Beyond Rivers

As the Christmas holidays merge into lockdown here in the UK, I have started to return to making as a way of making-sense of where I am with this research. I’ve had a nagging feeling that sticking with ‘my’ River Avon is too restrictive, and another one tapping me on the shoulder to tell me that focusing on rivers themselves is too narrow. When you’ve spent time setting up a research project focused on rivers, these kinds of thoughts are unsettling.

So, first of all I gave myself permission to deviate from my original plan to stick with the Salisbury Avon, and to include the other Avon too (there’s several other Avons but in this case I mean the Bristol one). And secondly I turned to my Queer River sketchbook, to consider why I chose rivers and what they can teach me about connection and relationship in general. Here’s a page from that sketchbook:

Sketchbook Page

‘Queer River isn’t just about Rivers, the methodology and the learning are transferable – it will flow where it needs to. Multiple perspectives – beyond binaries, intersection/intersectionality on multiple levels, coalescing around my experiences – FLOW.’

And then on the next page – ‘I need to start making… making to release myself from the limits of QR and reintroduce play and wonder’.

So after a couple of weeks of rest and Christmas films, walks and chocolate, I started making and drawing again. It was still the school holidays so I squeezed the drawing in alongside breakfast this time. This is one of the drawings that emerged:

Breakfast Drawing

My son, who was eating his Cheerios at the time was interested in what my drawing was ‘of’ or ‘about’. Our conversation went something like this:

Joseph – Is it a tree?

Me – It looks a bit like a tree doesn’t it, but I was thinking about rivers.

Joseph – So the leaves are floating down the river?

Me – I was thinking about them being boats, but they could be leaves, And I was thinking about bodies, which is why I chose a colour that reminded me of people’s bodies.

Joseph – Are they sore? They look sore.

Me – I think they are soft and warm. Like the insides of bodies.

As well as reminding me of Gregory Bateson’s writing on The Pattern that Connects, this conversation helped to bring into the open for me something that is at the heart of Queer River, that it isn’t about connecting with rivers, but exploring the connection that already exists. Not inter-connection but intra-action. And that it can’t just be about rivers, whatever that word means, and the more I say or write it the stranger a word it seems to get, but about anything that arises during the walks with others, and anything that a river reminds me of. That’s the beauty of setting up your own project – it can flow and change with you as you go on your journey.

Playing with Bodies and Boats

So in case I’ve confused everyone, Queer River will still be directly informed by walks and exchanges that take place along rivers, will still look at river restoration, river cultures etc, will be closely linked to where I live in Wiltshire, and the two Avons that flow out from here, AND the research will flow out into other areas as it needs to, wherever that may be. For me that’s what Queerness is all about, the ability to both be embedded within something, and to see beyond it. To be in both and not restricted by either.

At this time of lockdowns, a fluidity of practice is very useful, and although this morning I’ve escaped to the computer for a while I’ll soon be drawn back to family life for the start of home-schooling. But for now I’m dipping into Nature’s Queer Performativity by Karen Barad:

‘What if Queerness were understood to reside not in the breech of nature/culture but in the very nature of spacetimemattering.’

In other words ( this is my take on Barad’s writing as it connects with my research) what if the Queer perspective was the real one (or at least the closer fit to the underlying reality), that by being casting out, in straddling boundaries and divides, in not belonging anywhere in particular you end up belonging everywhere, experiencing the reality of intra-action, of everything as entangled, with the visible, nameable parts (River for instance) emerging from and receding into the mesh of life:

‘Phenomena are entanglements of spacetimemattering, not in the colloquial sense of a connection or intertwining of individual entities, but rather in the technical sense of quantum ‘entanglements.

I’ll be back soon with updates on my ‘Walking with…’ series, once the situation with Covid is clearer. In the meantime, as Art.Earth Artist of the Month for January 2021 (see my interview here), I will be talking about my Queer River Research as part of their regular First Friday events, on Friday February 5th from 1-2.30pm. You can find more information on previous First Friday events here.

Published by James Aldridge

Visual Artist and Consultant, working and playing with people and places. Based in Wiltshire, UK

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