River Networks | Residency and Online Platform by Matterlurgy (Helena Hunter & Mark Wright)

Research documentation image courtesy Matterlurgy
Research documentation image courtesy Matterlurgy
Research documentation image courtesy Matterlurgy
Research documentation image courtesy Matterlurgy
Research documentation image courtesy Matterlurgy

An inquiry and web platform investigating the ways in which a river’s health can be examined and understood. 

Across the globe, environmental change represents a matter of concern that cannot be dealt with uniquely by scientists and decision makers. It is a common ground that requires acts of re-imagination. How do non-human forms of life take part in this process as active constituents of a common planet? And what abilities and skills need to be enhanced in humans in order for them to re-situate themselves in an alliance with natural resources?
Since 2017, Arts Catalyst has been working with artists, anthropologists and stakeholders from the Calder region to collectively explore water governance and its relationship with health, wellbeing and the resilience of communities and environments.
As part of of Test Sites: Calder, artists Matterlurgy (Helena Hunter and Mark Peter Wright) have been developing River Networks, an inquiry into what lives in the water of a river and into the different ways in which the health of a river can be examined, understood, and interpreted. The project blends methods from science and art by co-constructing a practice that cuts across perception, sound, language and sense.
River Networks takes the net as a starting point. A multipurpose tool and actor, integral to the collection and sampling of freshwater across the UK, the project will see the artists sift a plethora of river-centric materials, actors, and perspectives.
The net is a key tool in science, used in environmental monitoring to filter and quantify sensitive and resilient organisms, which register and indicate pollution. Nets are also made by organisms as a method to capture food within the river’s flow and these organisms form part of the broader food web. The river itself is a network composed of the land and human/non-human activity that acts upon it. Through a practice that encompasses sound, film, performance, spoken word and poetry, Matterlurgy’s practice will operate as a sensory net that filters perception, noticing matters outside the apprehensible. Audiences and participants form another net; a community web that distils relations and perspectives. As with any net, the dimensions of what is included and excluded, taken or forgotten, are an integral part: while data will always leak, we must notice and gather its residues.


Launching in May 2021, river.net is an online platform for the river networks project, featuring research and fieldwork. Functioning as a conduit for exploration and engagement rather than as traditional repository of research, it aims to blur the boundaries between process, art and participation. Through a mix of media-based interventions, scores and prompts it will shift between sensory modes, activating more-than-human perspectives and communicating beyond language.
It will comprise three primary strands including pollution sensing research, a sound stream and participatory audio interactions. A fourth layer of material features creative metadata footnotes and pop-ups informing users about causes and impacts that exist outside the immediate site of a river.
Matterlurgy is a collaborative practice between London based artists Helena Hunter and Mark Peter Wright. They work with scientists, technologists and communities to address issues of environmental change; combining the production of artworks with co-constructed events and live performance. Helena works across text, performance and film. Mark’s practice intersects sound art, field recording and installation. As a duo, they have produced projects about flooding, land degradation, air pollution, waste, and climate modelling. Artworks have been made with sites including a hydropower station, disused steelworks, a laboratory for ice simulation, an abandoned copper mine, and in galleries and museum collections. They have collaborated with scientists at The University of Cambridge, King’s College London, University College London and Royal Holloway University of London, and the University of Turku.
The River Networks project builds on research and conversations with Professor Philip Warren and Professor Lorraine Maltby in the Department of Plant and Animal Sciences at The University of Sheffield. The artists have conducted practical fieldwork along the *River Porter in Sheffield (Sep-Dec 2020) exchanging science and arts-based methods, tools and techniques.
Test Sites is supported by Wellcome Trust, University of Westminster, Bournemouth University, Canal and River Trust, and Arts Council England.