Dramatizing the Anthropocene through Social MediaThe Spatiotemporal Coordinates of Hydrocitizens
Jane Lloyd Francis
Sara Penrhyn Jones
Hywel Griffiths [End Page 100]
The morning after, the beach at Borth is a graveyard, a petrified forest thundered out of the sand by the storm, drowned by the sea six thousand years ago when the Earth was flat, the horizon the edge of the world.1
A transdisciplinary approach affords the orchestration of multipartner responses to key issues related to water and the natural environment. In the project Towards Hydrocitizenship (TH), water provides the haptic, optic, and conceptual stimulus for collaboratively reflecting on what geographer Mark Whitehead refers to as our “environmental impacts and responsibilities” within the broader context of the Anthropocene.2 Water-related issues often have complex social, cultural, and economic components that require active attempts at transdisciplinarity, or the negotiation of the “boundaries between academia and professional practice.”3 Drawing on participatory arts methods, TH emphasizes “dialogue, collaboration and negotiation, rather than specific data collecting methods.”4 In keeping with transdisciplinary research within the humanities, TH does not seek to bridge disciplinary divides; instead, attention is focused on the “full and vibrant” space between “nourishing the middle ground” and placing value on “professional, citizen, and amateur contributions to knowledge.”5 This paper argues that the precondition of transdisciplinary research of this kind is access to formats that enable dialogue and open, inclusive, and collaborative processes. With this in mind, I have created Hydrocitizens, an online community in which members can share process, multimedia documentation, and emerging interests and concerns.6
Motivated by the French philosopher Gilles Deleuze and his 1967 lecture “The Method of Dramatization,” this paper proposes the dramatic form as a means of drawing from the web forum and blog Hydrocitizens to produce a polyvocal account of the Cymerau Launch in June 2015.7 This event took place on the beach in Borth in Mid Wales as a way of publicly announcing Map Dŵr (Water Map), a yearlong program of creative activity in the Cymerau (meaning “Confluence” in English) case study area occurring between September 2015 and August 2016.8 During this time, thirteen individual artists and artist groups have been [End Page 101] commissioned to create “participatory art activities to test new ways of working together to address contemporary water issues,” with the broad aim of undertaking a cultural mapping of the locality and, through this generative process, improving “communication between neighbors, people with conflicting interests, and between policy makers and the communities that they serve.”9
By providing a context for TH and the Hydrocitizens community, as well a method for the creative approach to utilizing it in order to provide an alternative reading of place and event, the first part of this essay reflects approaches within the digital humanities that emphasize the development of methodology and technology.10 The second part makes use of that technology and puts that method into action by weaving together the voices of artists, academics, and community partners with my own, as a way of articulating the launch and revealing some of the emerging water-related concerns in Borth. Furthermore, this essay responds to Whitehead’s assertion that understanding the Anthropocene requires attention to the contemporary places and spaces in which it is located. How, he asks, are its effects “being experienced differently in different locations?”11 The multiple sites under investigation in TH are acknowledgment that water-related issues and concerns are experienced differently in different parts of the UK. And yet there are crossovers and opportunities for shared learning when there is an intimate focus on experiences in specific case study sites. Online space is recognized as an important alternative location in which to explore responses to Whitehead’s question and a virtual environment in which crossovers might be identified. In the third and final part, I offer reflections on the use of Hydrocitizens within this specific research context in the hope of revealing its potential and outlining some of the challenges when using social media within the digital humanities and Anthropocene transdisciplinary research. [End Page 102]
While the writing in the dramatized passages below is directed by a single author, the various authorial traces of others are carefully curated in such a way as to reveal nanounits of authorship, making apparent the ways in which the community has enabled me to produce this writing during active research.12 In the spirit of transdisciplinarity; my own creative discipline, performance studies; and generative approaches to knowledge production within the digital humanities, this paper emphasizes the “prototyping and testing” of method and “a willingness to embrace productive failure” over and above the rigorous gathering and analysis of data.13 When using the words of others, I have been careful not to edit or correct the text, preserving the grammar and including errors, partly as a means to indicate that the comments and observations have been shared in a nonacademic context without concern for the demands of scholarship but also to emphasize the anthropos—the human—in the Anthropocene.
Global Water Crisis, Social Alienation, Accelerated Climate Change, and the Anthropocene
Originally proposed by the atmospheric chemist Paul Crutzen, the term Anthropocene refers to a proposed geological epoch in which “human activities have become so pervasive and profound that they rival the great forces of Nature. . . . The Earth is rapidly moving into a less biologically diverse, less forested, much warmer, and probably wetter and stormier state.”14 Crutzen’s claim of a new epochal era was echoed by Jamie Loirmer, who argued that it “represents a very public challenge to the modern understanding of Nature as a pure, singular and stable domain removed from and defined in relation to urban, industrial society.”15 Increases in global temperatures and associated impacts on rainfall, evaporation, and sea levels pose an increasing threat to water [End Page 103] resources globally, with effects felt most acutely in developing countries.16 As many as a billion people around the world have no reliable water supply, and twice as many have no sanitation.17 Furthermore, it has been recognized that “water can play a determining role in international, national and transboundary conflicts.”18
While drought risk and supply and demand are significant issues in many warmer and drier parts of the world, in the UK, “climate modelers predict an increasingly frequent number of heavy rainfall events, especially in the Winter, leading to more flooding” and an acceleration of “river bed and bank erosion and floodplain sedimentation.”19 TH recognizes that water is an important societal resource and that communities throughout the UK are confronted by a range of challenging issues, such as “concerns over flooding, sea level rise, climate change, drought and supply security, water quality, biodiversity and landscape quality, access for recreation, water and energy (e.g. fracking), effective urban drainage, and waste management.”20
In the Cymerau case study area, the highest-profile concerns include flooding, winter storms, and coastal erosion. Recent notable events, which also affected other parts of the UK, include the June 2012 floods, which occurred during the wettest summer in the UK since 1912, and the severe winter storms of December 2013 and January 2014, which saw powerful waves, storm surges, and high tides disrupt large areas of Welsh coastline.21 These hydrological events significantly impacted rural villages in the Mid Wales area, including the Towards Hydrocitizenship case study sites of Borth and Tal-y-bont.22 I have chosen to explore the Cymerau Launch, as its shoreline location enables a broader discussion of issues associated with sea level rise, which is a significant concern in this and other low lying Welsh villages.
