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Soundlands Open Call 2019: A Warning on Climate Change and Loss of Wetlands

Posted on 01 Mar 2019

A bold new sound art installation specially commissioned for the wetland environment will be coming to WWT Llanelli Wetland Centre this June.

Soundlands, in partnership with Migrations and The Wildfowl & Wetlands Trust (WWT), is pleased to announce that the successful artist chosen to create an exciting installation for WWT Llanelli Wetland Centre is Bouke Groen from The Netherlands.

Soundlands and Migrations are Welsh not-for-profit organisations working to make positive contributions to communities through sound art, bringing international contemporary arts to Wales with innovative collaborations, commissions and partnerships.

Bouke’s submission The Bell was carefully selected by Soundlands’ panel of sound and art specialists from over 100 international proposals. His submission of an antique church bell ringing within concentric layers of glass was chosen for its clever use of materials and the potential for thought-provoking impact amongst the beautiful and natural setting of WWT Llanelli’s Millennium Wetlands.

The Millennium Wetlands

The Millennium Wetlands is a stunning 200-acre patchwork of different wetland habitats consisting of ponds, lagoons, saltmarshes, reedbeds, woodlands, wet grasslands and scrapes. It is a vital sanctuary for threatened wetland species such as water voles, orchids and lapwing. This important area is home to more than 20 species of dragonfly and damselfly; elusive bitterns; playful otters; breeding Cetti’s warblers, reed buntings, lesser whitethroats and redshank; black-tailed godwits; and many more fascinating and vulnerable creatures.

Climate Change

It is hoped The Bell will engage visitors in the debate around climate change, habitat loss and threats to biodiversity. In this piece, Groen will not take a stance in the debate, but rather reflect on how people relate to nature and how this relationship is affected by tendencies in society. It will serve as a physical manifestation of mankind’s reluctance, whether consciously or subconsciously, to acknowledge the dramatic warning signs and deal with the devastating effects of climate change.

The loud and long-ranging sound of a church bell tolling constantly has acted as an unignorable warning to people for centuries through wars, tragedy and terrible storms. The glass surrounding The Bell will dull the warning toll to the volume of a normal conversation, making the viewer feel intrigued as it becomes apparent that standing so close to a clanging bell should be unbearable and precede imminent danger.

“When I first read the brief for Soundlands’ Open Call, the idea of The Bell came very naturally,” said Bouke. “In Friesland, in the north of the Netherlands where I live, there is a similar area to the Llanelli wetlands called the Wadden. By knowing this area, I could visualise The Bell and after visiting WWT Llanelli I was even more eager to see The Bell created for this calm wetland landscape and to let it chime. In former times, a church bell ringing for a long period of time functioned as an alarm to warn people of hazards or impending doom, but what is this particular bell warning us of? And who will actually hear it?”

The Selection

Selection panel member Chris Watson, a multi-award winning broadcaster, freelance composer and sound recordist whose work includes many programmes in the David Attenborough ‘Life’ series, said: “The Bell will send a simple but powerfully engaging message into the wetlands, an ancient signal striking a contemporary warning from within its encrypted frame.”

WWT Llanelli’s Reserve Manager, Dr Brian Briggs, said: “I can’t wait to see Bouke Groen’s ambitious sound art concept turned into reality this summer in the Millennium Wetlands reserve here at WWT Llanelli. The Bell will look incredible in the context of this wild wetland landscape; a symbol of our increasing disconnection from nature and a powerful metaphor for the alarms that have been ringing in our fragile ecosystems for decades, which we continue to ignore.”

Karine Décorne, Artistic Director of Migrations, said: "Migrations are delighted to be part of commissioning this site-specific installation. I was immediately impressed and touched by the profoundness of this engaging artwork which will act as a meaningful reminder of climate change while celebrating the unique beauty and the amazing conservation work of Llanelli Wetlands Centre.”

Dominic Chennell, from Soundlands, said: “The Bell is an innovative and thoughtful sound artwork, conceived specifically for the beautiful WWT Llanelli environment but addressing much wider concerns.

It was a very difficult process, selecting one proposal from over a hundred superb proposals from all around the world, but, in the end, Bouke Groen’s piece stood out as a simple but significant concept. I’m really looking forward to seeing it realised in the amazing wetlands landscape.”

Local Help Needed

Bouke is now looking forward to spending more time in Wales and hopes to establish further local connections to source a suitable bronze church bell, ideally with local provenance, and to work with local companies to engineer the structure that will house this incredible piece. If you are a local glazier or someone who may be able to assist in locating a Carmarthenshire church bell for this artwork, please contact WWT Llanelli on 01554 741087 or info.llanelli@wwt.org.uk

To read more about wetlands and climate change click here.