Test Sites: Calder

Test Sites is Arts Catalyst’s series of inquiries into matters of concern connected with environmental change – such as flooding, pollution, and species loss – and their impact on local culture and the health and wellbeing of our ecosystems and ourselves. At each site, we are involving local people in art-led co-inquiries, working with artists, scientists, and other experts.

In the Calder Valley in Yorkshire, where flooding and water pollution have been issues for 200 years, we are exploring water governance in relation to health, wellbeing and the resilience of communities and ecologies, in partnership with many local individuals and groups. The core team comprises artist Ruth Levene, anthropologist Megan Clinch, artist group Invisible Flock, curator Anna Santomauro from Arts Catalyst, with input from Liz Sharp at Pennine Water Group, University of Sheffield, and the water@leeds group, University of Leeds.

We began in 2017 by making two research journeys by narrowboat along the Calder/ Hebble Navigation meeting local people, river/canal users, and experts with interests in water, the history of the river and canal, and water governance.

During 2018, under the banner of ‘The River College’, we organised workshops with local groups and hosted stands and events at local festivals, using walks, games, geological cake-baking, water testing experiments and exhibits of maps and models to spark conversations around the geology, ecology, history, pollution and uses of the water system, while exchanging ideas around water’s social, spiritual, political and environmental meanings. Alongside, we held many group meetings and interviews to gather people’s varied understandings about the Calder water system and its management.

In Summer 2019, we presented a series of art installations and public events at festivals and venues along the Calder Valley, sharing our findings and continuing the inquiry with many more people. Find out more about the Summer programme here!

In 2020-21, Arts Catalyst has been working with Matterlurgy (Helena Hunter and Mark Peter Wright) who have been developing an inquiry and web platform investigating the ways in which a river’s health can be examined and understood.


Ruth Levene is an artist based in Sheffield, Yorkshire working in video, performance, events, digital drawings, walks, installations and participatory work. Curious and concerned by the complex systems we live by, she is currently exploring water systems, farming and market driven developments of the countryside.

Dr Megan Clinch is an anthropologist and lecturer at Queen Mary, University of London. Her research explores how different forms of investigation, experimentality, evidence, and evaluation are understood (or not) and managed in the development of public health interventions.

Invisible Flock is an interactive arts studio based in the UK, making innovative artworks to be experienced and participated in by thousands all over the world. The artists create highly sensory installations and environments that ask us to re-negotiate our emotional relationship to the natural world.

Matterlurgy is a collaborative practice between London based artists Helena Hunter and Mark Peter Wright. They work in critical contexts of environmental change, across disciplines and media, combining the production of artworks with co-constructed events and live performance. 

Anna Santomauro is a curator, educator and researcher in micropolitics and socially engaged art. She is Programme Curator at Art Catalyst.

Test Sites: Calder Valley is supported by the Wellcome Trust, Canal and River Trust and Arts Council England.

Hero image: Design by An Endless Supply

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Graveyard of Lost Species

An ambitious collaborative project and public monument by artists YoHa and Critical Art Ensemble in partnership with Arts Catalyst

The Graveyard of Lost Species is a temporary public monument, created from a local wreck, the Souvenir - a 40ft 12 ton Thames Bawley fishing boat, which was reclaimed from the estuary mud. With the names of varied "lost species" (flora, fauna, occupations, words) from the estuary laser carved onto the boat’s surface and interior, she was sailed back and installed on the Leigh marshes as a part of the local landscape.

During 2015 and 2016, the artists led a set of enquiries with people in Leigh-on-Sea and Southend to gather local knowledge of and expertise about "lost species" - wildlife, marine creatures, livelihoods, fishing methods, landmarks and local dialects that once flourished in the Estuary and are now disappearing. Working with local craftsmen, the artists then laser cut the lost species into the vessel’s surface.

The project is intended to act as a monument to Leigh’s past and future, as well as uncovering and highlighting local knowledge about the changing ecology, society and industry of the Thames estuary.

The artwork is dedicated to the people of Leigh and Southend.

Graveyard of Lost Species is part of 'Wrecked on The Intertidal Zone', an art and citizen science project that uncovers and highlights local knowledge about the changing ecology, society and industry of the Thames estuary. Artists YoHa, Critical Art Ensemble, Andy Freeman and Fran Gallardo, with The Arts Catalyst, are collaborating with local people in Southend and Leigh-on-Sea.

