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Seeds of Change: A Floating Ballast Seed Garden

Catherine Hunt explores her role as Research Fellow working on the Floating Ballast Seed Garden project.

My role

I am a Research Fellow employed on a joint project between the Arnolfini and the University of Bristol to organise a series of events relating to the Floating Ballast Seed Garden, taking place between June and October 2013.  Funding has been provided through the AHRC Cultural Engagement Fund pilot scheme.  I have recently finished my PhD in Art History and my aim has been to explore ideas which bring some new perspectives to the project while appealing to people with a range of interests and to different age groups.

A learning experience

One of the purposes of my placement was to learn both about work in a leading arts organisation and about the importance of public engagement as part of a university’s role in today’s society.  Being partly based in the Arnolfini has been enormously valuable, and I have seen at first hand the scope of the work involved in running a varied and leading-edge programme of events.  I have also learnt about the focus on types of audience and feedback, and the challenge of multi-agency working.  In relation to the University of Bristol, I have been struck by the range of public engagement events taking place, and the enthusiasm and expertise in this area.

I have also spent time on the barge, helping out with weeding and planting, and learning from Nick Wray, the curator of the University of Bristol Botanic Garden, the difference between the ballast seed plants and local and unwelcome weeds!

The boat trips

There are so many interesting angles to this project that the challenge has been to focus on a manageable number of events.  I wanted to make sure that the events covered different ideas and disciplines, whilst not losing sight of the underlying themes.  Travel and migration was one of the most obvious themes to explore, and so where best to begin than an event focusing on the trade routes in and out of Bristol Docks!  One of my colleagues, Richard Stone is an expert on this subject and offered to lead an event (The Hub of the World, 23 June).

I wanted to introduce an art historical dimension to the theme of migration and thought that Elizabeth Robles’ research into the work of Yinka Shonibare and Keith Piper would provide an interesting angle.  Both artists use their work to explore, amongst other things, their identity as black British artists, and Lizzie has chosen to focus on the use of ships in their work to make her talk particularly relevant to the concept of the Floating Ballast Seed Garden.

The movement of soil (directly referencing ballast) also connects with the emotional and psychological aspects of the migration of people, and so I thought it would be great to ask Lucy Donkin to share some of her fascinating and sometimes bizarre anecdotes on this topic.

Food is a topic of great interest to many and so exploring the origins of some of our fruit and finding out just how exotic some of our more familiar species once were seemed an ideal activity for families.  Even better to sample some of the fruit in a smoothie!  So combining Roger Mellors’ knowledge of plants with Shane Jordan’s expertise as a chef seemed a great idea for a boat trip.  Participants tried a “strawberry dream” smoothie and a mystery green one.  Not many guessed that it included spinach and kiwi.

Music can also represent different cultures and concepts of travel, and I wanted to put together a workshop which involved songs from the countries from which the ballast seeds had come and include some sea shanties to remind ourselves of the ships on which they came.  Gathering Voices used their expertise to run a singing workshop to bring this idea to fruition.

Another event in our autumn programme (Documenting Plants: Art and Photography in Dialogue, 25 September) focused on the plants themselves and involved examining the structure and beauty of plants from both the perspective of photography and botanic illustration.

The final event of the Floating Ballast Seed Garden (Global Roots of Football, 26 October) was a family event and tied in with the beginning of the football season.  Dr Matthew Brown explored the origins of football in South America, appropriately creating a link between the World Cup in Brazil and the Brazilian artist, Maria Thereza Alves, who created the Floating Ballast Seed Garden.

Keep an eye on the Whats On pages for news of the garden into 2014. FFI on the overall project see here.



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