Experiment: Words flowing together

I thought of a waterwheel as a way to interrupt the flow of the river so this experiment was a simple prototype made from a square block of wood and 4 paddles with writing on them. Nails in the ends of the block would enable it to be suspended in the water and hopefully, it would turn under the force of the water. I was looking for an overview of the visual impact and to imagine a collection of these water wheels turning together.

Below is the outcome in a very slow section of the river. Even this simple construction turned well to reveal the text which was slow enough to read. The immediate realisation was that the main flow of the river is much faster so it would be more challenging to read the text. I’m not sure this is an issue though as I quite like the idea that multiple revolutions are required to interpret what is written.

There was a sense of calm about this experience as the paddles gently rose from the water to reveal the writing then slapped back in behind. I’m favouring the writing to raise out of the water as it emphasises that the words are coming from the river, they are being formed by the ebb and flow.

Another challenge is how to construct a row of the paddles across the river which is over 5m wide, varying in speed, depth and has very variable banks. It’s obvious that individual paddles are not practical as placing them will mean getting in the river and securing stakes to hold them just above water level will be inpredictable, destructive and somewhat dangerous.

The location below would be an ideal location as it is close to my home and has a public path alongside so the river is flowing towards the viewer at this point. My next idea would be to suspend a line of paddles over the water using a taught line secured to the banks. This has more practical appeal and installation would be straightforward after careful construction to test that the paddles turn correctly.

Summary & next steps

Successful as it was this experiment exposed many issues regarding installing a line of paddles in the river. Individual paddles are not practical and as a guerilla activity would take too long to install and remove. The next stage is to consider using a line across the river to suspend the paddles on the surface. I like the idea that a continuous structure would have an industrial ‘machine’ appearance which would echo the former industrial nature of the valley. The concentration of noise, motion and mechanics would create much more of an impact so a combined kinetic sculpture is the next experiment on the agenda.

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