The Challenges of Dispersed Transdisciplinarity
TH is a multisite participatory-arts research project. Creative work is occurring in dispersed outdoor locations and with unconnected community groups and individuals who might otherwise never come into contact. The case study teams are complex and, in some instances, quite large. Academic disciplines represented on the project include the social sciences, film, performance, visual arts, architecture, geography, and history. To add further complexity, these disciplines are represented [End Page 104] by academics and research assistants based at eight different UK universities.23 Each team includes community partners and artists with whom methodologies are being constructed at a local level in response to geography, biodiversity, and other distinctive cultural features.
The complex makeup and geographical disparateness of the wider research team and its various partners poses challenges to effective dialogue, collaboration, and negotiation. Particularly given the limited opportunity for face-to-face encounters between team members, email and Skype are effective tools for maintaining momentum with regard to planning activities and can sometimes be more time efficient than meeting in person. However, the limited amount of time on the ground in our local case study area poses challenges with regards to communication, the sharing of experiences, and the development of ideas. Cymerau has more than ten arts projects occurring in as many locations within the two villages over the course of a year—different groups, different places, different participants, and different concerns. The email list Jiscmail has proven useful as a means of facilitating dialogue between local and national teams. But academic email threads can also be formal and carry with them institutional power dynamics that can prove exclusionary, which run counter to the open interaction that is required of a dispersed anthropocentric transdisciplinary investigation.
The Hydrocitizens Online Community
In response to these challenges—and reflecting research practices within the digital humanities in which scholars create the media objects that form the subject of their writing—I have developed Hydrocitizens, the TH online community.24 This network is part of a broad-ranging digital strategy aimed at facilitating, stimulating, and publicizing undirected conversations between citizens, artists, researchers, and others with shared ecological interests.25 The aim was to make the disparate strands of TH visually apparent and coherent in an online context. It is currently playing a crucial role in linking up the case study sites and enabling public conversations between dispersed team members at local and UK levels. Furthermore, Hydrocitizens links directly into mainstream social media including Twitter, Facebook, and YouTube, through which the community is either populated or more broadly disseminated. Additional conversations around the work take place in these wider contexts. [End Page 105]
I make no claim for Hydrocitizens as a technical or methodological innovation within the context of the digital humanities, where networked communities are “the de facto methodology”; however, the way in which it creates cohesion and extends access to the dispersed processes and practices of participatory arts is interesting.26 In this regard, Hydrocitizens takes as its model that of the National Theatre Wales Community founded in 2009.27 Unlike traditional national theaters, National Theatre Wales does not have a theater building in the nation’s capital. Instead, it makes site-specific work in various parts of the nation as well as touring theater performances. The company uses its community to join up the dots and to provide a conceptual frame for its dispersed activities. Artists are encouraged to blog about rehearsal processes, advertise events, and engage in topics pertinent to the Welsh theater scene and the work of the national theater. In a sense, National Theatre Wales’ community provides a virtual meeting space for the company, artists, spectators, and others interested in its work. By sharing process in an online environment, National Theatre Wales has made it possible for people to engage locally, nationally, and internationally with its work during and after the fact, without having been there in person, thereby extending its reach and strengthening its claims to inclusivity.28 Hydrocitizens borrows this digital approach as a means of providing a virtual space in which to hold open a complex and geographically dispersed transdisciplinary participatory-arts research process and to facilitate connectivity between multiple participants who [End Page 106] might otherwise not have the opportunity to engage with one another or the activities taking place in different parts of the UK.29
Dramatizing the Anthropocene
In an effort to reveal the potential of Hydrocitizens as a resource, this paper employs a dramatic method to explore the ways in which the Anthropocene is being experienced in Borth. In his 1967 lecture “The Method of Dramatization,” Deleuze suggests that asking “what is this?” is a less appropriate way of arriving at conclusions in relation to an idea than questions such as “who? how much? where? when?”30 Drawing from Deleuze, the essence of the Anthropocene is rendered inessential if we don’t attend to its “spatial-temporal dynamisms”—for example, in keeping with Whitehead, the formulation of the times and spaces in which it is located, the designation of subjects, and the expression of related ideas.31 For Deleuze, “spatial-temporal dynamisms have the power to dramatize concepts.”32 With this in mind, this essay draws on Deleuze’s method of dramatization in order to sketch the spatiotemporal coordinates of the Cymerau Launch, providing an account layered with ideas expressed by multiple subjects; and in doing so, it attempts to dramatize the Anthropocene.
