found most of the funding needed to stage our Festival, celebrating Isle Martin’s rich seaweed life with the aim of promoting awareness and knowledge of the richness and diversity of seaweed in our coastal waters.

The Isle Martin Seaweed Festival plan quickly grew and like the fronds of ‘knotted wrack’ branched out in many creative directions eventually intertwining scientists, artists, writers, archaeologists, historians, chefs, kayakers and sailors. Finding presenters, discussing their expertise and working out how their specialised seaweed knowledge might contribute and fit into our Festival, was definitely one of the most enjoyable tasks of curating. Having been immersed in a fascination with seaweed for years, I had collected many names of artists and writers also passionate about seaweed and had already established contacts with the Marine Conservation Society and the Natural History Museum.  We quickly had an impressive list of guest presenters including Juliet Brodie, Miek Zwamborn, Jason Hall-Spencer and David Gange.

Equally impressive was our ability to showcase the work of local experts such as marine scientist Ailsa McLellan and ecologist John McIntyre both of whom are passionate about  protecting the marine environment and seaweed, plus archaeologist Cathy Dagg and designer Sigi Whittle. Their presentations on the sustainability of seaweed and its global ecological importance set the bar high in the presentation tent, which was full with standing room only for many talks

The talks were programmed loosely into science and arts themed days, in order to appeal to different audiences and to aid discussions. This seemed to work and we had a full take up of 120 tickets each day on the island. Given the nervousness of people meeting in large groups after three lockdowns we see this as a great success! Ensuring visitors’ COVID safety was a high priority and keeping up to date with Scottish Government COVID advice and working out how we could fulfill their regulations took hundreds of hours of planning.

Seeing people come together to listen and engage in learning about seaweed and far-reaching marine environment conversations was heartening. Presentations also took place in the Big Kelp Tent which housed multiple artworks inspired by seaweed, produced in workshops in Ullapool and by Ullapool High School Pupils and visiting artists. Within this creative space we had a pop up ‘Gutweed Lab’ for examining seaweed under magnification and an installation of seaweed observation cylinders, all helping with seaweed identification. This was also happening on shorelines where volunteers helped people to understand the differences between knotted wrack, bladder wrack and twisted wrack.

Seaweed remained centre stage even in the food arena around the fire, with Jason Byles renowned Kiwi forager and chef from Fife, who demonstrated in a showman-like way, cooking with sea lettuce, dulce and peppered dulce, plus tasters and foraging tips. The Dabberlocks Café served up fair trade snacks with seaweed cake and the Paella Place kitchen served seafood and seaweed dishes.

Smiles were the order of the Festival days, so many people commenting on the friendly relaxed atmosphere, which was heartening especially given the changeable weather and the descending of midges at the end of the day.  

The behind the scenes challenges that caused sleepless nights included how to keep the  technical equipment dry in tents, not knowing if the internet connections would hold for scheduled ZOOM presentations, rejigging presentation schedule to avoid the midges in the late afternoon and how to ensure the safety of passengers disembarking onto the slipway at low tide  each day. Overcoming all these things was only possible through the relentless hard work and support of the Festival Working Group consisting of John McIntyre, Lesley Strachan and Steve Twitchett, plus Martin Gilligan in the tech tent, the Lightfoot site crew working together with tens of volunteers and essentially the boat crews ferrying everyone across.

Curating this Festival has been exhausting, but it has also been a hugely rewarding and creatively stimulating experience that I am immensely proud to have initiated. As one Festival participant said talking about seaweed ‘the more you learn the more you realise there is so much more still to find out; this also applies to curating and facilitating a seaweed festival on an island!  

So many people have asked when the next Seaweed Festival will take place and learning from our experience of September the first date to be mooted is May/June 2023 when we would benefit from longer days, it would be prime seaweed growing time and there would be fewer midges!

In the meantime, we have been asked to carry on conversations begun at the Festival, so we plan to set up a follow-on discussion event on ZOOM in the New Year. For updates  please visit www.islemartin.org follow on Instagram @seaweedfestival.islemartin and contact me via seaweedfestival.im@gmail.com

NOTES: The Isle Martin Seaweed Festival took place between 6-12th September 2021 both on Isle Martin, in Ullapool and on several local mainland beaches.

