Rochdale Canal rubbish becomes Art Dredge exhibition

Works by Jason Heppenstall, Donna Bramall and Matt Sewell Image copyright Ben reed
Image caption The dredged items were made into art by Jason Heppenstall, Donna Bramall and Matt Sewell

Art made from reclaimed items is not new, but what makes the spider made from a moped, stained-glass shopping trolley and "Lesser Tipping Dredger Bird" unusual is that they all started out at the bottom of a canal.

The works, part of the Art Dredge exhibition in Manchester, have been created by artists Jason Heppenstall, Donna Bramall and Matt Sewell from a variety of items, including TVs, bicycles and safes, that were pulled from the Rochdale Canal by volunteers in March.

According to the exhibition's organisers, Spearfish, the aim "is to raise awareness of the damage that fly-tipping into waterways does to the environment".

Ben Reed of Spearfish says the project has also seen artists deliver workshops to residents who live close to the dredged canal section in Newton Heath in the hope of "spreading the message" about fly-tipping.

He says he selected the three artists involved "because they are all sensitive to environmental issues".

'Weird and wonderful'

Bramall, who creates work from found objects, lives alongside the canal, which she says meant the project was "dear to my heart".

"Seeing the boats come through and [the drivers] saying that they couldn't get down because there was so much rubbish is so sad," she said.

"Some have said to me that it will stop them coming back, so this has been a great project to be involved in, giving something back to the waterways."

Image copyright Rich roberts
Image caption Volunteers collected hundreds of items, including two mopeds and five shopping trolleys

Sewell, who is known for his paintings of birds, took part in the canal dredge and says he "loved the project from start to finish".

"As I waded through mud up to my knees, pulling out old signs and all manner of weird and wonderful things to paint on, it really appealed to my hunter-gatherer side," he explained.

'Very rewarding'

He says the day at the canal was inspirational for other reasons too.

"I did a bit of spotting and jotting and drew the Canada geese, magpies, goldfinches, pied wagtails and blue tits that were all keeping an eye on us during the day," he continued.

"We also had the good fortune to get to see the scaled canal inhabitants up close, studying the pike, roach, perch and tench that were saved from the shallow water at the beginning of the day."

Image copyright Ben reed
Image caption Sewell used the dredged items as canvases for his paintings of birds and fish

Welder and sculptor Heppenstall, who created a "selection of amazing animals and otherworldly creatures" for the show, says it was "a very rewarding challenge working with the amazing amount of scrap pulled out of the canal".

'Work to be done'

However, he says that while he has enjoyed the good response to the show, he wants the message behind it to get through.

"I really hope we have had an impact on the communities and brought awareness to the damage being done by fly tipping into the waterway."

Image copyright Rich roberts
Image caption The artists worked with people living near the canal to make pieces for the exhibition

Reed says he hopes for the same, as the aftermath of the volunteer dredge in March shows exactly why the exhibition is needed.

"The week following the dredge, [the local paper reported] a fresh batch of rubbish was thrown into the very section that had just been cleaned," he said.

"It illustrates that there is much work to be done to protect what should be a place of natural beauty in the city."

Art Dredge is at Piccadilly Place, Manchester until 5 June.

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