I have used the blogs, forum, and groups features of the Hydrocitizens platform, drawing together fragments of writing, embedded videos, audio recordings, digital photographs, and user comments.33 The site’s search function has enabled me to navigate what has become a labyrinthine hydrological resource; and through this feature, I have found relevant utterances associated with Borth and the Cymerau Launch. Poems, rants, exchanges, descriptions, proclamations, reflections, and predictions have been composed and juxtaposed in order to create a dramatic text. In keeping with the nature of web page encounters on the Internet, posts are not given chronological preference. Instead, they are presented creatively in a way that helps to tell a story from two perspectives: first, the perspective of the participant, someone who was there, and, second, that of an active member of an online community, in which fragments documenting the experiences of others have been located after the fact as a way of adding spatial and temporal depth to my own narrative account. [End Page 107]
My own voice can be heard in the stage directions. I write in the first person, from an autobiographical position, as one who was there, as a maker, participant, and observer. I describe, contextualize, and reflect. Through my selection and composition of other texts, I ask questions of the event, such as those posed by autobiographical performance theorist Dee Heddon: “who, where, what, how and why, singularly and in combination.”34 These questions, similar to those posed by Deleuze, provide ways of beginning to think about the “conditions of performing,” specifically within a site-specific context.35 By “site-specific,” I am here referring to understandings of the term provided by art critic Miwon Kwon as a way of describing art practices that seek to produce “a more intense engagement with the outside world and everyday life—a critique of culture that is inclusive of nonart spaces, nonart institutions, and nonart issues.”36 The sites examined in this piece are multiple; and in keeping with the many permutations afforded by Kwon, they include the beach at Borth (geographical), the Hydrocitizens community (virtual and online), and water (literal, conceptual, and thematic).37 By sketching out coordinates in each of these areas, the writing below gives rise to temporal and spatial complexity.
The many voices in the piece offer additional anchor points, deeper insights, personal reflections, and contradictions. Each author is credited in the footnotes, and links to the original writing are provided. The images contained within the text are mostly borrowed from the community. Care has been taken to gain permissions and to attribute authorship. Sometimes the materials have been drawn from elsewhere—for example, SoundCloud, Facebook, or YouTube—revealing the ways in which Hydrocitizens interacts with mainstream social media.
Act I—The Victoria Inn
Rear exterior, Victoria Inn, June 20, 2015. The decked area is populated by small groups of people, some standing, talking, and looking across the pebbled beach at the sea one hundred yards away to the west. Others sit at picnic benches or on the stones. Underneath a small blue gazebo located a few meters from the crowd, a woman carefully paints the face of a small child. Some are Cymerau team members; others are artists involved in the launch event or the upcoming year of work. The [End Page 108] rest responded to event publicity and have come to find out about Cymerau, or they are surprised to find themselves in the middle of an expectant crowd on a hazy and drizzly midsummer’s afternoon. The inn is located in the middle of Borth, in the sparsely populated Mid Wales county of Ceredigion, six and a half miles north of the university town of Aberystwyth.38
Andy Rowland (forum comment)
Looking good for the launch of the Water Map on Saturday 20th June. The Cambrian News ran a good article last week. Our leaflet distributer, going door to door in Borth reports: “I made it 710 households in total for the two villages. Lots of people I spoke to had read an article on the project in the Cambrian News which had clearly left a positive impression.” And the weather looks settled for the kayaks and the urchin.39
Andy Rowland (blog)
The launch will be a fun day for all ages, beginning upstairs at the Victoria Inn, from 1pm. Films will be shown, and artists will talk about their work, with refreshments served. In the afternoon there [End Page 109] will be activities on the beach, with songs from the local choir and a giant urchin floating on the sea.40
Shelagh Hourahane (forum comment)
Launch day looks as if it will be an exciting one with lots of opportunities to talk about Cymerau and the Hydrocitizenship project as well as hearing what is in store over the next year.41
Alex Plows (blog comment)
edrych ymlaen! looking forward to the launch and this v exciting stage of our project.42
Earlier that afternoon, a small crowd of people had gathered upstairs in the Victoria Inn to learn about the Cymerau case study’s upcoming year of work: Map Dŵr.
Andy Rowland (blog)
With help from local artists, this map will reflect some of the many water stories in and around Borth and Tal-y-bont. These stories will be shared at seasonal events throughout the forthcoming year. Starting this summer, artists will lead various projects around Tal-y-bont and Borth to engage communities in activities and discussions about water. These artists have been carefully selected and funded by Cymerau to provide unique and interesting ways to relate to water; whether it’s exploring our relationship with a particular river, beach and bog, or considering the changing landscape. It’s an opportunity for residents of the Dyfi Biosphere to think about what it means to be an ecological citizen.43
Maggie Roe (blog)
The medieval settlement at Borth was called “Portuherad”, now subsumed by the existing village. Along the high street, the houses in Borth are mostly modest, many look like they were once fishermen’s cottages; some are painted in a lively mix of pastels reminiscent of the much-postcarded images of Tobermory on Mull.44 [End Page 110]
The 2010 census indicates a village population of 999 inhabitants, who primarily occupy dwellings on a sloping hill to the south and on either side of a long, thin road stretching along the coast to the north.45 Set close to sea level, the road runs parallel to an arterial train line that links this part of Wales with the north and with Birmingham to the east.
