‘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.’
‘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 garden… called Burdiehouse Burn, to the best of my knowledge. It is within Burdiehouse Burn Valley Park.‘
‘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 theever 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.
‘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. Waterhas 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.’
‘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 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 tothe 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…’
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.
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.‘
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.
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.
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.
‘Led by artists James Aldridge and Minty Donald, Queer River, Wet Land documented their experiences of the Rivers Clyde and Kelvin, in Glasgow. Focussing on the interrelationship between the water and the land, this exchange of practices drew on work with their local rivers, and the substrates that they flow through/over. The work resulted in a Performance Score, made publicly available as a way of supporting others to get involved in the project, and to encourage others to engage creatively with their local rivers.
James and Minty will also be joined for this online sharing event by artist/geographer Sage Brice (University of Durham), theatre practitioner Rachel Clive, and Madrid-based landscape architect Malú Cayetano.‘
As a result of my work with Minty Donald last month, on the Queer River Wet Land project with The University of Glasgow, we have put together a performance score to invite others to get involved remotely.
The score, available to download below, invites people to engage with their local river and consider the relationship between the water and the land. We are asking people to share their responses with us via social media using the #QueerRiverWetLand hashtag, or send them via email, for inclusion in this blog.
We will also be running an online event at 5pm on Thursday 25th November, where we will share the outcomes of the Queer River Wet Land project in more depth, with input from invited speakers and a range of responses to the score. As soon as the booking details for this free event have been confirmed I will add them here.
We are really looking forward to you sharing your responses, however playful or simple they may be. So please download the score, take a walk with your river, and see what happens.
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.
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 structuralinequalities 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.‘
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.
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.”
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.
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.
Familiar and strange: A Queer River Walk with James Aldridge, Minty Donald, Ingrid Shearerand Cecilia Tortajada.
Glasgow, 10thSeptember 2021. By Rachel Clive.
five queer river lovers, familiar and strange
meet on the dividing line of blue and green
consider the edges.
on the grey bridge under their feet
a small brown slug squidges past a sycamore wing
a plastic cup lid, and an orange train ticket;
under the slug runs the kelvin
a student runs from one side of the bridge to the other
takes pictures and disappears
an elderly man picks up litter, quietly attending to his city
dogs lead their humans to water and trees,
a sleepy bee loses its bearings
buses rumble and birds cry out: beware! beware!
the queer ones follow kelvin
fluid nonbinary interminglings
blond sandstone stands by windswept red
the blond sandstone is older
rats feast in cars while humans sleep
but the rat race is for rats and we are
at the confluence, where kelvin meets clyde
govan keeps watch
two white swans shake their feet and wiggle their chests
protecting their large grey young;
feathers roll and tumble up the slipway, trembling with the wind.
the tide is out and the surface is slippery.
i pick up a toy car and a broken lighter,
luminescent leftovers, like squid remains in plastic bins
materials break down; release can be unpredictable
I wonder who the car belonged to, whose hands have played with it
how it ended up here, how I end up here, time after time
with kelvin and clyde and the turning tide
the trucks thunder in to clean the hard grey riverside
the noise of their engines is shattering, like gunfire exploding,
the birds scream and i cover my ears, there is nowhere to hide.
we need to reorganise
‘Artist James Aldridge shares insights from Iain Biggs’ and Mary Modeen’s book Creative Engagements with Ecologies of Place and resonances with his own projects exploring the value of outsiders’ viewpoints and voices not often heard in discussions on the Earth Crisis’
‘In this time of ecological collapse and climate breakdown, it is tempting to charge about ‘taking action’, but there are many kinds of action that are needed. Perhaps counterintuitively, when individuals and organisations around us are declaring an emergency, we need opportunities to slow down and to notice the reality of the situation we are living in, taking time to learn from human and non-human others with whom we share our locality. For me, that is what my arts practice, and Queer River specifically, is for.’
I’ve just been in Glasgow for a few days, at the invitation of The University of Glasgow, and as part of The Dear Green Bothy. You can read more about The Dear Green Bothy in this previous post.
