Creative Associates - Waves project

Waves is a sound journey through the stories and natural landscape of Start Bay, Devon. It contemplates the future of one of the South West of England’s most bio-diverse yet most vulnerable coastlines.

Over a period of a month, artistic director of Empty Deck, Kay Michael, and sound designer Janine A’Bear held interviews to capture local memories and tales. They spoke with three generations of the Steer family – long time fisherman of Beesands. They captured stories from café workers, beach visitors and members of the parish councils. They were given tours of the coastal stretch by research partner Gerd Masselink, Professor of Geomorphology at the University of Plymouth, who gave an insight into the changing landscape spanning centuries. Put together, these encounters formed a narrative not just of the inevitability of change, but also of adaptation, friendship and our historic and interconnected relationships to the natural environment.

Creative Associates - Waves project
Creative Associates - Waves project
Creative Associates - Waves project

From the lost village of Hallsands, to Beesands and Torcross at the south, to Slapton Sands, Strete and Blackpool Sands at the north, Start Bay has long suffered from sea surges and storm events. Its coastline has changed significantly even within decades, with the movement of beach sediment presenting further risk of erosion, coastal flooding and damage to infrastructure. Masselink’s work raises the question of whether gravel barriers such as Slapton Sands can continue to be effective in defending the low-lying areas behind it during storms, or whether sea-level rise will cause them to be breached or overwashed by 2100. Although it’s impossible to paint definitive pictures of the future due to complex interactions between the ocean and the atmosphere, a new scientific assessment found that it is likely for global sea level to rise 1 metre by the end of this century, possibly even 2 metres. South Devon is a part of this picture. If global greenhouse gas emissions are not quickly reduced to zero then the potential of the changing climate would require imagining how Start Bay would need to further adapt in the lifetimes of many of its inhabitants.

Creative Associates - Waves project

Waves keeps Start Bay’s stories alive during these changing and changeable times. The team created a 20 minute audio story for visitors to listen to through headphones, whilst sitting on the beachfront in the middle of Start Bay, between Torcross and Strete. With a view of the crashing sea in front and the backdrop of the freshwater lake behind, visitors could listen to the human stories of the area - earliest happiest memories, dramatic tales of storms and visions of the future -and read about its geological history and future. It was a moving experience to hear people speak of what they most treasured – from sightings of glowworms to family picnics – whilst also contemplating what might be lost as the area transforms.

Waves was installed in Encounters Arts’ new mobile community arts space, Chrysalis, and invited visitors to sit, stay a while, and start conversations with each other too. Although it lasted only one weekend, the sound journey will continue to be installed in Chrysalis and taken further afield too, with the hope to share more stories of coastal change across the UK.

Empty Deck

With Empty Deck, Kay Michael produces theatre and community arts events. She is a co-founder of Culture Declares Emergency and co-curator of Letters to the Earth, a campaign and anthology of letters in response to the climate and ecological crisis.

Find out more about Empty Deck

Empty Deck logo - Creative Associates

Creative Associates

The Sustainable Earth Institute's Creative Associates projects aim to explore novel and innovative ways of communicating research and develop a portfolio of case studies of the different creative approaches possible.

Find out more about the initiatives
Patient at Krygyz Research Institute of Balneology and
Recovery Treatment. Interestingly, it doesn’t take much to move people from the
formal expressions in portraits into a much warmer mood. Image: Carey Marks

Image: Carey Marks/Creative Associates

Sustainable Earth Institute 

The Sustainable Earth Institute is about promoting a new way of thinking about the future of our world.
We bring researchers together with businesses, community groups and individuals to develop cutting-edge research and innovative approaches that build resilience to global challenges.
We link diverse research areas across the University including science, engineering, arts, humanities, health and business.
Baobab tree in Madagascar