Maggie Roe (blog)
At first, everything here seems to relate to the railway—the morphology . . . the need for the new sea defenses to protect the line to Aberystwyth, and the character of a sleepy rural village. The taxi man suggested that “things” had changed in the village as a result of the sea defenses; that it had grown quieter as the former wide sandy beach had been lost to a mixture of rock armour islands and pebbles.46
At either end of Borth are a number of small caravan parks. To the south, holiday homes can be seen packed tightly onto the side of a steep hill leading to the coast path that winds its way toward the resort at Clarach and continues along steep cliff tops to Aberystwyth.47 To the north, caravans occupy low-lying areas adjacent to a golf course that blends seamlessly with the sand dunes at Ynyslas and the mouth of the Dyfi Estuary. To the west lie the waters of Cardigan Bay and the Irish Sea; to the east is Cors Fochno—the largest expanse of primary surface lowland bog in the UK.48
Act II—Drop of Water
A portable speaker has been set amid people on the decking to the left of several steps that connect the Victoria Inn with the gently sloping [End Page 111]
[End Page 112]
beach. It plays an accompaniment as local composer Nick Jones leads the local community choir, Côr y Gors, as they sing (a wordless version) of the traditional hymn “Gwahoddiad.” Underscored, local musician Gwilym Morus-Baird recites “Y Tlawd Hwn” by the Welsh poet W. J. Gruffydd.
Gwilym Morus-Baird (spoken)
Am fod rhyw anesmwythyd yn y gwynt, A sŵn hen wylo yng nghuriadau’r glaw, Ac eco’r lleddf adfydus odlau gynt Yn tiwnio drwy ei enaid yn ddi daw, A thrymru cefnfor pell ar noson lonydd Yn traethu rhin y cenedlaethau coll.49
Jane Lloyd Francis walks slowly from the rear of the inn, through the spectators, and toward the steps. She is clad in black, a full-body wet suit; in her hands, she holds a small ceramic flask. Waiting at the foot of the steps, also in a black wet suit, is the movement artist Jo Shapland. Her hands are held open, expectantly awaiting the contents of the vessel. A large crowd has gathered, not only on the decking, but also on the beach, perhaps eighty people watching from all angles. Five or six capture still-image documentation of the event; two others hold large video cameras. [End Page 113]
Jane Lloyd Francis (blog)
My part in this was to pour a single drop of mixed source waters in to the waiting hands of dancer Jo Shapland who then rolled this drop through many transformations until it became the urchin, which she then sailed out to sea.50
The Urchin is a spherical structure made from lengths of steam-bent ash. It is large enough for a performer to climb inside, and inflatable rings secured to the bottom help it to float on water.
Jenny Hall (blog)
The Urchins have grown from an experimental seed developed by a collective of skilled artists, sailors, and makers in the Dyfi Valley in Mid Wales. This collective of free range individuals are working in association with and as Craftedspace,51 a mid-Wales based design practice that creates art and architecture, making space for laughter and connection.52
Ariana Jordao (blog)
It’s basically a transport and life support infrastructure designed to perform the water as a stage, the tidal energy in the system, a landscape notion of time and the fragility of life.53
Jenny Hall (blog)
Initially conceived at “Estuary Lab” in the Dyfi in 2012, funded by the National Theatre of Wales, the original Urchin was built as a simple prototype to explore and dance on the currents and to venture overland, inviting shelter inside its skeletal structure.54
Lloyd Francis had earlier journeyed to the source of the rivers Dyfi and Leri in order to collect water, which she now pours from a height into the outstretched hands of Shapland. [End Page 114]
Jane Lloyd Francis (blog)
Walking to the source of the river Dyfi and then to the source of the river Leri was a sort of meditation, if that does n ‘t sound to self important.55
Gwylym Morus-Baird (email)
A thrydar yr afonydd Yn deffro ing y dioddefi annau oll,— Aeth hwn fel mudan i ryw rith dawelwch, a chiliodd ei gymrodyr un ac un, A’i adel yntau yn ei fawr ddirgelwch I wrando’r lleisiau dieithr wrtho’i hun.56 [End Page 115]
Jane Lloyd Francis (blog)
I wanted to think about what it meant to be part of the Cymerau project, to be a hydrocitizen to create a project that might have some relevance. The Dyfi and the Leri encompass the landscape that the project is drawing on, they cradle Gors Fochno–Borth Bog in watery arms before escaping into the sea.57
Gwilym Morus-Baird (SoundCloud)
Drafft cyntaf o’r ail gân o Benillion i’r Leri. Geiriau gan Bleddyn Owen Huws, cerddoriaeth a recordiad gan Gwilym Morus.58
Jane Lloyd Franicis (blog)
I hoped to bring a token of the wild mountainous landscape that birthed these rivers to the sea level launch of this significant local project. I had been experimenting with clay to make something to hold/contain these source waters, as a water pilgrim my initial attempts to make something resulted in a ceramic scallop shaped [End Page 116] vessel that could be worn around the neck inspired by medieval pilgrim ampoule.59
Drops of water fall, and Shapland covers them with her palms, turns her body to face the sea, and holds aloft a small clear marble. We are encouraged to imagine a transformation as she rolls it along the edge of the timber deck, allowing it to bounce down onto stones with a tap, tap, tap. She collects it in her fingers and hands it to a nearby child. Then she moves forward, her body low to the ground, stretching out her limbs.
Shapland takes hold of a tennis ball and journeys down the beach, exchanging it again, each ball larger than the last. Eventually a beach ball floats high into the air, before coming down again into the hands of Ariana Jordao, another performer in a wet suit, who, along with Jenny Hall, now journeys playfully seaward with Shapland.
Gwilym Morus-Baird (blog)
What’s that sound in the River Leri rushing on towards the sea? What chords are in her waters swelling into one encore?60
The performers draw people away from their drinks, onto the beach, and over the stones, weaving past the flowing, rolling balls and a number of small driftwood sculptures created earlier under a sheltered area at the inn.61 My attention is drawn to the waters of the bay.
