The Ripple Effect with Wessex Archaeology

Next month sees me beginning an exciting new river based project in Salisbury with Wessex Archaeology. The Ripple Effect (#RippleEffectSalisbury) links with the Salisbury River Park project, and although not specifically a part of Queer River, will be informed by and inform my ongoing Queer River research.

The Salisbury River Park Project responds to the increased flood risk to Salisbury city centre from climate breakdown (see the image below for areas currently at risk – https://flood-map-for-planning.service.gov.uk/), as well as the need to improve riverside habitats for wildlife and improve access to the river for local people and visitors to the city.

Salisbury City Centre

I have worked with Wessex Archaeology’s Leigh Chalmers, Heritage Inclusion Development Specialist to inform the development of The Ripple Effect, and Leigh and I have spent time with Andy Wallis, Salisbury River Park Project Lead for The Environment Agency, in order to understand the changes that are being made to the river corridor.

The river in question is the Salisbury or Hampshire Avon, which is also a primary focus of my Queer River research, and whose headwaters pass close to my village in the Vale of Pewsey, Wiltshire.

I’ve spent quite a while walking with the River (see previous posts on that here) and with others who live or work near/on it, and am really looking forward to sharing and developing my knowledge alongside Leigh, Wessex Archaeology experts (including the subject of my first Queer River post, Marine Archaelogist Dr Claire Mellett) and project participants.

River Avon at Patney

Here’s a short description of the Ripple Effect project from the Wessex Archaeology website:

Wessex Archaeology’s Heritage Inclusion specialists will be working alongside local artist James Aldridge to tell the story of Salisbury’s relationship with the River Avon over time, through people, place, and purpose. ‘The Ripple Effect’ project is designed to improve people’s wellbeing through positive engagement with the local environment, the community and each other. With the launch of ‘The Ripple Effect’ the Salisbury River Park project will be able to engage people across all generations through walks, workshops, creative moments and shared experiences.

In addition to the directly human dimension, our experts will help bring these workshops to the next level by shedding light on what archaeology can tell us about the ecology and environment of the Salisbury River Park area in the past, and how the biodiversity improvements the scheme will deliver help to re-establish aspects of these past ecosystems and ensure the city’s wildlife population continues to thrive in future.’

See here for the full post on The Ripple Effect from Wessex Archaelogy.

I’m particularly interested, at this stage, to see how the changes that are made to this city centre river, combine flood mitigation, habitat improvement and riverside access for people. It’s a subject that is close to my heart and one that I explored with my Queer River Wet Land. collaborators in Glasgow, as we walked together along the Kelvin and the Clyde, in the lead up to COP26.

River Park Project works in progress – April 2022

Leigh and I are also working together on the Well City Salisbury project this Spring. Although the projects will focus on different areas of the city, and work with different sections of the community, it will be fascinating to see the crossover between them, with both using art as a way to engage with and map experiences of place and benefit wellbeing (The Ripple Effect will start slightly later than Well City and take place over two years).

Of course, the Salisbury Avon is also a chalkstream, which connects nicely with another project that I’m currently working on, Living by the Ash Tree Waters with Andover Trees United, through which I’m learning loads about chalkstreams, winterbournes and their relationship with local communities, supported by knowledge gained through an earlier Queer River walk with Ecologist Tim Sykes.

Leigh and I will be carrying out further research before project sessions with participants begin, and I’ll be adding more updates here as The Ripple Effect progresses, so please sign up to receive notifications if you’ve not already.

River Avon on a Roll

I walked from Lacock today along the banks of the River Avon, and took a roll of paper with me. I wanted to experiment with using a roll as a set of Walking Pages. Here’s a short video of the results, with some photos of my route and work in progress underneath.

The sound is fairly quiet so you might need to put your volume up!



Crossing Points – Views from a Bike

It’s been a while since I did much artwork relating to Queer River. I have other river related projects and project plans bubbling away, but recently my mind and my individual artwork have been preoccupied with exploring autism/neurodivergence.

Yesterday however,I got my bike fixed, and this morning I’ve been out and about, thinking about how the views we get of rivers from the road affect how we see and value them.

