Interview: Luke Jerram

Luke Jerram by Bristol City Council

Luke Jerram by Bristol City Council

24 March 2015

Bristol artist Luke Jerram hit international headlines last year when his Park and Slide project brought a water slide to the notoriously hilly Park Street in the centre of the city. His latest work, Withdrawn, was given planning consent last month, so we took the opportunity to find out more about the project.

It’s great that your project Withdrawn has been given planning consent. Can you tell us a little bit about the project?

Withdrawn is a project I am working with the National Trust and Forestry Commission England. A flotilla of fishing boats will appear in the woodland of Leigh Woods on 17th April and will be there throughout the summer with a series of events designed to animate them.

I wanted to produce a piece of work that would challenge audiences to consider the impacts of over-fishing and marine pollution on the future of our planet and eco-system.

What did you find out from talking to fishermen, scientists and marine experts?

For several decades, unsustainable fishing practices have caused fish stocks of many species to collapse. With less fish in the sea, it’s often not financially viable to use a small fishing vessel to fish with and fishermen have to travel further and further out to sea to catch the same number of lobster that they did previously. The good news is that there are recent examples such as in Lyme Bay, England where fishing has begun to be managed sustainably. Fish stocks are slowly beginning to recover.

For some species there are just 2% of the fish left in the ocean now, compared to 150 years ago – before the industrialisation of fishing. If the fish stocks we currently have double, that’s still only 4% of what they once were! 

Withdrawn at night

The decision to moor boats among trees is intriguing – what is the thought process behind it?

The positioning of the boats in the trees is also partly a response to the extreme weather and apocalyptic imagery we’ve seen in the media recently – Hurricane Katrina, the tsunami in Japan, and even closer to home during the floods on the Somerset Levels last winter, where cars were floating down streets and houses submerged in water. The positioning of these boats in Leigh Woods presents a similarly uncanny scenario, a sublime and surreal image, that we’ll see a lot more of if we let climate change get out of control.

What do you think makes Leigh Woods, and Bristol more widely, a good venue for Withdrawn?

Leigh Woods is a beautiful space appreciated by many and also very accessible to the city centre by bike or on foot over the suspension bridge. This installation was also designed to mark Bristol’s status as Green Capital and to use art to make a statement about an environmental issue which I feel passionately about, using Bristol scientists to inform my work and to place it in a place of great natural beauty.

Bristol is my home and although I mostly work internationally as an artist, it’s great to contribute to something in my city. It is one of six arts projects funded by the Arts Council England Exceptional Fund as part of Bristol’s year as European Green Capital, to help make sustainable living accessible and easy to understand.

Withdrawn at Night - Lukejerram 710x400

Are you optimistic about the ability of humans to adapt and thrive in the face of climate change and environmental pressures such as overfishing?

I am optimistic that we have some very smart people working on the issue and that the UK can move in the right direction. It’s brilliant, that in the recent budget announcement the Government has given the go ahead for new the new Marine Protected Area around Pitcairn Island for instance. 

There is still so much to be done though and the scale of the problem is almost unimaginable, so I hope this piece will be a step along the way of raising awareness.

You previously worked on the famous/infamous (!) Park Street water slide, which gained a huge reception. Are you hoping for similar with this project?

Withdrawn is a different type of art project. It’s more contemplative and as such will operate in a different way to Park and Slide which was in the middle of a public highway! I try to make artwork that can be appreciated by different audiences in different ways. So a small child might appreciate the installation in one way, whilst a curator, lawyer, fisherman or scientist might consider the artwork in very different ways.  

Do you have any more projects in the pipeline?

Lots ! Which of the art projects I have in development will receive funding, support and flower, is hard to tell. Often the more ambitious and ground breaking an art project is, the harder it is to get it off the ground.  

Thanks Luke

Conal Dougan