Artist Talk: Creatures of the Lines

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Creatures of the Lines is produced in collaboration with the environmental anthropologist Heather Swanson. It explores how the desire for economic growth and linear progress has produced straightened forms in England’s watery terrains and asks what risks are associated with the conversion of once-curvy and braided worlds into a linearised landscape.

Drawing on their longstanding research interests and conversations exploring the risks to and in aquatic ecologies with academics from Loughborough University, the film explores how English waterscapes have been transformed via the construction of canals. As arteries of British Empire, canals linked Indian cotton fields to domestic textile mills, facilitating vast ecological transformations from monoculture agriculture in the colonies to industrial discharges in England’s waters, soils, and air– and thus serve as a key site for exploring often-overlooked histories of colonial capitalism and their material presences in contemporary worlds.

Attempting to work from within muddy, submerged sites, rather than from grand narratives or “god’s-eye” viewpoints, the work begins inside canals, telling stories from within the lines. Making use of the open-ended sensibilities of ethnography and natural history, it raises questions about ecological transformations and their ties to infra/structures of global political economy.

The film is accompanied by a keyword glossary, A (Highly) Partial Field Guide to British Canals: Introducing some processes and beings, by Heather Swanson and Sonia Levy.

A PDF copy of the glossary is available here.

This event is part of Emergency&Emergence, our multi-platform research programme that unearths transdisciplinary, sensorial and speculative practices of radical sensemaking and wayfinding via questions of repair, pedagogy, remediation and mutation.

Sonia Levy is an artist and filmmaker currently based in London. Her practice engages contemporary socio-ecological urgencies at the intersection of art and science. Through this co-becoming of disciplines, she uses filmmaking to query science’s history of entanglement with the logic of Western colonial extractivism. Her work attempts to develop new practices of care that foster dialogue as a means to consider new worlds.

She is the 2022 recipient of the S+T+ARTS4Water’s “The Future of High Waters” residency hosted by TBA21, and she was the 2021 commissioned artist at Radar Loughborough and Aarhus University’s Ecological Globalization Research Group. Levy was a participant in the 2020 Artquest’s Peer Forum ‘Rewilding’ at the Horniman Museum and Gardens. She has exhibited in the UK and internationally, including shows and screenings at Centre Pompidou, Paris; Musée de la Chasse et de la Nature, Paris; Muséum d’Histoire Naturelle, Paris; ICA, London; BALTIC, Gateshead; Obsidian Coast, Bradford-on-Avon; Goldsmiths College, London; The Showroom, London; Pump House Gallery, London; ZKM Karlsruhe, Art Laboratory Berlin; HDKV, Heidelberg; Futura/Karlin Studios, Prague; Harvard Graduate School of Design, Cambridge MA; Verksmiðjan á Hjalteyri, Iceland; and The Húsavík Whale Museum, Iceland.

Her work has been published by MIT Press, Antennae Journal, The Learned Pig, Billebaude, Verdure Engraved, and has appeared in NatureCulture and Parallax journals. She recently presented her research at NYU Gallatin, New York, The University of California, Santa Cruz, The Iceland Academy of the Arts, The Oslo School of Environmental Humanities, Trondheim Academy of Fine Art, and AURA: Aarhus University Research on the Anthropocene.

Heather Anne Swanson is Associate Professor of Anthropology at Aarhus University, as well as Director of the Aarhus University Centre for Environmental Humanities. With a long-standing interest in fish, rivers, and oceans, her current work broadly explores how political economies and ecologies are intertwined. She has been a founding member of several research groups that focus on transdisciplinary methods and collaborations among the natural science, social sciences, and arts, and is a co-editor of Domestication Gone Wild: Politics and Practices of Multispecies Relations (Duke University Press) and Arts of Living on a Damaged Planet(Minnesota University Press). Her newest book, Spawning Modern Fish: Transnational Comparison in the Making of Japanese Salmon, is forthcoming from University of Washington Press in 2022.

Filipa Ramos is a writer and curator with a PhD awarded from the School of Critical Studies at Kingston University, London. Her research, manifested in critical and theoretical texts, lectures, workshops and edited publications, focuses on how culture addresses ecology, attending to how contemporary art fosters relationships between nature and technology.

She is Director of the Contemporary Art Department of the city of Porto. Furthermore, she is curator of the Art Basel Film sector and a founding curator of the online artists’ cinema Vdrome. Ongoing and upcoming projects include the arts, humanities and science festival The Shape of a Circle in the Mind of a Fish (since 2018) and Persons Persone Personen, the 8th Biennale Gherdëina (2022), both with Lucia Pietroiusti.

She lectures extensively in the fields of contemporary art and ecology. She is Lecturer at the Master Programme of the Arts Institute of the Fachhochschule Nordwestschweiz, Basel, where she leads the Art and Nature seminars.

Your support is vital

A small one-off or regular donation helps us present free exhibitions, events and education programmes across the city, up and down the UK, and around the world.