See the Wrecked website for videos and artists updates:

Graveyard of Lost Species Launch Event Programme
Sat 23 July 2016
2.30pm – 3.30pm Artist talk, Focal Point Gallery, Southend
With artists Yoha (Graham Harwood and Matsuko Yokokoji) and Critical Art Ensemble (Steve Kurtz, Steve Barnes and Lucia Sommer), chaired by Claudia Lastra, Programme Manager, Arts Catalyst.
The artists will discuss their long-term project Graveyard of Lost Species, an anti-monument inscribed with lost and disappearing species of the estuary based in Leigh-on-Sea. The anti-monument is a 30ft boat wreck that will slowly corrode. It is now installed publically on the salt marshes near to the gateway to the Thames. The artist duos will discuss their unique collaboration, as well as processes and production of the project.
Emerging in the late 1980s, Critical Art Ensemble and YoHa are pioneers in a radical art practice that deployed new media as a tactical tool to re-claim, rethink and re-envisage the politics, popular media and artistic practice of the time.
3.30pm – 4.30pm Travel to site of Graveyard of Lost Species installation at Leigh on Sea.
4.30pm – 6.00pm Reception and installation viewing on site
Please bring waterproof footwear as the marsh area is very muddy. The location is less than 10 minutes walk from Leigh-on-Sea train station, there are parking bays at Leigh-on-Sea station and Leigh Marshes car park.
Arrive at Leigh-on-Sea train station, when exiting turn right towards the Estuary, walk past the car park (on your right) and walk towards the estuary path. Walk along the estuary path (west) towards Benfleet, you will come to a cross path and a hard standing where the boat is situated.
Travelling to Leigh-on-Sea for drinks reception
This project is sponsored by Cory Environmental Trust and Arts Council England
Focal Point Gallery and Southern Borough Council


Graveyard of Lost Species is led by artist group YoHa, Graham Harwood and Matsuko Yokokoji, who have worked together since 1994 and are local Leigh-on-Sea residents. YoHa's polemical vision and technical tinkering has powered several celebrated collaborations, establishing an international reputation for pioneering critical art and socially engaged projects. Harwood and Yokokoji co-founded the pioneering artists’ group Mongrel (1996-2007) and established the MediaShed, a free-media lab (2005-2008), which reached international fame through its film ‘Duallists’ shown at over 30 film festivals around the world.

Critical Art Ensemble undertook a residency in Leigh-on-Sea, building on research from two previous visits, working alongside Yoha on Lost Species. Since 1987, Critical Art Ensemble has explored the intersections between art, critical theory and political activism. Projects have included recreating historical bio-warfare experiments off the coast of Scotland; setting up a lab in a gallery to reverse engineer genetically modified seeds; and planting endangered flowers on public lands and urban social space threatened by property developers.


Funders and Supporters

This project is supported by The Arts Council England and Arts Catalyst. Many thanks to Leigh Town Council, Southend Borough Council, Metal (Southend) and Belton Way Small Craft Club with advice from Natural England and Essex Wildlife Trust.
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Living Assemblies - Design Your Silken Self

‘Living Assemblies’ is a hands-on workshop, led by designer and researcher Veronica Ranner, investigating the coupling of the biological material silk with digital technologies. 

This workshop is organised in partnership with The Arts Catalyst and in cooperation with Furtherfield.

We invite participants (experts in their own field – artists, designers, scientists, writers, technologists, academics, and activists) to join a weekend-long workshop, in which we will experiment with silk and a range of transient materials to imagine potential future applications for combining biological and digital media.

Traditional methods of crafting silk have barely changed in 5000 years, but recent explorations by scientists are uncovering extraordinary new potential uses for this material.  Reverse engineered silk is one of the few biomaterials not rejected by the human body. Rather, able to be fully absorbed by human tissue, it allows for a range of applications within and interacting with the body, including human bone and tissue replacements, biosensors and biodegradable electronics opening the potential to imagine new wearables and imlantables with a range of functions.

During this two-day workshop, participants will collaboratively explore the potential of reverse engineered silk, currently confined to laboratories. Taking the body as the first site for investigation, Veronica Ranner will ask participants to consider themselves as living assemblies that can be hacked, enhanced and patched into through using bio-digital materials. Activities will involve material experiments combined with a narrative design process to speculate on silk's possible future use in the world.

