Written by Nadine Storrer, a participant in the 'Riverspeaking' project, funded by a Hull Maritime community grant.
Background and Initial Thoughts
I was excited to take part in Riverspeaking and thought it was a great opportunity to be involved in a community project and stretch myself a bit. I did not know at this point how extensively I would respond. I have been part of the Humber Recovery College since 2017/18. At this point I felt like I had gone as far as I could go with mainstream college, but still felt I wanted to be involved in something creative. The Recovery College is great for inclusiveness and reducing isolation. Over the years of my involvement I have attended Wellbeing Through Creativity, Creative Writing, Photography and other art-based sessions. Lauren has recently facilitated some sessions in Kintsugi and Christmas Crafts, which I’d also attended and enjoyed.
Session One 6th June 2023 – Hull Artist Research Initiative (HARI)
In the first session, after discussion, we were handed our sketchbooks, which I couldn’t wait to get started on, we all began writing and sketching, playing with different media, pens, pencils, pastels, felt tips and so on. It was a bit of an experimental session. I thought this was a good way to start and get a feel for the subject and discuss our ideas as we went along. It got me thinking deeper into the subject. I needed to get my thoughts down on paper. What did water mean to me? How did it feel? How could I represent it in my work? I had written the rough drafts for two poems, Water and Engulfed. The first poem being a more literal representation about the quality and the feel of water itself, while the latter is a more symbolic representation. To me, water symbolizes emotion, a feeling of being over-powered, engulfed, struggling to keep your head above water.
Upon discussing places to meet during the remaining five sessions, we realised that we could not meet in Queens Gardens, due to the extensive redevelopment in place till next year, so selected a shortlist of possibilities. We ensured we selected places that each of us could reach.
Session Two – 13th June 2023, Princes Dock/Quay
Our meeting place today was at the Ferens Café, which has a courtyard that overlooks part of the old Princes Dock. We began taking photos here, especially of the shoals of fish. Onlookers around Princes Quay, who frequently throw food in, watch the fish often. The fish, the ducks and seagulls fight over this food, which isn’t necessarily good for them.
Two days after the first session, I’d written a third poem, If The River Could Speak. Lauren had posed the question what water would say if it could speak. It really got me thinking. I always struggled with imagination, probably because I have autism. I felt this was the time to stretch myself, try and write a bit out of my comfort zone. I have been writing poetry since 2010, for some reason it only began post-degree. Even now it still kind of baffles me. I’d only written the odd poem at primary school before then? Where had it been all this time? Strange how a difficult experience unlocks something…
We discussed why water is often portrayed as the enemy when it has the right of way. Other questions that were raised were, with houses being built on flood plains, are we encroaching on water’s space? The term flood management is used often, but isn’t it more a case of negotiation? Water has needs…we have needs…
After a while I began to take more photographs, it was such a bright, hot sunny afternoon, which really highlighted the water. I began to really study the movement of the water ripples, how each ripple affected the movement of the next and so on…I love the way the water reflects what surrounds it, illustrating that water cannot exist without its surrounding elements encroaching on its space. I was fascinated with the patterns, the swirls, cross hatches, the light and shade. You don’t always see this; it’s only when you really stop and watch. I really wanted to capture the texture and the different shades of blue. I have a 270mm lens, which enables me to zoom into the water and carefully study its movement. I really zoned into the way the water moves, how it reflects and replicates its surroundings in an abstract way. As water is always on the move, I wanted to show how it looks frame-by-frame, how each image can look different – there’s always more to water than meets the eye. A fast shutter speed freezes movement, but even in that split second, you are still capturing how water moves and reacts, it is very addictive! This session had produced some photography that I feel really proud of.
After this very productive session, I began experimenting in Photoshop, adding text into some of my water ripple images. I took text from my poems and began to add sections in. I also copied these images the best I could and did more drawings before the third session. I have never been confident about combining my photos with my poetry. This project has given me the courage to have another go. I’d written two more poems, The Water’s Surface and How Deep Should We Go.