Looking down from next to the road

Back in 2018 I exhibited a piece of work called Heavenly Body, which recorded my experience of cycling a circular route which ‘orbited’ my home in the Vale of Pewsey. I used cyanotypes and sunlight to print images of plants that I found along the way, and stitching to attach objects that I collected and to embroider a map of my route. In the lead up to the exhibition (Art After Turner at The Willis Museum, Basingstoke) I experimented with ways to document bike rides, and started to think about how the experience of a place from a bike ride, differed to the awareness of that same place gained by walking.

In Queer River I have largely thought about rivers and other wetlands from the perspective of walking, although I still plan to explore them by swimming and canoe. With my bike newly fixed, today seemed like the perfect opportunity to use it to visit the points at which local roads meet and cross over the River Avon (the Salisbury or Hampshire Avon). My plan is that this is Part 1 of a series of such bike rides, and that other similar journeys will follow elsewhere.

On this morning’s ride I stopped in three locations, drawing in two of them and taking photos in the third (some men were doing maintenance work on/under the bridge, so I didn’t stop for long, although my interest was piqued and I’ll pop back another time to see what they were up to).

I thought about how we know that we are passing over a river – especially if we are in a car and travelling that bit faster – the signs that we might notice such as a line of vegetation along the riverbanks, or a rise in the road that we’d feel in our stomach. Some river bridges have signs indicating which river ithey are crossing,or more open barriers which offer a view of the water, but on high sided bridges we might not be sure whether we are crossing a river or railway line. Obviously travelling on a bike is much slower than a car, and more exposed to sensory information. We feel the bumps in the road more readily, and we are exposed to changes in wind direction, temperature, river-y smells and sounds.

On one bridge I stood up on the road and drew, whilst on another I left my bike and walked down the bank to sit by the river’s edge. Up above I felt self conscious, exposed to the drivers who I imagined watching me and wondering what I was up to, and conscious of not getting run over. Down below I was removed from the road noise, slightly hidden away and could see under the bridge to the light on the other side.

Up above, I looked down on the water and spotted heron footprints in the mud, the aerial view of a removed observer, whilst down below I felt robins and wrens flitting and clicking around me and watched a Mallard Drake fly down in front of me to land. It was cooler nearer the water, and the smell of the mud exposed by the low water level filled my nose. I was surrounded .

As I said before, this is the first Queer River bike ride, so it’s just a start. This morning’s experiences and the possibilities offered by bicycles for collaborative journeys and embodied, artful research will continue to swirl and connect in my brain, until I decide what happens next.

Art, Ecology and Autism

I’m reposting this blog post that I originally published on the Art, Ecology and Learning site, ahead of planned Queer River walks which will explore Neurodivergent perspectives:

James Aldridge - Art, Ecology and Learning

In case it hasn’t become clear through my recent posts Neuroqueer and Shedding Skin on the Queer River site, and Masking on here, I’ve recently discovered that I’m Autistic.

It’s been a massive thing to process. I haven’t had an official ‘diagnosis’ yet as I write this, as I wanted to write a post about my own thoughts and feelings before I deal with the ‘medicalised’ version. I’m expecting the assessment/diagnosis process (update on that at the end) to focus on disorders, delays and abnormalities, but I don’t see it that way.

So how do I see it? Well that’s a work in progress. To discover you are autistic at almost 50 is pretty mind-blowing. Looking back at your life and realising why you are the way that you are – the good bits and the more challenging times. But basically if I wasn’t autistic I wouldn’t be me, and…

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Shedding Skin

Here are some photographs that I took last summer using algae and plants from my pond. These followed on from the chalk and water experiments that I’ve written about previously.

I’m looking at these images again as I explore masking and neurodivergence (see Masking a recent post on my artist’s blog), and start to plan a thread of Queer River work/walks that focus on neurodivergent perspectives on/experiences of place (also see my previous Queer River post Neuroqueer).

Neuroqueer

I’m beginning to explore the significance of neurodivergence to me and my work. Thank you to Rachel Clive for introducing me to the phrase/concept of neuroqueer during my time in Glasgow. Here’s a few images and quotes, to gently start the ball rolling on this exploration, in the context of Queer River.

