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Experiment: Finalising words for the paddles

With all the waterwheel design work complete now is the time to decide on the words to put on the paddles. We have 5 waterwheels each with 4 paddles so I need to define 4 different phrases of 5 words each. I decided earlier that I want each phrase to run across all the paddles, rather than a single phrase on each paddle. The benefits of this are two-fold: each full phase would intermittently be shown correctly across the water which I think is important but also there will no meaningless words on the last paddle. For example, if the words ‘THE LADY’S NOT FOR TURNING’ were on the last paddle, the words ‘THE’ and ‘FOR’ would intermittently appear at the end of the shown phrase which would destroy the impact.

To test out various alternatives I created the simple web page below which shows 6 alternatives in action. You can select each button at the top to see the alternatives. The hypothetical water wheels are moving at slightly different speeds to emulate the different speeds they will have in the water, hence the phrases are mixed up over time. I have mixed up government statements, phrases from HS2 literature, anti-HS2 phrases and literary references to the River Erewash.

While I enjoy how the words from all sides of the political and cultural spectrum combine to form unexpected and intriguing narrative I’m not comfortable with the lack of a connection or progression across the sequence. There isn’t a strong and authentic reason for this combination. My research on the land artists Richard Long and Hamish Fulton comes to mind, particularly how Long ordered his words using the speed of motion or another geographical factor. He didn’t state this in the work, but it was there for interpretation and I absolutely had to find a similar link to add strength to the work.

So I stepped back and considered how I could link the four phrases together. I’ve talked much about the scale of the river and experienced it on a macro and micro scale on my walks so a geographical link sprang out as the obvious choice. Below I composed 4 different geographical zones from which I could take one relevant phrase, a National level (e.g. government), a Regional level (e.g. HS2 in the East Midlands), the River level (e.g. writings about the river) and the actual Locality (e.g. signage at the actual installation location).

So below I’ve decided on 4 phrases that are connected geographically and progress through contexts of national, regional, river/borough and local. I chose these phrases to exclude duplicate words and to be a combination of political, cultural and instructional language.

  • INCREASE FLOODS COSTING GOOD NEIGHBOURS (HS2 documentation on East Midlands branch)
  • TWISTED SLUGGISHLY THROUGH ALDER TREES (DH Lawrence on the Erewash river)
  • DANGER KEEP RISK CHILDREN DEATH (signage close to installation location)

Below is an animation of the 4 phrases to judge how they combine and what new narrative they expose. The word CHILDREN is poignant as it points to the future and invokes compassion. The words RACE and TWISTED have multiple meanings which add an extra dynamic to the inferred meanings. I sat watching the animation for some time and the following phrases emerged:


I considered carefully and have included only nouns and adjectives. My word count is limited and pronouns, prepositions and conjunctions seem unnecessary and actually break the continuity of meaning. I appreciate the effort I have to make to construct meaning in the bold statements that appear. These bold phrases are confident notices or statements rather than whimsical references, they bring together the different interests in the history and future of the River Erewash and every word has its place.

I enjoy how the different geographies are combining, how the political and the cultural themes are clashing but most of all how there is a slight absurdity to the emerging phrases. There is intent but there are gaps left to fill so there is work to do on the part of the viewer, which is very important to me. There is also anticipation between the appearance of phrases that have no recognisable meaning and those that do. I find myself waiting for a new meaningful phrase to emerge and when one does, there is satisfaction in making that connection. In my previous project, I discussed the free play concept of Immanuel Kant (from his Critique of Judgment) and I believe I’ve hit on an artistic kinetic mechanism that allows this once again.

I looked at the approach of Jeremy Deller earlier in the project and it struck me how he skillfully manages to create war art without being labeled as a political artist. He facilitates conversations and changes thinking about deeply sensitive issues by exposing truths and letting his projects almost run out of control. He turns the spotlight on the viewer to complete the jigsaw after pulling history out of the past. I’ve tried to achieve a similar result to Deller in choosing these words. They are political statements yes, but I’m stating facts not giving an opinion. I’m bringing together very disparate thinking (geographically and historically) about the River Erewash and like Richard Long, I’m reducing it to the essence of what it represents.

Conclusion & next steps

I’ve been considering the words for the paddles for the duration of the project and it’s not something I’ve rushed in to. I’ve walked the full length of the river and I’m confident in how these phrases have come together. There is very satisfying new meaning sparking out of the above animation which sets all sorts of thoughts flying through my head and I’m confident that a view will experience the same. I plan to run the above animation in front of my peers to gather their feedback then commit to these as the final set of phrases.

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