Copyright 2013

Balancing Sweet and Salty

In autum 2013 Valerie Dempsey and Ronald Boer were invited to participate in a five-year project, “Balancing Sweet and Salty”, at the Bewaerschole in Burgh-Haamstede on the island of Schouwen-Duiveland. The project wants to build a picture of how people and nature find a balanced approach to maintaining an equilibrium between fresh and salt water. With their Beach Laboratory Dempsey&Boer will respond to the ecological problems caused by the large scale man-made interventions built to protect the region against floods, the Delta Works. They will study the morphology and phenomenology of landscapes focusing on transitions between land and sea.

The central focus of their practise to date has involved the close observation of nature and natural phenomenon, and culture, looking at the different imprints made by man on land and sea. These imprints cause both visible and invisible disruptions to the natural equilibrium of the landscape. They are particularly interested in areas such as Schouwen-Duiveland, where man-made interventions cause drastic changes to the landscape and disruptions to the balanced gradients between sand and sediment and fresh and salt water. Dempsey&Boer have spent time travelling around Schouwen-Duiveland with their Mobile Laboratory observing, photographing, sketching, collecting and collating relevant material, and mapping these disruptions.

Their first ideas for the project “Balancing Sweet and Salty” focus on some phenomena that characterize the current state of the Oosterschelde: the absence of gradients between fresh and salt in the Oosterschelde due to the Delta Works; and the blockade in the exchange of mud and sand sediment, again due to the Delta Works. Dempsey&Boer want to look at how such disruptions and changes to the natural order change peoples’ perception of the landscape. The Mobile Laboratory will allow them to observe, act, and intervene in, the surrounding landscape, in an attempt to better understand it. They are looking at new interpretations and meanings brought about by human interference. For example, the delta works are there as a protection and defence against the water, but what else do they do, what changes have occurred in the transitions between land and sea because of these flood defences?

Initial research involved looking at three particular sites on Schouwen-Duivenland: Verklikkerplaat, the Neeltje Jans, and the Plompetoren. The interaction between land, water and man is different at each location. The first spot, Verklikkerplaat, is at the head of the island where new dunes form and a natural transition between land and water is seen. The second location, the Neeltje Jans, is the flood defence dam with sluices, where 65 concrete stantions disrupt the tidal flow and the third location is the area around the Plompetoren where the dike between the Oosterschelde and Schouwen-Duiveland forms a hard transition between land and sea.

A presentation of their research highlighting the materiality of sweet and salt conditions and the gradients between mud and sand at the various locations will be shown at the Bewaerschole in March. These initial observations of hard and soft edges found around the shores of Schouwen-Duiveland will be used to inspire the creation of future works through installation, photography and painting. A further period of research will be carried out in April when Dempsey&Boer will make small interventions on site at the locations in order to understand them better.

Dempsey&Boer intend to do a parallel investigation in June 2014 at Tentsmuir, an area at the mouth of the river Eden in Fife, Scotland. In Zeeland the coastline has been dramatically shortened by the introduction of dams, sluices, locks, dykes, levees and storm surge barriers. The estuaries of the rivers Maas, Rhine and Schelde no longer ebb and flow naturally. Around the Eden Estuary a more natural exchange between land and water takes place. Here you can find mud flats, sand banks and
salt marshes. Dempsey&Boer will do a comparative observational study of how gradients, between fresh and salt water and between sand and mud, occur.

To further develop their research they will liaise with the Dutch Institute for Sea Research ( NIOZ ) in Yerseke, focusing on the spatial ecology and micro-biology of the Oosterschelde and Schouwen- Duiveland.