HighWaterLine visualised the anticipated impact of the “100 Year Flood” on New York City. The project was implemented in 2007, five years before the reality hit New York City in the form of Hurricane Sandy in 2012. Using satellite images, maps, research conducted by NASA and interviews with NASA scientists, amongst other sources, artist Eve Mosher traced a line indicating the point of ten feet above sea level throughout the city. One of Mosher’s motivations was that climate change science is predicting that “100 Year Floods” are likely to become more frequent over the next 50 years.
Mosher’s line traced 70 miles, around the 5 Boroughs of New York City, at ten feet above sea level. The artist utilised a “heavy hitter,” a machine used for drawing chalk lines onto football pitches, to mark the line. Illuminated beacons were placed in areas she could not draw across. Through this process, Mosher could directly engage with communities, as the line passed through a multitude of residential and retail areas.
Map showing the HighWaterLine New York City.
Credit: Eve Mosher
Through this public art method, the flooding issue was brought to the attention of residents, rather than the typical scenario where an audience approaches the art. This curious practice invited passing people into conversation, allowing Mosher to explain her motives and providing a visual understanding of the consequences of climate change and encourage conversations on solutions.
In 2014, HighWaterLine was implemented along the waterfront of Bristol and Avon Mouth. This adaptation of the project was instigated and managed by Isobell Tarr in partnership with Invisible Dust, an organisation that works with artists and scientists to create interdisciplinary works relating to environmental issues and climate change. The role of community engagement with the project further evolved in this manifestation; local residents were integral to the production and implementation of HighWaterLine | Bristol from its earliest stages. Mapping workshops were held to determine the path of the line and over 40 people participated in the chalking of the line. Other workshops were held to devise flood-prevention solutions and share knowledge.
The participating community members used the publicly accessible flood risk assessment maps from the Environment Agency to delineate areas likely to flood along a 32-mile line, taking into account various predictive climate models and data. Researchers at Bristol University’s School of Geography provided assistance with the interpretation of this data.
New community connections were created amongst those who lived within the most vulnerable areas adjacent to the line. By having community members involved from these early phases, community ownership and leadership from within became a prevalent aspect of the project. Significantly, a large portion of the community members involved in the implementation of the project were not from an arts background, but the project gave them an opportunity to contribute to a shared artistic vision. The establishment of a ‘core group’ of proactive community members has seen that the spirit of the project and its associated dialogue on adaptation and resilience continues in Bristol.
This project has been replicated in various other locations, and continues to encourage participants to draw their own flood line in different sites. Participants are provided with an educational Action Guide and workshop to enable an understanding of the process and cause. As more people contribute to this project, the knowledge can be spread further.