Sep 30
This may be of interest...


A three-day program. The first of which (7th Oct) is in Somerset, where I will be presenting work from Unruly Waters and Some:when.
I believe there's a reduced day ticket price for students

I published this blog post a few minutes ago with an image but am not sure it has loaded, so trying again with text only...
Nov 04

It is quite widely asserted that children are good "indicator species" for city health

For example  - quote -

As Enrique Peñalosa, former mayor of Bogotá, Columbia, has said: “Children are a kind of indicator species. If we can build a successful city for children, we will have a successful city for all people.” (source)

Could the same be said for water? If a city is looking after its water in all it forms and uses effectively, it will need to be working well in terms of transport, green infrastructure, water supply, waste water processing and recycling, SUDS, public space and so on.  

This claim about children and the city is closely tied  to UNESCO’s Child Friendly Cities movement (CFC)

Some CFC work addresses water issues e.g. here

Hydrocitizenship approaches to the city should be thinking explicitly about children and water in terms of access, places to drink clean water, swim and play. I’m sure much the same applies in rural areas too.

As far as I can see, not many UK cities are part of this initiative. Bristol used to be.

Nov 13

So the European Space Agency Rosetta Project has landed  its lander Philae  on the comet 67P/Churyumov-Gerasimenko. A journey of some four billion miles and ten years. This is a staggering achievement of science and international cooperation.

One of the great questions about the earth, and life on earth, is where did the water come from? Was it ‘delivered’ by comets such as this, crashing into the earth in its early formation?  One of the strange facts about water is that that there is a fixed amount of it on earth which is various states and cycles. We can’t easily make, or destroy,  it. But we can make water and its processes support life – or destroy life.

One on the stated scientific objectives of this and the many other spaces missions and telescope based projects is to ‘better understand how life on earth formed’ - one of the greatest scientific questions that we spend billions on each year. The Rosetta Project cost 1.4 billion Euros.

So what is the tragedy? While this question attracts billions in spending,  the attention some of the greatest minds, unprecedented international cooperation, and gets headline news on occasions such as this, the actual life that was created on earth is being destroyed!!

“Population sizes of vertebrate species—mammals, birds, reptiles, amphibians, and fish—have declined by 52 percent over the last 40 years. In other words, those populations around the globe have dropped by more than half in fewer than two human generations.”

WWF Living Planet Report 2014

It is very odd to see the question of the origin of life on earth as being so profound (and paying it so much attention) while we are carelessly destroy that life at the same time.

Hello everyone.

This will be my first entry on the hydrocitizens platform. I'm a masters student in Denmark (Information Studies, with a bachelor in media studies), currently interning at a project revolving around water and technology. In this regard, I am part of a co-creation project that wants to explore the options of using state-of-the-art technology to collect data and utilize this data to improve the environment, specially in relation to water.

With this blog I hope to hear your opinions about the concept of open data, and its use in regards to water-challenges.

Water challenges - a global concern
Even though some of us city-dwellers might not regularly think about water, or even feel like it is something we should be concerned about, the truth is that every part of the world seems to have plenty of problems, either in regards to pollution, energy consumption and production, agriculture and the list goes on. How can we get people to care about water? And how might we do so without installing egg-timers in showers or campaigning against overuse of water?

We are therefore attempting to develop a platform that can empower citizens, organisations, cities and governments to solve these problems together, more specifically through the use of the Internet of Things and the newfound ability to create and publicize data that was previously unavailable, or deemed to be without value.

The power of Open Data

Open data is data that can be freely used, reused and redistributed by anyone - subject only, at most, to the requirement to attribute and sharealike.

Someone once said that the best use of your data is going to be thought of by someone else. In recent years, a lot of organizations, municipalities and governments have eyed a great opportunity in opening up their data. Some organizations have done so do to pressure from the locals, others have done so in order to empower citizens to take responsibility for their local environment. The definition of data is also multifaceted. Is a picture data? Are ten pictures data? Is data purely supposed to be machine-readable formats? There are a lot of different opinions on what data is, and each of the definitions presented in the current debate is causing a lot of confusion.

The concept of open data is then still in its infancy. Where the quote in the start of this section tells us what open data is as a technical concept, the social and economic impact of open data is still underway. In Boston, smartphone apps have been used to collect data about potholes in the road. By allowing citizens to active the application in their smartphone, which then collects data about the bumpiness of the ride by using the phones built in hardware, Boston were able to collect and make public a lot of data that depicted the state of the cities roads. This is a fine example of how open data can help a city overcome problems in a cheaper, and more efficient manner.

What about water?
The concept of potholes is perhaps a bit more straight forward than that of water. Water challenges revolve around both pollution, over-use, miss-use and lack of access. Each of these challenges requires their own logic to be solved, and no generic, one-size-fit-all solution seems to do the trick. 

One thing these problems DO have in common is that fact that knowledge and information can help us eliminate these problems - either by addressing them pre- or post occurrence. In Manila, the rivers and waterbeds are filled with empty plastic bottles and other waste due to poor infrastructure. In this case, the problem can be solved post-occurence by investing in filters and plants that can clean the water. The problem can also be solved pre-occurence by implementing a tax on each bottle, and then giving half of that tax as reward for each bottle turned in. Two solutions with very different logics.

In the case of Manila, data or open data harvested by sensors and mobile phones might not be the way to solve the problem. Or is it? What if a group of people got together and bought their own water purifier as Dr. David Zetland suggests in this AMA (http://www.reddit.com/r/IAmA/comments/2lyn49/i_am_a_water_economist_ama_on_water_issues/), and then used the data they were able to collect from this device (how much water they could drink a day, how much money they saved using this device instead of buying more bottled water) to convince others to do the same thing?

This is purely speculative, but again, the best use of data, and the best places of harvesting data that connects individual who were previously not interested in eg. water to that very domain, is probably going to be thought of by someone else.

Your thoughts on water, data and the Internet of Things?
Our current experimentation is bringing us far and wide. We are trying to figure out the best way of creating a safe, informative and action-oriented space for everyone around the world who are concerned with the state of our water supplies. 

So how do you think new technology and better communicative tools can help improve the state of water?

What logics and motivations are important to understand when solving water challenges?

Dec 03
Hello all,

Delighted to be joining the conversation and looking forward to spending some time with the rich, diverse and stimulating material already posted.

I am an artist and researcher/scholar/lecturer (in the School of Culture and Creative Arts at the University of Glasgow). For the past five years or so, the focus of my practice/research has been on our (human) relationships with water — specifically in the context of urban waterways and, even more specifically, in the context of the River Clyde, River Kelvin and Forth and Clyde Canal in Glasgow and Central Scotland, and the Bow River and its watershed in Alberta. As an artist, I generally work in collaboration with Nick Millar (alongside our other, innumerable, human and more-than-human collaborators). We tend to work in ephemeral modes such as performance, projected imagery and sound. I also write about/as-part-of my practice. DonaldMillar selected work

I hope to post regularly about on-going work, events and reflections but, by way of introduction, here are some images, some information on and links to past watery projects, performances, prose and practices…

Guddling Maryhill Locks     Guddling Green Tease

MS water Kelvin

Melting Species 1

Melting Species 2

  • 'Entided, Enwatered, Enwinded: Human/More-than-Human Agencies in Site-specific Performance' in Performing Objects and Theatrical Things, eds. Marlis Schweitzer and Joanne Zerdy, Palgrave (2014). An essay reflecting on the agencies of rivers, weather and tides in two performance works: Bridging Part 1 and High-Slack-Low-Slack-High  Performing Objects and Theatrical Things

  • Bridging Part 2 — a site-specific screening of  the performance Bridging Part 1 commissioned for Culture 2014, the Commonwealth Cultural Programme, Glasgow (2014)
Bridging Part 2