‘I coined the term neuroqueer in a paper I wrote for a grad school class in the Spring of 2008. Over the next several years, I played with it in further grad school papers, in private conversations, and in the ongoing development of my own thoughts and practices. The concept of neuroqueer, or of neuroqueering (I’ve always seen it as a verb first and an adjective second), increasingly came to inform my thinking, my embodiment, and my approach to life. …just like queer, the adjective form of neuroqueer can also serve as a label of social identity. One can neuroqueer, and one can be neuroqueer.

Nick Walker

Untitled Drawing – 2021

Neuroqueer is both an identity and an ethos, an adjective and a verb. It’s meanings are varied, but all converge around an intersection of neurodivergent theory and queer theory. In the same ways that queer theory is opposed to cisheteronormativity, neuroqueer theory appears to oppose neuronormativity (the societal forces that privilege neurotypicality over neurodivergence).

Beyond Binary Wiki

Untitled Drawing – 2021

‘The neurodiversity paradigm is a specific perspective on neurodiversity – a perspective or approach that boils down to these fundamental principles:

1.) Neurodiversity is a natural and valuable form of human diversity.

2.) The idea that there is one “normal” or “healthy” type of brain or mind, or one “right” style of neurocognitive functioning, is a culturally constructed fiction, no more valid (and no more conducive to a healthy society or to the overall well-being of humanity) than the idea that there is one “normal” or “right” ethnicity, gender, or culture.

3.) The social dynamics that manifest in regard to neurodiversity are similar to the social dynamics that manifest in regard to other forms of human diversity (e.g., diversity of ethnicity, gender, or culture). These dynamics include the dynamics of social power inequalities, and also the dynamics by which diversity, when embraced, acts as a source of creative potential.

Planet Neurodivergent

Queer River, Wet Land – Recording of Online Sharing Event

I’m glad to be able to share this recording for those of you that were unable to make the Queer River, Wet Land sharing event last month, which took place as part of The Dear Green Bothy, with The University of Glasgow,

What can queer perspectives bring to creative explorations of river health and river futures in a time of climate breakdown?

Join this special sharing event to explore the learning that has emerged from the Queer River, Wet Land collaboration, and to deepen your own creative engagement with rivers.

The Dear Green Bothy

As well as my own reflections, the event featured presentations and discussions from Professor of Performance Practice Minty Donald, artist/geographer Sage Brice, theatre practitioner Rachel Clive, and Madrid-based landscape architect Malú Cayetano.

Please follow this link for the full recording:

https://deargreenbothy.gla.ac.uk/event/queer-river-wet-land-sharing-event/

Our Animal Bodies

After spending a while focusing on other rivers and people’s experiences of them, I felt the need to spend time with my own local river again this week, the River Avon as it passes out of the Vale of Pewsey and starts heading down towards Salisbury.

I decided to focus my walk on the other animals that I’d see or find evidence of there, the river of non-human life that flows with the water. I wanted to exolore how I sense their presence through my body, as my legs carry me past them and the signs that they have left behind.

Here’s a little taste of the path I followed and what showed itself to me along the way…

Queer River, Wet Land – Performance Score Responses

I’m glad to be able to share these first few responses to the Queer River Wet Land performance score, written with Minty Donald, ahead of the Queer River Wet Land Sharing Event this coming Thursday, 25th November from 5 to 6.30 pm.

In addition to the responses included below, Minty, Rachel Clive, Sage Brice and Malú Cayetano will be sharing their own creative responses, live at the online event on Thursday.

Carolyn Black – Rising Tides

‘The banks of the Severn contain, and succumb to, the tides. As the moon circles the earth oceans bulge forcing riverways to press up against their edges, overflow, then spread. When it breaks its banks it seeps along pathways and puddles in hollows. It races inland looking for routes to travel, or soft earth to sink into, weaving between rocks and walls, ignoring roads and railways. Humans can only stand and stare, from high on a hilltop.

Manmade barriers resist the river water and divert it to more gullible places, like fields and ditches. When the flash floods come in, fast and furious, they spread across the landscape, where the earth soaks it up to level the land. When the water recedes and the grass grows back, the field is like a billiard table – smooth, green, fertile and luscious.

The Severn has gendered mythologies ascribed to it of Sabrina and Hafren. Now, with climate change causing more flooding than ever, there is a tautness at the edges of the river. A tension not unlike the skin of a woman stretched over an unborn child. The edges are becoming blurred, strained until the waters break. Pregnant with what is to come.