Links to the Festival Programme and presentation recordings on YouTUBE can be found via www.islemartin.org

Many thanks to everyone attending and to those who shared their photographs of the festival, in particular: Neville Rigby/Druimarts and Jo Dorset

Isle Martin Seaweed Festival was a FREE festival and sadly we have a budget shortfall and so we are asking for donations.

You can also donate £20 by Texting ‘KELP 20’ to 70085 or to donate £5 you would text ‘KELP 5’ to 70085. Your Texts will cost your donation plus one standard rate message. Thank you!

Earth Day

This week I am joining millions of people around the world to mark Earth Day, to demonstrate support and promote the protection of our environment.  I regularly walk the coastal paths of Ross-shire exploring the shorelines and stepping across lichen-covered Torridon Sandstone into the splash zones. Reaching down to familiar rockpools I can photograph the bright green vibrancy of one of the simplest plant forms, a conspicuous seaweed called Ulva intestinalis, also known as Gutweed and Grass Kelp. Its’ tubular fronds hang loosely to rocks and harbour walls but it can detach and continue to grow in floating masses around most of the UK coastline.

I decided to film my walk to the seaweed lined rockpools on the Coigach shoreline, in response to Gala Waterways Group call-out for short films to reflect on the importance of water for well-being. My well-being is constantly enhanced by water and finding life within it. Gala are collecting the films to be shown @galawatergroup. The archived footage will be made into a collective and interactive artwork.  Many more of my aquatic explorations are recorded on Instagram @juliabartonartist please visit and follow.

Ulva intestinalis attached to Torridon sandstone

https://www.vogue.co.uk/arts-and-lifestyle/article/earth-day

#waterwalk #waterwalkers #environmentalartist #seaweed #marinealgae #marinelife #islemartinseaweedfestival #knockvologan #knockvologanstudies #cop26action #cop26glasgow #earthday2021

Instagram Tags : @juliabartonartist @greenartlaballiance @artport_mw @artportmakingwaves @knockvologanstudies @invisibleflock @ayerayerproject @translocal @imagobubo @artesumapaz @bcs_tw

Shoreline Energy

Winter storms, spring tides and soft snowfalls along nearby shorelines are providing much needed injections of raw energy, to blast away the increasingly felt COVID restrictions.

Determined to stay well and to break through the creative blocks tripping me up at the entrance to my studio, I’m pushing myself to take regular shots of shoreline adrenaline

When it’s safe I collect the storm-thrown plastic draped across rocks and caught in rolls of seaweed, enjoying being part of an ever more popular movement towards #Greenfitness

A way to enhance fitness and health while taking action to improve the outdoor environment.

In November I led two shoreline walks collecting plastic litter from the rolls of washed-up seaweed on local beaches, a #greenfitness commission for the Ullapool Feel Good Festival, to encourage people to be active in the winter, to stay healthy.

The plastic rope and nets collected will be made into skipping rope equipment in partnership with Plastic@bay and Green hive (Community Interest Companies) and available for use in local schools with events like skipathons and skipping challenges organised by Ullapool Community Sport Hub later this year.

It’s bracing and challenging being out and active in the winter especially when working on wind- blown beaches, but one walker commented “Being out and active in winter feels daring and crazy but also great, especially when you know you are helping the environment”. 

This ‘Recycle to Stay Fit’ project with its dual fitness legacy of beach cleaning and skipping has now attracted regional support to get it going. Please follow on   https://www.facebook.com/LittoralsciArtProject

Counterbalance

Counterbalance

I am often asked how I continue to work with marine litter year after year, fortunately I have a counterbalance, my love of seaweed. Seaweed has proven to be a beautiful counterbalance and antidote to my work with plastic beach litter. I recently shared my story with the Marine Conservation Society and Salvage Scotland.

Seaweed enjoyment photo: @paulbartondop

Over the coming months I will be featuring exciting plans for the re-scheduled ‘Isle Martin Seaweed Festival’ #YCW2020 now taking place in 2021. I talk more about the festival in my recent conversation with John Ennis, Curator of Salvage Scotland’s Design Journey Journey to Isle Martin with artist Julia Barton .

Journey to Isle Martin with artist Julia Barton

To read more of my balancing act with litter and seaweed, visit the Marine Conservation Society Magazine  for my interview with Clare Fischer ‘Seaweed, Science and Installations’.  

Working on #LitterCUBES photo: @paulbartondop

While I continue to weave and thread marine litter, I will share my love of seaweed on Instagram @juliabartonartist  

Take a look. Please leave a comment/like here or on the above website links. Thank You!