Whilst in Glasgow I met, walked, talked and made with collaborators suggested by the University. This was my first experience of the Clyde and Kelvin, and these are my first impressions of those rivers. I’m continuing to process my experiences and develop further artwork as a result. These walks, plus the writing and artwork that emerges from them, form Part 1 of the Queer River Wet Land project.
‘My definition of ecological entails an aspiration for a way of being in/with the universe that dissolves nature/culture and human/nonhuman binaries, but which acknowledges differences, antagonisms and contradictions, rather than seeking resolution or transcendence..’
Together, we followed a route Minty had devised in advance, with a container of chalk from my home valley in Witshire, and a simple pad that I’d made of black and white paper, to record our conversations and what we noticed.
We met at The Snow Bridge, a pedestrain bridge over the River Kelvin at the edge of Kelvingrove Park, in heavy rain. Although we did get a bit wet, it was a perfect opportunity to observe the path of water through the city. The project was named Queer River, Wet Land as we wanted to focus on the interrelationship between land and water, river and substrate. I was keen that we continue to queer the idea of what a river is, to blur the boundaries between river and city, moving away from the blue line on the map with clearly drawn edges.
The river, of course, doesn’t just stop at its banks, the flow of water and the wider water cycle connects the river with the streets, buildings, animals, sky and so on, and after recent walks exploring how my own local rivers the Avon and Kennet, sit on/flow within a bed of chalk, I was keen to explore further the behaviour of a river whose path has been altered through urbanisation and industry.
Minty’s own work for The Dear Green Bothy makes use of rocks and silt to explore this relationship of river to city. In her project Erratic Drift with Nick Millar, Minty works, ‘in collaboration with the rocks, stones, and silt of Glasgow’, as well as human collaborators. Alluvial Drift, one of three actions that take place as part of the project, uses a performance score to invite the performer to ‘Borrow some silt (mud) from the River Clyde. Dry the silt until it is a fine powder. Walk along the geological drift line marking the extent of the river’s alluvial plain, which lies underneath parts of the city centre. Sprinkle silt along the line as you walk…’
The River Kelvin as it runs through Kelvingrove Park to the bridge where we met, has a leafy, ‘natural’ look at first glance, although as I waited for Minty and watched it flow beneath me I soon started to notice the takeaway cups and other litter flowing along with the water, and the non-native plants crowding its banks (this is someting I’ll return to, whilst reflecting on what I learned from my time with Botanist Mark Spencer). From talking with Minty I also started to understand the impact of sewage on both the Kelvin and the Clyde, which the Kelvin flows into further down.
‘To stop sewage backing up into homes, the storm water and waste that would ordinarily go toScottish Water treatment centres is released into seas or rivers through the 3,697 Combined Sewer Overflows (CSOs) dotted across the country…. But Scottish Water is only required to monitor less than 3% of these CSOs for pollution, so the true scale of how much water waste is discharged is unknown.Simon Parsons, a director with Scottish Water, said CSOs “remain a vital relief mechanism tosafely relieve the pressure on the sewer network” Citing the impact of climate change on the intensity of rainfall in Scotland, he continued: “We have to stop that surface water getting into our systems.”‘
At the confluence of the Kelvin and the Clyde, we made use of one of the few places where you can reach the water, and stood at the water’s edge, looking across to Govan. I took some chalk from my bag and started to experiment with making chalk marks at the water’s edge. As we made our marks we noticed how quickly they became submerged, a sign of the incoming tide, chalk from one river marking the ebb and flow of another.
‘I’ve attached some images of the chalk lines that James and I made (tracing the rapidly incoming tideline) on our Thursday walk as they appeared underwater when we visited the slipway on Friday. I found tracing the line between water and land very satisfying, while pondering how weird it was to draw hard lines between water and land (as the city centre architecture of the Clyde does).’
As we walked on along the Clyde and past the Riverside Museum, we noticed ship mooring bollards and flood defense walls, Minty described an earlier work of hers (Bridging Part 1 and Bridging Part2 2010 – 2014), which involved attaching ropes across the Clyde. When the ropes were pulled tight after sinking to the bottom of the river, they re-emerged covered in various ‘sanitary products’, which had gethered unseen on the river bed.