In twenty years time this river I know so well will no longer be a river. It will be underwater, bar a few hills protruding above sea level. Islands. A river reborn, reconstructed. It is queer to think about this nearby future, but think, we must. To make us act. Now.’

Gerry O’Brien – Water Way

‘My name is Gerard O’Brien (known mostly as Gerry) and I’m a landscape architect by trade, but work for Architecture & Design Scotland at the moment. When not in that world I engage in a lot of creative endeavours. 

I’ve responded to your score which I thoroughly enjoyed. It’s a basic written film in a sense. The piece I’ve sent you is based on an encounter with the burn (stream) that flows at the bottom of our communal gardencalled Burdiehouse Burn, to the best of my knowledge. It is within Burdiehouse Burn Valley Park.

Susan Merrick – Muddiness (Blackwater River)

‘I wanted to accept the invitation to respond to the Queer River performance score as a chance to consider my own longstanding connection to river edges, but also to explore my own queerness and what that means to me right now in my life. ‘Muddiness’ considers the ever changing relationship we have with ourselves and others, and connects it to the ever changing relationship that the river has within it’s environment, how it both shapes and is shaped.’

Susan Merrick is a multidisciplinary artist living and working in Hampshire, she hosts a podcast called ‘Woman Up!’ and runs a project called Conversations with Aldershot, exploring the voices of her local town and how art can be the tool to share these stories.

Dr Helen Clarke and Dr Sharon Witt (Attention2Place) – Becoming Lost With Meon

Working with feminist, posthumanist, and new materialist perspectives we were keen to respond to the Queer River performance score as it provided an opportunity to explore the wateriness of a local Hampshire river and experiment with the language of animacy. Water has been a constant refrain in our research within educational contexts. As educators, we come from science and geography disciplines but work in transdisciplinary ways, increasingly informed by arts-based practices. Our film celebrates how pedagogical encounters that are sensory, embodied and practice-led, can disrupt and break boundaries by deepening engagement, developing response-ability (Haraway, 2016) and considering nature/culture relations.’

Teresa Humphrey (via Twitter)

Walking with… Queer Geographer Joe Jukes

Joe Jukes is a Queer Geographer and a PHd Researcher with The University of Brighton. Joe also curated the Queer Constellations exhibition that I was involved in at the Museum of English Rural Life in Reading earlier this year. Currently based in rural Somerset, Joe is researching the experiences of queer people living in the area:

‘The countryside is often seen as a place that lacks queerness, or at least opportunities through which to live queerly. Even so, many queer people continue to live in rural areas. In fact, non-metropolitan space plays host to some very deviant and dissident sexualities and experiences, whose queerness remains underappreciated.

I’m currently researching how one can respond to this tendency, and am doing so by studying queer relations, affects and identities in one rural area in SW England. I question the dominance of ‘lack’ and ‘absence’ in defining rural queer space, and am working towards new ways on conceptualising ‘rural queer’.’

Joe Jukes

Joe and I met to start our walk in Frome Town Centre, and took a walk out of town following the path of the River Frome, a tributary of the Bristol Avon. It was afternoon and the low Autumn sunshine was shining through the trees. We chose the River Frome because of its geographical location between our homes, its link with the Bristol Avon which I’m keen to get to know better, and because beavers are now living wild on the Frome.

I was particularly interested in visiting the Rodden Nature Reserve, because of its history, and because a family of beavers have made it their home. I’m fascinated by the role that beavers can play in ‘wilding’ or queering rivers, giving them back their free flowing nature after being straightened and constrained by humans, and how many wetland reserves exist as the result of gravel extraction or other industrial processes.

Rodden Nature Reserve was created from an area of previously agricultural land adjacent to the A362 Warminster Road by the supermarket chain ASDA Stores Ltd in 2004. Extensive work included reprofiling a hill, diverting the Rodden Brook, rerouting a private road and creating two main lake areas. This resulted in an 8.7 hectare wetland habitat which is part of the flood amelioration strategy for Frome. The reserve remains the property of ASDA and is open to the public from September to February, although it can be viewed from the road at all times…’

www.roddennaturereserve.org.uk

The day before we met I had put together a couple of simple pads of paper, clipped together between a sheet of card together with a clear plastic bag. I wasn’t sure if Joe would want to draw/write/collect or if we would focus on talking as we walked, but I like to offer some way to document and reflect on our Queer River walks.

