Queer River Wet Land Part 1 – Walking with Rachel Clive, Minty Donald, Ingrid Shearer and Cecilia Tortajada

My second day in Glasgow as part of The Dear Green Bothy took me back to The Snow Bridge, with Minty and three more collaborators: Artist and Researcher Dr Rachel Clive, Archaeologist and Heritage Engagement Officer Ingrid Shearer and Professor in Practice – Environmental Innovation, Cecilia Tortajada.

We were to follow the same route that Minty and I walked the day before, in order to expand our understanding of the rivers, through the experiences of this larger, more diverse group.

Meeting on The Snow Bridge

I summarised the Queer River Wet Land project for Rachel, Ingrid and Cecilia, and invited them to introduce themselves to the group, and then handed out a small cloth bag of resources that I’d put together for each of us. Each bag contained some paper, card and stickers, a pencil and pen, and some small lidded collecting pots. They were an offering to enable each collaborator to document their journey in a way that worked for them, or alternatively, they could concentrate on conversation and photographs.

One of the first conversations that I had as we walked along the banks of the Kelvin, was with Cecilia, who was keen to understand the relationship between climate justice and the experiences of LGBTQi+ people, so we talked about the increased vulnerabilities that many queer people are facing/will face as the effects of climate breakdown worsen and spread.

I explained to Cecilia that I was keen to include voices which may not usually be heard in climate discussions, exploring why they aren’t included and what might change in the future if they are. Cecilia suggested that ‘we are all people’ and that she might prefer to relate to each individual as a person first, rather than label them, and I respect the intention behind that.

In my experience though, mainstream society tends to prioritise the needs of certain groups of ‘people’, whose voices are privileged over others. If we are to get to the stage where we can treat each person as an individual, then those of us that don’t fit into that mainstream, who don’t feel seen and heard, need to be given opportunities to explore and explain why.

As we talked we paused at different points along the rivers. Ingrid identified old mill workings, and talked with us about her work on a boathouse restoration project on the Clyde, and the relationship between local football teams and rowing clubs. Rachel picked up on the subject of unheard voices, by talking with me about her research interests, discussing what the word queer means to her, including why she prefers to identify as neuro-queer:

‘(Rachel’s) research seeks to question and unsettle the structural inequalities expressed through the climate crisis through a disability studies lens. It is developing processes and performances which are informed and led by people who are either diagnosed or who identify as being neurodivegent or ‘normally different’, which focus on rivers and disability, specifically neurodivergent perspectives and the relationship between neurodiversity and geodiversity.

Rachel Clive, Performance, Ecology, Heritage

These definitions of neurodiversity and geodiversity are taken from Rachel’s website:

Neurodiversity: the notion that conditions like autism, dyslexia, and attention-deficit disorder (ADHD) should be regarded as naturally occurring cognitive variations with distinctive strengths that have contributed to the evolution of technology and culture rather than mere checklists of deficits and dysfunctions. (Silberman, 2015)

Geodiversity: the natural range of geological (rocks, minerals, fossils), geomorphological (landform and processes), and soil features. It includes their assemblages, relationships, properties, interpretations and systems. (Gray 2004)

As our walk continued on to where the Kelvin meets the Clyde, where previously Minty and I had played with chalk and the incoming tide, we walked down towards the water’s edge. Our chalk marks were still there, but we decided to hang back from the edge this time, and give a pair of Mute Swans and their cygnets some space.

Looking across to Govan, Ingrid and I discussed Neolithic and Bronze Age mounds and their relationship with water, from Silbury Hill near me in Wiltshire, to Doomster Hill across the river in Govan, which was demolished in the 1860s. Ingrid suggested that the earth mound/water combination might have served to explore and celebrate their relationship between earth, water and sky through their reflection. You can read more about Doomster Hill, its place in Govan’s history and comparisons with Silbury Hill here

Cecilia Tortajada – ‘I liked the place because it shows how the river was traditionally used: for people and by people.’

Ingrid also shared with me how there was a fording point across to Govan in the past where the Clyde could be waded across. Now the two sides are divided by the river, although a new bridge is planned. We touched on the issue of inequality between the two sides, and the need to ensure that any development/regeneration work benefits the people of Govan equally.

