Background

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a very small amount compared with what is needed or expected :

Drop in the Ocean is a walking performance in concentric circles of progressively increasing diameter around a central point of water – a well, reservoir, spring, church font in a town or village – carrying water as an invitation or provocation to encourage encounters with others.

The shape of the walks (roughly circular: the route is inevitably determined by rights of way and the restrictions of water/river crossings; but returning to base each night) are crudely emblematic of the repercussive ripples on the wider planet that emanate from the thrown stone of our everyday actions in our local environment. The title of the work is both an acknowledgement of how much more we need to do, at the same time as it is a challenge to the perception that acting locally within community is futile: it may be our best and only hope; to acknowledge and activate our own agency, creativity, celebrate our humanity and inspire our adaptive responses to environmental change.

Drop in the Ocean was conceived – as detailed in the story below – with my friend and collaborator Sara Penrhyn Jones and her son Celyn on Aberystwyth beach April 2011. Coincidentally, this is where I then met and began my collaboration with Mads Floor Andersen in April 2013. And it is also where, in January 2014, storm surges devastated the sea front, delivering tons of the shingle and sand onto the road, battering university halls of residence and flooding properties.

The force that

“Mwy dŵr! Mwy dŵr!” [More water! MORE WATER!] Celyn (age 4) is saying with characteristic emphaticalness. It is April 2011, and my friend Sara and I are on the north beach in Aberystwyth, discussing climate change in unseasonal heat. At the same time, we are participating in her son’s game, obediently ferrying, in response to his repeated refrain, bucket after bucket of water from the sea to the hole he has dug in the shingle. It is a futile task, because the large-grained sand doesn’t hold water; it percolates through and yet again we return to the sea.

Perhaps because our water-carrying is permitting us the luxury of uninterrupted conversation, we are at the time unaware of this perfect metaphor. Because we are actually talking about what has fascinated and preoccupied us both for a long time, as a focus for individual and collaborative practice: w a t e r.

Biologically essential, recreationally sublime, but politically charged: in an age of climate change a scarce resource to some; to others a threat, a flood risk, a surprising devastation from the otherwise seemingly benign. Itself a perfect metaphor for the dichotomies of climate change – geographical [1, 2], meteorological, conceptual – the disconnection in our awareness between the global consequences of local actions, both bad and good.

But it also has a beguiling physical reality; out in nature it has a sensuousness that has always captivated us; a return to simpler pleasures has recently seen this repackaged as the phenomenon of ‘wild swimming’ [3, 4]

It shapes our landscapes, determines our pathways, fills our bodies, fundamentally connects us. As Dylan Thomas has it: “The force that drives the water through the rocks/Drives my red blood; that dries the mouthing streams/Turns mine to wax./
And I am dumb to mouth unto my veins/
How at the mountain spring the same mouth sucks.”[5]

Released from the water-carrying, I sit down and draw rings in the sand…


[1] The countries that consume least will be the most severely affected but in very different ways relating to water – for example catastrophic flooding in Bangladesh, widespread drought in central Africa.

[2] Monbiot, G. (2008) Heat: How to Stop the Planet Burning London: Penguin

[3] Rew, K. (2009) Wild Swim London: Guardian Books

[4] Deakin, R. (2000) Waterlog London: Vintage

[5] Dylan Thomas (1934) ‘The Force that Through the Green Fuse Drives the Flower’