Session Three - 20th June 2023 – The Deep and Victoria Dock
Walking around Victoria Dock, I was surprised at how calm, how peaceful it was. I’d always thought it was a nice place to stroll. We’d all agreed to do a litter pick around here. The Deep has litter pickers that can be hired out, so that’s what we did. We all worked together as a team, committed to cleaning up the area, however we noticed that the paths were mostly clean, apart from cig butts and the odd piece of plastic. The rubbish that we found was mainly in the bushes and around the old dock itself. Seeing the child’s bicycle on the mud banks saddened me. There are charities that will fix up old bikes, was there any need to dump it here? I think not. The litter pick was a bit of a surprise in that we didn’t find much litter at all. This gave us hope; perhaps litter picks are undertaken on a regular basis here, with the Deep’s ethos on conservation. The frustration was the litter that was visible in the old dock, how no litter picker could reach and pull them out. The water quality was also poor with the presence of green algae. This can make it dangerous to the fish and result in suffocation. This area is otherwise taken care of so why isn’t more care taken with the water?
On one hand the litter pick had been a positive thing, I’d felt like I’d made a small difference, but on the other hand, frustrated about what I couldn’t do. I couldn’t physically pull the litter out of the dock, nor pull the old rubber dinghy or bicycle out of the mud bank. Again I was inspired to write another poem, A Universal Responsibility. I believe that we all have a responsibility to the environment. We can all help in some way. We can all show respect and care, by not throwing litter in the water, or on the land. Taking any rubbish away with you when you go out, instead of leaving it behind on the beach, or the grass, and definitely not throwing rubbish out of the car.
Session Four – 27th June 2023 - Pearson Park
It is a cloudier, greyer day, so generally feels cooler and more comfortable. Standing near to the water is really refreshing and cooling. We saw some ducklings on a nest with their mother, so lovely to see. I really wanted to take plenty of photos of the nature in the park, illustrating how much they need the water, how we need to keep it clean and safe for them, it is not all about us!
We also had a good walk around the whole of the park, including the nature garden. The lovely smell of garlic was really relaxing and made me really hungry! I took a lot of photos; it felt great to be close to nature like this. I took a lot of water reflection images. I loved the way the conservatory and the bandstand reflected in the water. It reminded me how water adds symmetry.
After our walk, we all sat on the grass and I did some writing. I wrote the beginnings of another poem, Water Feels Sublime. We also did some mindfulness activities around the water today, one of which I’d brought alone from a book I’d bought years ago. I wrote how I felt as I stood close to the water. The next paragraph is taken from that text…
Standing on the bridge in Pearson Park, overlooking the body of water, I feel a strong sensation in my tummy. I feel so frustrated seeing the plastic tops in the water. I wish I had a litter picker to pull them out! I love the sound of the water fountains. It has a real soothing, stimulating quality. I felt this sense of lightness in my head. We also did a mindful drawing activity, which I loved. It really made me feel free, and the drawing really captured how water feels and the flow of water too. I can see why people feel a need to be near water, it is calming to be around, beautiful, inspiring too.
Session Five 4th July 2023 – East Park
The penultimate session, where had the weeks gone? We started by spending time watching the water, especially the ducks and geese. They kept coming to us searching for food. They are everywhere here! They even watched us while we were sat on the grass discussing our ideas and making more art. It made us think what the geese would say to us if they could talk to us. How do they feel about lots of people in the park?
I was disturbed by the large amount of plastic on the grass, right where they were sitting. I had to pick as much up as I could. They were so many bottle tops, which they could’ve easily choked on. This was the place which I’d noticed the most plastic rubbish, why? I was annoyed, and frustrated at this. How could people be so lazy and thoughtless? How could they not care about the welfare of the animals? I thought, water is a support system – it gives them, and us support, why can’t we give it support in return?
We wandered over to the other side of the lake, not far from the splashboat and Acho lead a Tai Chi session. The idea was good, but I struggled. Mentally, to focus, emotionally, and I began to feel unsteady. It was lovely to stand and mindfully watch the ripples, yet the photographer in me wanted to capture them instead. I was torn between participating and documenting; it’s a dilemma I encounter a lot. My movements did not flow like the water, my movements were laboured and uncoordinated, and I felt frustrated. I felt that dyspraxia hindered me; I later wrote…Why can’t I move, as freely as the water flows? Why can’t I sway back and forth? Move my hands up in the air, without it feeling so laboured and frustrating? Instead of my movement, my emotions flowed instead. This later became the poem Water Envy.