The sewage mixes with heavy metals and other chemical contaminants from the Clyde’s industrial past. New buildings pop up on its banks and the occassional gull or cormorant passes by, but there is relatively little life. Boats are a rare enough occurrance to cause people to stop and watch, and the number of low bridges that have been built over time, now present a barrier to larger ships. The river feels uncared for and neglected, still and grey, at least along stretch where we walked.
In contrast to the Kelvin at Kelvingrove Park, this stretch of the much wider Clyde has high, straight banks, free of vegetation apart from the occassional Buddleia clinging onto the walls. The river was narrowed and deepened in the past in order to build and transport bigger ships. Today only one shipbuilder remains, building ships for the military, but the city’s shipbuilding history still looms large.
Minty described how the new buildings that are springing up along the Clyde’s banks feel disconnected the river itself. Available space on the riverbank is made use of with an eye on ‘regeneration’ and economic development, but with little or no connection to the living river. When other cities are prioritising the clean up of rivers, increasing access to riverfronts for leisure and tourism, and reintroducing native planting, it seems a missed opportunty, and without such a focus on the health of the river, the Clyde feels strangely dead.
The canalised form that the Clyde takes now, is at odds with what rivers will need from us in the future, as we try to find ways to coexist with dynamic river systems, and increasingly fluctuating water levels. This conflict between the form that the river takes now, and the need to think differently in the future, was brought home even more as we walked on past the riverside contruction site at The Scottish Event Campus (SEC) where preparations are underway for COP26.
On our journey along to our finishing point, where the Molendinar Burn (a largely hidden river that flows under the streets of the city) meets the Clyde, at the site of Glasgow Green, we also discussed Queer River from a performance perspective. Minty’s work began in set design. which informed her journey into performance:
‘I sometimes describe my research in theatre and performance as an attempt to put the stuff that is not human centre stage. I might perhaps trace this to my training and background in scenography… A focus on the other-than-human in theatre/performance informs my interlinking research interests: more-than-human performance, site-based and critical spatial practice and expanded scenography.’
With my own previous experience laying in museum and gallery education, art/ecology and outdoor learning, I’ve had less reason to explore the relationship of performance to my practice. I had thought that performance implied a pre-planned agenda, But in recent projects, where I have focused on embodied experience, walking, talking and dialogue, I’ve started to consider what might happen if I were to change the way I describe these areas of my practice, and consider them as performance pieces.
‘Advocates of performance, in its expanded sense, argue that it might lead us towards an understanding of our place in a more-than-human universe that troubles habitual and, arguably inescapable, anthropocentricism. It does so in several ways. First, performance offers a challenge to representationalism. As Karen Barad puts it, ‘the move towards performative alternatives to representationalism shifts the focus from questions of correspondence between descriptions and reality […] to matters of practices/doings/actions. Second, performance is not exclusively human. It is a more-than-human practice in which both human and nonhuman actors engage alongside and are intermingled with each other…’
This first walk of the Queer River Wet land project was a way to get to know Glasgow through its rivers, and the rivers through walking and talking with Minty. Our second walk with artist/researcher Rachel Clive, archaeologist/Heritage Engagement Officer Ingrid Shearer and Professor in Environmental Innovation Cecilia Tortajada gathered together a wider range of perspectives, which I’ll be starting to explore in my next post.
Queer River, Wet Land will take place in Glasgow on 9th and 10th of September, and will see me walking and making with Minty Donald, Artist and Professor of Contemporary Performance Practice at the School of Culture and Creative Arts.
Minty has a wealth of experience in working with rivers in her own practice, in particular through Guddling About ‘exploring humans’ interrelations with rivers and other watercourses‘ www.guddlingabout.com and Erratic Drift ‘a project by Minty Donald and Nick Millar, in collaboration with the rocks, stones, and silt of Glasgow‘ www.erraticdrift.org.
On the second day Minty and I will be joined by three more collaborators:
Rachel Clive – Theatre practitioner, writer, facilitator/teacher and researcher. Rachel’s art/science research interests include hydrofeminist practices and flood-risk management.
