Picture gallery: Norfolk and Norwich Festival art has an environmental message

Liz Ballard’s installation entitled 'Tracing Water' will consist of brightly coloured circular ‘icebergs’ floating across the River Wensum in Norwich’s city centre.

Liz Ballard’s installation entitled 'Tracing Water' will consist of brightly coloured circular ‘icebergs’ floating across the River Wensum in Norwich’s city centre.

Tracing Water by Liz Ballard Photo: Simon Steven

From an unmanned aircraft skimming a Norwich rooftop to the River Wensum turning green, festival goers and casual passers-by have been intrigued and amused by art installations promoting an environmental message.

As part of the Norfolk and Norwich Festival’s visual arts programme, Invisible Dust has seen artists and scientists collaborate to explore air pollution and climate change.

Above the Theatre Royal, a plane spraying out non-polluting disco fog has been put up on a thin wire to highlight the environmental damage low-cost flights are doing to the world.

The artists Helen Evans and Heiko Hansen, known as Hehe, came up with the project to demonstrate the invisible pollution that planes emit.

The project was conceived during the artists’ residency at the environmental sciences department at the University of East Anglia.

The project was inspired by the open wide skies in Norwich and discussions with researchers, including Professor Peter Brimblecombe, an atmospheric chemist, about how clean skies in the UK had been during the flight restrictions in the aftermath of the Icelandic Eyjafjallajökull volcano eruption.

Ms Evans said: “These discussions led us to think about the curious visual paradox of air traffic pollution: When planes fly high in the atmosphere the clean component of their emissions is visible (as the water vapour condenses), but their dirty emissions remain invisible and imperceptible.”

Alice Sharp set up visual arts company Invisible Dust to involve artists and scientists.

She added: “Artists get ideas from the scientists and the scientists have a great experience because their science becomes public.

“You cannot tell how far away the plane is. But when it starts moving around the wire you can start imagining beyond the plane. There is a plume of smoke. It is a humorous thing to see these two planes between the buildings, but the more serious point is about the environment.”

Meanwhile, a Norwich-based artist stirred things up at the weekend when she turned the River Wensum green.

Norwich-based artist Liz Ballard worked with hydrogeologist Dr Kevin Hiscock to create the work Tracing Water which saw her put “circular icebergs” into the River Wensum.

As they melted, the floating frozen forms simultaneously released a tracer dye called fluorescein sodium into the water, transforming the entire river into one giant fluorescent artwork. The organic dye is harmless to the environment.

Ms Ballard’s work was inspired after she took part in experiments with Dr Hiscock and his students at the UEA and attended field trips investigating the water quality of the River Wensum.

The river is one of the most important chalk-river habitats in the country, with over 100 plant species and a rich invertebrate fauna, yet is affected by diffuse pollution mainly through farming.

Ms Sharp said that Norwich City supporters had been out celebrating and joked that the river had been dyed in celebration.

John Bultitude, head of communications at Norwich Theatre Royal, said: “This is unusual for us and on the festival’s opening afternoon there were people watching the plane take off. It is certainly a talking point and I’m sure we are going to have more people looking to the skies.”

NNF11 runs until May 21. You can book online at, by phone on 01603 766400 or at the Theatre Royal box office.

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