Workshop details

Day 1

With Veronica Ranner, Clemens Winkler and Luke Franzke, participants will be introduced to transient materials — such as reversed engineered silk — through hands-on experimentation with a range of materials, including agar-agar, gelatine, fibroin, glucose and silk-fibres. They will use digital methods and circuits and combine them with silken materials, to then begin forming their own ideas into speculative objects and artworks.

Day 2

Innovator, scientist and intermedia artist, Gjino Sutic will introduce the concept of ‘bio-tweaking’: improving and hacking living organisms, for example through metabolism hacking, neuro-tweaking, tissue engineering and organ growing. Participants will work together with science writer Frank Swain to construct narratives around their work. In the final session, participants will map out their ideas in discussion with the group.

Workshop Leader

Veronica Ranner is a designer, artist and researcher living and working in London. She researches the burgeoning domain of the bio–digital — a converging knowledge space where digitality and computational thinking meet biological matter. She dissects and creates tangible and immaterial manifestations of such collisions, examining hereby the polyphonic potential of alternative technological futures. Her current doctoral work explores paradigm shifts in reality perception by coupling speculative (bio)material strategies and information experience through design research. Veronica holds a degree in Industrial Design from Pforzheim University, a Masters in Design Interactions (RCA), and has worked trans-disciplinary with a variety of science institutions and biomedical companies, and she teaches and lectures internationally. Her work is exhibited internationally, including at the Israel Museum, Jerusalem (2012), Science Gallery, Dublin (2012), China Technology Museum, Beijing (2012), Ventura Lambrate, Milan (2013) and French Design Biennale, St. Etienne (2013). She is currently pursuing a PhD at the Royal College of Art’s Information Experience Design programme and is interested in complex networked cycles, emerging (bio-) technologies and biological fabrication, systems design, material futures and new roles for designers.

Co- facilitators

Clemens Winkler, designer and researcher at the Zurich University of the Arts, Switzerland.
Luke Franzke, designer and researcher at the Zurich University of the Arts, Switzerland.
Frank Swain, science writer and journalist.
Gjino Sutic, innovator, scientist and artist; Director of the Universal Institute in Zagreb, Croatia.
Other experts joining discussions during the workshops will be Bio-informatician Dr Derek Huntley (Imperial College).

Partners & Support

The project is a collaboration between The Creative Exchange Hub at the Royal College of Art, Tufts University (Boston, MA), The Arts Catalyst (London), and Imperial College (London), and hosted and in collaboration with Furtherfield (London). The project is funded by the Arts and Humanities Research Council.

The Creative Exchange is a national initiative that brings together the best creative and digital minds from leading universities with dynamic and entrepreneurial companies, to create innovative new digital products and services. The Creative Exchange is led by Lancaster University, Newcastle University and the Royal College of Art; funded by the Arts and Humanities Research Council. Find out more at www.thecreativeexchange.org 

Furtherfield is the UK's leading organisation for arts, technology and social change. Since 1997 Furtherfield has created online and physical spaces and places for people to come together to develop and create critical and experimental art and digital technologies on their own terms.

Resources & readings:

[1] Primo Levi (1984), Periodic Table, New York: Schocken Books Inc. (http://www.amazon.com/The-Periodic-Table-Primo-Levi/dp/0805210415)
[2] High Low tech instructions for circuits (http://highlowtech.org/?p=1372)
[3] Floridi, L. (2009). Against Digital Ontology in Synthèse,168(1): pp. 151-178. Available at: http://www.philosophyofinformation.net/publications/pdf/ado.pdf
[4] Hu, T. ; Brenckle, M. A., Yan, M. et al. (2012). Silk-Based Conformal, Adhesive, Edible Food Sensors in Advanced Materials, vol 24, nr 8, 1067-1072. DOI: 10.1002/adma.201103814.
[5] Hwang, S-W., Tao, H., Kim, D.-H., et al. (2012), A Physically Transient Form of Silicon Electronics. In Science 337(6102): 1640–1644. DOI:10.1126/science.1226325.          
[6] Transient Electronics (2012), https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=NnmHZXvJhlk
[7] Fiorenzo Omenetto: Silk, the ancient material of the future (2011), https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=vqqWw3xkMzA
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Moon Stories and Make it to the Moon family workshops

Family workshops at Bargehouse as part of the programme for younger visitors to Republic of the Moon exhibition

Make it to the Moon
Sunday 12 January, 2pm – 5pm
Make it to the Moon, drop in family workshops led by artist and ESERO-UK Space Ambassador Helen Schell. 
Imagine a mission to the moon and using various art and craft techniques design and make space diaries, logbooks, rocket manuals, moon flags and mission badges. (5–11 years.  Must be accompanied by an adult.)

