The Peak District is not the Netherlands. Nevertheless, Dutch artist Daan Roosegaarde reckoned his ‘Waterlicht’ laser installation in Winnats Pass would get people thinking about water and landscape, although perhaps not in quite the same way as his earlier work for the Dutch District Water Board of the Rhine and IJssel.
“In the Netherlands people have a particular relationship with the landscape, because without technology, without creative thinking, we would all drown,” he observed.
The stunning show in Winnats Pass last weekend attracted people from all over the country to see the steep glacial valley returned to the time when Castleton was at the bottom of an equatorial ocean.
“Winnats Pass is such a dramatic iconic place, and when they saw it the organisers were really excited to be doing the installation here,” said National Trust ranger Chris Millner, who assisted Daan Roosegaarde’s team with the project, which used computerised lasers and smoke machines to simulate the waves and movement of ancient sea water.
“Standing in the pass 330 million years ago we’d be in the depths of the ocean with plankton and brachiopods and crinoids swimming about, and the artwork brings that home to people. Winnats Pass has a dramatic air anyway, when you see it in a full moon or a foggy temperature inversion, but this is something beyond that.”
The artwork was part of the four day Abandon Normal Devices Festival, which this year brought a series of digital and traditional artworks and cinema events to Castleton, in association with the Peak District National Park Authority and the National Trust, who look after the Winnatts Pass site of special scientific interest.
Winnats Pass has a dramatic air anyway, when you see it in a full moon or a foggy temperature inversion, but this is something beyond that
“We are very interested in working with contemporary artists as part of our strategy to move, teach and inspire people, and reach new audiences,” said Helen Wright of the National Trust. “We’re sure everyone who walks up Winnats Pass will get the feeling that they’re underwater. It’s spectacular, amazing, weird - and free!”
The festival included virtual reality cavern tours, underground music events and film screenings, along with more traditional walks and field trips, but the Waterlicht highlight attracted thousands of visitors between Thursday and Saturday.
Chris Millner and his team began work on the project this summer, and over recent weeks had to arrange for sheep to be relocated, roads to be closed, and at the last minute even had to arrange for several baking tins to be cut up in a local farmer’s workshop as last minute laser covers, and for a broken generator truck to be rescued by tractor.
As he walked with the underwater crowds on Thursday, it was clear it had all been worth it. “One of the best parts of the job is to see people really enjoying a place like this,” he said.
The artwork also aimed to make visitors aware of the effect of water on the landscape now, said Daan Roosegaarde, with rising sea levels and the potential to use tides and modern technology to generate energy.
Helen Wright hoped the installation would inspire visitors to learn about current work to address the impact of water on the landscape of the Dark Peak, where the National Trust is planting trees and creating dams to restore and preserve blanket bogs, a landscape rarer than than the rain forest, which helps keep rain water on the moors to prevent carbon erosion, conserve moorland wildlife and reduce flooding.
The show will move on from Castleton to Madrid and New York, and Daan Roosegaarde hopes the Peak District event will leave a lasting impression about water and land for the visitors to the simulated Carboniferous seascape.
“The landscape is part of our identity instead of something the government needs to take care of,” he said. “If I can be part of that conversation it would make me happy.”