  • Guddling About: Experiments in Vital Materialism with Particular Regard to Water - a series of actions/experiments with water devised and performed as part of an artists' residency with the City of Calgary Utilities and Environmental Protection (Water Services) and Public Art Departments, Alberta, 2013.  Alberta Watershed plus residency blog   Guddling About in Alberta watershed plus
Water Borrow


  • 'Guddling About: Experiments in Vital Materialism with Particular Regard to Water'  — a photo-essay on Guddling About in Alberta in The Goose,  A Journal of Arts, Environment and Culture in Canada, 13.1 (2014)  Guddling About photo essay

  • High-Slack-Low-Slack-High — a suite of site-responsive sound works inspired by the tidal range of the River Clyde in Glasgow. Glasgow International Festival of Visual Art (2012)
Dougie H-S-L-S-H    Nic Hanna H-S-L-S-H

  • Bridging Part 1 — a site-specific performance on and with the River Clyde, Glasgow. Commissioned by the Network for Contemporary Performing Arts (2010)
Bridgin Part 1   Bridging Part 1 2

  • Riverstop — an intervention in the Riverstop quayside kiosk as part of Glasgow River Festival, 2009

  • Laika - a 20-metre steel-hulled replica Dutch Barge, built by BLC Scotland Ltd. Steel Fabricators from a 'kit' supplied by Dutch company, Euroship, and fitted out by us. We lived on Laika in the  River Clyde Boatyard,  Rothesay Dock East, Yoker, near Glasgow from 2010-12. (2006-12)
Laika launch

  • Peccadillo (#2) —  a second broad-beamed residential 'narrowboat' built near Burnley and transported to the Forth and Clyde Canal to take up the first residential mooring on the canal in Glasgow. (1993-97)

  • Peccadillo (#1) — our first residential narrowboat on the Leeds and Liverpool Canal (1991-93)

Mar 09

The city of Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania is proud to host the 71st annual meeting of SECAC, to be held October 21-24 at the Wyndham Grand in downtown Pittsburgh. The 2015 theme, CONFLUENCE, aligns the geographic confluence of the Monongahela and the Allegheny rivers that form the Ohio river, with the conceptual confluence and fluidity of borders related to art, architecture, design, education, and pedagogy today.

SECAC is Southeastern College Art Conference -  a non-profit organization that promotes the study and practice of the visual arts in higher education on a national basis.

Fluid Currents: Water, Art, and Ecology. CFP

In his 1836 'Essay on American Scenery,' the painter Thomas Cole compared water to “the eye of human countenance, in the unrippled lake, which mirrors all surrounding objects, we have the expression of tranquillity and peace 'in the rapid stream, the headlong cataract, that of turbulence and impetuosity.” Inspired by SECAC's 2015 host city of Pittsburgh, located at the confluence of three rivers, this panel seeks proposals for papers that consider how water, art, and ecology have intersected and informed each other throughout history. How have artists visually and materially imagined water conduits, whether rivers, streams, waterfalls, canals, or even underground pipes, and their relationship with human and/or nonhuman life? By what means have artists explored and celebrated the dynamic quality of waterways, documented their development and change over time, or condemned their failure, pollution, and misuse? Does the study of artistic engagement with bodies of water challenge or reinforce national mythologies, regional identity, or historical periodization?

We welcome proposals by artists and art historians working in a variety of fields and time periods in order to encourage dialogue that addresses the physical and metaphorical qualities of water and its relationship to representation.

Session chairs: Laura Igoe, Princeton University Art Museum, and Nenette Luarca-Shoaf, University ofMinnesota. Contact: ltigoe@princeton.edu

Mar 12

Cymerau, the local Hydrocitizenship team, are planning to hold three public events on 19th, 20th and 22nd March 2015. 

See our website for more information about the project. http://www.cymerau.org

The first two take the form of drop in sessions where members of the public can come and share their views about water. These will take place at the Community Hall in Borth (19th - 15:00-20:00) and the Memorial Hall in Tal-y-bont. (20th - 15:00-20:00). These are open to anyone and we would really appreciate it if you were able to share the details through your networks. 

Please also come and see us yourself and share your thoughts if you are free!

The third event is specifically aimed at local artists and it will take place at CAT on Sunday 22nd March, World Water Day.  This event is designed to engage artists with the project and to share with them the details of our proposed year of creative activity, our Water Map (Sept 2015 – Aug 2016). 

For details of the Water Map follow this link:


For details of the artist event on the 22nd please follow this link:


You can also share your thoughts online, by filling in this questionnaire. http://www.cymerau.org/you-say.html We will be using these to help guide our work in the coming months.
Mar 15

I am still pondering this passage form this key book -  fisrt published in 1989 

A difference between 'lived waters'  of nature-culture rather than some idea of abstract 'pure' water??

"While on the one hand we must make do with this situation, on the other we must acknowledge that it requires a reconstruction of the objectives and the methods of the whole of the social movement under today's conditions. To symbolize this problematic I need only refer to an experiment once conducted on television by Alain Bombard.36 He produced two glass tanks, one filled with polluted water - of the sort that one might draw from the port of Marseille - containing a healthy, t}riving, almost dancing octopus.  The other tank contained pure, unpolluted seawater. Bombard caught the octopus and immersed it in the 'normal' water; after a few seconds the animal curled up, sank to the bottom and died.

Now more than ever, nature cannot be separated from culture; in order to comprehend the interactions between ecosystems, the mechanosphere and the social and individual Universes of reference, we must learn to think 'transversally'. The Three Ecologies Felix Guattari (2000 42)"

Anyhoo - i have put the entire book as a pdf in our file section here

Sunday March 22nd was World Water Day, and for Water City Bristol an opportunity to collaborate with our partnership project Bristol Loves Tides (BLT!) in a fun event down by the tidal Avon. To coordinate with the high tides (time and tide wait for no one!) we had a very early morning start - particularly for a Sunday! The Water City Bristol team met up with the ten young presenters (more about this later) employed by Bristol Loves Tides as well as the other BLT team members from the organisation My Future - My Choice, Rough Glory Films and the Desperate Men. 

The morning began for us at 6:30am in the Lockside Cafe where we donned our BLT hoodies, placed the ten cardboard replicas of the famous Bristol ship the Matthew on the tables, and prepared to meet our first guests at 7am. It was a brisk morning and a high pressure system was in action - with implications for the super high tide (the high pressure system suppresses the water levels), but the atmosphere in the cafe was warm and friendly. Eighty guests were served BLT sandwiches (or a vegetarian version), and short speeches were given by the Chair of Bristol Green Capital, one of the young presenters from BLT (Jade) and our own Rowan Matthiessen on behalf of Water City Bristol. After this, each table had some time to think about and talk about why water and the tides are important, and comments were written on paper discs and inserted into the ships. 

At 8:15 the young presenters ushered us all out to the side of Cumberland Basin where we noticed some strangely clad fellows dragging a heavy-looking suitcase! In their barnacle-encrusted coats, Proxi and Peri, the tides made flesh, washed up to where we were gathered. They were greeted by the lord Mayor of the city but wanted to talk to the 'future!' (i.e. the young presenters). One by one objects were taken out of the suitcases and the bright young things went forward to collect them, and to say a short piece standing atop a podium about the different themes relating to tides. These were: heritage and future; the water cycle; biodiversity; hydropoetics and tidal energy. 

Following these thought-provoking pronunciations we were invited to participate in an oath. Dipping one hand into wonderful gloopy Avon mud and raising it into the air, we repeated our oath to love the water in every way we could think of - a video of this is available here: 

What interactive performance would be complete without a bit of singing? This is what came next, as we were instructed as three groups to take up one line of this little ditty: 

We are the tides we ebb and flow
Tuned to the moon we come and go
Ebb and flow and come and go and ebb and flow...

Once we had learned our section, we sang them all together, while weaving in an out of the group, causing the harmony to continually change as we moved through. 

