Seaweed Observation: installation

As the winter storms ravage the shorelines, I am enjoying re-visiting images of seaweed specimens in my installation at the Isle Martin Seaweed Festive 2021. The 12 glass tanks provided perfect viewing for close inspection.

I braved the wild west coast weather to collect a new sample of wrack (see below). Local marine scientist Ailsa McLellan has identified the pink gelatinous ‘sacks’ colonising the wrack as Baked bean ascidian, Dendrodoa grossulariape  a type of sea squirt. 

Material Experimentation

As my practice has been entangled with both marine plastics and marine algae for the last decade, I have been following with interest the developments of scientists, product designers and artists making bioplastics from seaweed around the world. From drinks pods that dissolve in the mouth used for runners at the 2019 London Marathon, to artists researching the use of seaweed biopolymers to make furniture.

Fascinated by the idea of marine algae providing the prime ingredient for a truly bio-degradable material that might help us move away from fossil fuel plastics, I decided to investigate making  seaweed bio-plastic from the simple basic ingredients of  seaweed,  starch, water and glycerine. 

It has been an intriguing and fun, if messy, process which has taken place across the year in my kitchen and in tents on shorelines with coastal community members in Cromarty and Poolewe during my World Ocean Day events, with the support of Fiona McKenzie (Aberdeen Science Centre) and The Pebble Trust.

I am now collating the polymer samples made using seven common seaweeds collected on our Highland shorelines and cataloguing our recipes. While our recipe notation was definitely a little sketchy the samples are intriguing, from the strong slightly flexible (brown) wrack recipe to the  more translucent flexible recipes made from kelp (Oarwrack) and Himanthalia  elongata (sea spaghetti)

I am hoping that these samples, along with my reference notes and observations will inspire more Highland Seaweed Bioplastic experimenting events. Please leave a message in the reply box below or email me if you are interested in joining me in future seaweed bioplastic events. And do get in touch if you have any funding ideas for events.

LOST in low light

Taking up a great invitation to show my Climate Action exhibition L O S T as a part of the Portobello ArtWalk 2022 this month, I had the opportunity to install my #LitterCUBES within the historic Portobello Brick Kiln, set back from the seafront and the sandy beach where I’ve collected hundreds of washed up cotton bud-sticks, that went into the making of two of the smallest#LitterCUBES.

Working in alternative spaces such as the kiln, rather than in a gallery is always exciting and challenging.

The kiln’s small 5m diameter floor space was a logistic challenge in which to show the 18 CUBES, a projection screen and information. My chosen plan had #LitterCUBE 1 (drinks bottles) positioned in the centre of the kiln, with the other 7 largest CUBES set behind this CUBE around the wall directly behind it, ensuring space for visitors to move around the kiln.

The screen, being set above these CUBES and opposite the entrance, allowed passers-by to glimpse a view of the work and to cast a little light onto the CUBES.

By far the largest challenge was how to light the work well, in a space off-grid, that only has two restricted natural light sources, the chimney and doorway.

The chimney channelled a limited amount of light into the centre within a very small radius. The light, entering through the doorway, was extremely variable during the day. Often the space was very dark in the morning and then blasted with light in the early afternoon if the sun was bright.

I originally planned to use low wattage spot lights running off a 12v battery, but testing out the spots, the light gain was limited and the cabling was distracting and couldn’t be hidden.

After much discussion with the ArtWalk team who had seen work in the kiln before, I decided to embrace the low light, but to supplement it at significant points, using photographic lights and torches to highlight the work. Part of the lighting solution also came from the visitors using their phone torches, plus my LED solar and wind-up torches. This minimal battery-operated lighting worked amazingly well and kept the very special atmosphere of the kiln as a part of the visitors’ experience.

Wonderfully, over 200 people visited the exhibition over the two event days, 20 people managed to fit into the kiln to hear me sharing the journey of making the #LitterCUBES, and calculating the energy value held within the 18 #LitterCUBES using the ‘Embodied Energy content’ formula – 250 litres of oil.  We went on to discuss how we are now (at last) getting more conscious of the importance and need to take #ClimateActions. Primarily to reduce the energy we use and how to do this we need to quantify the amount of energy that we use and waste.  Also, our discussion made me want to try calculating the energy used in showing this collection of work over the 2 days, especially given the exhibition aim to show the energy LOST in plastic waste.

