Artist Puts Message In A Pebble For Coastal Erosion Project

By David Prudames | 01 February 2005
Shows a photograph of a group of translucent pebbles which have had lumps of copper inserted in them and small scraps of paper with writing on.

Johanna Berger's poem pebbles. Courtesy University of Sussex.

An artist has joined forces with a team of geography researchers at the University of Sussex to create a piece of installation art that might just wash up on a beach near you one day.

Brighton-based Johanna Berger has encased lines from a love poem in pebbles created by Dr Uwe Dornbusch of the university's geography department. Normally used to assess coastal erosion for a major EU project, the 11 artificial pebbles were scattered on a French beach and left to the elements.

"The pebbles are like the traditional message in a bottle," explained 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" she added. "It gives it another dimension. It would be interesting to trace who finds the pebbles, when, and under what circumstances."

Shows a close up photograph of a group of translucent pebbles which have had lumps of copper inserted in them and small scraps of paper with writing on.

Courtesy University of Sussex.

The Beaches At Risk project is a six-year joint initiative, funded by the European Union Regional Development Fund. Bringing together universities, local authorities and conservation bodies it seeks to identify beaches at greatest risk of erosion and rising sea levels on both sides of the channel in order to highlight ways in which coastlines can be protected.

Cast in tinted resin to make them easier to spot, and containing a copper core, so they can be found using a metal detector, the pebbles are placed on beaches. The idea is that after a specified time period they are relocated, logged and measured to assess changes to the shoreline.

Geography research fellow at the University of Sussex, Dr Uwe Dornbusch is a member of the team carrying out the project on these shores and the man behind the translucent pebbles.

"We know that historically beach material was transported eastward along the South Coast," he said, "but we need to know how fast and under what conditions material moves today to be able to better manage the remaining beaches."

Entitled "Series 130-141", Johanna’s project involved a scattering 11 pebbles with romantic lines typed on paper and wrapped around the copper core on a French beach in December 2004.

Shows a photograph of an painting of a mountain range.

Artist Johanna is very interested in maps and meteorology as shown in this abstract view of the Himalayas using a layered paint technique and a satellite weather map.

So far only one has turned up, leaving 10 of these romantic rocks still to be discovered.

A prizewinner in last year's Brighton Festival, Johanna is fascinated by mountains, maps and meteorology and following her latest project is looking to develop her ideas as an artist in residence with the geography department.

Among the next projects she has in mind is a field trip with students to the Atlas Mountains in Morocco and using art to explore the study of geography with schools.

"Geography is a subject that bridges the arts/science divide," added Evelyn Dodds, the geography department's resource centre manager, "and Johanna's project shows that in an interesting and unusual way."

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