LIVING WATER: the river hid (Finding my way)
“... there seemed to be a hushing influence in its flow...”
Edgar Allen Poe ‘The River of Silence’
The lightness of the early morning mist floats just above the water’s surface, eddying and glowing gently. I approach the bend in the river, silently drifting around the corner so that the next stretch is revealed to me, as if being discovered for the first time by any human. Banks of trees to my right are shining, their branches heavy with the weight of hundreds of white birds. For one frozen moment the birds examine me and I feel an intense stillness, then suddenly, in unison as if some unspoken message of discovery has been relayed, they all take flight, their wings deafening as they beat the air, their bodies filling my vision and blotting out the sky as they fly away and leave me alone on the river.
When I first approached this body of work I was interested in discovering and somehow evoking the connection the current residents in and around Lismore have to their large river system, nestled in their midst. I researched the history of the area and searched out locals, trying to unlock their stories of the river where they lived and worked. But the conversations were stilted, the sharing of memory did not flow easily and what slowly became apparent was that in fact this body of work was not about other’s memories but rather about a re-connection with water and river for me, a journey linking me both to the town of Lismore and back through to my childhood.
I embarked on a series of kayak trips up and down the Wilson River and Leycester Creek, travelling at different times of the day, in changeable weather and on different days of the week.
Invariably I was the only person out on the river, in one step exiting the hustle and bustle of the town and entering this hidden almost mystical realm, a parallel universe. The experience of being low on the water, gliding slowly along the riverbanks and under the bridges had the effect of igniting all of my senses including the visceral sense of memory, a sense of connection to a lifeline. Navigation marks on the bridges and river banks were a familiar language to me, guides to assist safe passage. I recorded aspects of the experience through photographs and sound recordings and collected water from each trip as well as making marks and notes in a journal.
I took this physical evidence along with the imprint of the trip on my senses and psyche back to the studio and started to translate these experiences into small ice ink drawings on glass which I then scanned at high resolution. Through my development of the materials gathered I put these scanned images into Photoshop and reinterpreted them into digital prints, overlaying layers of photographs, sound and scanned water drawings, each one becoming the coalescence of the mood and memory of that physical time on the river and the emotions provoked.
The world I had discovered seated in the kayak was one of secrecy and mystery both familiar and new. The riverbanks are often steep and inaccessible, clothed in dense vegetation, a mixture of native and introduced species. I would embark from the centre of town where this vegetation has been cleared only to find it quickly returned to enclose the river. Just behind the trees, sometimes visible, often hidden, was the human world. At times it made itself know through sound; church bells pealing on a Sunday, the harmonics of the rhythmic pattern of cars travelling across the bridge directly overhead or music wafting out over the water from a hidden house. At other times through smell; sweet vegetation, food cooking or waste rotting. Physical signs of habitation were varied; a few houses perched at the top of steep banks, tents hidden in the bush – secret camps for those who are unseen, or neglected silent boats moored along the riverbank.
The colour of the river was also changeable, never fixed; sometime monochrome in mood at other times generous in the variety of hues and tones. Flashes of bright colour would intrude on the moment; the vivid blue of a kingfisher as it flashed past, the delicate blue of a dragonfly as it lightly rested on a blade of grass, the solid blue of a plastic bottle top floating motionless, locked in the stagnant embrace of the cavernous entrance to a pump station.
“Have you also learned that secret from the river; that there is no such thing as time.”
Hernann Hesse ‘Siddhartha’
It gradually dawned on me that the gift these outings on the river was giving me was stillness, captured moments of calm; calm mind and calm body. The gentle rhythm of paddling or the peace of sitting still and drifting along with the current gave me space to awaken my senses to the moment. I found I could really feel the river and myself on that day, at that time in that place. The result was memories flooding in of past moments spent in boats, from the present day to my childhood; learning to sail with my father in my grandmother’s wooden scow, sailing up the river to picnic on the riverbank with the boy I had a crush on, racing on the Solent and coming in last, anchoring in the South Pacific in the moonlight, navigating the shallows of distant ...
“May what I do flow from me like a river, no forcing and
no holding back”
Rainer Maria Rilke
As the process of translating these experiences developed I realised the layering of these memories was as physical as the layering of the images and the ink. I felt I was overlaying the past with the present and holding these moments suspended in time through the prints and drawings on glass. The ink on the glass is volatile and I discovered a way to seal it with a thin, fluid layer of wax, a blanket of mist, the drawings becoming subtle and semi hidden from one side while sharp and clear when viewed from the other. A confluence of viewpoints.
There came a point where I was ready to put the digital world to one side and return to the ice ink drawings. This is a process that has developed for me over time, the act of choosing the colours, freezing them in the water collected, then placing the ice cubes onto the glass to melt. This process results in drawings created in partnership with the environment; an invitation to the aleatorical mark, the human hand and intent in partnership with the materials chosen which are then actively influenced by their physical environment (temperature, humidity and dust).
Larger glass works have become the central point of this body of work, supported by a series of digital prints, artist books and a sound loop of recordings from my meandering along the Lismore Rivers. For the titles of the works I am looking to musical terminology, the sounds of the river are an integral part of this experience and as music and singing have been with me all my life I find the terms clearly portray a mood for me that is reflected in each moment from the river.
“I thought how lovely and how strange a river is. A river is a river, always there, and yet the water flowing through it is never the same water and never still.”
Aiden Chambers ‘This is all: The Pillow Book of Cordelia Kenn’
Annique Goldenberg 2014