7 Aug 2013

Submerged (Drowned Lands) - Sources

Moving from the 'Dylan pilgrimage' location at the Aust Ferry jetty to some poetic words of his:

"Come gather ’round people

Wherever you roam
And admit that the waters
Around you have grown
And accept it that soon
You’ll be drenched to the bone
If your time to you is worth savin’
Then you better start swimmin’ or you’ll sink like a stone
For the times they are a-changin’  

After a long gestation, the Submerged (Drowned Lands) project is now emerging, and the creative research net is cast wide for my explorations and delvings into drowned/dammed/damned lands and rising waters. Submerged is about water; human relationships to water; and the ever-changing relationships between water and land. In one way, it is about loss - the pain, wonder and imaginative resonances of loss. Both personal, intimate loss, and a kind of deep shared connection to the situations of rising waters that take away what we hold dear (and sometimes give back in a transformed and disturbing way). It is about timeless, cyclical processes, but also contemporary human interferences, or artificial disturbances, to those processes - in particular the building of reservoir/dams and the reality of anthropogenic accelerated sea level rise. Submerged is about the past, present and - especially - the future. At my chosen places of interest/study, the timeframes may differ, but the essences are similar. These landscapes are submerged beneath the rising waters, prompting the need for social and cultural responses. We have to adapt, accommodate, mentally integrate the new reality, or the threat of such. This is practical, rational, but there are also the metaphorical, emotional, imaginative 'ecologies' of connection. Summed up as the geopoetic, these can be located in the stories, myths, songs, books and films that emerge from such situations.

Maybe it's the zeitgeist, but I'm interested to see that the ultra moody, mycelial new French TV drama 'The Returned' (Les Revenants) which seems to revolve around an Alpine dam/reservoir, and contains strong hints that the falling water level of the reservoir will reveal not just the drowned village buildings (the church etc), but something more sinister. The waters rise; the waters fall. Echoes here too of biblical floods, death, water symbolism/ transformation and the Solaris story (which is something I've recently touched on). It is clear to me that the writers have sifted through a huge amount of water-related allegorical sources.

The scenography includes a drowned town, and a new - replacement - town. This is also the situation at the Alqueva dam in Portugal (and its drowned town of Luz), which is one of my exploration locations for the Submerged project, and which I hope to revisit in 2014, after a ten year absence.

One of the film locations for Les Revenants is the reservoir at Tignes - a French village flooded in 1952. Some of the human trauma of this is documented in these newsreels:


A recent fascinating example of the waters giving up what they previously claimed occurs at the town of Epecuen in Argentina, which spent 25 years underwater, and is now 'returning'.

associated press

and this recent example from Venezuela:

My inspirations for the project date back over 25 years, probably originating after watching a masterpiece of Russian film, Farewell (Elem Klimov), set in a soon-to-be-drowned village  community in Siberia. I'm listing here a selection of some other such contextual references/resources for this watery project.

Firstly some of the books:
The Epic of Gilgamesh
The Drowned World ( J G Ballard, 1962)
Cadillac Desert (Marc Reisner, 1986)
Endgame (Derrick Jensen, 2006)
The Earth After Us (Jan Zalasiewicz, 2006)
The Drowned Cities (Paolo Bacigalupi, 2012)

and films:
Proshchanie aka Farewell to Matyora (Elem Klimov, 1981)
Bombay Beach (USA, Alma Har'el, 2011)
Jindabyne (Australia, Ray Lawrence, 2006)
Kilowatt Dynasty (Video projection, Saskia Olde Wolbers, 2000)
Marmorera (Switzerland, Markus Fischer, 2007), concerning a village flooded by a dam break in the 50s 
Beasts of the Southern Wild (USA, 2012)
Still Life (2006) dir. Jia Zhangke (Three Gorges Dam)

Drowned Out (India, 2010)
Pare, Escute, Olhe (Jorge Pelicano & Rosa Silva, Portugal, 2010)
Blue-Grey (Al Roumi, Syria, 2005) 
Before the Flood (LI Yifan and YAN Yu, China, 2005)
Up the Yangtze (Yung Chang, 2007) 
My Village Doesn’t Live Here Anymore/ A minha aldeia já não mora aqui  (Mourão, Portugal, 2006)
The Time Flyers, BBC - Villages of the Damned 9.12.03 & 25.05.04 
(A focus on the Derwent Dams in the Peak District, England. Beneath the surface of one of Britain's largest reservoirs lie two villages, and beside the dam the earthwork remains of a town that existed for only 14 years)
Sumidouro (Cris Azzi, Brazil, 2008) about residents of Jequitinhonha Valley who lost their homes because of the Irapé dam project.
Casting A Glance (James Benning, 2007) On Robert Smithson's 'Spiral Jetty'

and some song/poetry:
Woody Guthrie, Colombia River Songs  (1941)
Johnny Cash, As Long as the Grass Shall Grow (1964), concerning the loss of Seneca nation land in Pennsylvania due to the construction of the Kinzua Dam in the early 1960s.


A few weeks ago, I visited to the island of Schiermonnikoog (as part of the Between the Tides international exchange). I was fascinated to learn that the towns on these Friesan Islands slowly 'shift' from the east to the west, as the material of the islands is moved eastwards by the tidal currents and prevailing winds. In time, the towns are submerged, left behind in the wake of the drifting islands. 
"In 1717 and 1720, storms flooded Westerburen, which had to be abandoned around 1725, prey to drifting sand and the advancing sea. In 1756 a new town, named Oosterburen, was built to the east." wikipedia

A beautiful set of photos can be found at:

Spending time in the northern Netherlands, I feel a strong connection to that area further offshore known as Doggerland  - one of my settings for the Submerged project. My visit was part-hosted by the New Atlantis project - there being many overlaps between our projects and ambitions. New Atlantis was formed by a group of artists, musicians and performers who live in Pingjum (Friesland, Netherlands) in order to evolve a plan for the future of the village. Their aim is for crossovers between scientists and artists to lead to new insights on the future of this rural area.

Now, on my return, I am continuing my explorations of the Severn Estuary coast, which includes my new-found special interest in 'stilt dwellings' (or Stilt Life)
A trip south on the estuary coast to Brean offered a chance to see the lighthouse on stilts

Following earlier ruminations, another interesting Magna Carta connection comes to light - this time very pertinent to the Submerged project, and its concern with dammed rivers. In particular it is about freedom of movement on watercourses:
"Dr Caffyn believes the right was confirmed in law with the Magna Carta in 1215 and reinforced in the 1472 Act for Wears and Fishgarths."