Sara Penrhyn Jones (blog comment)
The sea is integral to its [Borth’s] magnetic . . . beauty . . . whilst also representing an existential threat. Either way it is defined by it’s transience, and there is a particularly visual and prominent presence of “time” enshrined in the landscape (petrified forest, the myth of Cantre’r Gwaelod, Bronze-age walkways exposed by recent extreme weather, several stages of sea-defence construction, the notion that it will be “gone in 50–100 years . . .”).62
The threat of rising sea levels and inundation are not simply narratives from the world of myth and legend but are an increasing reality for [End Page 117] many parts of Wales and the UK. In late 2015 the National Trust published Shifting Shores, a report that details the predicted impacts of climate change and concomitant sea level rise on the coastline of Britain. It indicates an average fifteen-centimeter rise in levels around the coastline of Britain since 1901 and predicts a further fifty-centimeter to one-meter rise by the end of this century.63 The impact of this is likely to include increased tidal erosion, flooding, and the potential disappearance of many low-lying towns and villages. The National Assembly for Wales forecasts that “the annual economic damages from flooding in Wales will potentially increase 18 fold from 2004 to the 2080s.”64 In January 2015 the Ceredigion County Council completed the most recent phase of a £17 million coastal defense scheme at Borth in order to protect the houses that sit in uneasy proximity to the encroaching sea.
Sara Penrhyn Jones (blog)
From the perspective of the inhabitants, Borth has always been there with the sea’s breathing the other side of the wall65
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Act III—To the Sea
We assemble close to a large semicircular pile of boulders that make up an impressive part of the new sea defenses that have replaced the wooden groynes that were installed in the 1960s.66
Tom Gunn (forum)
I wrote a song called Beach Works when the last batch of “coastal improvement” started, a couple of years ago, in Borth. . . .
So if you go to Cardigan Bay You can make up your own mind Is this a genuine defence from the sea Or a waste of money and time?67
Iain Biggs (blog comment)
Of course the need to protect the Aberystwyth rail line will almost certainly ensure that, at some point in the next 10 to 15 years, more millions are spent defending Borth from the sea by (probably futile) artificial means since, as your [Maggie Roe] archeological reflections remind us, the status quo is hardly a blink of an eye in geological terms.68
Tom Gunn (forum)
Is it ugly, costly, noisy and dirty But will keep the village afloat Or ugly, costly, noisy and dirty And we’d still better get a good boat?69
Andy Rowland (forum comment)
Welsh Government has announced that in the future all its grants for coastal defence schemes will be capped at 75% of total costs. Previously, many large schemes were 100% funded. This will oblige local authorities to find the other 25%, which will be very difficult for them.70 [End Page 119]
Sara Penrhyn Jones (forum comment)
Very relevant indeed. I know that Aberystwyth Town council used a lot of reserve funds to pay for the repair to the seafront in Aber[ystwyth] following the winter storms of 2014/2015. We need to plan for more frequent storm-events like this as well as long term sea-level rise. Not just building seawalls but also NOT building or over-investing on unsustainable sites.71
The choir sing again. Some people encircle them while others stretch out along the beach to witness the Urchin. One man, a purple towel around his neck, clambers onto the nearby rock groyne in order to watch from above.72
Nick Jones (email)
Here, where we are, the people, our breathing calms . . . this settlement. Take the boundaries, the landslides, the dragging waters flow. . . . some settlement. From above. Just observing here.73
Underscored by music and framed by the horizon, Shapland rolls the Urchin across the wet sand toward the sea. The beach is now an eclectic [End Page 120] mix of artists, choir members, the Cymerau team, dog walkers, holidaymakers, and others, drawn toward the scene in the littoral landscape. My three-year-old son runs topless and barefoot across the wet sand, stopping to hand Cymerau information leaflets to each person he meets.
Jane Lloyd Francis (blog)
My abiding memory of the event was of Cor Y Gors conducted by Nick Jones, as they stood against a gray and grumbling sea, hair whipping across their faces, totally focused on their leader, who stood eyes closed feeling for the rhythms of his composition. The audience, mainly friends and family living in the community were captivated; it was a moment of symbiosis. The choir sang music inspired by the unique Borth landscape, back to the people who live within it.74
In the distance, Shapland, balanced by Jordao, rolls the Urchin through the roiling liquid. The oversized molecule is thrown this way and that, choreographing the human body within it while white foam bursts between the wide gaps in its ash structure. [End Page 121]
Ariana Jordao (blog)
Sea urchin is an immersive sculpture and a work in movement; bodies in the water with the extended corporeality of the biosphere, drifting in tune with the primordial elements, offering no language in the mesmerizing unfolding. . . .
. . . They may have echoes of evocative mythological creatures like mermaids and selkies. They may be refugee citizens of a post-apocalyptic world displaced by people or a climate not allowing settlers anymore. They may be on a migratory route. They are intrinsically involved with the revolving lament of the tide—to be forever passing, dwelling in nothing other than a succession of movements that complement the landscape, sharpening its contrasts, deepening its contours. Are they a herald call to adventure, coming from nowhere and—here now?75
Antony Lyons (blog comment)
Amazing evocative description. Beautiful writing. Thanks Ariana!76 [End Page 122]
Jane Lloyd Francis (blog)
The urchin made me smile, it made me want to be in it to playing in the waves released into moments of joyful escape and laughter. From inside the urchin the landscape is framed in willow segments, which dance about in a very satisfying way.77
Owain Jones (blog comment)
This looks amazing. “Vanishing with the tides”—very evocative puts me in mind of Conrad somehow “Within the Tides”.78
Antony Lyons (blog comment)
I really want to see these, and experience them . . . maybe even live in one ! (I haven’t yet got a sense of scale)79
Ariana Jordao (blog comment)
i admit to wanting to live in one too!!80 [End Page 123]
The song ends, and people drift back to their drinks. Others wait, watching as Urchin is rolled from the sea and back onto land. Two dog walkers approach; late to the action, they engage in conversation with the women in wet suits.
