Myths for a wetlands imaginary

Digital or visual media


McCloskey, Paula 2019. Myths for a wetlands imaginary.
CreatorsMcCloskey, Paula
Description

This ; a place of their own (artist duo Paula McCloskey and Sam Vardy) project explores the potential of art to create resistant wetland imaginaries as alternate to dominant carbon and capitalist ones. Commissioned by Arts Catalyst for Waltham Forest Borough Council’s Art Assembly, it was developed through a 5-month residency at Walthamstow Wetlands Centre (WWC) and included participatory workshops (on maps, stories and myths), a site-responsive performance walk and multi-media gallery installation. The inquiry asks how a transdisciplinary art practice working with the sciences and indigenous knowledges opens up alternate ways for disparate communities to think about climate change, biodiversity and colonialism; and what the role of art can be in producing resistant counter-imaginaries to capitalist and carbon imaginaries? Wetlands are one of the earth's most important ecologies, yet also one of the most threatened. This project situated wetland loss as part of global colonialism (Gómez-Barris, 2018), and attended to a paradoxical condition of wetlands which has immense potential: while their global destruction is due to dominant carbon/capitalist imaginaries they can yet open up new imaginaries through their unique ecologies, biological processes, entanglements of human/nonhuman, local and global relevance, and in enabling different knowledges. My transdisciplinary method involved collective inquiry, working with different specialist knowledges: environmental scientists (e.g Dr. Ian Crump), indigenous artists (e.g Rod Garlett, Noongar people, W. Australia), London Wildlife Trust, writer/artist Season Butler and sound artist Gary Young, and situated knowledges from Waltham Forest community. The residency made visible intimate relationships between personal, local, experiences of wetlands and their planetary dimension. The performance and public installation articulated complex biological, ecological and political ideas of new multiple relational possibilities. These activities started to reveal a ‘global wetlands imaginary’ as an ecological imaginative space for human and nonhuman co-existence, as a metaphor for new forms of multispecies solidarity. As part of the art and spatial research practice ;a place, of their own. (aplaceoftheirown.org) Dr Paula McCloskey (Derby University) and Dr Sam Vardy (Sheffield Hallam University) were commissioned by Arts Catalyst (artscatalyst.org) (funded by Arts Fund) to produce art and spatial research practice project Myths for a Wetlands Imaginary. This project developed through a residency at Walthamstow Wetlands Centre (WWC) over 3 months, as an inquiry into global wetlands loss and an exploration of resistant wetland imaginaries, including arts-based participatory workshops producing maps, stories and myths, a site-responsive performance-walk and multi-media interactive installation. In 2019 ; a place, of their own was commissioned by Arts Catalyst to lead on an Arts Fund funded project as part of first London Borough of Culture Waltham Forest Borough of Culture (https://wfculture.co.uk/about). We were asked to develop a ‘radically socially engaged’ art project in the London borough of Waltham Forest, which would culminate in a sharing ‘Assembly day’ on the 23 November 2019. Having conducted some research we developed a project ‘Myths for a Wetlands Imaginary’ a project s site-responsive project, which employed arts and spatial methods to work with communities of Waltham Forest Borough to explore our continued concern with climate urgency by focusing on the importance of wetlands, both locally to Waltham Forest, as well as globally. Waltham Forest is a borough in northeast London divided in terms of its demographic; with the south being a more urban district and socio-economically less affluent, than the suburban areas to the north, the latter also having better access green spaces (Waltham Forest Report, 2018). The River Lea lies to the west and adjoins marshland onto which the Walthamstow reservoirs which were built over fifty years between 1853 and 1904 by the East London Waterworks Company (Walthamstow Wetlands, 2020). Over the years the Walthamstow reservoirs grew to meet the needs of an expanding London, and in the 1970s the control of the Wetlands went to Thames Water. In 2017, following a partnership project (Waltham Forest Council, London Wildlife Trust and Heritage Lottery Fund) the purpose of which was to transform the site into a distinctive urban, multipurpose, wetland reserve, Walthamstow Wetlands opened to the wider public. The site is 211-hectares with a smaller satellite of Woodberry Wetlands and now offers 300,000 local residents within a two-mile radius easy public access to one of the largest urban nature reserves (Gearey, et al, 2019). Wetlands are one of the earth's most important ecologies, yet also one of the most threatened. Wetlands globally are intimately related to settler colonial practices, particularly through urbanisation (Giblett, 2016) which has destroyed wetlands and the indigenous communities depending on them across most continents. Exploring indigenous knowledges and relations to wetlands (e.g. in Australia and Canada) opens up important counter-narratives of the wetlands and counter-histories of colonisation, from the perspective of the land and indigenous people. This project situates wetland loss as part of global colonialism (Gómez-Barris, 2017, 2018), responding to the proposition that wetlands embody a paradoxical condition which has immense potential - while their global destruction is due to dominant carbon/capitalist imaginaries they yet hold potential to open up new imaginaries through their unique ecologies, biological processes, entanglements of human/nonhuman, their local and global relevance, and in enabling different knowledges. This inquiry asks us to pay attention to wetlands, from their histories which are social and culturally mediated with many being destroyed as part of the colonial project, hydroengineering or land development with devastating human/nonhuman and ecological impacts. In so doing, we explore other interactions with wetlands, locally and global that allow us to (re)imagine wetlands as we attempt to forge alternative to dominant imaginaries. The inquiry asks how a transdisciplinary art practice working with the sciences and indigenous knowledges, as well as popular culture opens up alternate ways for disparate communities to think about climate change, biodiversity and colonialism; and what the role of art can be in producing resistant counter-imaginaries to capitalist and carbon imaginaries? Walthamstow Wetlands are an historic reservoir system in north-east London that still performs a vital role in supplying 3.5 million London households with water. Over the years the Walthamstow reservoirs grew to meet the needs of an expanding London, and in the 1970s the control of the Wetlands went to Thames Water. There are two significant Victorian industrial buildings still standing on the site, the Coppermill and the Marine Engine House (Walthamstow Wetlands, 2020). The Wetlands are now a sanctuary for a notable variety of wetlands birds, with over 300 different plant species. reservoirs grew to meet the needs of an expanding London, and in the 1970s the control of the Wetlands went to Thames Water. There are two significant Victorian industrial buildings still standing on the site, the Coppermill and the Marine Engine House (Walthamstow Wetlands, 2020). Theoretically the work is grounded in critical approaches to geopolitics (e.g. notions of 'geopower' from Elizabeth Grosz, Elizabeth Povinelli and decolonisation from Sylvia Wynter, Kathryn Yusoff, and others). Astrida Neimanis hydrocommons is an important in conceiving of the wetlands as a figure. She writes: as bodies of water we leak and seethe, our borders always vulnerable to rupture and renegotiation. With a drop of cliché, I could remind you that our human bodies are at least two-thirds water, but more interesting than these ontological maths is what this water does – where it comes from, where it goes, and what it means along the way. Our wet matters are in constant process of intake, transformation, and exchange – drinking, peeing, sweating, sponging, weeping. Discrete individualism is a rather dry, if convenient, myth. (Neimanis, 2017, p 2). Neimanis thinking with water, as water conjures a watery imaginary to challenge anthropocentrism. It serves as a counter to human discreetness and notions of separatedness from an external, stable ‘nature’ out there. This is important to thinking more specifically as wetlands, of how they are sites of watery embodiment as are humans. ‘Wetlands’ as material and as concept signify the urgency and viscerality of wetlands in the face of climate urgency , as well as being incredibly effective ‘carbon sinks’ they contribute to global biodiversity, providing safe drinking water, and minimise flood risk. Wetlands thus span a nexus of theoretical, scientific and artistic inquiry. They are complex ecologies that are generative of and sustainers of life, both human and nonhuman. They are asignfying as places of sense and affect, with flows of energies. They are dynamic planes that quiver and vibrate. They are historical places of social relations and political praxis with each wetland site bearing witness to complex situated histories. to think of how an art practice might offer something different – not a re-representing of the wetlands, or a presentation or visualisation of some of the science but we wanted to create a visceral encounter, an affective intra-action that started to enact a wetland imaginary through experience. This research developed through a multi-modal arts inquiry, including arts-based participatory workshops producing maps, stories and myths, a site-responsive performance-walk and multi-media installation. Initial research involved site visits to Walthamstow Wetlands, walking, taking pictures, meeting people with specialist knowledge, such as Ian Crump (Biodiversity Office, Thames Water) and meeting community members. Ian walked us around the wetlands sharing his knowledge of the flora and fauna, we well we the complex water treatment processes. These discussions, the walking process and documenting, along with desktop research revealed the specific relations of this wetlands, in terms of its histories, and its evolution to a mixed purpose, complex ecology, recreation space, and water treatment centre. This was a public facing event where invited participant to explore wetlands at the Walthamstow Wetlands Centre (WWC https://walthamstowwetlands.com/myths). The first part of the workshop involved a guided walk around the wetlands by Alison O’Conner from the London Wildlife Trust. This walk situated the participants (20-30) in the local wetlands condition, an embodied experience from which to explore global wetlands in the second part of the