Moon Stories
Sunday 19 January, 2.30pm – 4.30pm
Moon Stories, family workshop with Moon Vehicle project leader Joanna Griffin.
Join a space adventure re-enacting the history of moon landings, making space vehicles and a light-based lunar installation for a new mission. (Suitable for ages 8+)



Republic of the Moon is a touring exhibition, commissioned by Arts Catalyst with FACT. The first version of the exhibition was presented at FACT Liverpool in winter 2012. The exhibition and residency has been made possible with Grants for the Arts support from Arts Council England and Science & Technology Facilities Council.
Bargehouse is owned and managed by social enterprise, Coin Street Community Builders: www.coinstreet.org

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Space on Earth Station (Space Soon)

Space on Earth Station is a space station on earth, shown as part of SPACE SOON

Space on Earth Station is a space station on earth. It is an experiment that is inhabitable, fully functional, using a low-tech and low-economy architecture. It is concerned with the transfer of knowledge and exploration of bottom-up aesthetics. Space on Earth Station is foremost an experiment that aims to explore conditions for living, and experiment with our removal from and reconnection with what is natural. Natural in terms of nature, rights, relationships and our social structures. It was designed, set up and inhabited by Danish radical architect group N55 with UK artist Neal White. During the week, experiments and expeditions were conducted in collaboration with artists and the public. Collaborators included artists Marcus Ahlers and Kayle Brandon.

Space on Earth Station was installed at Camden Roundhouse, London in September 2006 for Space Soon.

Links to Artists websites:


Neal White


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The Insect Project

Inspired by the ideas in Jan Fabre's A Consilience, Year 9 students (13 & 14 year olds) at Waveney School, Tonbridge, and Haggerston School, Hackney explored the fascinating world of the insect in a project led by artist Sally Hampson.

Over a four week period in January and February 2000, the students examined insects and other 'creepy crawlies' through science workshops, art projects led by artist Sally Hampson, movement workshops on insect behaviour with choreographer Karen Lowe, and a visit to the Natural History Museum in London.

At the museum, the students saw Fabre's video installation, attended seminars from entomologists Gaden Henderson and Linda Pitkin and studied extraordinary specimens from the museum's collections.
Their work culminated in exquisite insect models, striking costumes, self-choreographed movement pieces, project books and an eight minute video.

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Flying & Falling

As part of a research project for NESTA, The Arts Catalyst organised an in-depth project with a Year 3 class at St John the Baptist Primary School in Hoxton, East London.

Flying and Falling was a cross-disciplinary project (spanning art, science, dance, technology and history) that took the children on personal explorations of flight. Regular Arts Catalyst artists Sally Hampson and Tim Millar and dancer Morag Wightman led a series of overlapping workshops looking at the idea and actuality of flight from a number of different angles: human flight, animal flight, machine-enabled flight. The artist-led workshops provided a range of learning styles – visual-spatial, tactile, kinaesthetic, categorising, logical and verbal – contributing to holistic and individual learning experiences.

A class visit to the Natural History Museum’s Dinobird Exhibition and the Science Museum’s Aviation Gallery provided a starting point for the Flying & Falling project.

Performance artist Tim Millar led the children on a hands-on exploration of flight, in particular the technology, mechanics and forces involved in flight, guided by his own unique vision and thorough study of flight.

Aerial choreographic artist Morag Wightman, who usually dances suspended on ropes and has also danced in zero gravity, led workshops exploring the human body’s potential in relation to flight, resulting in the children’s creation of their own choreographed piece.

Textile artist Sally Hampson led workshops based on the exhibition at the Natural History Museum of Dinobirds, centred on studying and making fossils of the Archaeopteryx, the oldest known bird.

