A new art installation which uses panels to take sunlight and moisture from the air and convert it to drinking water is now on show on Southend Pier as part of the Estuary 2021 arts festival.
Using SOURCE water panels, the innovative technology is being showcased for the first time in England, through a partnership between Southend-on-Sea Borough Council and the Interreg 2 Seas co-financed project Cool Towns.
The installation, called Vanishing Point, is by US artist Mary Mattingly. The installation revisits Southend’s plant life of the Eocene era, around 50 million years ago, when the levels of CO2 in the air were at one thousand parts per million, a level that could again be reached if industrialised nations do not reduce greenhouse gas emissions.
The work is in two parts, the first a learning centre on the Pier where visitors can discover the Estuary’s ‘flora through time’, filled with plants that inhabited Southend-on-Sea during the Eocene era, as well as those still present today. The second piece is a mysterious new inhabitant emerging from the Estuary mud, rising and falling with the tides. It is a sculpture depicting the Nipa palm, a plant familiar to these waters from the Eocene era retaking its place, supported by scaffolding as if being regrown to support the future of Southend.
The plants on display within the reading room are hydrated through the water generated by the panels. The project is on display until Sunday 13 June as part of Estuary 2021, but it is hoped the water panels will remain for use by the public as a source of clean drinking water.
Cllr Carole Mulroney, cabinet member for environment, culture, tourism and planning, said: “I am absolutely delighted that this incredible installation is on show for the first time in England, right here in Southend. It shows that the outstanding cultural offering in the town is something which draws in world-renowned artists, wishing to display their art for our residents and visitors.
“This piece not only astonishes, but it also educates, and it is important that those visiting the exhibition ensure they think of the wider reasoning for it, and the impact we all have on CO2 levels in the town. As a council we are working towards carbon neutrality by 2030, and welcoming installations such as this will hopefully open the eyes of others to help us reach this goal."
Hayley Dixon, deputy director for Focal Point Gallery, said: “We are thrilled to present Mary Mattingly’s work in Southend, highlighting the environmental concerns of South Essex, and how we might work together to look after our land and water. We are especially delighted to have worked in partnership with so many local organisations to bring this about, as well as colleagues from Southend-on-Sea Borough Council’s energy team to display this innovative water panel technology, the first display in the country! Southend is leading the way in renewable initiatives.”