For a great many years and certainly since 1993 I have welcomed projects that have a strong environmental bias. When we first brought our barge to the Suffolk Coast in 1980, I realised that this was a landscape completely different to anything I had been used to in the past and immediately set up projects that would place me within it in a way that allowed me to reflect upon its uniqueness. From the very beginning I adopted a watery perspective. Working in 1982 on coastal views derived from Admiralty Surveys of the Suffolk Coast 1839/40, I re-activated these by taking a single elevation of the coast between Dunwich and Felixstowe from the North Shipwash Buoy, repeating it as a pencil drawing 30 ft long and then going back to the same point offshore to see if I could make the same drawing again from a contemporary point of view. This gave me some intriguing insights into 19th century surveying procedures, not to mention a whole lot of anecdotal incident as well. This I followed up with a project where I built a camera to make panoramic images of the coast from offshore, but to be sensitive to the experience of working on an unstable platform.
Working from appearances inwards towards articulating an experience of what is unique about a particular place was an approach that I have since applied to other environments. Two projects were instrumental in guiding my thoughts towards the possibility that, as an artist, I might be well positioned to contribute usefully to a developing environmental debate: in 1993 I was invited to be artist in residence on the Upper Thames, this demanded that I should not see my role as an artist only in relation to product but that it could be a condition of the job to get under the skin of a location and reflect upon it in a way that might in future be applied in a public context. Another turning point for me was an involvement in a public campaign to oppose the setting up of a regional airport at a redundant US airbase at RAF Bentwaters in Suffolk in 1998. Because a permission to carry out a development of this kind would be inconsistent with the local plan, it had to go to a public planning enquiry. My role in this was to help establish where our case stood in relation to current environmental law, ensuring that we were well grounded on the kinds of protections accorded to the area as it lies on the border of a designated “Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty”. This extended my understanding of how landscapes work through the understanding of the institutions set up to protect them and through this I felt motivated to contribute in the future to a lively debate representing the interests of a frequently hostile and uncomprehending community.
About ten years ago, I realised that I had been involved in so many projects and so much discussion that had an environmental ingredient, that perhaps I should be applying this knowledge as a component of my work. This coincided in 1999 with the publication of the first estuarine strategy for our river, the Deben by the Environment Agency and the need to respond as a community in an informed and coherent manner. We were caught completely unawares, especially in the matter of navigating unfamiliar terminology and data applied to a landscape that we all until that moment had considered we knew so well. As a result of this I agreed to handle the environmental material on behalf of a community organisation, the River Deben Association and help to devise strategies whereby in future we could be better equipped to act effectively with the Environment Agency as a consultee in the discussion of Flood Risk Management on our river estuary and immediate coast. Since then this role has expanded to incorporate a network of organisations all dedicated to representing and informing communities on environmental change within the region.
In order to achieve a measure of balance with my position within the cultural community and in Higher Education, I have continually explored the potential for cross-disciplinary collaboration and research. This has given rise to a broad network, out of which have come several initiatives, some of which continue to develop.