Our next flow led us to 'the point' - a view of the famous Clifton Suspension Bridge, and a great place to observe the height of the tide. As mentioned, the high pressure system meant that in fact, the tide was not spectacularly high - in fact it was lower in effect than the high tides we had in February. In some ways this was a blessing for the organisation of the event as it meant that we were able to all walk comfortably by the water, which had not come over the edge as it might have done. Milling and chatting in this space, watching Peri and Proxi's antics there was one last ritual to come. 

A heart shape chalked on the otherwise graffiti-covered wall behind provided a place for us to show some muddy love. The buckets of mud made the rounds again and squelching in we filled in the heart with hand prints, and covered the white space with more of these too. The wonderful soft squigdy sensation of the mud was a great way to connect with the surroundings and the ritual aspect felt both light-hearted and significant. 

From here the majority of the group filtered off, while the young presenters, Water City Bristol team members and a few others boarded a boat by the Nova Scotia pub and headed to the Balmoral to watch the first instalment of the Proxi and Peri film, which will be used in schools tours in June and July. The film is fantastic and we hope to share it here very soon. 

Apr 23

The bee, the water and the flower

Enroute to London Paddington from Bath Spa quite early, arriving at the station with quite a wait for the train – I got a lift with someone going to work - I went into the waiting room. Immediately, and gratefully, I noted it was quiet, even rather, warm.  The spring weather was very bright and sunny, but with night temperatures still dropping to near freezing under the very clear skies.  After a few minutes of ideally looking at the free newspaper, a honey bee fell to the floor at my feet, landing on her back and gently rotating on the shiny stone floor as she waved her legs around.  She seemed reasonably vigorous but was obviously in some trouble.

I looked around the room to note all the windows were non-opening (or certainly not open) and the door closed. I guessed she had followed a passenger in, and for her to escape again via the door – which sprang shut after use  - was a matter of slim(ish) chance. So I decided to take her outside.  Offered the edge of a bank card (which got lost in what followed) she climbed aboard.

The platform outside was in shadow, and it was still cold, but the long rectangle of gloom that made the platform roof was framed by dazzling early morning sun. So I walked down the platform to where the roof ended, so I could put the bee in the sunshine – figuring that might help.  I had to turn the bank card a few time as the bee kept crawling and exploring – but showing no indication of fright, or flight. In the sun was a large round concrete planter with vegetation which included some pansies with blue petals and yellow centres.  I offered the card to one of the flowers and the bee readily transferred onto one of the petals. And there she stood – and there I stood.

It had been a very dry few weeks – with some discussion at home of the returning swallows and house martins not having enough mud for nest building due to lack of rain– and how this might be addressed  with a bit of effort. So I thought of that - not enough water around, and the warm waiting room the bee might have been stuck in for some time, and I just wondered if she was dehydrated. 

So, almost as a gesture, I spat onto my fingers and let a small gob of spit drop next to the bee. She immediately started to drink, extending her proboscis into the fluid. I was a bit taken aback. And then worried that, maybe, my spit would carry harmful infection to the bee. But she was still drinking, and showing no sign of stopping. Then I realised I had a bottle of water (tap water) with me, so I filled the cap and carefully poured it onto the flower near the bee. But the water slid off the petals like mercury, like off water bird feathers, I guess flowers need a counter measure against the weight and saturation of raindrops.  So I tried again, more carefully still, and this time some water seemed to rest on the top of the petals, and clung to their edges.

Still the bee drank. I took out my phone and took a few close up photos, and then videoed her drinking. The first shot was only a few seconds, but I readjusted my position and filmed her drinking for two minutes and twenty seconds.  At one point the bee seemed to be pulling at a blob of water at risk of slipping off the petal with her front left leg. But maybe she was simply tapping her leg as she drank. Finally she stopped drinking and moved around a bit, to me it seemed, in a sprightlier manner.  And then she started to clean her proboscis with her front legs.

As I know well from watching our cats, grooming – while not a certain sign of well-being,  is quite possibly a sign of wellbeing. So at that point I went off to get a coffee, which, with a bit of queuing, must have taken five or so minutes. Then I went back to check on ‘progress’, and the bee was now going thorough and vigorous all-over groom; scraping her back (or middle) legs along her wings; scratching at the fur on her belly with her back legs;  running her front legs down her  antenna, twisting her head each way in turn as she did so (like someone drying their hair with a towel).  I filmed this for a minute or so – then finally had to depart.

So my conclusion is that the bee was badly dehydrated, and that access to water had revived her. I remain concerned that the drinking of my spittle might have caused her – even her colony, where ever it might be – a terrible thought – infection. But I just hope not. The film of the bee is here (to come).

May 14

Environmental Humanties Talk for Bremen University Nature Cultures Lab


(Click on images to enlarge)

Very pleased to amongst such distinguished speakers


Thanks to Friederike Gesing University of Bremen, Department of Anthropology and Cultural Research Bremen NatureCultures Lab

Jul 01
The Water Knows All My Secrets

This exhibition brings loss and disappearance---  of life, land, access and rights--- to the surface as it takes a critical look at our engagement with water, whether as a barrier, a threatening force of nature, or a resource at risk. 



Halil Altindere

Ursula Biemann

Osman Bozkurt

Jethro Brice

Nikolaj Larsen

Didem ?zbek

Mounira al Solh

Janaina Tsch?pe

M?ge Yilmaz 

Image: Ursula Biemann, video still from Subatlantic, 2015

144 West 14th St. | New York, NY 10011

Gallery hours: Monday-Saturday 11 AM-6 PM, Thursday until 8 PM. 


Pratt Manhattan Gallery, a public art gallery affiliated with Pratt Institute, organizes and hosts exhibitions featuring contemporary art and design.
Aug 05
This post on Waterweavers, an exhibition at the Art Museum of the Americas, Washington DC, might be of interest to some here.

'You walk into an air-conditioned building in Washington, D.C., and suddenly you're surrounded by rivers.

You can hear them, from the bubbling chuckle of a current to an unforgiving roar.

You can see them, foamy currents rushing past on video screens.

And when you take a break and sit down on a chair — carved out of reclaimed rainforest wood — you look up to see cascades of linen and plastic that seem to pour from the ceiling like flowing water.'


Jan 13

Working as part of the Cymerau project , I am investigating how water shapes the lives of people in the Leri catchment area of mid Wales. 
These sketchbook pages contain rough cartoons and ideas from people in my home village of Borth , a narrow strip surrounded by sea and bog . They have  peculiar attitudes to the apparent vulnerability of the community.

As the project continues , I produce finished cartoons of peoples contrasting experiences and values around water, and contribute to a map of water experience.
The intention is to use humour and accessibility to connect with people who may find recieved notions of fine art and academic discussion  irrelevant to their lives.

In the course of conversations , I have found attitudes and stories concerning death, drug use and ignorance, as well as appreciation and joy.I take an inclusive approach to my work , and the simplicity of graphic art can deal with some difficult experiences.

I spend a lot of time surfing . I can say without reservation that supposedly 'cool' and 'in touch' water users such as surfers are among the most ignorant and hypocritical of all people that use the sea.
Feb 01

From Crit Geog Forum


Call for Papers: Interdisciplinary Workshop on Water, Technology and the Nation-State

The University of Manchester, School of Environment, Education and Development, Geography.


28 October 2016


Water is a quintessential component for life and for the development of societies. Water is also an irreplaceable and transient resource, which crosses political boundaries in the form of rivers, lakes and groundwater aquifers. Due to its unique nature, governments tend to perceive and portray water as a national asset constituting an integral part of “the homeland”. Just like space, territory and society can be socially and politically constructed by a national elite to assert its power (Swyngedouw, 2007). This is also the case for the management of water resources. As a result, the construction of a large hydraulic infrastructure, such as for instance a major dam or a canal, can be surrounded by a rhetorical discourse that emphasises its contribution to a prosperous future and to the realisation of national goals while nurturing national development and progress. This process can thus overlap with the formation of a national identity to the extent that a dam comes to symbolize the nation (Menga, 2015).


