Marble Run: River

Part of project: Community

Marble Run: River  was a beautiful and playful kinetic sculpture created by artists Charlie Whinney and Nick Greenall in 2016 in collaboration with youth groups in Carlisle.

Using steam-bent larch, oak and ash, the sculpture’s sweeping lines echo natural river processes as they meander, disrupt and ‘slow the flow’ of marbles journeying downstream. Look closely and you can find words expressing people’s experiences of the floods of December 2015 that devastated large parts of Cumbria, including Carlisle.

The aim was to create a fun, interactive art work that encouraged a wider range of people to have a conversation about rivers and promoted a greater understanding of the natural flood management techniques that Eden Rivers Trust employs to reduce the risk of flooding to communities.

Charlie Whinney is a wood steam-bending specialist who has created large-scale art installation around the world, while Nick Greenall is a digital media artist who works extensively with young people in Cumbria through his collective Art Locates Me. For this project they collaborated with young learners from Nacro (a charity working with young people who are not in employment or education and at risk of offending) and the Senior Youth Club based at Carlisle Youth Zone, which was badly affected by the floods in December 2015.

For the young participants the creation of Marble Run: River not only equipped them with a new set of skills – from woodworking techniques to an understanding of river processes – but also helped build their confidence as well as enabling them to gain their Bronze Arts Award. The end result was a sculpture that has entertained and informed hundreds of users at various venues since its debut at Tullie House Museum and Art Gallery in October 2016.

Jo Spencer, Cherish Eden project Manager at the time said:

‘When commissioning Marble Run: River, we were excited by the idea that this sculpture would appeal to young people, and be both a work of art as well as a fun, interactive activity. It helps us to start conversations with young people about how their local rivers work and the impact rivers have on people’s lives, as well as explaining the concept of natural flood management.’

Nick Greenall, artist said:
‘The young people have really got on board. They saw it as a fun idea. One of the girls said that ‘it was an opportunity to show the boys what we can do and how we’re just as capable, if not better than them!’ It’s been great to see the young people grow in confidence.’

Courteney Johnson, Nacro participant added:
‘It’s a new experience – as a girl, it’s really good to learn about rivers, the outdoors and woodwork as it’s not often we get to get our hands dirty.’

Marble Run: River was such as success that we commissioned Charlie Whinney to make a portable ‘kit’ version that we could use to spread the word about how rivers work in the community. Look out for Marble Run: River appearing at a show near you!

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