Performative Ethnographies

What does it mean? Well, I hope to find out – by doing. With many thanks for the kind support from The Harbutt Fund, a fully funded #ethnohydro walkshop will bring artists, ecologists and others together for a days perambulation on the Somerset Levels.  My idea is a simple one – strolling the Marshes, getting to know each other. My loose strategy is to openly but subtly record our conversations, and to ask participants to (occasionally) talk with each other around various terms and topics. Not only will I learn a lot from these conversations, but I hope to develop some sound work out of it, sonic rhynes, if you will.

It seems that the term ‘performative ethnography’ has been around for about 10 years at least, and to quote from The Blackwell Encyclopedia of Sociology can be understood thus: Performance ethnography takes as its working premise that a theatrical representation of what one discovers through participant-observation fieldwork provides a vibrant and textured rendering of cultural others. Performance for the performance ethnographer is typically understood as an aesthetic act within a theatrical tradition. In western cultures this artistic endeavour calls upon actors through their use of presentational skills to evoke others for the consideration of audiences.

This #ethnohydro walkshop is a micro-research activity intended to harvest material for a future work, provisionally entitled Sonic Rhynes.


Rhyne and Huish – a work in progress


A rhyne (pronounced reen) is a ditch or canal used to transform areas of wetland into pasture. Huish is a habitational name that may refer to small areas of woodland. Through the winter months the Somerset Levels are often shrouded in thick fog and mist. Fog is low-lying, the moisture being generated locally. The only difference between mist and fog is visibility. The area is also subject to severe flooding, both from internal waterways and from coastal flooding. It is unique in the UK for this reason, being, essentially a delta which barely rises above sea-level. During December 2013 and January 2014 heavy rainfall led to extensive flooding with over 600 houses and 17,000 acres (6,900 ha) of agricultural land. The village of Thorney was abandoned and Muchelney cut off.

Rhyne and Huish is a new body of work which uses the Somerset levels and the Avalon Marshes as its focus, to explore water in this very specific landscape. It is a trans-disciplinary project which proposes that climate change is changing this landscape irrevocably, and that wetness as a way of being provides a starting point for negotiating life in a changing landscape. The intention is consider water as vapour, beyond liquidity, as a significant aspect of wetlands ecosystems, and as a sensuous yet disorienting phenomenon.

I am taking a number of approaches to this work – a preliminary sketchbook has already been exhibited – but significantly the approach sits within experimental geography, and focuses upon filmic and sonic field notes, walkshops and meandering conversations. I am interested in exploring the possibilities of developing sonic rhynes, and have started to create  very short filmic field notes. I am mapping the convergences with this work and with Astrida Neimanis’ work on Bodies of Water.20180130_090051

I can’t and won’t pre-empt the outcomes, but am punctuating the research with opportunities to share work in progress with a broader public. The next (and imminent!) iteration of this is a sonic walk at Newton Park campus (Bath Spa University) at Seeing Sound symposium.

Venice Biennale Reflections


Visiting the Venice Biennale for the very first time, in the final week of Arte Viva Arte, during November last year, was an exceptional experience. Though rather late in the day, this brief backward glance takes a highly selective look at just 3 of the artists and artworks from the 120 in the Arsenale, and the many pavillions at the Giardini. Ignoring the lacklustre acres of ethnographic textiles that dominated the Arsenale, I noted instead the frequent focus upon migration, diaspora and environmental crisis that was highlighted in so much of the work, in the main stadiums and in the many independent pavillions dotted across the city.

Pierre Huyghe’s large screen-based work upstairs in the Louis Vuitton shop; A Journey that Wasn’t (2005) retraces the artists’ expedition to Antarctica searching for a new island formed by melting polar ice caps inhabited by an albino penguin. This curious, well-paced work fused incongruous elements to foreground a sense of dis-ease.

Hew Locke presented work within the true highlight of the entire Biennale – The Diaspora Pavilion, and his work was no exception within this fine, provocative and topical exhibition. Locke’s work ‘On the Tethys Sea’ consisted of a number of small (toy-sized) boats suspended from the ceiling at eye-height, loaded with intended and unintended cargoes, and loaded too with a myriad of meanings. As the catalogue entry states: ‘A ship is a symbolic object, a vessel of the soul, a means of escape of both safety and danger. All seas are physically linked with each other. People have flowed like water across the globe, seeking a better life or fleeing an intolerable one’.

