Liquidscapes: tales and tellings of watery worlds and fluid states

June 20-22 2018

Venue: Dartington Hall, Totnes, Devon TQ9 6EA, UK



‘If there is magic on this planet, it is contained in water’ — Loren Eiseley The Immense Journey (1957)

Water. We are 60% water. 71% of the earth’s surface is covered in it. 97% of that water is in our oceans, which daily ebb and flow as we get nearer or further from the moon. It’s the substance of life, of mystery and myth, of joy and despair, of frivolity and fear, of war, of death.

We gather here at the edgeland, in England’s southwest peninsula where water wraps around us and is dominant in our daily lives. Go much further on your journey to the westerly edge of Britain, and you fall into the sea. Our island-ness feels palpable here.

At this creative summit we will explore watery worlds and the state of being liquid; we will speak of water as an element in and of transition. Water on the move with places to go; water as muse; water as a wild, uncontrolled element of the sublime; water as solid or gas; water as a boundary, as edgeland; water as an ecological healer or indicator of environmental distress; water as an agent of immersion, as a former of landscapes, stronger than rock; water as mediator of political power and cultural agency. Drought.

‘Water, that strong white stuff, one of the four elemental mysteries, can here be seen at its origins. Like all profound mysteries, it is so simple that it frightens me. It wells from the rock, and flows away. For unnumbered years it has welled from the rock, and flowed away. It does nothing, absolutely nothing, but be itself’  –– Nan Shepherd The Living Mountain (1977)

Liquids leak, they ooze and transmute, they distil and become essential, they suspend and dissolve. We use liquid metaphors: cash is liquid as are assets and investments and economies; opinions are fluid; as are politicians and politics and religions (sometimes). Liquids are solid too, and sometimes disappear into the air, like magic.

So perhaps the notion of a liquidscape becomes a metaphor for porosity and fluidity: across borders, across languages, across cultures. Water may wash away what we imagined was forever, but for millennia water was also the means of melding cultures through expedition, trade, art and war.

‘A wind spell can be bought from the [sea] witches in Lerwick in Shetland. The spells are bound into knots that can be untied to release the wind. Untying the first knot releases a gentle southwesterly; the second knot brings stronger north winds; and the third knot calls up a tempest. ­–– Tania Kovats Drawing Water (2014)

Perhaps we are more conscious of this element in our environmentally troubled times, becoming fearsome as our climate seems to drift increasingly into moments of violent turmoil. Here in our little island, protected and moderated as it is by the warmth of the Gulf Stream and the cocooning of the sea itself, we are surprised when weather attacks us: and when it bites, it bites in the form of water, flooding our fields, washing away our roads and beaches, sometimes even our cars and houses. But, comparatively, our storms seem dainty, polite, rather under-stated.

Across the globe increasingly violent storms are quite literally washing away the foundations of daily life, changing landscapes, communities and infrastructure, and diminishing governmental authority. Ice melt is causing sea level rise, palpable and threatening to increasing numbers of people. Cities, cultures and landforms are fundamentally and permanently altered.

Climate change in incontestable form.

Above all, whatever our origin or wherever we live, water (and other magical liquids: mercury, steel, blood) is our god and our alchemical muse: it is weaved into poetic language everywhere and in many guises. Our interconnection with it is as profound as it is absolute.

Without it, we die.


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Linked events

From Saturday June 9 to Monday June 18 2018 with we will be running The river: dancing, speaking, singing, laughing (a Global Nomadic Art Project) on behalf of CCANW with fifteen artists from across the world.

From Monday 10 September to Friday 14 September 2018 we will offer a residential short course: The Sea. Course team and venue: TBC