The aim of this workshop is to further our understanding of the complex and often hidden connection between water and the nation building process, here defined as the set of policies aimed at creating a common national identity and a sense of patriotism and loyalty toward the state.


The workshop will be opened by a keynote from Prof Erik Swyngedouw, University of Manchester, titled “Not a Drop of Water...: State, Modernity and the Production of Nature in Spain, 1998-2010”.


With a view to a subsequent publication in a journal's special issue, we invite both empirically grounded and theoretical critical work from a wide range of disciplines (including human geography, political science, international relations, environmental history, nationalism studies and sociology) that address, but are not limited to, the following questions and topics:

·         In what ways water as a resource can be ideologically constructed, imagined and framed by a ruling elite to create and reinforce a national identity?

·         Is it appropriate to advance the notion of ‘water nationalism’ (Allouche, 2005) to define the combination of the state-building and nation-building processes over water?

·         Can the current boom in the dam building sector be interpreted as a twenty-first century revamp of the ideology of high modernism (Scott, 1998)?

·         Can the construction of a large hydraulic infrastructure be considered a nation-building tool, and how does this overlap with the nation-building process? In contested river basins, how does this influence inter-state relations?

·         Can we observe ‘techno-nationalism’ (i.e., the pride stemming from producing and exporting state of the art technology) (Edgerton, 2007) also when a large hydraulic infrastructure is being constructed with foreign technology?

·         Can the state be physically constructed out of a material water infrastructure (Carroll, 2012), and in what ways can we observe this phenomenon in the contemporary world?


Interested participants should send their abstracts (max 300 words) and a short bio (100 words) with contact details to the workshop organiser Dr Filippo Menga filippo.menga@manchester.ac.uk by May 13, 2016. Authors will be notified of acceptance by May 31, 2016.


A PDF of the call for papers can be downloaded at the following link http://bit.ly/1SwRDHT.


The organisation of this workshop is receiving funding from the European Union’s Horizon 2020 research and innovation programme under the Marie Sklodowska-Curie grant agreement No 654861.



Allouche, J. (2005). Water nationalism: An explanation of the past and present conflicts in Central Asia, the Middle East and the Indian Subcontinent? (Doctoral dissertation, Institut universitaire de hautes études internationales).

Carroll, P. (2012). Water, and Technoscientific State Formation in California. Social Studies of Science, 42(4).

Edgerton, D. E. (2007). The contradictions of techno-nationalism and techno-globalism: A historical perspective. New Global Studies, 1(1).

Menga, F. (2015). Building a nation through a dam: the case of Rogun in Tajikistan. Nationalities Papers, 43(3).

Scott, J.C., 1998. Seeing like a state: How certain schemes to improve the human condition have failed. New Haven: Yale University Press.

Swyngedouw, E., 2007. Technonatural revolutions: the scalar politics of Franco's hydro-social dream for Spain, 1939–1975. Transactions of the Institute of British Geographers, 32(1).


Dr Filippo Menga
Marie Sklodowska-Curie Research Fellow

Arthur Lewis Building

The University of Manchester

School of Environment, Education and Development
Oxford Road, Manchester, M13 9PL

Feb 09

The Heart of the Gila: Wilderness and Water in the West, ASLE off-year symposium

by Amy McIntyre

Call for Papers
The Heart of the Gila: Wilderness and Water in the West
Association for the Study of Literature and Environment (ASLE) 2016 Off-Year Symposium

June 8-11, 2016, Western New Mexico University, Silver City, NM


Deadline Extended to March 15, 2016

Letting our location be our guide in focusing the theme, the Gila Wilderness was established as the nation’s first wilderness area 91 years ago and continues to define our regional identity. The Gila River remains the last free-flowing river in the Southwest, but there is a current proposal in the state legislature to dam the river; local activists have been organizing to fight the proposal. Drought, compounded by climate change, has greatly affected our area, with the largest fire in New Mexico state history occurring in the Gila during 2012. The Gila was the northernmost region of the Mogollon People a millennium ago, and our region remains very culturally diverse with its close proximity to the Mexican-U.S. border.

We invite papers, roundtables, presentations, creative work, video presentations, and discussions from a range of disciplines and academic backgrounds that explore the past present, and future of wilderness, mythology of the West, Old West, New West, water, drought, climate change, desert, wastelands, atomic testing sites, military and western space, rivers, dams, tourism, fire, forest management, native cultures, migrant cultures, borders, activism, rhetoric of place, writers of place, writers of the West and Southwest (Aldo Leopold, Edward Abbey, Wallace Stegner, too many to name), wilderness philosophy, and diversity in the West. We invite participants to interpret the theme broadly. We especially welcome creative writers, activists, graduate students, and academics working in the humanities and beyond to consider submitting to the symposium.

Symposium sessions will be 90-minutes long. Both scholarly and creative submissions are welcome. Pre-formed panels are encouraged.

  • proposals for pre-formed panels must include at least four presentations (papers, readings, provocations, responses, etc.), 15 minutes-max each, plus a chair; panel organizers must submit the proposal on behalf of all panelists (500 word abstract for the panel outlining topic, format, participants' roles; 300 word abstract for each contribution as relevant to the format; all contact information)
  • proposals for panels may also include roundtables (five or six 10 minute-max presentations plus discussion)
  • individual paper/reading/performance submissions are for 15 minute presentations; 300 word abstracts should describe both form and content and include all contact information

Please submit your proposal by March 15, 2016 on-line at asle.wnmu.edu. We will notify you of its final status by March 21, 2016.

For questions about submissions, the program, the symposium site, or field trips, please contact the symposium organizer Dr. Michaelann Nelson at Michaelann.Nelson@wnmu.edu.

Plenary Speakers
Our list of invited speakers includes writers and scholars that are inspired by the people, culture, and landscape of our region in the Southwest.

David Gessner is the author of nine books, including All the Wild That Remains: Edward Abbey, Wallace Stegner and the American West, as well as My Green Manifesto and The Tarball Chronicles, which won the 2012 Reed Award for Best Book on the Southern Environment and ASLE’s award for best book of creative writing in 2011 and 2012.

Sharman Russell, author of Diary of a Citizen Scientist: Chasing Tiger Beetles and Other New Ways of Engaging the World (WILLA Award Winner), as well as a dozen other books, writes primarily about nature and the southwest. She makes her home in the Gila.

Dave Foreman, founder of the direct action environmental group EarthFirst!, has written several books, including Confessions of an Eco-Warrior and Ecodefense: A Field Guide to Monkeywrenching. He is currently the director of the Rewilding Institute, a think tank dedicated to promoting conservation and species extinction.

Lucy Tapahonso, Navajo Nation Poet Laureate, and author of several books of poetry, including The Women are Singing and Blue Horses Rush In. Her poetry is inspired by the idea that the feminine is a source of balance and power in the world.

Priscilla Ybarra, author of The Good Life: Mexican American Writing and the Environment. Dr. Ybarra’s work investigates Mexican American literature and environmental issues. She is a professor of English at the University of North Texas.

Phillip Connors, author of Fire Season: Field Notes From a Wilderness Lookout (National Outdoor Book Award, Sigurd Olsen Nature Writing Award), has spent the last decade as a fire lookout in the Gila National Forest. He previously was an editor at the Wall Street Journal.

Travel Awards
We will offer ten awards of $250 each to graduate students and independent scholars to help defray the cost of attending the symposium. Information on how to apply can be found on the website.