Hajra Waheed, a Canadian who grew up in the guarded areas of the Saudi national oil company, presented exquisite multiples of photographic images, sometimes added to with drawing, sometimes not. These quiet specimens echoed feelings about archives and about surveillance, whilst referencing the disappearance of 166 presumed pilgrims from Kolkata on the Hajj route in 2011. Part of a multidisciplinary corpus; Sea Change, she describes her work as ‘a visual novel that stitches together a story about the missing and the missed’.

Overall, the many video works that used watery motifs to examine environmental crisis and forced migration were powerful and apposite, and demonstrated that artists’ concerns were of the now whilst curators concerns were….not. I’m so glad I finally made it to the Biennale, and look forward to 2019.


Soundtrack of the Sea


The invited contributors to Benthic Caress are Chris Watson, Leah Barclay, and Jez Riley French. Chris Watson provided 10 minutes of sound captured in the thriving corals of the South China Seas, Leah Barclay provided 10 minutes of sounds selected from her work with the Biosphere Soundscapes, an interdisciplinary research project working in collaboration with multiple organisations and institutions across the USA, South America, Australia, Europe, India, Indonesia and Cambodia. Jez Riley French provided 10 minutes of sound taken from a recording in Iceland of minerals from the sea bed dissolving in a solution that relates to the corrosive levels of pollution at that location.

Chris Watson is one of the world’s leading recorders of wildlife and natural phenomena, and for Touch he edits his field recordings into a filmic narrative. For example. the unearthly groaning of ice in an Icelandic glacier is a classic example of, in Watson’s words, putting a microphone where you can’t put your ears. In 1971 he was a founding member of the influential Sheffield-based experimental music group Cabaret Voltaire. His sound recording career began in 1981 when he joined Tyne Tees Television. Since then he has developed a particular and passionate interest in recording the wildlife sounds of animals, habitats and atmospheres from around the world. As a freelance recordist for film, tv & radio, Chris Watson specialises in natural history and documentary location sound together with track assembly and sound design in post production.

​Jez riley French (b. 1965)
Using intuitive composition, field recording, improvisation and photography, Jez has
been exploring his enjoyment of and interest in detail, simplicity and his emotive
response to places and situations for over 3 decades. Alongside performances, exhibitions, installations, JrF lectures and runs workshops around the world and his range of specialist microphones are widely used by recordists,  sound artists, musicians, sound designers and cultural organisations. He also works as a curator of live events, a record label, of sound installations and an arts zine ‘verdure engraved’. In recent years he has been working extensively on recordings of surfaces, spaces and situations and developing the concept of photographic scores and ‘scores for listening’, which have featured widely in publications and exhibitions. His work has been exhibited in shows and installations alongside that of Yoko Ono,David Bowie, Pauline Oliveros, Chris Watson, Alvin Lucier, Annea Lockwood, Ryuchi Sakamoto, Stars of the Lid, Jeremy Deller, Sarah Lucas, Brian Eno, Signe Liden, Sally Ann McIntyre etc, at galleries including The Whitworth Gallery (Manchester), Tate Modern and Tate Britain, MOT – Museum of Contemporary Art, Tokyo (Japan), Artisphere (USA). For the Hull, Capital of Culture year 2017 year in the UK, Jez has created a number of works including the installation of Icelandic recordings ‘the sound of the world turning’ for John Grant’s North Atlantic Flux festival, and also collaborated with Jan Bang, Arve Henriksen, Eivind Aarset & Opera North on ‘The Height of the Reeds’, an installation based sound walk in the Humber Bridge. He has been described, in an interview with the British Library, as one of the most influential sound artists of his generation, not only for his own creative work but also for his expansion of extended field recording techniques and modes of listening into key elements of the sonic arts, film, tv, radio, architecture & the games industry.