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Zero Gravity

Projects for Years 6 and 7 to explore the theme of gravity and weightlessness through dance, science and art

Projects explored:

What is gravity?

How gravity affects us

How gravity has shaped who we are & how we move

What if there was no gravity: the idea of 'weightlessness'

Living in space/zero gravity

Pupils took part in art and dance/movement workshops imaginatively exploring concepts of weight and weightlessness, changing gravities, orientation, freefall and rotation, and a zero gravity seminar, which included videos of French choreographer Kitsou Dubois dancing in weightlessness and problem solving activities on living in space.

Led by various artists, including Tim Millar, Morag Wightman, Graham Hudson, Karen Lowe. Participating schools: William Patten School, Hackney, London; Gayhurst Primary School, Hackney, London; Otford Primary School, Otford, Kent; Langafel CE Primary School, Longfield, Kent; Betty Laywood Primary School, Hackney, London (adapted for a gifted & talented group of year 1&2); St Mary's Primary School, Islington, London; Grasmere Primary School, Hackney London (year 5). All Year 6 except where stated.

The Zero Gravity pilot project with Sebright School in Hackney culminated in the production of a CD-Rom 'Expedition Space' by Year 6 pupils on space and gravity. 

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Bower Birds in Schools

Primary school children constructing 'bowers' of bowerbirds and researching these fascinating birds.

Alongside her Bower Birds exhibition at London Zoo, a number of fascinating created 'bowers', love nests woven and furnished by small birds for the purpose of attracting mates, artist Sally Hampson ran education projects with Fairleigh House School, Pimlico, London, and Year 2 of Sevenoaks County Primary School, Kent, looking at the entrancing behaviour of the bower birds. The children played the parts of bower birds, building bowers from leaves, twigs and grass and finding "treasures" to decorate them.

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The Lab

An interdisciplinary arts-science curriculum project

Teachers days, artists' training and workshops for students took place during the 2004/5 school year. The artists worked within three main themes, Transformation: Sound and Electronics, The Changing Nature of Materials and (Un)Natural Selection: biodiversity to biotechnology.

The artists:

Flow Motion (Anna Piva and Eddie George) worked with pupils to record and process sounds from their environment. They created loops and rhythms, used multi-track and mix. The final piece, interspersed with moments of melody, driving rhythm and rap, contained intensely personal voices and sounded astonishingly professional.

Kate Tierney worked with pupils using stills camera and video. Using reflection as a theme, the pupils began to manipulate images using Photoshop and Flash. The finished piece brought together still and video images and animated text and showed a budding awareness and obvious delight in abstract visual language. A presentation/installation which combined the visuals from Kate’s workshop with the sound from Flow Motion’s workshop was screened at the end of the three days.

Lucy Stockton-Smith’s workshops were designed to encourage the pupils to explore and identify the structure and function of organic materials. They made slides of organic materials which they projected large scale and used as a basis for drawings and prints. The workshops were a hotbed of fervent discussion and activities throughout the two days.

Sally Hampson’s workshops were also designed to explore and identify the structure of organisms. The pupils used close observation to create beautiful, finely detailed lifelike drawings and sculptures. The concept of the museum was also explored imaginatively.

Siobhan O’Neill’s workshops used drama and storytelling to explore the role that genetics and culture play in defining what makes us unique and what similarities we share. Over the two days each pupil created a self-portrait with sound, image and text that showed a growing expansive awareness of self.

Tony Hall’s workshops explored cymatics, patterns in liquids caused by sound. Pupils devised their own experiments with household liquids and foodstuffs to create choreographies of changing patterns, which they captured with drawings, microscopic images and short digital videos.

Marcus Ahlers worked with the pupils to build Solar Puddles and Solar Cells, and explored their practical applications. A Solar Puddle, consisting of a shallow pool of water in the earth contained by layers of plastic tarp and insulated from below with natural materials, pasteurises water. The Solar Cell, built from junk materials such as plastic bottles and tubing, utilizes natural dyes extracted from plants and converts solar energy into electrical energy.

Artist Luke Jerram held workshops for 11 year olds about to start in Year 7 at Castle Community School as part of a summer school. The children made hot air balloons and seacraft.


Castle Community School, Creative Partnerships Kent.

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