A surreal art installation in Bristol reveals the state of our seas. Words: Alex Fisher   Photos: Paul Box

If you stroll through Leigh Woods in Bristol over the summer you’ll come across an unusual sight. Deep in the forest a small fleet of fishing boats are hidden between the trees. At first glance they look as though they have been swept up by a huge tidal wave, yet the sea is more than a mile away.

The surreal scene is in fact the work of artist Luke Jerram. Inspired by the extreme weather seen in the South West of England last year, he created an installation designed to make people think about what is happening to our seas. ‘I am hoping it will make people ask questions. Initially they may be reminded of the storms we had last year, and think about climate change and our extreme weather.  Then these redundant boats may encourage them to consider the collapsed fishing industry and dwindling fish stocks.’

But the installation, titled Withdrawn, is more than a work of art; it is also a venue, where a range of events will take place over the summer. These span from nautically themed children’s storytelling and a performance by a local choir, to a fish supper cooked by Michelin starred chef Josh Eggleton and lectures from scientists on marine conservation. ‘I like to create art that is accessible to everyone, so there's a multitude of events and subjects covered, but all of them relate to what is happening to our oceans,’ explains Luke.

‘While the installation is in place, I have been running lectures and making films to be shown in the woods about marine life. These range from an interview with Dr Steve Simpson about the acoustics of sea, and the impact of the noise of a single boat on a whale who uses sound to navigate, to marine law and marine protected zones. I spoke to the Blue Marine Foundation about their work with fishermen in Lyme Bay to protect an area from trawling, and how this has improved the fish stocks in the region. I’ve learnt that our fish stocks are down to 2-5% of what they were before industrialisation in some areas. This is a shocking figure, but the Blue Marine Foundation have shown that it is possible to bring the fish stocks back.

‘The fact that the boats I used in the installation have no value in the modern world also carries its own message. I bought them for around £600 each. Nowadays you need bigger and bigger ships to make a living. Just this fact tells you a lot about the state of our seas.

'When the event is over, the boats will be turned into play equipment for local schools.’

The installation will remain in place until September 2015. For more information go to lukejerram.com

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