The history and heritage of the area was a key part of our conversations as to why the Clyde in particular feels so unloved and uncared for along this stretch (see my previous post). Although as Ingid mentioned, the percentage of the local population directly involved in shipbuilding was relatively small, it still looms large over the area. We discussed how the loss of shipbuilding to the area (with one shipbuilding company remaining) has led to a sense of collective trauma or shame being experienced by the people of Glasgow, and whether this is impacting on the city’s ability to see the future of the river more clearly, and a willingness to invest in the river’s health.

Of course economic considerations are a key barrier to river care and restoration, for example the cost of updating the sewage system, ‘Scottish Water has estimated that to upgrade all of these unsatisfactory overflow outlets would cost at least £650m’ (Scotland’s Growing Sewage Spill Problem’). But with the big changes to come due to climate breakdown, the economic impact of not prioritising Glasgow’s rivers’ health and their need to flood and flow, are likely to be a lot higher.

As with my first walk with Minty, we followed the riverbank along past the Riverside Museum and down to the construction site for the COP26 talks, where our discussions around whose voices are included in climate talks continued. The relevance of watching the construction of these (temporary) buildings within which certain people’s and countries voices will help decide the future of the rest of us, wasn’t lost on us. The subject of economics arose again, and climate justice, and the perceived value of the sciences versus the arts.

Cecilia and I talked about how awareness of climate breakdown has increased whilst action lags behind. The average person is now much more aware of what is going on, but the average person isn’t included in the COP26 talks, in governments or boardrooms. As our understanding of what is happening develops, so does our awareness of the gap between what needs to be done and what governments and big corporations are actually doing, and so our anxiety increases. Meanwhile we are told that our individual actions matter, to recycle our crisp packets and drive/fly less, and many of us do, but without the action of the priviliged few in power, our actions can feel meaningless.

Moving on past the COP construction site and the huge old Lobston (aka Finnieston) Crane on the riverbank, the future and past sitting alongside each other, we came across the flood wall that was constructed to protect the local area from rising water levels. Construction continues on the banks of the river, with little sign of making space for future river movement. Rachel’s work includes an exploration of the need for ‘Freedom Space for Rivers’, looking at the need to allow rivers to rise, fall and flood, and considering how we are going to keep each other safe in the future as extreme weather events increase and sea levels rise.

The relationship between disability and climate justice here is clear to me. In essence, who has the ability (economically or otherwise) to choose to move out of the path of a river which rises and floods homes, and who doesn’t? Whose opinions and views are likely to be listened to and who is likely to be excluded from the conversation?

I’m keen to reference popular media as well as academic sources in my Queer River research, and this Teen Vogue article links nicely:

If we persist in framing disability and climate change as a problem of physical vulnerability, we miss the underlying realities of structural violence: how ableism, racism, class inequality and other forms of oppression work together to compound and intensify risk…

“From homeless encampments to local jail cells, the social, political, and economic disparities among disabled queer and trans people of color put our communities at the frontlines of ecological disaster.”

Disabled People Cannot Be “Expected Losses” in the Climate Crisis

When the river floods and the impacts are felt by the people of Glasgow (and this can be translated to any coastal or riverside community) will we care for each other or will we deny care to those that we see as other, and instead look after ‘our own’? We don’t have to look far to see how refugees fleeing across the English Channel are vilified by right wing media and governments as competitors for ‘our’ resources. Rachel’s work interweaves a concern for and awareness of the wellbeing of rivers and their human/non-human communities, that is inspirational to me, and which I’m glad to be learning from.

Rachel also wrote a poem, Familiar and Strange, based on her experiences of our walk which I’d encourage you to read and which I’ve published in its own post, rather than squeezing it in among my reflections.

Flood defense wall

The whole walk was so rich, and the research/knowledge of my collaborators so relevant to my own research, that I am taking my time to let it all sink in. I have started to make drawings in response and of course to write about the walks here. As with all my Queer River walks I’m not rushing to unpick what took place, but allowing everythingtime for to settle and for connections to emerge between these walks and others. I’m incredibly grateful to Minty, Rachel, Ingrid and Cecilia for their generosity in sharing their experiences with me. I’ll keep sharing my thoughts and artwork as they emerge.

Queer River Wet Land Part 2 will be underway next. Minty and I are planning an online event, probably taking place in November, but I’ll update you on that soon, with details also being shared via the Dear Green Bothy site. We will be creating a performance score based on Queer River Wet Land Part 1, and sharing it with interested colleagues around the world, inviting them to take part remotely, and share their reflections with us at the planned event.

Published by James Aldridge

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

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