Symposium Location
Western New Mexico University is a diverse, public, regional university with about 3,500 students. Silver City is located in southwestern New Mexico at 6,000 feet elevation. It is the gateway to the Gila National Wilderness Area, the United States’ first wilderness area, as well as Gila Cliff Dwelling National Monument. It is known for its vibrant art community, locavore food scene, and all-around funky downtown. It has been recently named one of the top 20 small towns to visit by Smithsonian Magazine.

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Feb 20

On the radio this morning (16.02.16) I heard an announcement of a new category under the Britain-in-Bloom award for parks and gardens which have been affected by flooding this winter and have overcome adversity.  The idea is that the award ‘will celebrate the resilience of those who work to bring flood-hit community spaces back to life, as well as recognising the impact and challenges that communities potentially face’ (RHS, 05.02.2016).  Public parks and gardens are of course public assets and are managed for the common good of communities, often by the communities themselves but also by a legion of parks and gardens’ managers.  At Shipley we have been in discussion with the Parks Managers based at Robert’s Park about the Higher Coach Road River link which, along with Robert’s Park and various other spaces along the River Aire, was flooded in December (see http://multi-story-shipley.co.uk/).   


Ornamental water bodies are an essential component of many parks & gardens as this lily pond (left) Avigonon, France.  Many other parks are situated beside the water in river corridors, as in New York (right). 

This new category of award is an interesting one, because it uses the term ‘resilience’ in relation to those who work in the spaces, rather than the spaces themselves.  Many of the public parks and gardens situated along rivers are situated within the natural flood plain of the river.  So it is not really surprising that from time to time the areas are flooded.  The question is, how do we deal with this in the long term?  Particularly if the likelihood for many rivers is that we will see more flood events occurring.  Traditional flood meadows benefit hugely from annual flooding, gaining nutrients from the silt that is deposited.  Rivers also benefit from the scouring effect of big floods; silt and debris is carried away leaving the channels clearer which may also be beneficial for rowing clubs etc.  

Unfortunately much of what is deposited on the banks and floodplains these days is definitely undesirable.  On recent visits to rivers in Yorkshire and Northumberland the evidence of the flood height was very clear to me, not just because of the plant debris, but much nastier and more obvious, the plastic debris.  There are other things deposited which are even less desirable.  Some of the debris looks like artistic compositions of ‘found’ objects.  The sticks and compostable materials, like the silt, will break down and help to provide nutrients for the bankside vegetation, it may also provide nesting material for waterside birds and small mammals.  However when material like this is dumped by the floods in riverside parks, those working in parks and gardens face a considerable clean-up job (see for example Henry 2016), as well as a reconstruction job for damaged paths, fences, walls and fallen trees and eroded and unstable banks. 


After the flood: Debris at Upper Coach Road, Shipley (left) and Baildon Bridge (centre); Scoured Aire (right)

I wonder then, what a ‘resilient river park landscape’ could or should be and shouldn’t the Britain-in-Bloom assessment be considering the physical park as well as the resilience of the park-keepers?  Some riverside parks are very large and could perhaps be considered more clearly as holding areas for water in times of serious flood.  Some are already managed with this in mind.  But the pollution is a problem.  

The long term consideration is about adaptation to impacts, but it is not only the impact of flooding on parks and gardens which is of concern, but that the management and change in parks and gardens can exacerbate flooding.  It is well known that the increase in impermeable surfaces, particularly in urban areas through building development, is a problem because water runoff speeds increase and instead of seeping into the soil, water is gathered together and delivered into water courses.  While the use of SUDS (Sustainable Urban Drainage Systems) can help to alleviate this problem and more local authorities are demanding that this be taken into account in planning decisions, there is a creeping problem with the change of small areas in cities that are often 'unseen'.  In a study in Southampton in 2014, Jennifer Warhurst and the aptly named Katherine Parks and colleagues carried out a study of front gardens in urban areas.  Their findings indicated that these spaces have seen a change in land cover in terms of a shift from permeable (grass and other vegetation) to impermeable surfaces (tarmac and paving) for car parking  This amounts to an average of 22.47% of land area over a twenty year period.  In addition the required attenuation storage volumes have increased by 26.23% and the study suggests that there has been an increase in flood risk in known flooding hotspots and that the ‘consequence of the conversion of gardens to parking areas will be a potential increase in flooding frequency and severity — a situation which is likely to occur in urban locations worldwide’.


City impermeable surfaces: New York (left), Newcastle upon Tyne (right)

It would be good to hear of examples where, for example, Heritage Lottery and other funding has insisted on a SUDS-type approach as well as a resilient landscape approach to the renovation and restoration of riverside parks and garden landscapes.


Water-holding and water permeable landscapes: Borth Bog (left) and Allotments in Kirkbymoorside, Yorkshire (right)

With regard to the plastic debris evident on riversides, this is only a small part of a serious problem highlighted in the news this week (Michael Sleazak in The Guardian,18.02.16).  In a submission to a Senate Enquiry held in Australia the Boomerang Alliance cited a study from 2014 which estimated that seafood consumers in Europe eat up to 11,000 pieces of microplastic each year as a result of eating fish which have plastic particles in their guts.  Anyone (human and non-human species alike) who eats fish needs to consider the likely impact the accumulated effect microscopic particles of plastic might have on their health and welfare, as well as the unsightly nature of ‘plastic trees’ and impacts on other vegetation evident in river systems throughout the world such as the Aire.  On a more positive note, the plastic invasion has one potentially beneficial impact: at Shipley and other places along the River Aire it has encouraged communities to get out and clean up; to come together to address both an aesthetic blight and a health hazard and by doing so perhaps make connections and have conversations about water, rivers, landscapes and rubbish.


January 2016 After the flood in Shipley: Not all species are unhappy about a flood


Environment Agency (2013) Rivers by Design: Rethinking development and river restoration, A guide for planners, developers, architects and landscape architects on maximising the benefits of river restoration. Available at: http://www.ecrr.org/Portals/27/Publications/131223%20Rivers%20by%20Design.pdf [accessed 16.02.16]

European Centre for River Restoration (ECRR) Available at: http://www.ecrr.org/Publications/tabid/2624/mod/11083/articleType/ArticleView/articleId/3468/Rivers-by-Design.aspx [accessed 16.02.16]

Henry, E. (07.01.2016) ‘Post-flood cleanup to start at Plas Cadnant Hidden Gardens’, Horticulture Week.  Available at: http://www.hortweek.com/post-flood-cleanup-start-plas-cadnant-hidden-gardens/parks-and-gardens/article/1378605  [accessed 16.02.16]

London Climate Change Partnership (2009) Summary Report: Adapting to climate change: Creating natural resilience http://www.lbp.org.uk/downloads/Publications/Climate%20Change/Adapting%20to%20Climate%20Change%20-%20Creating%20Natural%20Resilience [accessed 16.02.16]

Mayes Brook Restoration Project (2008-12): http://www.ecrr.org/Portals/27/Mayes%20Brook%20case%20study.pdf [accessed 16.02.16]

River Wandle Restoration Project: https://www.hlf.org.uk/about-us/media-centre/press-releases/new-life-wandle [accessed 16.02.16]

RHS (Royal Horticultural Society) (05.02.2016) Awarding flood-hit communities: RHS Britain in Bloom judges will recognise communities that have overcome flooding.  Available at: https://www.rhs.org.uk/communities/community-blogs/community-gardeners/February-2016/new-britain-in-bloom-award [accessed 16.02.16]

Sleazak, M. (2016) Billions of bits of plastic waste threaten humans and wildlife, Australian senators told, The Guardian Thursday 18 Feb 2016, Available at: http://www.theguardian.com/environment/2016/feb/18/billions-of-bits-of-plastic-waste-threaten-humans-and-wildlife-senators-told [accessed 20.02.16]

Warhurst, J.R., Parks, K.E., McCulloch, L., and Hudson, M.D. (2014) ‘Front gardens to car parks: Changes in garden permeability and effects on flood regulation’, Science of the Total Environment 485–486 (2014) 329–339. Available at:  http://eprints.soton.ac.uk/364471/1/Warhurst%20et%20al%202014.pdf  [accessed 16.02.16]


Mar 18

Osaka is an extraordinary and massive city.  My first thought on wandering the streets was that I had landed into a Blade Runner set with stilted motorways and railways, constant noise, traffic, signs flashing and loudspeaker instructions telling you what and what not to do.  The city stretches on and on.  There are frequent descriptions of part of the city of Osaka as the ‘Aqua Metropolis’ and in investigating this I was a little taken aback to come across a description of Osaka as the Venice or Amsterdam of the Far East by the American writer and journalist, Boyé Lafayette De Mente (2011) who has spent a considerable amount of time both in Japan and on water. 

