Tidal Timespace and the Palimpsests of Bahía Adair (work in progress)

“…the area of a tidal flat is a meeting ground between the sea and the land, a tension zone where one can observe, as nowhere else, the reciprocal actions between organisms and their environment.”                                                                         

Between Pacific Tides, Edward Rickets


“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

Description of the work


This mixed-media installation will consist of a series of plaster casts that float on steel pedestals and capture some of the patterns and scripts made from the diverse mudflat textures left at low tide, and a sequence of images depicting the floodtide slowly covering the flats over.


The audience will also be able to page through a hand printed artist book revealing blind debossed prints of the marks and inscriptions in the mudflats and their corollary erasure. These will have a list of terms in the native languages of each site, combining fragments from historical texts, scientific papers, local vernacular names, lists of species, and relevant terms as a kind of meditation on place.

An audience-operated tide machine revolving around multiple spools will display a year of tides as a letterpressed marigram4 depicting the arcs and dips of the daily tidal highs and lows. Seen as a linear tape, the tidal graph closely resembles an electrocardiogram—as if the monthly and yearly tides are in fact the moon’s heartbeat.


Finally, I’m collaborating with musician Michael Henderson on an audio component that will interpret data collected (seawater salinity, temperature, tidal range, expanse and speed, sediment composition, and dominant species) into an ambient soundscape that will fill the space, and allow the visitor to hear each site's unique tidal conditions and qualities.

Project Statement


Esturine landscapes are incredibly vital ecosystems: providing feeding and nesting areas for migratory birds, serving as a nursery for many important fisheries, and protecting coasts from erosion, to name a few. Because of their strategic positions that offer sites for bridges, harbors and industry, these landscapes are also impacted by human development, waste and destruction. Because of their fine sediment, they are much slower to flush wastes and toxins than sandier substrata making them quite susceptible, even fragile1.


The tides of the Northern Gulf of California in the Sonoran Desert are among the largest in the world, and the 3rd largest in North America. Located on the mainland side of the Mexico, the ebb tide in Bahía Adair reveals patterns and traces of the movements of rays, invertebrates and birds that are etched in its expansive mudflats. All the marks sculpted in the flats are partially erased or hidden by the tide each day, transforming the exposed mudflats or the water that subsequently blankets them into a kind of semi-diurnal palimpsest2. Geographer Owain Jones of Bath Spa University describes how rhythmpattern is timespace animated, encompassing the consonance and dissonance within tidal landscapes that are overwritten by development3. I’m interested in using the metaphor of a palimpsest to describe this overwriting and other ephemeral conditions of this terrain. 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.


I see this first project in Northern México as my pilot project for a much longer trajectory. After completing Tidal Timespace and the Palimpsests of Bahía Adair I plan to duplicate the same piece in other sites with record tides that expose a vast expanse of mudflats. I’ve chosen a few initial sites for their large tidal range and diverse biomes, species and geographic locations. When shown together, these tidal explorations will highlight each site's unique specificity as well as the broad similarities between them. The next site I'll be working in is the Severn Estuary in the UK—which shares many attributes with Bahía Adair—unveiling a large liminal space during low tide where traces are inscribed and erased, and where a precipitous vulnerability to environmental threats is laid bare, but also many physical and cultural differences. My hope is that the impact of this project will inspire a sense of reverence and care among local communities, but even more, that the collaboration with other stakeholders in these places will prove fruitful—sharing ideas and concerns, offering potential exchange between institutions, and potentially developing future projects.


1. Little, Colin. (2000) ‘The Biology of Soft Shores and Estuaries’ Oxford University Press, Oxford, New York

2. Palimpsest: a manuscript or piece of writing material on which the original writing has been effaced to make room for later writing but of which traces remain.  Something reused or altered but still bearing visible traces of its earlier form.


3. Jones, Owain, ‘Lunar-solar rhythmpatterns: towards the material cultures of tides’ (2011)  Environment and Planning A, 43 (10). pp. 2285-2303. ISSN 0308-518X


4. Marigram: a graphic record of the tide levels at a particular coastal station.