It is a calculation, which wasn’t feasible when showing the work in the large arts centre of Eden Court, Inverness, but it is a question that I am increasingly conscious and concerned about. With the help of friend and scientist John McIntyre we have calculated the Energy used in the Kiln during the 2day event to be: Total energy use 0.326 kWh

Below is our simple energy sum, with each item running for a total of 12hours

Mini projector used over 2 days 150 Wh                                                                                        

Photographic lights used over 2 days 150 Wh                                                                               

LED torches (1) used 6 AA batteries in two days. So 6 x 3.12 = 18.72 Wh                                 

LED torches (3) used 9 AAA batteries in two days. So6 x 1.2 = 7.2 Wh                                  
Total Watt Hours (Wh) used 150 + 150 + 18.72 + 7.2 =  326 Wh

Total                                                           0.362 KWh

The equivalent of boiling just over 3.5 litres of water in an electric kettle.

The LOST exhibition is ready to be shown on or Off-Grid. Please help keep the #ClimateAction conversation going by sharing this post and getting in touch with any ideas of where LOST could be shown on or Off-Grid. I am happy to give talks about the project and run related events.

Many thanks for the support of Rosy Naylor, ArtWalk curator, additional photographs from Susan Grant and Ellie J McMaster and photo-editing by Veronica Vossen.

#OffGrid #ArtWalk #Portobello #Sustainability #LOST #ClimateAction #ArtWalk2022 #ClimateEmergency #ArtWalk #ArtistPractice #Installation #ContemporaryArt #Scotland #CreativeCarbonScotland #ThePebbleTrust #BeatPlasticPollution

‘A Wake-up call’: UK hits highest ever temperature

As the UK has been coping with wild fires, heat strokes and transport disruption this week as a result of the hottest days ever recorded, the link to the Climate Crisis is at last being acknowledged over 30 years on from scientists’ early warnings. The need for us to take action on the climate must surely be on everyone’s minds.

RECYCLE: World Environment Day Event, Exhibition talk (photo credit Neville Rigby)

The 18 #LitterCUBES contained a collective energy value of over 250 litres of oil, and this was the starting point for impassioned presentations from Julien Moreau and Andy MacVicar from Plastic Recycling Projects in the Highlands, both highlighting the need to reduce the vast quantities of waste plastic we are generating and exporting across the world. They argued for working together to recycle our plastic in a decentralised way, close to the source (towns /beaches) to make products needed locally, which would in turn save energy and generate jobs.  

On World Environment Day in June, (another very hot day) 40 people came together at my LOST exhibition at Eden Court, Inverness to see evidence of Plastic Waste (in this case marine Plastic Litter), one factor contributing to the #ClimateCrisis.

Event participants came up with masses of ideas for items which could be made out of recycled waste plastic including building materials, benches, planters, play equipment, seats, agricultural/garden materials and equipment and which in turn would contribute to creating a Highland Circular Economy. 

Our final talk was by scientist John McIntyre, who gave a hard-hitting global overview on our Climate Crisis and the link to our energy consumption urging us to do less and use less! This proved a great starter to our brainstorming session. Event participants and visitors to the exhibition shared the Climate Actions they are taking and intend to take, the most common being recycling, using shared transport, growing food, buying more carefully e.g. second hand, recycled and locally produced goods.

A plea for more opportunities to share information about energy use and sustainable environment options was repeated and calls for each of us to tackle companies/governments and protest!

Our Ocean Plastic Skipping ropes on display,collaboratively made by Plastic@Bay, GreenHive and myself, ticked many of these boxes and proved a good example of the process of recycling plastics and a great break out opportunity for the afternoon and at the following World Ocean Day Events which took place on the Cromarty and Poolewe shorelines. During the events over 3,000 jumps were made – proving the draw that simple #Greenfitness activities can have and the fun that can be had without expending fossil fuels! read more

The MAKE – World Ocean Day events proved a great success with enthusiasm from the local Cromarty and Poolewe communities, including the Primary schools. The workshops were run by myself and Fiona McKenzie (Aberdeen Science Centre ) and began with thinking about the importance of the Oceans and reasons for looking after ocean environments and how Bio-plastics might help reduce the problem of  Marine Plastic Litter.

Our central activity was a BIG SEAWEED EXPERIMENT with over 40 people joining in to mix and cook various types of seaweeds, setting agents (starch), plasticiser (glycerine/honey), and fibres such as wool, grasses, straw and linen to make a fascinating array of bio-plastic samples (results to follow on Instagram).