This digital experiment began with an online invitation to collaboratively explore ways of enacting dialogic community engagement with themes pertinent to the Anthropocene.81 This proposal was in keeping with contemporary digital humanities research, which expresses “new modes of knowledge formation enabled by networked, digital environments.”82 Through Hydrocitizens, I had hoped both to empower participants to engage with and contribute to the writing process and that the blogs, forum, wiki, and groups would provide “immediacy of feedback and communication not present in traditional publication outlets.”83 Early responses were enthusiastic, with some members commenting affirmatively on a forum thread set up to enable cowriting. Initial observations included differences between private academic scholarship and public writing online, as well as questions of process, authorship, and the representativeness of scholarly writing that draws from blogs.
Owain Jones (forum comment)
There is a freedom and comfort in writing in “private”, knowing that by the time the text is published, it will have been changed, refined,—considered “fit for purpose”.84 [End Page 124]
Hywel Griffiths (forum comment)
I’m a little unclear about how the paper is written—is it written in response to discussions on this forum, or does it include those discussions as they appeared online? How does authorship work on these kinds of papers?85
Maggie Roe (forum comment)
“How representative are the views being expressed?” and “are those expressing the views simply the usual suspects?”86
Despite this initial interest, it soon became apparent that the forum was not a suitable avenue for collaborative writing in this instance. It became lengthy, and each new entry—intended to move the discussion forward—potentially excluded others from the conversation. Gradually, activity ground to a halt. In response to this “failure,” I shifted focus away from collaborative writing, toward exploring the ways in which various contributions of members of Hydrocitizens might act as a resource for my own thinking and writing about the Cymerau Launch, hence the dramatic form offered here as a means of “challenging traditional conceptions of individual scholarship” and making apparent the multiple actors involved in the research.87
While the dramatic account of the launch reveals the generative potential of the platform, it is important to note that Hydrocitizens has enabled a partial account of place and event. It contains the voices of those who have chosen to or have been able to contribute. In the writing above, the words are primarily those of Towards Hydrocitizenship team members and the artists involved in producing the Cymerau Launch. It does not contain the voices of many other people who were present. Internet coverage is so poor in some parts of Ceredigion that they have been designated “not spots.”88 While Internet access is available in Borth, there is an unreliable connection in many parts of the village. Therefore, discussions such as those from which this writing has been composed are potentially inaccessible to many, counter to the intentions of this participatory exercise and transdisciplinary research more broadly. It is, therefore, recognized that in relation to writing produced [End Page 125] in and from this online space, there is a complex “relationship between culture and power, imagination and practice”; and as such, it is necessary to maintain a healthy level of skepticism with regard to who is or is not represented, not only in this writing, but also in the active research process as it is presented online.89 [End Page 126]
Tom Payne is a lecturer in performance studies at Sheffield Hallam University. He is also codirector of UK-Australian performance company Doppelgangster.
Owain Jones is a professor of environmental humanities at Bath Spa University and is principal investigator of the Arts and Humanities Research Council that funded the Towards Hydrocitizenship project.
Andy Rowland is the manager of Ecodyfi, a social enterprise based in the Dyfi Biosphere in Mid Wales. Ecodyfi is the community partner for Cymerau, the local Towards Hydrocitizenship case study area.
Shelagh Hourahane is joint creative director of Creu-ad, an arts and heritage organization based in Mid Wales. She is the arts consultant for Cymerau.
Alex Plows is a research fellow at Bangor University. She is coinvestigator on the Towards Hydrocitizenship project and comanager (with Sara Penrhyn Jones) of the Cymerau case study team.
Maggie Roe is an environmental architect based at the University of Newcastle. She is a coinvestigator on the Towards Hydrocitizenship project and is a member of the Yorkshire case study team.
Gwilym Morus-Baird is a folk musician based in Machynlleth. He is an expert on Welsh mythology.
Jane Lloyd Francis is a Mid Wales–based artist specializing in theatre and live performance. She is the cofounder of Carreg Dressage and for fifteen years has directed and produced Equilibre Horse Theatre.
Jenny Hall is a critically acclaimed artist and architect. She is also the creative director of Craftedspace.
Ariana Jordao is a biologist working with transculturation through networked collaborations across disciplines, using participatory art media to research the perfect imbalance of nature and culture.
Sara Penrhyn Jones is a filmmaker and senior lecturer in media at Bath Spa University. She is coinvestigator on the Towards Hydrocitizenship project and comanager (with Alex Plows) of the Cymerau case study team.
Tom Gunn is a photographer who lives in Borth, part of the Cymerau case study area. He was commissioned to take photographs at the Cymerau Launch event in June 2015.
Iain Biggs is an artist and researcher and a visiting research fellow at the University of the West of England, Bristol. He is an arts consultant for the Bristol case study team.
Nick Jones is a Mid Wales–based writer and composer with numerous theatre and television credits to his name. He is also the leader of the Côr y Gors community choir.
Antony Lyons is an artist and researcher and is an arts consultant for the Bristol case study team.
Hywel Griffiths is a lecturer in fluvial geography at Aberystwyth University. He is a member of the Cymerau Advisory Board and is credited with having come up with the case study name.