I had also thought a little about what I’d like to cover in our conversation, a few loose ideas. I’d written in my skectchbook ‘Beavers, Boundaries and Binaries‘. I don’t like to plan the walks too rigidly, but to let the conversation to flow wherever it needs to, but I also like to make the most of the time with each collaborator and their specific skills/knowledge.

First page of my Walking Pages

As we walked I told Joe about a conversation that I’d had with Nick Hayes, author of The Book of Trespass, earlier in the week. Nick had contacted me to interview me for his follow up book and we had talked a little about trespass means to different groups of people, including people from the LGBTQi+ community.

The Book of Trespass takes us on a journey over the walls of England, into the thousands of square miles of rivers, woodland, lakes and meadows that are blocked from public access. By trespassing the land of the media magnates, Lords, politicians and private corporations that own England, Nick Hayes argues that the root of social inequality is the uneven distribution of land.

Good Reads – The Book of Trespass

Nick’s follow up book, The Trespassers’ Companion, which is due to be published in April 2022, ‘shows how we can reclaim our lost connection to the land‘ through contributions from a range of people with different perspectives on the UK countryside and the Right to Roam campaign which Nick co-founded.

Joe and I talked about how queer people make everyday transgressive actions, everyday trespasses across gender divides. We talked about the relationship between queer and non-binary identities, how boundaries and binaries of sexuality and gender identity can restrict and constrain in similar ways to our canalisation of rivers. How beavers can unlock a river’s true identity by enabling it to flood and to flow, bringing greater diversity of life to the area, as the boundary between land and water blurs.

Along the river banks someone had set up a story trail with signs and markers that told a story of a beaver and their animal friends. It felt exciting for me to see how the presence of beavers was starting to permeate people’s awareness and alter their relationship with the river. When elsewhere legal battles are continuing, to enable beavers to be released into the wild, these beavers were already making their presence known within local popular culture.

As we reached the area of the Rodden Nature Reserve, where I’d read the family of beavers were living, we looked down over a bridge and watched for signs of movement, or evidence of beaver teeth on tree stumps. This southern area of the reserve is surrounded by roads and the Asda car park. A ‘wild’ (unofficially reintroduced) animal has chosen the reedy, swampy, scrubby area created by a supermarket chain to make its return.

Our conversation and walk was accompanied by the noticing of different sizes and colours of leaves or the wording on signs, discussions on the approach and image of different ‘nature writers’ or artists, and the role of arts-based methods in research. I was happy to watch the way Joe used the walking pages, squashing and rubbing berries, drawing in response to surrounding features, and to listen to their thoughts on water and memory.

As rivers pass through rock, eroding and carving pathways (as through the limestone caves of Somerset) do they remember the paths they have created? Do our memories of times spent in/by rivers flow away with them? Is a river ever the same as the one we have experienced before?

We continued on to end our walk (before a return trip to the car park) in the area of the reserve that is accessible to the public, stopping to look for footprints and to dip our own fingers into the clay scraped by a digger to open up the water, blowing at floaty reed mace seeds, and working into our pages as we followed a path around the lake.

Before we left to head back to our cars, Joe poked at a chunk of wood with their foot which was floating at the edge of the water. Picking it up we realised that is had been cut and shaped by beavers, the marks left by their chisel-like incisors clear in the surface. I won’t go into too much detail on how exciting I found this, except to say that touching these marks and carrying the wood home in my bag came a close second to an actual sighting of a beaver.

Beaver treasure

The wood, which I’ve washed and dried, will now come round with me to different groups and individuals that I work with, helping to tell the story of beavers’ place in our rivers and to spark new Queer River conversations.

I’ve started to draw to make sense of my thoughts on beavers, boundaries and binaries, and on trespass too. I’ll keep returning to these same themes, as they connect and interweave with previous Queer River conversations, and plan to keep investigating beavers as connectors of land/water, above/below, past and future, through walking with the rivers where they live, and researching their place in stories and mythology.

As always, I have so much left to process from our walk, and I’m grateful to Joe for sharing their throughts and experiences with me.