A Ripple Effect – SANOCEAN Workshop

by Jacqueline van Meygaarden

What happens when you bring artists, scientists, city officials and aquatic ecosystems together? What unfolding ideas, discoveries or new images arise out of collective thought and action across different disciplines? This was the premise and provoking statement of the EITZ / SANOcean art meets science workshop.

On November 3rd 2022, SANOcean project, the EITZ collective and Mycelium Media Colab hosted a workshop at the Association for Visual Arts (AVA) in Cape Town city centre. Participants where surrounded by artworks from A Ripple Effect, an exhibition that explores many manifestations of water from dystopian images to optimistic evocations of water as fluid, and endlessly metamorphosing. The aim of the workshop was for the participating scientists, artists, activists and members of the public to learn of the complex problems facing water and the surrounding ecosystems and to plant seeds for future environmental action.

Participants were greeted with spring water and the sounds of water bowls played by Sisonke Papu, connecting all present to the common waters that flow through us all. The evening was beautifully held together by facilitator and storyteller Philippa Kabali-Kagwa who posed provocative questions and wove together ideas that arose out of the scientific research and creative thinking.

EITZ (Elephant in the Zoom) are a group of artists committed to engaging with the impact of climate change. They believe that collective action is fundamental to addressing the scale of this reality. A Ripple Effect explores the negative consequence of global climate change on water — one of the most fundamental of life-sustaining elements. Part of their process was an engagement with scientists working on the contamination of Cape Town’s shorelines, an important area of research of the SANOcean project. By translating the research into artworks A Ripple Effect hopes to create a space for creative engagement and the finding of a collective voice that leads to greater agency and hope.

A Ripple Effect - SANOCEAN Workshop

Presenters from the SANOcean project shared their research through detailed and rich presentations. Professor Leslie Petrik started the presentations with an introduction and overview of the SANOCEAN project. Prof. Petrik is a leading expert in the field of material science, nanotechnology, chemistry, water treatment and bioremediation. She is the head of the Environment and Nanosciences Group in the Department of Chemistry at UWC and shared a clear but sombre picture of what our waters in South Africa are dealing with from a chemical contamination perspective. She shared some of the work by Dr. Cecilia Ojemaye about the impact on marine biota of pharmaceuticals, perfluorinated compounds, personal care products and other persistent pollutants in sewage effluents.

Caroline Marx from the Milnerton Ratepayers Association (MRA) is a water activist defending the Milnerton Lagoon. She shared her experience gained from many years fighting the City of Cape Town to address contamination in this body of water. She spearheaded the Rethink the Stink campaign that informs others and applies pressure on local government to shift this serious situation.

Dr. Jo Barnes, a senior lecturer emeritus at Stellenbosch University’s Department of Global Health presented her research on Microbial contamination from sewage and antimicrobial resistance. She detailed some alarming findings of antibiotic resistance in bacterial samples from water polluted with sewage.

Prof. Lesley Green from the Environmental Humanities South at UCT presented her ideas on Infrastructure, Pollution Science and Habitability in Cape Town’s Anthropocene.
The presentations where brought to a close by Jacqueline van Meygaarden & Jemima Spring from Mycelium Media Colab who spoke of the potential and success of the Water Stories storytelling platform.

The public from the First Thursdays Art walkabout then spilled into the AVA filling the space with potential water activist aware of the power of collective action.

A Ripple Effect - SANOCEAN Workshop