It was an extremely ambitious event, very messy and at times wet and cold, but it was great fun with observational seaweed activities – using  microscopes and chrome books in the tent-labs 

Head teacher Natalie White said that the “M A K E workshop was a really great piece of partnership work. The children really enjoyed experimenting making seaweed plastic and were inspired to make a brilliant video about the workshop.”

I feel the LOST #ClimateAction project is keeping the #COP26 #ClimateCrisis story moving forward here in the Highlands. In total over 300 people visited the exhibition and nearly 100 attended the LOST events, many of whom left positive responses for Art as a way of encouraging Activism.

Many new connections have been made and ideas set in motion for follow up events both here and further afield. Please get in touch if you know of any venues and funding that would help me tour the work.

Thanks to colleagues and friends for their support and to The Pebble Trust, Eden Court and Creative Carbon Scotland for funding, venue and organisational help that enabled the project to succeed.

Looped exhibition film projection-the dripping-away of the energy embodied in the 18 #LitterCUBES

The LOST exhibition artworks were made with the kind support of individuals through Crowd Funding, Project donations from Trusts: Schiehallion Group, Rag, JA Clerk, Ullapool Harbour Trust, Coigach & Assynt Living Landscape Partnership, North Light Arts, Easthaven Together.  Company donations: Eyemouth Marine, Neighbourly TK Max, John Lawrie Group. In-Kind donations: Dunbar Harbour Trust, Ullapool Harbour Trust, Eyemouth Harbour Trust, Eyemouth Hippodrome, SPLASH, Shetland Marine College, JJ Jamieson, Shetland Museum & Archives, The Swan Trust, An Talla Solais, North Link Ferries. Grants: Arts & Business Grant (Shetland), Shetland Council.

LOST – Exhibition Open

LOST – Exhibition Open

Proud to be showing my LOST – Climate Action exhibition in the amazing Eden Court, Memorial Chapel, in Inverness. A collection of 18 #LitterCUBES, with film & prints to carry the Climate Crisis story on from COP26. The show is open everyday 10am-10pm. Please share and join in the Climate Action discussion by leaving a comment/question on @juliabartonartist or below.

Appreciative first comments:

‘Great Appropriate title‘. K Rann ‘I really liked the simplicity, which made the message clear-a good feel to the whole space’ J MacIntyre ‘The show is a fantastically vivid representation of the issue‘. C Drake Great integrity to this exhibition‘ L Strachen ‘Your exhibition is so powerful – bloody well done!’ F Mackenzie

Check out the World Environment Day Events on June 5th and 8th.

Thanks to Eden Court and The Pebble Trust for their support to be able stage this exhibition.

Recycling to Stay Fit

Two years ago I was invited to devise a green fitness event for the annual ‘Ullapool Feel Good Festival’ which encourages people to stay fit by taking part in outdoor activity sessions. I came up with the idea of making skipping equipment out of discarded fishing ropes, a transformation which tells the Marine Plastic Litter [MPL] story in a new and engaging way.

Our recycling story starts on a cold, dull day at the beginning of winter 2020 with volunteers braving the elements on Ross-shire beaches to collect the fishing ropes and nets that are constantly washed up on shore. More was collected during the hot summer days of 2021.  Between collecting the material and the event itself, much work was done sorting, washing, drying and cutting the ropes ready to cast into skipping rope handles.

A key development in the story was joining forces with Julien and Joan of Plastic@Bay, who helped research, design and test the metal mould to cast the handles, and helped find finance for the first phase of the project.  

The next location in our story was the Green Hive Workshop in Nairn, where the casting took place, another inspiring community recycling project, where I collaborated with Andy and his volunteers to make the handles. 15 sets of handles were produced for the Festival which took place a year after the story began, with people having fun, skipping on the harbour slipways, in the streets and at school with our Ocean Jump Ropes recycled out of Marine Plastic Litter.

Great fun at pop up skipping events during the Ullapool Feel Good Festival Nov-Dec #2021

The circular economy message will continue with each jump and telling of the story behind the skipping ropes.

We have had many requests from people to buy the Ocean Plastic Jump Ropes. We hope to be able to make more ropes this year so please leave a message if you would like to know when they are available.

We have had many requests from people to buy the Ocean Plastic Jump Ropes. We are looking for funding to improve the mould and casting process (it’s not easy) so we can more ropes this year, so please leave a message if you would like to know when they are available or if you would like to support us. Follow the ‘Recycling to Stay Fit’ story and event pictures on Instagram @juliabartonartist

Many thanks to these funders for helping us begin this recycling story

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 follow on Instagram @seaweedfestival.islemartin and contact me via

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

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

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

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