Surface Tension

Rob St John, Surface Tension 2

Surface Tension is a project investigating life, pollution and biodiversity on the River Lea using photography and sound. Focusing on the blurrings of the natural and unnatural, clean and unclean, built and self-willed in a Lea Valley landscape that is constantly being rewritten and remade, the photographs here were taken on 120 film, and the negatives soaked in polluted Lea water for a month.

When scanned, the negatives had taken on imprints of duckweed, decaying leaves and microscopic life and their colours had softened and smudged: new patterns, surfaces and scales emerging from this long round of river processing.

Accompanying the photographs is a recording of new music for the project, recorded onto a short 1/8 inch tape loop, which was soaked in Lea water for a month alongside the negatives, and then (with a nod to William Basinski) slowly disintegrated over the course of 30 minutes when it was replayed: the river teasing apart the sound into subtle new rhythms and melodies.



Surface Tension is at Stour Space from 3rd April to 4th May 2015, with accompanying book and CD. On Wednesday 22nd April, the artist is in conversation with Cheryl Tipp, curator of wildlife sounds at the British Library.

Surface Tension was commissioned by Thames 21’s Love the Lea project.

Part of The Learned Pig’s Clean Unclean editorial season, March-May 2015.


The Learned Pig

Rob St John

Rob is a writer, artist and musician from East Lancashire. Using sound, photography and text, his work focuses on ideas of place, memory and naturalness in the landscape; the relationships between art and the environment; and sonic geographies. He writes regularly for The Quietus and Caught by the River, and publishes books and zines and releases records, both under his own name and through collaborations such as Concrete Antenna, Water of Life and Folklore Tapes.