workshop. The Walthamstow site with its unique characteristics meant that the mapping workshop, storytelling workshop, performance and the interactive installation were strongly site-responsive, situated and specific, while from the outset we looked to understand them within their planetary condition. The basis for the mapping was the ‘Ramsar’ interactive website (ramsar.org). ‘Ramsar’ refers to the Convention on Wetlands, the intergovernmental treaty that provides the framework for the conservation and wise use of wetlands and their resources. The Convention was adopted in the Iranian city of Ramsar in 1971 and came into force in 1975. Since then, almost 90% of UN member states, from all the world’s geographic regions, have acceded to become “Contracting Parties” (ramsar.org). The Ramsar Sites Information Service (RSIS) provides online information on wetlands that have been designated as internationally important, hosting an interactive map (rsis.ramsar.org). This site includes a searchable database of Ramsar Sites, which holds information on the wetland types, ecology, land uses, threats, hydrological values of each Site as well as spatial information: • downloadable copies of Ramsar Information Sheets (RISs) for each site which have been provided by the Contracting Parties, including maps and supplementary information, Site summaries, and exportable data sets; and • digital (GIS) boundaries of Sites, where available. (rsis.ramsar.org) Following the guided walk, and a presentation by Sam Vardy and Paula McCloskey of the overall project background including an introduction to ‘wetlands’, and both the local and global context, we turned to the Ramsar database to collectively explore other wetlands across the planet. Having explored the database as a presentation, and demonstrating the process of inquiry, participants were asked to work in pairs or threes to explore the planetary wetlands on the system and select one; to download a satellite image and key information about the chosen wetland, and to write a short story or myth about it. The activity was used to further the discussion about wetlands, to share understandings, experiences and ideas and to start to collectively visualise the planetary condition and characteristic of the figure of the wetlands. The documentations (satellite map, text about the sites) were then printed to form part of the interactive exhibition at the Assembly Day on the 23rd November 2019. Storytelling Workshop 07.11.2019 We invited the writer/artists Season Butler (seasonbutler.com) to lead a session following on from the mapping workshop. Season is a writer and artist, interested in similar themes of climate urgency and explored through performance and writing. Season guided the group through a series of writing exercises from which they would start to write their own wetlands myths. Performance Walk 07.11.2019 A key element to the research was to create a site-responsive performance. Through a combination of desk-top research, co-researching and co-thinking about wetlands from different people’s experiences with the participants in the workshops (detailed above), working with indigenous artists Rod Garlett and undertaking many site visits we started to devise a performance walk. The site visits allowed us to spend time with the wetlands, experience how it changes as the season change from late summer hot summer days when the water teemed with life, the air was heavy and Interactive installation 23.11.2019 On the 23 November 2019, as part of Waltham the three-month residency culminated with the Art Assembly Festival in Walthamstow as a celebration of Waltham Forest being London’s 2019 Borough of Culture. For this we created We also created a new audio-visual film using original footage from Walthamstow Wetlands and a devised multi-media installation which involved workshops, talks, mapping and a soundscape performed by sound artists Gary Stewart. Over 300 attended on the day and participated. References: Giblett, R, 2016, Cities and Wetlands the Return of the Repressed in Nature and Culture, Bloomsbury Academic, London Comyn-Platt, E., Hayman, G., 2018, Huntingford, C.,Chadburn, S., Burke,E., Harper, A., Collins, W., Webber, C., Powell, T., Cox, P., Gedney, N., Sitch. S., Carbon Budgets for 1.5 and 2 °C Targets Lowered by Natural Wetland and Permafrost Feedbacks. Nature Geoscience. Gearey, M., Robertson, L., Anderson, J., Barros P., and Cracknell, D. 2019, ‘ Re-naturing the City for Heath and Well-being: Green/Blue Urban Spaces at Sites of Renewal and Contestation’ in Planning Cities with Nature: Theories, Strategies and Methods. edited by Fabiano Lemes de Oliveira, Ian Mell New York. Springer pp. 153-169. Gómez-Barris. M., 2018, Beyond the Pink Tide: Artistic and Political Undercurrents in the Americas. Berkeley: UC Press. Gómez-Barris, M., 2017, The Extractive Zone: Social Ecologies and Decolonial Perspectives, Durham. Duke University Press. Neimanis, A., 2017, Bodies of Water: Posthuman Feminist Phenomenology. Bloomsbury Collection. London. London Borough of Waltham Forest Local Plan Sustainability ... walthamforest.gov.uk › files › C0093_WFScopingReport_V3_130717.

ContributorsUniversity of Derby
KeywordsWetlands, site-responsive performance, myths, artistic research, decolonialism, audio-visual,
Date2019
Web address (URL)http://hdl.handle.net/10545/625179
hdl:10545/625179
Publication process dates
Deposited17 Sep 2020, 11:32
AcceptedNov 2019
Publication datesNov 2019
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