Sea, air and light come to life in Extreme Wave exhibition

Issue date: 14 July 2011

Dramatic seascapes by visiting University of the West of England Research Fellow Dr Janette Kerr are on show this summer focussing on the seas around Shetland. The exhibition of works in paint, graphite, charcoal and chalk is at the Bonhoga Gallery, Shetland, until 14 August.

The exhibition represents the end of the first stage of an Arts Council funded research project on the interface between art and science. The work on show is the result of fieldwork in Shetland's shoreline and cliffs, on boats out at sea, and research into first-hand accounts by survivors of fishing disasters in the Shetland Museum archive.

Janette seeks to make direct visual associations between observational and experiential field work and the work of Norwegian mathematicians and scientists researching extreme wave theory, and the material culture of exploration and measurement. This is intertwined with the cultural narratives of danger and the sublime – historic storms and tragedies that are part of Shetland's history.

During her time on the island Janette went out drawing in the snow, was blown across cliff-tops, and experienced the dramatic changes in the landscape. She met local archivists, story-tellers and sea-farers, and witnessed Shetland's famous Up Helly Aa fire festival.

She says, “My process of making paintings involves extremes and instabilities: peripheral vision, peripheries and promontories - sites of instability and unknowing, places of rapid change and sudden shifts both physically and meteorologically.

“There is a contrast in the way I respond as an artist and the way a mathematician or a scientists sees these things. Comparing the very precise and scientific procedures that they employ in studying the sea and the unpredictability of waves and wind, with the way I, as an artist work, there seems, on the face of it, to be such a contrast in process. However, despite very different ways of working, (they measure with scientific precision while I 'measure' through feeling and intuition) both artist and scientist seek the same end: to come to an understanding of nature.

“Shetland experiences one of the highest wave energy environments in the world, exposed to the full force of the Atlantic, generating high winds and agitated sea. My journey here was auspiciously in keeping with the aims of the project. I experienced the effect of high winds on the sea, which kept me awake most of the night, with the noise of the ferry battling against gale-force wind and the constant swell and roll of the boat.”

Work emerging from the project will be shown later on in this year at Bower Ashton Campus as part of her travelling/work-in-progress exhibition

For more information visit Janette's blog of her experiences on Shetland at and the gallery website

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