Tidal Timespace: Imprints & Palimpsests
Cast plaster, steel, inkjet on Asuka, photopolymer and relief, audio
Tides, especially ones connected to estuaries and mudflats, perform polyrhythmic writings and erasings; concealing and revealing their ghostly spectral traces at ebb tide. Each set of tracings, unique, is wiped away by the following tide and a new performance unveils a fresh set of inscriptions. As quintessentially liminal spaces, these landscapes provide a fleeting platform for entanglements with humans and non-humans—and each state of material becoming is haunted by what has recently been, and what is soon to become again. In this collaborative project, I think of these visible remains witnessed at low tide as palimpsests and capture them in plaster casts that record the still-wet, intricate patterns inscribed by invertebrates, currents, and other beings, mapping the diversity and signature of both Bahía Adair in Sonora, Mexico, and the Severn Estuary in the UK.
By examining these two landscapes side-by-side, Owain Jones (my UK collaborator) and I aim to instill a sense of reverence as well as a feeling of communal care through articulating the shared characteristics and striking distinctions of each site. Located in the Upper Gulf of California, Bahía Adair has the third-largest tidal range in North America (Flessa, Fürsich 1991) and is a sparsely populated wetland complex fringed with salt pans, freshwater springs, and multiple esteros (hypersaline inverse estuaries that occur in dry climates where evaporation exceeds inflow of freshwater). The Severn Estuary, fed by the Severn River, has the second largest tidal range in the world, and a rich maritime culture that has been cultivated for centuries. We hope that by comparing these two landscapes, the project can create an intriguing contrast and unique framework for bringing about awareness of climate impacts on estuaries world-wide, which look to be quite severe (Nienhuis et al, 2023).
The project includes a set of artist books; one that shows a timelapse sequence of the incoming floodtide over an hour and 45 minutes, an another that intertwines an A-Z lexicon listing ecological and historical narratives specific to each place, personal and communal memory in the form of childhood vignettes, and imagery of scripts and impressions left at low tide.
The Bahía Adair portion of the project is nearly complete. I've been working with fisherman Rafael Peñuelas Machuca recording his childhood memories with his father in the early 60s, and diver Ernesto Gastellum who has taken me by boat or 4x4 truck to remote sites along Bahía Adair to make the casts. For the final installation, the casts will float along the walls, their locations shown on a hand-drawn map, and the artist books will be layed out on a table for the audience to peruse. When the work is shown in Mexico, a silent auction for the individual casts and artist books will help raise money and awareness for a non-profit environmental organization CEDO Intercultural. I will be working on the second stage of this project within the Fulbright program at the Severn Estuary in spring 2024, working with Cardiff University School of Earth and Environmental Sciences, the Severn Estuary Partnership, and Owain Jones to record palimpsests on both the English and Welsh sides of the Estuary and create identical artist books with the lexicon and vignettes. Once complete, the proceeds from the sale of casts will benefit the Severn Estuary Partnership..
It would be an impoverished sensibility if one did not feel, when on intertidal land at low tide, the strangeness of the same space at high tide. This is part of the wonder of estuaries and part of their vulnerability. And all this is overlain now by a darker future specter of climate change, sea level rise and storm surge induced erosion. Just as the mudflats become a palimpsest after the tide’s daily erasing of the cursive travel of snails and other scripted impressions, so too, do many man-made pursuits; the overwriting for development obliterates rich ecological stories and effaces local narratives.
These landscapes currently face many anthropocentric threats, some already erased, some haunted as imagined futures. The Severn Estuary has long been overshadowed by the prospect of radical reduction and even erasure by the building of a barrage. The smaller Taff Estuary within the wider Severn Estuary, in Cardiff, has undergone this fate. In Bahía Adair, rising sea temperatures are bleaching sponges and anemones, unregulated fishing practices are causing species decline (from intertidal invertebrates, reef fish, to the critically endangered endemic porpoise, the Vaquita), and in populated areas, condos, golf courses and off-road vehicles have greatly eroded or destroyed critical estuaries and intertidal habitat.
Ghosts remind us yet also point to our forgetting, and as such we seek to name the people, stories, vernacular traditions, and countless species that cohabitate in these tidal landscapes. “Untold land is unknown land,” states Lucy Lippard (1997)—names, maps and photographs are how we imagine communal history and identity. Attuning to them helps us remember and imagine the possibility of a different kind of livability. Tidal landscapes enact more than human rhythms, and to follow these rhythms, as Deborah Bird Rose (2017) describes, we need new histories and descriptions, crossing the sciences, humanities, and arts.
“Rhythm is to time what pattern is to space, and these need to be considered together. Tidal processes offer fertile ground on which to explore such ideas as they are so obviously temporal and spatial at once.”
Lunar-solar rhythmpatterns: towards the material cultures of tides, Owain Jones