This work stems from the Arts and Humanities Research Council’s Connected Communities program for the Communities, Cultures, Environments and Sustainability Large Grant, “Towards hydrocitizenship. Connecting communities with and through responses to interdependent, multiple water issues” (AH/L008165/1). Thanks are due to the editors and referees for comments on earlier drafts of the paper; to the Hydrocitizenship project team; to the Cymerau case study team; to all people whose blog texts are reproduced here; to Gillian Clarke, for permission to use her poem; and to National Theatre Wales. [End Page 127]
5. McGregor, “Nature of Transdisciplinary Research and Practice,” 15; Burdick et al., Digital_Humanities, 113.
7. Cymerau, “Cymerau Lansiad / Cymerau Launch—20/06/15,” http://www.cymerau.org/200615---cymerau-launch.html. The Cymerau Launch was funded through the Connected Communities festival program as part of its ten-year anniversary. It was the first high-profile, arts-led, public-engagement exercise in the Towards Hydrocitizenship Mid Wales case study area. It followed a series of consultation events with artists and members of the local community as well as several other low-key creative projects designed to test the waters. The launch event provided an opportunity to outline the project aims and to introduce the artists.
8. Borth is one of two villages in the Cymerau case study area, the other being the former industrial village of Tal-y-bont, which is located at the at the foot of Ceulan Maes-Mawr and surrounded by former silver and lead mines. It is several miles farther inland and connected to Borth and the Dyfi Estuary by the Ceulan and Leri Rivers, which run through it. The Cymerau case study area also covers Cors Fochno, a large expanse of raised saline peat bog located in the hinterland between Borth and Tal-y-bont. Multimedia documentation of participatory arts processes from the Cymerau year of work can be viewed on an interactive map which can be found at Cymerau, “Water Map,” http://www.mapdwr.com. Cymerau is one of four Towards Hydrocitizenship case study areas. The other three areas are Bristol, Yorkshire, and the Lee Valley in London.
18. For example, it has been argued that the ongoing civil war in Syria has, in part, been caused by severe and persistent drought and poor irrigation leading to “the displacement of large populations from rural to urban centers” and associated food insecurity, high unemployment, and political instability. See Gleick, “Water, Drought, Climate Change, and Conflict in Syria,” 338. For an alternative multimedia reading of the role of climate change in the Syrian conflict, see Randall, “Syria and Climate Change.” [End Page 128]
21. Lang, 2012 Summer Floods, 3; Duigan, Rimington, and Howe, Welsh Coastal Storms, December 2013 and January 2014, 12.
22. On June 8 and 9, 2012, more than “120 properties flooded internally and a number of highways were closed, with flood damage being widespread” in the Ceredigion area. See Ceredigion County Council, Flood Investigation Report, 4. Following five inches of rainfall in twenty-four hours, up to twenty-five homes were evacuated in Tal-y-bont, and residents in a Borth caravan park close to the river Leri had to be rescued by members of the Royal National Lifeboat Institution; see BBC News Service, “Wales Flooding.”
23. These eight institutions are Bath Spa University; Newcastle University; Bangor University; University of Manchester; Brighton University; Middlesex University; University of the West of England, Bristol; and University of Bristol.
24. Whitson and Whittaker, William Blake and the Digital Humanities, 4. At the time of writing, Hydrocitizens has 269 members, including academics, artists, performance makers, filmmakers, scientists, geographers, and architectural planners. A small portion of these users are Towards Hydrocitizenship team members; others are unaffiliated with the project and are based in various parts of the UK and internationally.
25. Discussions taking place within the Hydrocitizens group revolve around key hydrological themes pertinent to the Anthropocene—for example, water politics, policy, and management; representations of water; and embodied and situated relationships with water—as well as reports and conversations related to activities taking place in the four Towards Hydrocitizenship case study areas. See Hydrocitizens, “Forum,” http://www.hydrocitizens.com/talks.
28. For a longer discussion of National Theatre Wales and its online community, see Payne, “Locating National Theatre Wales.”
29. Hydrocitizens is a significant, growing resource that contains documentation from across the case study sites as well as reflections by team members, artists, and other participants who act as a resource in this essay. The Hydrocitizens wiki contains a wide range of water-related resources, including information about related books, journals, films, and community arts practices. See Hydrocitizens, “Wiki,” http://www.hydrocitizens.com/wiki.
37. For a full discussion of the history of site-specific art see Kwon, One Place after Another; See also Pearson, Site-Specific Performance.
38. According to the Ceredigion Local Service Board Sustainable Futures Executive Group, the county of Ceredigion is spread over an area of 1,800 square kilometers and is home to seventy-eight thousand people, or forty-three people per square kilometer. See Ceredigion Local Service Board Sustainable Futures Executive Group, Ceredigion for All, 13.
40. Rowland, “Cymerau Year of Artist-Led Projects Exploring Relationships with Water.”
41. Shelagh Hourahane, comment on Tom Payne, “Community Conversations in Borth and Tal-y-bont.”
42. Alex Plows, comment on Andy Rowland, “Cymerau Year of Artist-Led Projects Exploring Relationships with Water.”
43. Rowland, “Cymerau Year of Artist-Led Projects Exploring Relationships with Water.”
44. Maggie Roe, “Snippets of a Welsh Waterblog: A Visit to Borth, July 2015,” Hydrocitizens (blog), July 28, 2015, http://www.hydrocitizens.com/blogs/item/snippets-of-a-welsh-waterblog-a-visit-to-borth-july-2015.
45. InfoBaseCymru, Local Area Profile.
46. Roe, “Snippets of a Welsh Waterblog.”
47. The coast path runs the entire length of the Welsh coastline. Storm weather in the winters of 2013 and 2014 damaged large sections, which have subsequently been restored; however, there is no “easy-to-apply mechanism in legislation to ensure the trail can be rolled back in a timely way as sections vulnerable to erosion fail.” See National Trust, Shifting Shores, 7.
