Two bottles. Two messages. Two fresh water sources. Two oceans. Two tide tables. Two cameras. One film.
Two dancers’ bodies separated by skin, screen and sea look out towards the horizon and acknowledge the third that lies between us: the ocean, a body of salt water at the same concentration as their own. They are asking, how do we communicate ecological awareness across distance? How do we reconcile the global and local? And what are the activist possibilities offered by the transformative, immersive alchemy of water + film?
Dropped in the Ocean is a 10-minute split-screen film, the culmination of a two-month exchange of water, writing and movement between us: two eco-feminist artist-activists, living (we were slowly discovering) eerily parallel off-grid lives on either side of the northern hemisphere (Wales/Canada). We were curious about water as a substance, metaphor and medium: a medium of vital ecological process; a medium of communicating ecological consciousness; a medium of connection and collaboration across continents and between selves and site.
This exchange was constructed around the visual, mythical – even whimsical – metaphor of the ‘message in a bottle’: in those old analogue stories, the method of communication employed as a desperate measure, scribed with unwavering hope that someone, near or far, might find it washed ashore and know how to respond. But how much of those messages, that hope was in the dry text itself? How much of the writer’s intention had diffused, osmosed into the surrounding sea water? In the same way, could a message-in-a-bottle be simply water itself – the medium as the message – not to be read but to be drunk, to be taken gratefully into the body to elicit an embodied response…
The fluid gestures of this simple score were as follows:
1) collect a bottle of one’s local drinking water [spring and tap]
2) write a message to accompany it
3) send by sea-mail to the other [Canada – Wales]
4) wait (excitedly) for water/message to arrive
5) go to site with water/message that arrived from afar. …what would the message taste like?….how would I respond on site?…..how would the other respond to the message(s) [water and written] they received….
6) video and record the reading of the ‘other’s’ message
7) pastiche together [one do video compilation, the other audio: then overlay them….see what happens]
8) watch (get chills by the power of our overlaps)
9) drink water
10) return to site on World Water Day:
-collect sea water sample at high and low tide in the original vessel
-write poetic message in response to whole process
13) read… (get chills)
As two improvisors, it should hardly be surprising that we had planned little.
This we knew: we would film in portrait; we would begin both staring out to sea; we would drink the water and reveal the message the other had sent. That was it. That was all.
How the moments between these elements would be filled, neither of us knew. Until we arrived on site, drank water, read message, all was unknown. We were not even in a position to anticipate what the other might do, as we had never worked together before.
This we discovered: when our footage was cobbled together – the audio and video material having been edited separately and then combined – there were startling synchronicities. The frequency with which our unrehearsed, un-choreographed gestures aligned – not only with each other but also to what was being spoken – was powerful, chilling, thrilling by turns.
Was this water’s own activist gesture, emerging through the medium of human?
Activism as fluid
As two ecological performance artists, perhaps it was inevitable… but what began as something we believed to be our own (inter)personal exploration of this medium – and its physical/biological/cultural/geographical presence and resonance in our own and each others’ lives – became, through this torrent of transnational coincidences, an overtly activist film.
Through expressing to each other – in what began as a private exchange – our very personal concerns, hopes and fears for water, and then mediating the medium by subsequently filming our fluid responses, something somehow became magnified and politicised.
Perhaps it was the sunlight focused into fire through the lens of the bottle’s glass. Perhaps we fell victim to our own alchemical experiment. Or perhaps the water weathered our perceptions, re-shaping our ideas of what activism looks like, feels like, moves like.
became a metaphor and illustration of how, together, we were pulling the pendulum away from the performative/associative gestures of tension and conflict as the markers of activism, towards the gentle: our activism became an investigation of similarities, commonalities, need and desire.
Water (h)as gesture
In this way, Dropped in the Ocean is an aquatic, activist gesture of simplicity.
The biological need for water is, after all, the most ultimately humbling: a cross-species leveling device that conspires to connect, whether we wish or choose to acknowledge that or not. Through the medium of water, our gestures were aligned and through the medium of the body, water has gesture.