Active Energy: Bringing Local Knowledge into The Public Realm

Loraine Leeson & Charlie Wiggins - Active Energy Project

The Active Energy Project started as a SPACE commission in response to Queen Mary University research into older people’s experience failing to inform development of new technologies. In 2007  artist Loraine Leeson met The Geezers who were interested in working  with tidal power.

A lot of progress was made across the years by Loraine and the Geezers, some of which you can read here. In 2019 they installed a waterwheel to oxygenate the water in the Waterworks River beside the London Aquatics Centre.

Middlesex University are now showcasing the Active Energy project as one of their best research initiatives. They are preparing a film to show on the university website.

On Friday 8th July Loraine Leeson and some of The Geezers were filmed at the Art Pavilion as part of the film.

Loraine Leeson & Charlie Wiggins during the filming for the Active Energy Project
Loraine Leeson & Charlie Wiggins during the filming

Loraine said: “They particularly like the idea of researchers working with communities. Of course I wasn’t a researcher when we started the project, but I submitted it for a higher education research exercise (REF2021) on behalf of the university, and also as an ‘impact case study’. Universities are catching up with the idea that people ‘out there’ might have something useful to say.

“In the interview I said that a lot of knowledge is held at local level and as an artist I am well placed to help bring that into the public domain where it can make a difference – as the Geezers’ ideas certainly did”

In the past when asked about the project some of The Geezers said that they chose tidal power because we are surrounded by canals in the East End. Some of the Geezers fished in the Lea when they were boys. They pointed out that the Lea has become quite polluted. They were aware that the Saxons had used water wheels at Three Mills to make flour.

Loraine said: “Sophie Knowles the interviewer, who is a Senior Lecturer in Journalism at the university, asked Geezer, Charlie Wiggins what he remembered about the project and Charlie described how the group came together to explore tidal power. They worked with young people at Bow Boys Secondary School and engineer Toby Borland to create a wind turbine for the roof of Appian Court that generated the energy to spell out Geezerpower in lights as it spun. He also remembered the small scale tidal turbine we tested on the Thames opposite the Houses of Parliament, and the water wheels at Three Mills and the Olympic Park that drove aerators to help keep fish alive at times of high pollution.”

Active Energy water wheel
Waterwheel by the London Aquatics Centre, 2019

The Active Energy Project finished in 2020. Loraine subsequently wrote a chapter about it for a book Ecoart in Action, published in New York by New Village Press earlier this year. The Geezers had also previously been interviewed for a chapter in another book Culture, Community and Climate: emergent transpraxis, published by Art.earth in 2020.

“When Sophie asked Charlie if the project had benefited him, he said that he realised he could have done with some more education!”

Loraine went on to say: “Actually I think the Geezers did fine on the project as they were. We wouldn’t have done any of it without them, it was their idea to find ways to enable the Thames to power their community and it’s amazing to think that some of them stayed with the project for 12 years. It has also been a great privilege for me to work with them.

“Artists can’t solve the world’s problems, but they are well placed to ask the questions that enable ideas and creativity to emerge, then celebrate the outcomes. The local knowledge of communities holds a wealth of answers.”

L-R Loraine, Charlie, Joy & Roy at the Art Pavilion
L-R Loraine, Charlie, Joy & Roy at the Art Pavilion

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