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From time to time we step out of the everyday, venturing forth in search of new ideas, inspiration and material. This maybe locally or a little further afield...

...we have to go away to come back...


Recording at Black Rock Sands, North Wales, November 21st 2022

In Garbett and Laybourne’s Compendium of Aphorisms, Sayings and Terms, the entry on page eight reads “You have to go away to come back”. This is a phrase we use often and it means that even though our work is hyper-locally focused sometimes we need to head off, get away and wander further afield in search of different places, new experiences and inspiration. We bring back ideas, creative energy, artistic material and fresh ways of thinking.


With this in mind, following our Water Walks project earlier in 2023 and ahead of our long-term Getting into Hot Water project, we organised Field Works, a series of participatory, art-based ventures that start to investigate the complex relationship between humans, water and climate change locally. 


Pours, flows, gushes, rushes, drips, dribbles, seeps, creeps, ripples, waves, falls, drains, runs, stands and freezes


Bubbles, burbles, splashes, sploshes, crashes and disappears below ground


Resurfaces, rises and springs


Courses in rivulets, trickles and streams, in full flow or dammed up, blocked or bunged up, frozen solid, melting away...


When I think of water I think of taps, hot and cold, plugs, drains, rivers, seas, showers, hot and cold, I think of rivers in flood, in spate, of water draining from the fields running down lanes into streams, of the sound of running and rushing water, of fast and slow water, of tsunamis, of great power, of clean and dirty water, of cups of tea, green tea especially, the kettle, of dams and reservoirs of mountains in Wales, of Severn Trent, the water board, water boarding, no not that not as an instrument of torture, of drowning, currents, saving lives at sea, Jo my wife watching telly and knitting…

Water Water Water 30Bill Laybourne
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Industrial Water

A field trip to Coalbrookdale, Shropshire

Inspecting a sluice gate...

We invited Dudley people to join us on two watery field trips, focusing on those who for various reasons rarely have opportunities to get away from the everyday and engage in creative explorations. The first trip was to Coalbrookdale in Shropshire, often described as ‘the birthplace of the industrial revolution’ and the second was to the Elan Valley in mid-Wales where dammed rivers provide Birmingham’s water supply. 


Following the field trips we planned to meet up with each group again to reflect on our shared experiences and co-develop our visual and sound-based artworks.


This account tells of our field trip to the world’s first water powered blast furnace at Coalbrookdale on September 28th 2023 with thirteen learning disabled and autistic people and volunteer helpers from Riverside House, an inclusive heritage project based in Stourbridge. We also share snippets from our follow-up creative session held on October 26th.


According to archaeologists, Coalbrookdale, a small village close to Ironbridge has been a water powered industrial hub since the middle ages. A series of pools, watercourses and waterwheels were used to power iron forges and blast furnaces before and at the time of the Industrial Revolution. Arguably it was the human activity of the Industrial Revolution that started the climate crisis we are experiencing today.

As we walked around the remains of the 380 year old blast furnace and the surrounding landscape our conversation turned to water:

We talked about pipes, rushing sounds and water-wheel marks on a wall 


Rust coloured streams, trickling and gushing, industry and forces at work


We discussed overflow weirs, channels and chutes


Boshes, machines and bellows


We noticed water-acting, wheel-engines and size-shapes


Revolution-concepts, furnace-mouth and slag


Everyone was given and encouraged to use a small art supplies bag containing a clip board, pencils, crayons, blank post cards and various papers. Some people focused on the standing remains of the forge and others on the interpretation boards which were dotted around the site.


Walking a little further uphill we discovered more pools and water controlling mechanisms, all part of the industrial water course system in the area. We listened and recorded the sounds of the water in the landscape.

Follow-up Creative Workshop
8.Model wheel.jpg

On October 26th we met up again at Riverside House. Together we explored water wheels, discussing what they were used for in industrial settings like Coalbrookdale and had a go at making some simple models out of card and glue. We filmed our models at work and recorded human-made sounds of wheezy bellows, gushing water and ancient forges.

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