Over the last year or so I’ve wondered about my relationship to water – from puddle and trickle to oceanic depths – and to the shifting and often rhythmic places at which seemingly solid form and fluid ocean meet. This is a piece I’ve been thinking about for a while – since the Summer of 2013.
My earliest memory as a very small child is of being totally absorbed in the preoccupation of piling runny and clodgey mud as high as I could on top of my wellies. We often used to go on family walks up on the Quantocks from where you can look out over the River Severn towards Wales. I could usually be found in a deep puddle, oblivious to all. Thinking about it today, I can still feel the preoccupation with the rich, velvety mud piled high and higher until it inevitably folds and tumbles down my boots once more. The most powerful memories are for me the deeply embodied materially affective ones.
Although my work isn’t about memory or narrative, memory and narrative are completely bound up in the operation of images and everything I do. Images operate in their affects in the dissonance between the visual and the textual; the visual and the textual constantly collide. Through these gaps and collisions images are never complete, setting in train all manner of interaction with the memory-scape. In the cultural landscape they co-construct and play out the tourist imaginary; across the mediascape they play on and rework memory into new sites of power relations; and in the studio the embers of memory (to quote Owain Jones) shimmer across surfaces and through materials: drawn line and puddled paint. Memories formed through long time habit and repetition, but also formed through shared memory-affect reaching back into childhood.
Aged about 13, growing up on a diet of Swallows and Amazons, I built a raft. It was quite a substantial thing, its frame fashioned out of scrap wood and baler twine in a catamaran type construction around six empty plastic farm barrels, with two short planks straddling the middle to act as seats. I set out across the fields with my raft and youngest brother and sister (they must have been four and five) and floated her on the River Yeo. The Yeo is a gently flowing expansive waterway that meanders its way in Summer through the water meadows that form the Levels of South Somerset. In winter it takes all hostage, submerging everything beneath it’s flood. We paddled downstream about two miles until just before the weir at Yeovilton, when not liking the idea of the paddle back against the flow I stopped off at the phone box, calling for a lift home. My Father was not amused. And that was the end of my rafting days.
I wrote a while ago now ‘for me thinking with the sea is as potentially synonymous with encounters across multi trajectories of time and space, as it with with blockade and control of borders and natural resources’. Reading this I realise that I was struggling to articulate something. I continued: ‘Gazing out to sea from the cliffs at Portnanven across the summer of 2013, when I was involved in an activist project to try and send a #hospitalship2gaza, I was acutely aware that there is a stretch of water that runs from here to there. But for me this stretch of water is a reminder of teenage days sailing far out to sea, the Atlantic is an open expanse that lifts me. For people in Gaza the sea – now full of sewage feels hostile, previously a playground now a reminder, an image of conflict, of the blockade, the battleground. My children grew up with the beach and sea as their playground. Conflict made even the beach a place of fear for children in Gaza. Territorial controls and power, poverty and conflict are making the sea – the warm sea of Mediterranean consumer holidays – a wet grave for children whose lives have barely begun’. Revisiting this text now, I realise that it is memory that is the affect force here, memory allows me to reopen the images I hold of my childhood playing with water, building the raft to go down stream, and of my children childhoods almost living on the beach. In the gap or dissonance between then and now, there and here, of image and story, an empathetic connection and disconnection opens up.