I first became fascinated by diatoms when I put a sample of Severn Estuary mud sourced from Purton Ship‘s Graveyard under the light microscope in my studio and discovered this amazing world.
Diatoms are a single-celled, often motile, anaerobic form of phytoplasm made of silica, ubiquitous in all watery/muddy environments. Amazingly they process c. 20% of the Earth‘s oxygen through photo-synthesis. When they die they fossilise to form oil lakes at the bottom of oceans which are then in turn the subject of human exploitation and the extraction of fossil fuels.
On a local micro-scale, the rivers, canals and estuary surrounding and criss-crossing through and under Bristol are teeming with diatomic life yet these sites are also strewn with human produced detritus including fossil fuel derived micro-plastics. As a result of pandemic and contagion, we are increasingly turning to our waterways for relaxation and mental sustenance; for alternative forms of habitation amidst booms in recreational fishing, wild swimming and even plans to clean up of the floating harbour as a swimming resource.
The water-ways around Bristol are volatile; the Severn Estuary has the second largest tidal reach in the world (about 15m). The tidal waters push up in to the Avon through the centre of Bristol and the floods bring deluges down; sewage dumping by the water companies is frequent. It is an environment barely in equilibrium exemplified by the collapse of Cumberland Road outside Spike Island into the canalised tidal New Cut.
These water-ways are full of unseen stories and dark histories, human and more-than-human. This project is about finding something beautiful in the most unexpected of places where things often uncomfortably rub up against each other, only to quickly recede out of view, out of reach again.