In this interview, performance artist Jo Hellier talks about her new work Flood Plans and how our changing landscape continues to inspire her. Part of #IBT15.
You are a very visual artist. On your website your research is shown in images: a picture of you swimming with your nose barely out of the water with goggles, a map showing how the South West would look if it was permanently flooded, a photo of you making sound recordings in a stream. How did you find your way into performance?
I have always worked very visually, I had a difficult time choosing whether to study visual art or performance, but luckily I went to a university that made no distinctions between disciplines and I think now I just see it all as art. I try to avoid being restricted by form and sometimes this means my projects are a combination of different forms. Currently I’m interested in making more minimal work.
What has drawn you to the subject of floods?
As with many projects it’s a subject that has come together from lots of different directions and ideas.
It began with the word confluence, which means the place where two rivers meet, but also, in psychology confluence can refer to the state in which people are fused and can no longer identify themselves as separate entities. I became interested in relating the flow of water to human agency and was quickly led to flooding.
I was simultaneously drawn to floods by my ongoing research into climate change and the struggle of imagining what the future will look like.
The Water is Wide, 34 Bristols, photo Paul Blakemore
Your website says that you are interested in botany, sociology and neuroscience. Can you give us some kind of idea about the breadth of your research?
The list of research is long and expansive. I’ve been researching rivers; their behaviours and the ecosystems they support as well as what happens when they flood.
An important part of the research happened outdoors; around and in rivers in Wales and the South West. I went on long swims, wrote and gathered sound and observed the movement of rivers for a long time.
I had an incredible day with the environment agency in Bridgwater. They gave me great insight into what happens during a flood and what the consequences are socially and politically. They had amazing stories about the sequence of blame that happened within the communities in Somerset when the floods occurred and how the media responded and added to this. They gave me detailed information about how flooding occurs and how you can predict it as well as some very gloomy predictions of the future.
Your collaboration with sound designer Yas Clarke for 97 Years, a previous project, resulted in a very immersive experience - sound was on an equal footing with the narrative and visual elements. Can the audience expect a similarly rich experience from Flood Plans?
Yes they can. 97 Years was split quite evenly between performance, sound and visual elements. I’ve collaborated with Yas again and we have been working on the sound together which has been an amazing experience for me. We are experimenting with the effect sound has on an audience both physically and emotionally. Flood Plans is at heart a noise show. Expect loudness.
You are interested in environmental concerns, however your work is very meditative, very thoughtful. Should activism take a more considered approach?
I am also interested in being an activist in the most direct way possible. I would never argue that people should take a more meditative approach to their activism. I think there is absolutely cause for both approaches within art and outside of it. I think my work is often meditative and thoughtful because what I’m dealing with is complicated, I don’t have the answer but I want to provide people with space and time to connect to the ideas.
Interview by Fraisia Dunn
For more information on Flood Plans and to book tickets visit the event page