Kelp – Spring Tides

Kelp – Spring Tides

After years working along the high tide lines of the upper shores in Scotland, over the last few months I have been able to take advantage of the extreme low spring tides and venture into the lower shore which is only accessible on foot for a limited number of hours a year. rocky Coigach shoreline 4Extending my investigations into the lower littoral zone has involved a series of slow and tricky journeys. Most of the shorelines of Coigach are extremely rocky so the lower shores have to be reached climbing over crags, boulders, pebbles and navigating narrow inlets. Inlet to lower shoreline 4

thongweed CU low tide 4

I’ve been documenting and identifying the changing seaweed forms noting their colours, textures and taste .

As the tide finally stopped receding l was aware of having reached the extreme low water line, a fascinating dynamic place. Calm, good weather made perfect conditions to observe the largest of the brown marine algae, commonly known as Kelp.

Kelp exposed low waterline 4

Varietties of kelp at low water 4For a few hours I examined the kelp beds, formed mostly by a strong leathery expanse of seaweed, including several of the Laminaria species, holding fast onto boulders beneath my feet and rock surfaces all around me.

Kelp hanging 4

kelp holdfast 4 Under their fronds I glimpsed a little of the sea life they attract and protect, including sea urchins and orange cushion starfish.

I have collected and dried bundles of Laminaria as I am contributing to a Kelp experiment being conducted by local archaeologist Cathy Dagg, who is researching            how the Kelping industry operated in the late 18th and 19th centuries.

My passion for seaweed grows exponentially every time I walk onto a beach and look into a rock pool. I am looking forward to making contact with other Seaweed-obsessed artists. Next year I will be curating the Isle Martin Seaweed Festival originally planned as part of Visit Scotland’s Year of Coast and Waters #YCW2020, now rescheduled to take place in 2021. Many unique activities and events with scientists, artists, chefs, archaeologists, seafarers, musicians, students, residents and visitors will take place.

photographing kelp 2

 

Until then I will continue enjoying observing, recording and experimenting on the shoreline and in my studio.

 

Kelp stretched covered rock Dornie 2

 

Oil: Making the Connection

Oil: Making the Connection

I want to produce a short film to show the connection between plastic waste and the loss of oil that it represents. During my #LitterCUBES events 2019, I found that hundreds of people were unaware that plastic is primarily made from oil

I plan to work again with Shetland film maker JJ Jamieson. I intend the film to be projected with the #LitterCUBES in the lead up to  Cop26 Climate Conference. I need £2,500 to cover the very basic costs of making and editing the film.

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You can make a donation by clicking on the orange DONATE button at the top of the page.  In return you will receive a limited edition print of my ‘2020 Message in a Bottle’ photograph.    Thank you!

Message in A Bottle (2)

Many thanks to all of the following for supporting the making of the #LitterCUBES: Ullapool Harbour Trust, Coigach & Assynt Living Landscape, the Heritage Lottery Fund and Scottish Natural Heritage, and for donations from: individuals, Eyemouth Marine Ltd, rag, Sheihallion, Ullapool Harbour Trust and support in kind from Eyemouth Harbour, Dunbar Harbour Trust  plus  North Light Arts and An Talla Solais  for their support with the #LitterCUBES events. Thanks also to  volunteers and all those who donated money to make these events possible.

 

#ClimateChange

Looking out to sea through yet another plastic bottle picked up from the rocks of a Scottish beach, my resolve is to use my art as activism. To show and tell a local Scottish story which is contributing to #ClimateChange and to add to the global evidence that scientists, the media, activists and commentators are cataloguing to pressure world leaders into making decisions that will mitigate global warming and its increasing effects on climate and world ecology.

Our actions using and allowing plastic to bleed into our seas contributes to the waste of finite resources (Embodied Energy) that the plastic represents.

Help me show this local – global connection to the #ClimateEmergency in Glasgow during the next UN summit COP26. Please get in touch/leave suggestions of contacts that might enable me to share this story.

 

Looking to 2020

As I take stock of my project this year making 20 #LitterCUBES, I am inspired by the  hundreds of conversations that were triggered at events, about our Climate Emergency and our need to urgently change our habits.

I am convinced that Art more than ever must reach out to connect people and help to bring about change.