48. Cors Fochno has been designated a site of special scientific interest (SSSI), a national nature reserve, a “Ramsar site and the core area of the only UNESCO Biosphere Reserve in Wales.” See Poucher, Archaeological Potential of Ceredigion’s Wetlands, 8.
49. Extract from “Y Tlawd Hwn” by W. J. Gruffydd, from Morus-Baird, “W. J. Gruffydd a’r Pedair-Cainc.”
50. Jane Lloyd Francis, “Another Day in Borth,” Hydrocitizens (blog), November 19, 2015, http://www.hydrocitizens.com/blogs/item/another-day-in-borth.
54. The Urchin evolved out of a creative laboratory on the Dyfi Estuary curated by Jony Easterby and led by Jenny Hall of Craftedspace. The key collaborators were Julie Starks, Tabitha Pope, and Tom Provost. Estuary Lab was funded by the National Theatre of Wales. Urchin has since evolved as a Craftedspace project with both Tabitha Pope and Ariana Jordao working in collaboration with performers and producers. Hall, “Urchin.”
55. Lloyd Francis, “Another Day in Borth.” [End Page 130]
56. Extract from “Y Tlawd Hwn” by W. J. Gruffydd, from Gwylym Morus-Baird, email message to Tom Payne, March 21, 2016.
57. Lloyd Francis, “Another Day in Borth.”
58. Gwilym Morus-Baird, “Fy Eiliadau | v1,” SoundCloud audio, 3:05, July 10, 2015, https://w.soundcloud.com/player/?url=https%3A//api.soundcloud.com/tracks/227359179.
59. Lloyd Francis, “Another Day in Borth.”
60. English translation of an excerpt from the poem “The River Leri” by Bleddyn Owen Huws, from Gwilym Morus-Baird, “Folksongs for the Leri,” Hydrocitizens (blog), October 29,2015, http://www.hydrocitizens.com/blogs/item/folksongs-for-the-leri.
61. Local artist Bodge led a driftwood sculpture workshop under a sheltered area at the rear of the Victoria Inn during the morning of the launch event.
62. The myth of Cantre’r Gwaelod (translated into English as the “Lowland Hundred”) tells the story of the inundation of a formerly inhabited area of land now submerged—it is said—beneath the waters of Cardigan Bay. The petrified forest, which signposts this former land beneath the waves, can be observed at low tide close to Ynyslas, most clearly during March and early April each year; Sara Penrhyn Jones, comment on Alex Plows, “Cymerau Emerging Themes,” Hydrocitizens (blog), November 9, 2015, http://www.hydrocitizens.com/blogs/item/cymerau-emerging-themes.
65. Extract from “Borth” by John Barney, from Sara Penrhyn Jones, “Poems about BORTH and (Honestly) EELS!” Hydrocitizens (blog), July 22, 2015, http://www.hydrocitizens.com/blogs/item/poems-about-borth-and-honestly-eels.
66. According to Atkins, the first timber groyne defenses were installed in Borth in the 1930s and have been restored and replaced periodically until they were eventually removed to make way for the new rock groyne defenses. See Atkins, Borth Coast Defence Scheme, 2.
68. Iain Biggs, comment on Maggie Roe, “Snippets of a Welsh Waterblog.”
69. Gunn, “Beach Works.”
70. Andy Rowland, comment on Tom Payne, “Water Related Issues in Borth and Taly-bont.” See also Antony Gedge, “Coastal Defense Schemes Could Be Shelved in Funding Shake-Up,” Cambrian News, June 11, 2015, from Andy Rowland, “Coastal Defence Grants Changes,” Hydrocitizens, June 11, 2015, http://www.hydrocitizens.com/files/download/MjAxNTA2MTUxMDQ3NDgtcGtodXdqcnZyZHlkZ3pra2UvQ19OZXdzXzExSnVuZTIwMTVfY29hc3RhbF9kZWZlbmNlX2dyYW50cy5ibXA=.
71. Sara Penrhyn Jones, comment on Tom Payne, “Water Related Issues in Borth and Tal-y-bont.”
72. The rock groyne is part of a series of large semicircular structures that have been installed along the seafront and set out to sea at a distance from the beach to help control its shape by holding the shingle in place. According to Atkins, the rock groyne system at Borth is comprised of approximately thirty-three thousand tons of rock. See Atkin, Borth Coast Defence Scheme, 6–7. [End Page 131]
73. Nick Jones, “Côr at the Launch,” email message to Tom Payne, March 14, 2016.
74. Lloyd Francis, “Another Day in Borth.”
75. Ariana Jordao, “Summoning the Call,” Hydrocitizens (blog), November 18, 2014, http://www.hydrocitizens.com/blogs/item/summoning-the-call.
76. Antony Lyons, comment on Ariana Jordao, “Summoning the Call.”
77. Lloyd Francis, “Another Day in Borth.”
78. Owain Jones, comment on Jenny Hall, “Urchin.”
79. Antony Lyons, comment on Ariana Jordao, “Summoning the Call.”
80. Ariana Jordao, comment on Ariana Jordao, “Summoning the Call.”
84. Owain Jones, comment on Tom Payne, “Imagining the Audience into Active Participants through Social Media.”
85. Hywel Griffiths, comment on Tom Payne, “Imagining the Audience into Active Participants through Social Media.”
86. Maggie Roe, comment on Tom Payne, “Imagining the Audience into Active Participants through Social Media.”