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Written in flesh: Fieldnotes from Ocean Undercurrents

Updated: May 25, 2023

Today we've collaborated with and experienced an oceanic journey through Nerm|Port Philip Bay. We hopped on a ferry from Docklands to Djilang|Geelong with the amazing team of ORCA (Ocean Research and Climate Action Network) and the generous participants who came to 'Ocean Undercurrents: Human-Water Entanglements in Naarm' As part of 2023 Melbourne Design Week.

Carrying the energy from previous iterations exploring 'undercurrent' landscapes and flows, we engaged in cycles of practices that proposed unique points of entrances to examine, this time, our human relationship with the ocean, marine biodiversity, coastal urbanism, climate change, and the vastness of our personal connections to salt water.

(Nicolas) >>

I always enjoy being part of experiences with this crew! The only certainty that we have is the certainty (insert a synonym yourself, English is my second language) of flexibility, that we'll be free to collaborate however we like and that people are free to enjoy this encounter on their own terms.

As expected, there was little to expect and a lot to be surprised by. It was like playing a game, choose your own adventure!

You could be with Alex, meditating in the freezing cold and wild winds outside (classic him) - feeling moist in the air, the dryness on your lips, touching the very little salts accumulating in the ferry - feeling the duality of absence and abundance of water surrounding (inside) us.

You could be rambling around, listening to the soundscapes designed by Jordan. I felt the vulnerability and exposure of floating on an infinite liquid surface. How many kilos does a ferry have?

As the sounds guided me, I was being pushed by the waves, in and out of the water. Catching a breath and diving again.

I remembered a song from a Brazilian artist, Mctha:


Flutuo, nesse vazio

Mas a tristeza? A tristeza é oceano raso.

Google it.

No, ok, I'll explain it so you don't leave this text (there is some serious writing following this, believe me!). The song talks about depression and how the feeling is, according to Mctha, similar to being floating in the immensity of the ocean.

It looks like it's never-ending.

But unlike the ocean, sadness is shallow. If you try to reach down you will find the floor, you will ground yourself and see that sadness is actually a "shallow ocean".

There were some other activities you could be doing on this ferry, like drawing beautiful water creatures or discussing philosophy. I didn't do those but hopefully, some of my friends did and will share about it here!

We arrived in Djilang|Geelong, Wadawurrung Country.

At Platform Arts Geelong, Wendy prompted us with a beautiful ritual - letting your body react to the sounds of water. After that, we shared some of our experiences with water.

That's a difficult one. I was raised in a house in front of a river. I would wake up every day to that landscape. During school holidays, I would stay home alone most of the time, as the house was far from the city and public transport. I was basically barking at the end of the school holidays - I had very little contact with humans and lots of dogs.

Recently I've been doing therapy, after much resistance. I have difficulty expressing exactly what I feel to my therapist so we've been doing this exercise: I close my eyes and connect with conflicting feelings. Anxiety, my dear little companion.

Then, I look for a safe space in my mind. Where am I?

I see the water, I see the river. I'm home.

Damn, I just remembered I haven't drank a single glass of water today. The irony.

(Paloma) >>

The horizon of the ocean

How many layers does it hold?

How many contradictions can it hold?

Peace and fear…

A bath, a lab, a game, an aim…

An escape, a route home…

A vessel of memories.

Flowing stillness and (eternal) reminder

of a fleeting present, easily washed out

by a wave, an adventure, a challenge

a war.

The ocean is a place that makes linkages unravel.

A shared coastal culture (mind the nuances) to relate to.

A (wordless) common language.

An opportunity to reconnect.

Today, my journey started worried I’d be late. Worried about something that did not happen: not present

I arrived a couple of minutes before departure to immerse myself, free of expectations, to what was an insightful navigation, playful with the senses, critical of how we might experience the landscape(s).

Quickly grounded through the music on the headphones Jordan provided, we heard (a destiempo) recordings of the perimeter of the bay. An auditive dislocation that reminded me of the sounds we leave behind and that can easily come together here (HEAR), present. Could voices from the past travel to remind us of the relevant? The necessary words to follow the path to thrive both as individuals and collectives entangled to water?

