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Press release


  • 20 January 2005
  • Geography inspires artist to put love on the rocks


    The poem pebbles created at the University of Sussex

    The poem pebbles created at the University of Sussex

    An artist inspired by research into coastal erosion at the University of Sussex has created a unique piece of installation art that might one day wash up on a beach near you.

    Brighton-based artist Johanna Berger has encased lines from a love poem in special beach pebbles created by Dr Uwe Dornbusch of the University's geography department. The artificial pebbles are normally used to scientifically assess coastal erosion for a major EU project.

    The pebbles, cast in tinted resin and containing a copper core, are left in carefully recorded locations then relocated, logged and measured after a specified time period to assess changes to the shoreline. The tinted resin makes the pebbles easier to spot and the copper core makes discovery at depth possible using a metal detector.

    Johanna's project, "Series 130-141", involved a batch of 11 pebbles with romantic lines typed on paper and wrapped around the copper core. They were placed on a French beach in December 2004, but only one of them has since been retrieved, leaving ten romantic rocks to be discovered.

    Johanna, a Chilean-born painter, was a first prizewinner in last year's Brighton Festival Art Prize. Fascinated by mountains, maps and meteorology, she approached the University's geography department last term in search of fresh inspiration and came across the pebbles project.

    "The pebbles are like the traditional message in a bottle," says Johanna, who chose fragments of verse by fellow countryman and Nobel prize-winning poet Pablo Neruda. "It's about turning a scientific tool into a work of art. It gives it another dimension. It would be interesting to trace who finds the pebbles, when, and under what circumstances."

    One of Johanna's mountain paintings

    One of Johanna's mountain paintings

    Johanna is now looking to develop her ideas as an artist in residence at the geography department and has applied for Arts Council funding. Work would include a field trip to the Atlas Mountains in Morocco, where students would learn on-site sketching skills, and exploring the study of geography with schools through art projects. "The geography department has been amazing. I was made very welcome and found lots to inspire me," says Johanna.

    Dr Uwe Dornbusch is a Geography research fellow and a member of the University team working on the EU-funded Beaches At Risk project (BAR). The six-year project aims to identify beaches at greatest risk of erosion and rising sea levels on both sides of the Channel and highlight ways in which the coastlines can be protected. "We know that historically beach material was transported eastward along the South Coast," says Dr Dornbusch, "but we need to know how fast and under what conditions material moves today to be able to better manage the remaining beaches."

    Evelyn Dodds, the geography department's resource centre manager, believes art can help to highlight such valuable scientific work. "Geography is a subject that bridges the arts/science divide, and Joanna's project shows that in an interesting and unusual way."

     

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