The third of Creative Peninsula’s artistic commissions was Salmon Run, by Tidelines. Salmon Run was conceived as a community relay run event, combining art, design, science and performance – and running! The event was designed to celebrate the epic journey of the Atlantic salmon up and along the River Exe, from Exmouth to Tarr Steps on Exmoor, drawing attention to the plight of the species, whose numbers have crashed catastrophically over the past fifty years.
On 25 September 2022, groups of relay runners carried a hand-crafted salmon baton from the sea up the river from Exmouth to the salmon’s spawning ground at Tarr Steps. The relay included seven changeovers, allowing for some longer and some shorter runs for participants, who varied in age from young children to more seasoned athletes. At each changeover an invocation written by artists Anne-Marie Culhane and Jo Salter was read out by performer Tony Lidington as the baton was passed from group to group. Information and stories about these remarkable and at-risk creatures whose history is intertwined with the city of Exeter was present at two of the ‘handover’ locations. These salmon guides were from Royal Albert Memorial Museum, Westcountry Rivers Trust and University of Exeter and as well as from local salmon fishers and anglers. A ‘Salmon Run’ podcast shared these stories through the voices of an angler, an ex-net fisherman, a salmon expert, fisheries scientists, a historian and natural history curator and participants were encouraged to listen before running.
Salmon Run aimed to make graspable the upstream journey of the fish. It put the endeavours of the running person alongside the swimming fish, who finds more and more obstacles in its way as it attempts to ascend the Exe. The exertion of the person in the weather outside became an attempt to acknowledge the challenge of empathising with the plight of another kind of living creature. In helpful respects, the differences between the person and the fish became clearer in the effort to learn; participants considered the wellbeing of the aerial atmosphere in which we run, the water through which a fish must swim. We reached for a sense of change and thought about interventions that could change the course of a river, the journey of a fish.
Salmon Run was commissioned and funded by Creative Peninsula and Creative Arc (a partnership of the Royal Albert Memorial Museum, Exeter City Council and the University of Exeter).