The beautiful meditation led by Alex made me reconnect with my own story: home. Again, this connection with water made me think of its capacity to travel through time and embody the memories of tasting my own salty lips: home. Cahuil, where the ocean carves its way through the salty water river shores, shaped into pools, tamed to harvest salt. It’s become such a biodiversity hotspot in the Pacific (far from peaceful) that again contrasts with how salt mining, high up in the Andes responds to logics of disconnection and exploitation.

Ay Chile. Cuánto me dueles y aún así te llevo en el corazón.

A journey to the memories of home is also a dislocation… diasporas that play around time and space lost in the horizon.

Tomorrow we’ll travel from this unique vessel of salty water (held together only by gravity) to a place where once the ocean met sweetwater. Home. How many more layers (and questions) can the ocean hold? Can this ancient/indigenous gathering spot (of waters and people) provide us with answers that too travel through time?

The horizon always reminds me of Galeano’s words. Utopia is on the horizon: I know I’ll never reach it… you walk 10 steps and they walk 10 further. But that’s why it’s there for: to walk. The ocean, its timeless horizon, as much as it’s there to look forward to, does it hold a future?

(Alexandre) >>

Foam washed on shore by the ocean undercurrents

Paloma told me she was feeling something like a cold, but the adrenaline from excitement with the event was numbing my senses when I was indoors as we prepared to return to Melbourne.

Now, as I sit on the VLine train I feel the warmer temperature on my face and palms. Are we getting sick or is the body responding to the contrast of being blown, cooled and seasoned with salt droplets of water suspended in the air by the ferry breaking through the bay?

I usually spend so much time checking my hair and tidying it up, but a few seconds after outside with the wind pulling it in all directions I simply forget about it and let salt texture my curls.

When I started preparing the materials for our activity I noticed there was no crystallised salt on the handlebars of the ferry, maybe someone cleaned them, maybe the humidity in the air and cloudy sky didn't allow the water to evaporate. The freedom of the ocean surprised me.

Our train just passed the industrial complex of refineries in Geelong, what is feeding the flames on the top of these metallic towers? Which material is being cut, melted, reshaped and displaced there?

With no salt to scrap, Nick suggested that I default to the water meditation we facilitated during MPavillion. The setting was quite different from that, and the elements there defined what pathways were possible to follow. I was afraid people would resist going and staying outside, but giving them the option to go back inside didn't make them abandon the experience. I was happy to see that something was drawing them to stay feeling the bay.

A few asked about the salt. For me, it was a clear reminder, noticeable in our everyday lives, of the deep entanglements we have with the ocean. It's also used in many rituals, creating boundaries of protection, and preparing baths to cleanse your body from energies you shouldn't be carrying. After every swim in the ocean I do feel it took something from me, I walk out of it lighter, calmer.

Just before we left Platform, Paloma shared the thought of expatriates' relationship to water and the ocean in Naarm. Our homes are kept beyond the end of the horizon, from here our Latin America is from where the sun rises. For some of our ancestors, it was where the sun set as they left or were being captured and removed from their homelands.

Atravessei o mar, um Sol da América do Sul me guia.

Levo uma mala de mão, dentro uma oração, um adeus.

Where is home?

Jordan's headphones were playing an underwater soundscape. Putting them immediately submerged me.

A group was drawing with Deb, the seaweed dragon was the preferred muse of most of them. Different styles gave shape to the dragon's botanics like fins, yellows, oranges and purples instilling it with mystical amusement. I told two of them drawing about how easy it was to see the dragons on Mornington peninsula, just snorkelling.

Between the salt meditation and the talking with dear friends, I rushed in emails to organise the av equipment for tomorrow and supervise the zine printing. Not much time was left to join all the other activities happening, so I wondered how it was to hear Kilian's recording or to engage in the conversation downstairs facilitated by samples of water, weeds, cards and fragments of theory.

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