Osaka is situated at the mouth of the Yodo River on Osaka Bay.  It is the second largest city of Japan.  De Mente describes how the city of Osaka developed as a ‘water city’ during the 7th and 8th centuries as a result of massive engineering works that controlled and directed several large rivers.  This included the digging of canals and construction of many bridges.  It is famous for its bridges and had approximately 200 by the Edo period (1603-1868), and 1625 bridges by 1925.  The canals supplied material that was used to fill the delta area of the river for reclamation and to build the docks.  Many of the canals do not now exist but aerial views clearly show the extensive docklands and ships.  Mosk (2011) compares the city with Manchester because of its history of steam-powered cotton and spinning factories, dependence on waterways for shipping raw materials and finished products.  This feels a little more accurate, although neither comparison really captures the extraordinary scale or character of this city.  Although you do come across a lot of waterways, it is not these that are the defining character of the city today.  In parts of the city where there are waterfront parks and cafes, the riverine character does emerge more strongly.   There are also boats on the rivers run by the city and by private companies.  

On one of these boats there is traditional storytelling by rakugo (literally 'fallen words') artists who perform a kind of comic monologue or solo sitcom.  It is said to have developed by Buddhist monks in the 9th and 10th centuries to liven up their sermons.  The written tradition has been traced back to the early 1200s.   Various styles of performance have developed.  Miller (1996) provides fascinating insights into the storytelling culture of Japan.  In rakugo shibai-banashi (theatre stories) the storyteller changes from a narrative voice into using kabuki performer's mannerisms and many props are used; ongyoku-banashi are musical stories; kaidan-banashi are where ghost stories are told using props including musical instruments, candles and dummies or people dressed up to look like ghosts; ninjō-banashi are long sentimental stories, sometimes going on for several days, that tell the 'struggles and triumphs of ordinary people' or ninjo ('human feelings')  (Nobuhiro, 2004).


The Rakugoka artists Encho Sanyuutei by Kiyokata KJaburaki 

Georg Handel and King George I on the Thames, 17 July 1717 by Edouard Hammam (1819-88).  Musicians are playing in the background and the painting depicts the first performance of Handel's Water Music.

One similarity between the cultures of Osaka and Venice is perhaps the fondness for festivals or matsuri in Japanese, a word which means both ‘festival’ and ‘workshop’. This idea reminded me of some of the concepts behind the water-related events we have been carrying out on the Hydro project.  The root of the matsuri idea lies in the traditions of the Shinto religion; the festivals follow a general pattern of purification (usually by water or fire), offerings, a procession, invocation of the deities, transportation of the deity and then entertainment such as dancing.  Many of the festivals relate to rice growing, but also to water.  The Tenjin Matsuri in Osaka is a massive festival where there is traditional dancing on river boats, bonfires are lit on river rafts and fireworks set off.   Shrines are carried on boats down the Dojima River accompanied by drummers.  The boat procession goes on for about three hours.  Of course there are many water-based festivals around the world.  Some of the most famous in London on the River Thames were held in the Georgian period resulting in Handel's 'Water Music' (1717).  More recently in 2012 the Diamond Jubliee pageant on the Thames in celebration of 60 years of Queen Elizabeth II on the throne attracted a record number of 1000 boats as part of the flotilla.  

Osaka Tenjin Matsuri

Hundreds of vessels pass Tower Bridge during Her Majesty the Queen's Diamond Jubilee River Pageant in London in June 2012. Photo: PO Phot Terry Seward/MOD

Many links can be found relating to water and the Buddhist traditions in Japan.  An example is the Doya Doya Matsuri in January marks the end of the Buddhist traditional New Year.  During the festival, groups of young men gather near the temple. They then rush into the builsinf wearing only a fudonshi (a traditional type of loincloth). As they run, the priests throw cold water over them.  The aim is to run into the temple and grab paper charms that flutter down from the ceiling. This activity can apparently carry on all day depending on the number of groups who wish to take part. 

Osaka’s Men Brave Cold Water and Run to the Temple at Doya Doya Matsuri Jan 7 2016, 

Water and festivals or some kind of performance with water seems to be important in Japan in all kinds of ways.  Much of it is related to spiritual tradition, but the storytelling aspect and the passing on of ideas, not just through oral tradition, but through performance also seems to be important and understanding how different cultures relate to water in such ways may help us consider ways to engaging communities with water through events in the UK.  



Aqua Metropolis Osaka River Opening Spring Boat Cruising Festival Hachikenya Ohanami (cherry-blossom viewing) March 26-April 10, 2016 https://www.osaka-info.jp/en/events/festivals_events/post_147.html

The Doya Doya Matsuri, Osaka January 7 2016

Ragukgo Storytelling example: https://www.youtube.com/watch?feature=player_embedded&v=vhkYNpwTKIQ


De Mente, Boye Lafayette (2011) Osaka – Japan’s amazing water city, August 7, 2011, Japan Today Travel online www.japantoday.com.

Miller, J. Scott (1996) Early Voice Recordings of Japanese Storytelling, Oral Tradition, 11/2 (1996): 301-319. Available at: http://journal.oraltradition.org/files/articles/11ii/10_miller.pdf

Mosk, C. (2001) Japanese Industrial History: Technology, Urbanization, and Economic Growth (London & New York, Sharpe)

Nobuhiro, Shinji (2004) Rakugo: Japan's Talking Art Ozu Centenial) Japan Echo 31(2).  Available at: http://www.japanecho.com/sum/2004/310217.html

Osaka’s Men Brave Cold Water and Run to the Temple at Doya Doya Matsuri Jan 7 2016, Japan Info 2016. Available at: http://jpninfo.com/38671

Having recently joined the team as the RA for the Bristol part of the project and with the first full team meeting still a few weeks away, I got in touch with the two lead artists for the Bristol case study, Iain Biggs and Antony Lyons and suggested a meet and greet. Antony suggested the Mud Dock, a cafe and bike shop located on the pleasant harbour side of the River Avon and from whose terrace we could look out onto the water. And so, on a sunny afternoon we convened at this lovely spot for a chat. 

Being only half of the team, we were not set about making big decisions and so instead the conversation was free-flowing, following various thoughts and ideas, dwelling in whirlpools, and sometimes dissipating into the air. 

Among the things we discussed were the difficulties surrounding the selection of case studies in a place like Bristol. The hydrocitizenship project aims not only to draw upon existing communities, but also to participate in the building of communities around aspects of water in the city. 


We discussed the potential case study areas, and the extent to which the census and open atlas maps of Bristol gave a sense of different parts of Bristol - and also the extent to which they can sometimes fail in terms of evoking a sense of place and the difficulties of defining places based on statistical information. Iain pointed out the danger of assuming that areas in which there are a lot of immigrants or non-white people are in any sense more a community than other places, or in any sense homogenous. There is perhaps more to be discussed with relation to the various maps and information about the city and how these represent places, and how this might impact on case study selection. Certainly, how we define community and the assumptions that we make about this early on in the project are of paramount importance, as it will affect our interactions profoundly... 