In 2020 I want to take my #LitterCUBES to COP26, the next Climate Conference which will be held in Glasgow. So, I have put together this 2 minute video pitch, to reach out and link up with other artists, galleries, arts and environmental organisations beginning to plan events in Glasgow.

Please share the video, leave a comment below or get in touch via littoralartproject@btinternet.com

Looking to recycling

‘I feel an awful lot of people would like to see recycling taking off. Projects like yours have successfully put plastic pollution in the public gaze. I feel we are at the point where we are waiting for a workable recycling process to happen especially in harbours. Connections need to be made especially in the fishing industry.’  Eyemouth Harbour Master, Richard Lawton

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It is for this reason that all the #LitterCUBES events have taken place in unexpected locations like the old Eyemouth fish market, under the gaze of passers-by, giving the opportunity of making connections between young and old, trawler crews, visitors, divers, fish merchants and residents.  Even on chilly days questions are asked, conversations begin and un-thought of connections are made.

Broad discussions with the local fish-merchant about the recycle-ability of fish boxes and box strapping, led to a useful connection with a visiting packaging supplier keen to emphasise the ‘good & bad polymers’ e.g. the ease of recycling Polypropylene products compared to Polystyrene ones, which is less easy especially when contained fish and absorbed fish oils & blood.

My Polypropylene #LitterCUBES made from prawn boxes and strapping now have an end destination in Grimsby in 2021 after showing the finished collection next year.  All the bottle CUBES including the one started in Eyemouth will be easily recyclable as they are made from valuable PET [Polyethylene terephthalate].

It is the heavy Rope/net and fine fishing line CUBES that the enthusiastic young people from Eyemouth High and  Primary Schools joined in weaving and sewing that will prove more difficult to recycle. The end of life of the thousands of pieces of rope and fishing line, collected on the Berwickshire beaches by tens of beach cleaners locally is far less certain. Please get in touch with recycling possibilities!

Eyemouth group shot

A massive thanks to all who took part, particularly the schools and teachers, plus supporting organisations Splash, Berwickshire Marine Reserve, Blue Marine Foundation, Eyemouth HarbourEyemouth Harbour and Eyemouth Hippodrome. I am grateful to the many donations from supporters through Crowd Funding and philanthropic arts, community & environment trusts, plus local business Eyemouth Marine Ltd.

“As someone who is concerned about the future health of our marine environment, I would encourage everyone to take action and change habits to ensure the health of our seas. At Eyemouth Marine we are conscious of this, and take steps to minimise our impact on the marine environment.

By supporting the #LitterCUBES project we hope to highlight the scale of marine plastic pollution; This is an issue for our community locally as well as a national concern, and Julia’s display’s in Eyemouth will serve as a reminder to us all of our responsibility to look after our seas, we have one world, one ocean, we need to look after it”.

Patrick Flockhart, Director Eyemouth Marine Ltd

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Weaving connections in Eyemouth

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Preparation is underway to weave thousands of pieces plastic cord, rope, net, fishing line and hundreds of plastic bottles collected along the Berwickshire coast into 3 #LitterCUBES.  Each cube will also contain a 30% mix of materials from the NW Highlands, East Lothian, Shetland and Angus and will present an account of the nature, scale and the complexities of marine plastic pollution in our coastal communities. I hope it will inform the need to break with polluting habits and expose the actual value of plastic involved.

The week’s events will provide practical opportunities to weave together and to weigh and calculate the energy value of plastic pollution

Public events at SPLASH, Community Space, along Eyemouth’s Quayside  everyone welcome, free and fully accessible event.

Thurs 26th 3-5 pm           Fri 27th 1-5 pm              Sat 28th Sept 10 am – 5 pm

Thanks to everyone for collecting litter items and to Eyemouth Hippodrome, Voluntary Marine Reserve, Eyemouth Harbour Trust, SPLASH Commuity Trust, for in-kind support and for donations from Eyemouth Marine, local residents, crowd funding and philanthropic arts, community and environment trusts.

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Plus a wider thanks to Ullapool Harbour Trust, Coigach & Assynt Living Landscape,the Heritage Lottery Fund and Scottish Natural Heritage, and for donations from: individuals,  rag, Sheihallion, Dunbar Harbour Trust   North Light Arts and An Talla Solais  for their support with the #LitterCUBES events. Thanks also to  volunteers and all those who donated money to make these events possible.  Please get in touch if you would like to learn more/join the events.