Cecilia Tortajada – Professor in Practice – Environmental Innovation at the School of Interdisciplinary Studies, Glasgow University. Working at present on complexity of water, environment and natural resources policy and management.
I’ll share documentation and reflections from the two days of walks here on the Queer River blog, and artwork that develops from them. Minty and I also plan to create a performance score as a result of the walks (new to my work but an integral part of Minty’s practice), which will support others (nationally and internationally) to collaborate with us remotely in Part 2 of the project. An online event will then follow in October/November in order to share the project and the work of our collaborators more widely (date/details tbc).
There’s so much about this project that I’m excited about, and so much that I know will grow from it, not least an exploration of the relationship between my walking/ecological practice and contemporary performance, and new working relationships with people carrying out such relevant and important work.
I’m thankful to Mark, Minty and the other collaborators for agreeing to join me and share their knowledge and experience, in a Queer River exploration of Glasgow’s waterways.
More to follow soon…
(The featured image for this post is titled River Clyde from Glasgow to Clydebank: Map of the river Clyde from Glasgow to Clydebank, and was created by the Clyde Navigation Trust in 1960)
On Friday I joined other artists exhibiting in the Queer Constellations exhibition, at The Museum of English Rural Life (MERL) in Reading, to see our work, meet each other for the first time ‘in the flesh’, and take part in workshops/discussions relating to the subject matter of the exhibition, namely queerness and rurality.
As part of the day I ran a workshop sharing my Walking Pages process and inviting the artists, exhibition coordinator Joe Jukes and Queer Rural Connections originator Timothy Alsopp, to layer their experiences of the MERL’s garden, onto printed photographs. The intention was to give people a chance to explore how we can document queer experiences of place, and consider how these might differ from mainstream representations.
“Why do I have to watch Brokeback Mountain or God’s Own Country to see a slither of queerness in nature?” he asks, regarding the overarching portrayals of queer people in gritty cityscapes. “It’s obviously not the case, and I wanted to spotlight the people, the pioneers and explorers, making the countryside work for them.”
You can watch Ned’s film here:
There’s a lot for me to process from the day, but there’s a few key things that stand out for me that I’m thankful for and left focusing on. Firstly our diversity – we are all different, our work is all different and we each have the capacity to evolve and change within that. It’s definitely not one size fits all, despite all that we share. We don’t all run away to the bright lights of the big city, and even if we do, many of us return to settle in rural areas. Whilst rural spaces can give us the freedom to be ourselves, they can also mean that we have to ‘come out’ again and again.
What I took away from my workshop was the focus on multi-sensory experience, as people included scent and texture in their pieces, reponding to experiences of lavender, the wind or the shape of the chicken run. I was interested in how 2D images were folded, cut, rolled, and queered. Semi transparent layers were placed over the top of the ‘official’ photographs of the Museum grounds, holding text that related to experiences of childhood gardens. Others had holes punched through them, or were drawn on to explore the unseen reality beneath the surface.
It’s been a big leap for me to start exploring my sexuality/gender identity so publicly in my work. Now that I am, it can feel a pretty solitary experience. I make the work, write or talk about it to an audience, or send it out into the world (either online or by post), unsure of the reception that its going to get. This exhibition and artists’ gathering has been the first opportunity I’ve had to exhibit and share my work within a specifcally queer context. I’ve been thankful for the opportunity to come together and share both our practices, and our thoughts and feelings about being queer in the countryside.
I’ve hung onto everyone’s pages from the workshop (not something I usually do), in a box I put together for the purpose, and will share them as a collection when I exhibit more Queer River work in the future. I hope to keep in touch with everyone from the exhibition, and to be able to come together to continue our conversations in the future, as I feel that I’m learning a lot.
The Queer Constellations exhibition continues at MERL in Reading until September:
‘Queer Constellations is an exhibition that poses the question as to whether there is queernessin rural life. It brings together artists from around the UK and Ireland, including Epha J Roe, James Aldridge, Emma Plover, Gemma Dagger,Eimear Walshe, Claye Bowler and Daniel Baker, to delight in the strangeness of rural life and to feel its enough-ness. We invite users to trespass the space, explore the margins, and to join us in queering the countryside...’