Antony also spoke about and showed some examples from previous artistic projects of his that have involved thinking about some aspect of water, such as tides, and a communal laundry space as a site for community in a piece of work in Portugal... 

Conversation flowed and meandered like a river and we covered many things and thoughts about the project... thoughts to be continued... 

Having recently joined the team as the RA for the Bristol part of the project and with the first full team meeting still a few weeks away, I got in touch with the two lead artists for the Bristol case study, Iain Biggs and Antony Lyons and suggested a meet and greet. Antony suggested the Mud Dock, a cafe and bike shop located on the pleasant harbour side of the River Avon and from whose terrace we could look out onto the water. And so, on a sunny afternoon we convened at this lovely spot for a chat. 

Being only half of the team, we were not set about making big decisions and so instead the conversation was free-flowing, following various thoughts and ideas, dwelling in whirlpools, and sometimes dissipating into the air. 

Among the things we discussed were the difficulties surrounding the selection of case studies in a place like Bristol. The hydrocitizenship project aims not only to draw upon existing communities, but also to participate in the building of communities around aspects of water in the city. 


We discussed the potential case study areas, and the extent to which the census and open atlas maps of Bristol gave a sense of different parts of Bristol - and also the extent to which they can sometimes fail in terms of evoking a sense of place and the difficulties of defining places based on statistical information. Iain pointed out the danger of assuming that areas in which there are a lot of immigrants or non-white people are in any sense more a community than other places, or in any sense homogenous. There is perhaps more to be discussed with relation to the various maps and information about the city and how these represent places, and how this might impact on case study selection. Certainly, how we define community and the assumptions that we make about this early on in the project are of paramount importance, as it will affect our interactions profoundly... 

Antony also spoke about and showed some examples from previous artistic projects of his that have involved thinking about some aspect of water, such as tides, and a communal laundry space as a site for community in a piece of work in Portugal... 

Conversation flowed and meandered like a river and we covered many things and thoughts about the project... thoughts to be continued... 

Jul 29
Although this problem/narrative is now quiet well known - this BBC Radio programme on this issue is worth a listen - in some resepcts startlingly horrible and scary

Feb 16


Water is deep and shallow, life-giving and murderous. Twinned, water arises from chaos, and waters cannot be but dual’ (Illich, 1984:27).

The striking images that play with the credits for the current BBC drama Taboo seems to represent the loss of an illicit slave-ship and the subsequent drowning of slaves. Water is used very much to indicate death and a source of evil in this drama.  Historical records indicate that a number of terrible drownings occurred as a result of slaves being shackled or shut below decks when ships were wrecked.  Wrecks have now been found off Mozambique and perhaps the most infamous story of all is of the Zong massacre of 1781 when 142 slaves were either thrown overboard by the sailors or jumped into the waters in the mid-Atlantic.  Although the perpetrators of the massacre were never brought to justice, the event helped to fuel the abolitionists’ cause for the removal of slavery.

At our last Hydro group visit to the Lea Valley there was much talk within the team of shopping trolley ‘carcases’ in the water.  We have also had a lot of discussion about ‘water as life’ but apart from flooding, not much about the link between water and death.  There is however much literature that links water and death in all sorts of ways. Some myths use water simply as substance (H2O – see Illich) rather than symbol or signifier. Many cultures are permeated with ideas of water and death, often in relation to water as some kind of barrier which has to be crossed in order to enter a perceived paradise from the human world.  

In Greek mythology there were five rivers of the underworld: the River Acheron (woe) divides the living from the dead, Lethe (forgetfulness or oblivion), Styx (hate or unbreakable oath), Phlegethon (sorrow or fire) and Cocytus (lamentation or cries).  Coins were placed in the mouth of the dead to pay the ferryman Charon, in order to cross the River Acheron. In discussing associations between water and myths Illich (1984:30) suggests that crossing waters are ‘everywhere emblematic of the stream of forgetfulness; the water has the power to strip those who cross it of memories that attach them to life’.  In Judeo-Christian culture the ‘Promised Land’, Cannaan was across the River Jordan.  In the Finnish mythological Kalevala epic the hero Lemminkäinen tries to shoot the mystical swan in the watery underworld (Tuonela, or the realm of the dead) but he is killed by a poisoned arrow (see Rabb, undated).  In another of the myths his body is dismembered and thrown into the river (see also Sibelius’s tone poems from the Lemminkäinen Suite, premiered 1896, are distinctly watery in feeling).


Sacrifice relating to water is also common.  Frazer’s (1925) classic work documents how gods or spirits of water can be seen as both benevolent and death-giving. These spirits were often in the shape of some sort of serpent or sea monster but sometimes in other forms such as a ‘ship full of burning lamps’ (p145). Often a human sacrifice is given to appease the monster in the form of a young woman.  Frazer suggests that these customs, which are found all around the world, probably reflect real customs.  In Uppsala, Sweden, there was a sacrificial well where drownings were common. Brink (2013) writes about myth in the Scandinavian landscape: ‘water was the main interface for communication with the metaphysical world, something that has existed since time immemorial’ (p.27). He goes on to write: ‘Water from lakes, rivers, wells, and bogs — that is, liminal places — was looked upon as a medium that brought human beings closer to gods. If one wished to communicate with the gods, it would be wise to present values and goods — in other words, offerings — to these waters. This act would be by far the quickest way to get into contact with ‘the other side’ (p.27).  Human sacrifices were made into bogs, lakes and wells from the Stone Age right into the Christian period in Scandinavia; Brink describes a number of famous archaeological finds that indicate such practices.  Many of these places in the landscape were named in a similar way to those in ancient Greek landscapes to show that they were places inhabited by gods.  

Many of the myths and legends around the world relate to the dangers of water.  In Greek myths, which are regarded by Thoreau as representing ‘universal truths’ (Sattelmeyer, 1984: 184), there are many crossovers between the benign and malign nature of water. Tantalus was immersed in water up to his neck – but was not allowed to drink it as a punishment for murdering his son.   Perhaps the most famous myth, much represented in art and poetry, is the drowning of Icarus in the sea when he was trying to escape from the island of Crete (water here acts as the walls of a prison). Icarus did not heed the warnings of his father, Daedalus, and flew too close to the sun; his wax-based wings melted and he fell into the sea. Ovid’s Metamorphosis (VIII) provides a heart-rending account of this story that has stuck with me from O-level Latin days:

‘......oraque caerulea patrium clamantia nomen

Excipiuntur aqua; quae nomen traxit ab illo.

At pater infelxi, nec iam pater ‘Icare’ dixit

‘Icare’ dixit ‘ubi es? Qua te regione requiram?’


'His lips were covered by the blue waters as he called out his father’s name; this sea took its name from him. His unhappy father, now no longer a father, called ‘Icarus, Icarus’, he called, ‘where are you? In what region am I to look for you?’  (MHR translation).


That sea is now called the Icarian Sea after the tragedy.  The Icarus complex was coined by Henry Murray to describe some mental disorders ‘comprised of a number of interrelated personality traits including the following:  ascensionism, a love of flying, floating, heights, birds and mountains; narcissism, a great craving for attention and admiration; a fascination with fire and solar imagery; a predilection for water, including the coast, swimming, boating, etc.; and original imaginings that seem far-fetched’ (Sperber, p.166).


