Liquid(border)Lines

Liquid(border)Lines is an ambitious overarching project that combines all of our art forms, and more! It starts off from where we live, by the Irish Sea, and follows all of its coastlines making a flowing circle. We are currently exploring ideas, meeting people and applying for funding from various sources to help launch the project on a public scale. For this article, we move from Simon’s outline to Ursula’s.

Moving from the centre of England to its northwest corner opened up a whole new perspective on what Britain is. Nothing much changed on the level of the country itself, aside from the catastrophic collapse of its revered political system, but on a personal level it has made a great difference to how I see the country. Instead of perceiving the United Kingdom as a fairly fixed entity with relatively well-defined borders and lines and England at the centre, more or less, I came to see England as simply a broken edge within a loose and shifting assemblage of often radically different cultures and histories clustered around the Irish Sea. Both the personal and political had shifted towards a new horizon.

The sea area itself can be seen as a fairly well-defined bioregion, with much of the coastline as an intricate network of intersecting ecologies, geologies, cultures, religions, ideologies, affinities, antagonisms, alliances and resources taking in parts of Scotland, England, Wales and Ireland and the whole of the Isle of Man. At its northeastern extremity, being on the Solway, you can’t help noticing how, while everything may appear the same—sea, rain, sun, sand, and mud—the whole area is shifting both slowly and rapidly according to tides, river currents, lake levels, winds, and diurnal sun transits (the sunset, here as I write, is currently is over half an hour later than that in London). Evidence of the efforts and interventions of humans is clear both in its positive and negative manifestations, although even here though the border is blurred, as erstwhile barren slag heaps become bio-rich coastlines with their own unique micro-ecologies. Time transforms.

Given the importance of the whole issue of borders in the wavering light of Brexit, it seems like a very good time to look more closely at the Irish Sea itself as the centre of both national and natural tides. We can explore this by repeated walking in an area sensing and appreciating its rhythms, its ebbs and flows; meeting with those who know the place and then co-creating oral histories, soundscapes, images and geo-poetics through a cascade of reiterative and reflexive processes. Our work engages with ephemerality, sound and oral history, weaving locative narratives that are designed to be listened to in their areas of origin, adding sonic and performative layers to our usual experiences of place.  

The idea of Liquid(Border)Lines is to build a collaborative partnership with coastal communities and artists to produce oral history archives, new observational records, deep maps, exhibitions, installations, art trails and site-and-body-sensitive walking experiences. The project builds on the notions of ‘archaeology of the voice’ and ‘Displacement Activities’ explored in my doctoral thesis (2016). The archaeology of the voice component is a GPS navigable assemblage of oral testimony, field recordings and archive material forming a geo-located deep map around the rim of the Irish Sea. People will be encouraged to engage in the project through a series of Displacement Activities: participatory practice events involving. walking-based interventions bringing together artists and communities focused on borders, boundaries, and edges of all kinds. The projected coastal/research area includes the Solway Firth through Cumbria to North Wales, and parts of the east coast of Ireland, Northern Ireland and the Isle of Man. Initially, the work has started in the Solway area where we now live. After piloting the basic principles and methods through practice, the research will flow out to other receptive sites.

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Living here is liquid in two ways: the Irish Sea and my childhood seas— which flow back to my mind from this location. I have crossed the Irish Sea, and I have crossed the land before it, and the one before it, in turn— before, that is, relative to where I am from, which is from behind the next sea, the North Sea. Next. Neighbour. Points of view and position. The North Sea was the previous sea, around which I have lived previously. There were islands in that sea too, some of which looked like these Irish sea sandbanks. So, there is a lot of sand on either side, and a lot of sea on each side, much water behind the sand, and between the sides. Water in the middle, us around the edges! 

Crossing those waters between us has meant crossing boundaries as well, boundaries which are borders. There they are: land borders and sea borders. Solid ones and liquid ones. But they never turned liquid enough to dissolve! 

First was the sea crossing, Germany to Britain— then there was the land-crossing: traversing from within, one end to the other: London to Irish Sea. Still England then but the sea is already Irish here! We are exposed to this country-conundrum here which coincides with the elements: land = English, sea = Irish. We have got neighbours too: Scotland, just up the road from us, and Wales, a little further down. Those of us who surround the Irish Sea become a four-leaf clover: four leaves turned inside out. And there is a neighbour in the middle of the sea: the Isle of Man! Our sea is small enough to be a neighbourhood sea then. Unlike the North Sea or other seas it is a single area in the Shipping Forecast: the undivided sea! 

If only it could stay this way! Current politics have produced a current that has created a storm, the tides are out and about overboard(er). No easy navigation is possible, and the liquid borders we were used to could be under threat.

A hard border in the sea, what would that mean? I remember the Baltic Sea had it (hard), which no wave could easily dissolve: the Iron Curtain! A curtain-in-the-sea threat, has the tide (been over) turned? Time to stop the tide? Ebb and flow don’t turn as hard as this, hardly! Trying to keep the flow going— maybe call this going-with-the-flow, and the ebb, but don’t turn the tides more than they do: they know what they are doing, our borders might not.

Soft borders, sea mirrors. Or what do you see? Ways of sea-ing could open up ideas of the sea as a form, of neighbouring. Opportunities of form and shape, encounter, recognition. I have talked about similarities of seas and (is)lands in my Islandinsel blog . There I look at an experience of each others’ islands (more about this in our next blog post), and the sea for each other. It is because of that sea that the countries around it work together. The sea calls for co-operation, negotiation, navigation. Art, in this, could be such a navigation, like a lighthouse pointing out a passages at the edges of the sea.

We look forward to hearing stories of sea and border around the Irish Sea, and invite enquiries for potential participation in Liquid(border)Lines.

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