Session Six 11th July 2023
For our last session, we met up at the museum gardens on High Street. From there we wandered along the path along the River Hull. We sat on the swing bridge sketching until it started to rain. We had been really lucky with the weather throughout our sessions, except today. We overlooked the Tidal Barrier and The Deep and the bridge surrounding it. I saw everyone else sketching and decided to have another go. My first sketch was on one A4 page in my sketchbook, but the proportions were all wrong, all the landmarks were squashed together. So, I decided to draw them again, across a double page. This worked so much better. As it started to rain, I had to sketch out the bare bones and leave the rest till later. This drawing looked so much better than the first and I felt really proud of it.
We started walking towards the pier and Lauren suggested we do some brass rubbing, around the Voyage statue. There’s a lot of brass text below the statue, which we captured in print using graphite pencils. I hadn’t done this since I was a kid, and it was fun. Then the rain became heavier and we had to head for shelter, so we went in the Minerva! Whilst in there, we finished our sketches and Lauren filled in a review of the project. We all chipped in with answers as much as we could. Quite a few of us felt like the project could’ve gone on for a few more sessions. The idea came up about taking a trip on a barge on Beverley Beck, we thought this would be an ideal way to complete the project properly and produce more work.
This project has been a bit of a challenging one, yet a very expressive one. I’ve found it really inspiring too. I have surprised myself a lot with the amount of work I produced. It makes me think that I must’ve needed a project like this. It showed me how much I needed to be around others to feel inspired and how engaging in conversation really gets the creative juices flowing! I’ve really appreciated this time, this place to be myself and be authentic and delve deeper within my work. I’ve liked being a part of this group a lot. It was almost like being back at art college again, but in a more grown-up way, with a more open, more willing to have a go attitude, perhaps something that was lacking in me when I was younger. You can never get the best out of yourself if you’re too afraid to try, too stuck in your ways. I cannot change what happened way back when but this experience of engaging, experimenting and learning has been thoroughly inspiring and very rewarding. There was no sitting on the sidelines, no hiding my work away, I shared away, even if reading my own poems still feels a little cringe worthy inside! I worry that my Hull accent is just a bit too strong…
It’s made me look at the world around me in a deeper and more observant way. It’s got me thinking how I can show more care to the environment. I’ve been picking up lots of litter, particularly plastics since! It’s got me thinking about I can combine the mediums I work in, how I can combine my poetry and photography by adding snippets of text into my images, however this is more complicated than I thought. Finding the right font, the right image to go with the right poem, which section of the poem to insert, if not the whole poem. It’s also ensuring that the poem does not dominate and distract from the image. If not for this project, I probably wouldn’t have found the inspiration or the motivation to do this. Riverspeaking was the catalyst!
It frustrates me that still so many people don’t care and take nature and its waterways for granted. Would more water awareness courses help? I don’t know, not quite sure that it’s ignorance that’s causing it. I think it’s more a lack of care and a lack of respect, but how do you make people care?
It has been really good to collaborate and share ideas within the group and see how different people respond to the theme. I have attempted to draw water but feel like my drawing is childlike. There’s only two of us in the group that have predominately responded through photography, most of the group are sketchers/illustrators. In one way that gives a more interesting dynamic to the group. I’m glad that I’ve attempted to draw and colour as I feel I’ve created a more rounded approach. The drawing, the colouring, and the different mediums I’ve worked with have added some playfulness to my work. The mindful drawing exercise was good too. I was surprised how my drawing was really accurate in depicting how water feels and looks.
Another amazing thing about participating in Riverspeaking; is how it has directly inspired another collaborative project. Instead of starting entirely from scratch we have been greatly inspired by this body of work I have produced. What an amazing coincidence it is. Thank goodness for projects like these. It has been a fantastic project to be involved in and I really look forward to seeing what Lauren and the rest of our group have produced, at the upcoming Seeds of Change exhibition at Prospect Gallery in August.