There are reports of sacrifices or drownings linked to the River Walbrook, now a ‘hidden’ river beneath the streets of London (Marsh & West, 1981).  A large number of skulls were found in the old river bed in the 1860s and there is much speculation as to their origin which are probably from the later Iron Age/early Roman period,  although they are part of a pattern of ritual deposition and death linked to ‘watery places’ including wells, ditches, rivers (Schulting & Bradley, 2014:30).  These rituals are likely to be linked to Celtic fertility practices.  Wells in particular seem to have been the focus of ritual killings and there is much evidence of a wide variety of objects put into wells and waterholes purposefully – although the actual purpose remains unclear.  It would also seem likely that wells that weren’t needed to supply clean drinking water would be a convenient place to dump unwanted rubbish as well as to provide a place for ‘intentional deposition’ of bodies (Chadwick, 2015: 41)

Kiblinger (2015) describes the Buddhist tradition as having no clear distinctions between life and death – the borders are ‘fluid’ and water is literally and ritually significant.  She gives the example of the ‘mizuko’ or ‘child of the waters’, which are miscarried, stilborn or aborted.  She suggests that ‘this term is traced to Japanese cosmogonic myths according to which ancestor gods, when unable to keep children, return them to the sea. The language of water-child and “return” to waters was drawn on when infants died or fetuses were aborted, affecting how the fate of the being was imagined’ (p.1)In Japanese Buddhist traditions the dead have to cross the River Sanzu.  The good people cross by a bridge and the ‘bad’ through immersion in the water.  



Water as a death-bringer is found in many stories.  In the form of a death-bringing mirror: the belief is that a person’s reflection is his or her soul and this could be taken by malignant spirits.  Once relieved of the soul, the body would perish (Frazer, 1925: 92).  Water brings death in the form of sea monsters: as serpents, such as the Midgard Serpent in Norse mythology; as the Kraken (often a giant sort of squid), also Norse; or as a whale as in Herman Melville’s Moby Dick (1851).  In Perry’s (2016) ‘Essex Serpent’ the smell from a rotting carcass of a whale which 'lay in putrefaction' (p325) at the water's edge is mistaken as the stench of the Essex Serpent of the title. 

There’s something about the rotting of corpses, on land, but particularly in water that is particularly repellent to us.  Human and other fleshy bodies do not last long in water.  If the water is cold then the creation of gases by bacteria within the human body slows down and a body may sink.  As water is absorbed by the skin it comes away from underlying tissues; this takes about a week (Science Focus, 2011).  Any decomposing body provides manna for other organisms and adds to the general watery ‘soup’.  Cold sea water apparently encourages the formation of ‘adipocere’ or ‘corpse, grave or mortuary wax’, through ‘saponification’.  This is a soapy wax-like organic substance created by the anaerobic bacterial hydrolysis of fat in tissue, such as body fat in corpses.  This slows down decomposition and can mean that semi-intact bodies in cold water may be recognisable after several weeks of immersion (Science Focus, 2011).  Warm waters create a completely different effect and encourage the creation of gases which means that bodies tend to float.  The disintegration of the body is facilitated by the action of wind and waves and scavenging birds.  Bones will sink to the sea bed and disappear in the sand and silt. Representations of the decomposition process have been well used by horror film-makers.  In the ‘Pirates of the Caribbean’ the tradition of ‘Davy Jones’s locker’ is also used.  This refers to the bottom of the sea as a resting place for drowned sailors. The origin of the term is somewhat obscure, but seems to be from some time in the eighteenth century.


Although we can smell contaminated water and rotting bodies when we are out of the water, when underwater we are unable to smell, because of the problem of sniffing up water. However smell travels through water via diffusion as in air, but generally more slowly than in air, depending on water movement such as tides.  Sharks and other predators that live in water are known to be able to discern scents for long distances and recent research indicates that both the star-nosed mole and the water shrew are unusual in land-based mammals in having developed techniques to allow them to ‘sniff’ under water by quickly (about 10 times per second) re-inhaling the air bubbles that leave their nostrils (Khamsi, 2006). 

The whole thought of dead bodies in water is deeply discomforting for most people and is used to great effect by writers such as Dickens (1997 [orig1865]) in his novel ‘Our Mutual Friend’ which starts by describing the how Gaffer Hexham and his daughter Lizzie are scavenging the River Thames for bodies in Victorian London in the hope of gaining recompense from relatives of those lost, and also anything of value left on the corpses.  The state of the river, the two people and their occupation are reflected in the description of dark, ‘filthy’ water full of decomposing matter.  Poole (1997:x) suggests that Dickens was partly inspired by Darwin’s (then) recent suggestions of ‘the slime and ooze and swamp from which human life might have evolved’. 


It is perhaps not surprising that we shy away from the associations between death and water.  The physicality or materiality of water is frightening, often unpredictable.  The boundaries between water-as-life and water-as-death in our culture are perhaps more obvious – or less fluid - than in some other cultures, although the associations seem violent in many traditions, including our own.  The intangible associations between water and death are rich and varied, with stories shared within cultures and certainly both the material and intangible aspects of death and water have provided a rich resource in the arts and artistic expression, particularly literature; these are certainly, a rich source for further research.

Full fathom five thy father lies;

Of his bones are coral made;

Those are pearls that were his eyes;

Nothing of him that doth fade,

But doth suffer a sea-change

Into something rich and strange.

Sea-nymphs hourly ring his knell:


Hark! now I hear them — Ding-dong, bell.


Shakespeare, Ariel’s song, The Tempest, Act 1 Scene II



Brink, S. (2013) ‘Myth and Ritual in Pre-Christian Scandinavian Landscape’, in Nordeide S.W., and Brink, S., (eds) Sacred Sites and Holy Places: Exploring the Sacralization of Landscape Through Time and Space (Studies in Early Middle Ages 11) (Brepols) pp. 33-51.Available: https://www.abdn.ac.uk/staffpages/uploads/his237/02_Brink.pdf

Catania, K.C., Olfaction: Underwater 'sniffing' by semi-aquatic mammals, Nature, 444: 1024-1025, 2006. 

Chadwick, A.M. (2015) ‘Doorways, ditches and dead dogs: excavating and recording material manifestations of practical magic amongst later prehistoric and Romano-British communities’. In Armitage, N. (ed) The Materiality of Magic: An artifactual investigation into ritual practices and popular beliefs. pp. 37-64.

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Frazer, Sir James George (1925) The Golden Bough: A Study in Magic and Religion (London, Macmillan).

Huscher, P. (undated) ‘Jean Sibelius (1865-1957) Lemminkäinen in Tuonela and The Swan of Tuonela from Four Legends from the Kalevala’, Chicago Symphony Orchestra PROGRAM NOTES. Available: http://cso.org/uploadedfiles/1_tickets_and_events/program_notes/programnotes_sibelius_lemminkainen.pdf

Illich, I. (1986) H20 and the Waters of Forgetfulness (London, Boyars)

Khamsi, R., (2006) ‘Star-nosed mole can sniff underwater, videos reveal’, New Scientist 20.12.16. Available www.newscientist.com

Kiblinger, K.B. (2015) “Water as a Symbolic Resource: Japanese Buddhist Ethical Reasoning on Abortion” Abstract for presentation at: Water in the World: Interdisciplinary approaches to access and sustainability, Conference, Winthrop University (November 7, 2015) http://digitalcommons.winthrop.edu/cgi/viewcontent.cgi?article=1017&context=water_conference

Marsh, G. and West, B. (1981) Sculduggery in Roman London? Transactions London & Middlesex Archaeological Society, 32:86 – 102. file:///C:/Users/Maggie%20Work/Documents/Hydro%202016/32_Skull_LMS_81.pdf

Rabb, K.M. (undated) ‘The Story of the Kalevala’, National Epics, Authorama Public Domain Books Available http://www.authorama.com/national-epics-13.html

Schulting, R.J. and Bradley, R. (2014) ‘Of Human Remains and Weapons in the Neighbourhood of London’: New AMS 14C Dates on Thames ‘River Skulls’ and their European Context’, Archaeological Journal 170(1): 30-77. http://dx.doi.org/10.1080/00665983.2013.11021001

Science Focus (2011) How long does it take for a body to decompose at sea? Available http://www.sciencefocus.com/qa/how-long-does-it-take-body-decompose-sea

Sperber, M. (2010) Dostoyevsky's Stalker and Other Essays on Psychopathology and the Arts (Plymouth, University Press of America)

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