Dr Leah Barclay is an Australian sound artist, composer and researcher working at the intersection of art, science and technology. She specialises in electroacoustic music, acoustic ecology and emerging fields of biology exploring environmental patterns and changes through sound. Her work has been commissioned, performed and exhibited to wide acclaim across Australia, New Zealand, Canada, USA, Peru, Colombia, Europe, India, South Africa, China and Korea by organisations including UNESCOEar to the EarthStreaming Museum, Al Gore’s Climate Reality and the IUCN. She has been the recipient of numerous awards and has directed and curated interdisciplinary projects across the Asia-Pacific and USA. Leah composes complex sonic environments that draw attention to changing climates and fragile ecosystems. These works are realised through live performances, interactive installations and site-specific interventions drawing on environmental field recordings, data sonification, live streams and immersive sound diffusion. Recent examples include augmented reality sound walksexploring the cultural and biological diversity of river systems and Rainforest Listening, a virtual canopy that transforms iconic urban locations into the Amazon Rainforest. Rainforest Listening launched in Times Square for Climate Week NYC 2015 and was a featured cultural event for COP21 in Paris where each observatory platform of the Eiffel Tower was transformed into the four distinct layers of tropical rainforest vegetation through immersive soundscapes accessed through mobile phones. Leah’s work is multi-platform in nature and involves long-term engagement with communities across the globe ranging from remote river systems in South India to pacific island communities in Vanuatu. She leads several large-scale research projects including Biosphere Soundscapes, an interdisciplinary venture exploring the changing soundscapes of UNESCO Biosphere Reserves across the world and River Listening, which examines the creative possibilities of aquatic bioacoustics in collaboration with the Australian Rivers Institute. Leah’s diverse creative practice has resulted in a career where she works as a researcher, artist, consultant and educator with various organisations and institutions. These include designing immersive education programs for UNESCO, directing large-scale interdisciplinary research projects for major universities across Australia and the USA and facilitating partnerships between communities, NGOs and government to explore creative approaches to climate action. She regularly guest lectures for international universities including NYUBrown University and The Art Institute of Chicago. Leah is the president of the Australian Forum for Acoustic Ecology, the vice-president of the World Forum of Acoustic Ecology and serves on the board of a range of arts and environmental organisations. She is currently a postdoctoral research fellow at the Queensland Conservatorium Research Centre where she is leading a portfolio of research exploring the value of acoustic ecology as a socially engaged, accessible, interdisciplinary field that can inspire communities across the world to listen to the environment.

The invited contributors were Chris Watson, Leah Barclay, and Jez Riley French whose broad profiles have been outlined above. Chris Watson provided 10 minutes of sound captured in the thriving corals of the South China Seas, Leah Barclay provided 10 minutes of sounds selected from her work with the Biosphere Soundscapes, an interdisciplinary research project working in collaboration with multiple organisations and institutions across the USA, South America, Australia, Europe, India, Indonesia and Cambodia. Jez Riley French provided 10 minutes of sound taken from a recording in Iceland of minerals from the sea bed dissolving in a solution that relates to the corrosive levels of pollution at that location. These three contributions offered a global perspective and a highly professional standard and context for subsequent submissions by emergent sound artists.

Artists selected by submission include
Ivon Oates: UNDER AN UPTURNED BOAT’ recordings made under an upturned boat lying in a stream on Eype beach, Dorset. The remote sounds of waves, passers by, and dogs on shingle echo within the contained space, while the rippling stream is amplified. Ivon oates’s multi-disciplinary approach incorporates soundwork and digital media with fine arts and architectural/environmental design. She enjoys collaborative projects that engage a deep exploration of consciousness in nature, especially our relationship with the wild. She has exhibited and installed work widely in Europe and UK, and participated in festivals, (B-side Dorset, Whitstable Biennale).

David Rogers: Dungeness Tower Shoreline. Recorded using Shotgun Mics (above the surf), Hydro Mics (under the surf) Contact Mics (on the tower). His creative practice includes installation, combining 3D construction, performance and screen based work, single screen, projections, multiple screen works and audio, ranging from soundscapes to compositional sound. Work exhibited in both gallery and non gallery situations.

Rachael Allain: Sternidae Altum Is a subaquatic sound recording capturing the Terns feeding on the turning tide at sunset on a remote South Devon beach at the end of the summer. Sternidae or Terns, sometimes referred to as sea swallows, are migratory sea birds that return to warmer climes in the autumn. Most Tern species are declining in numbers due to the loss or disturbance of breeding habitat, pollution and increased predation. Found throughout the world, they are summer visitors to Europe, spending the winter off the coast of Africa. The Royal Society for the Protection of Birds, RSPB, considers Terns to have an Amber conservation status category.

Andrea V Wright: Dissolve, Cease was written and recorded at a small fishing village in Cornwall for the 2015 Porthleven Prize. Her practice explores the relationships between the formal and indexical employing both geometric and organic structural references. She works both intuitively and systematically through the use of natural and manmade materials and found objects.

Moore & Parker have 3 short pieces included – Very recent hydrophone recording of marine life in a rock pool near Devil’s Point, French students enjoying an idyllic evening on Falmouth’s Gyllyngvase Beach, and Night Sounding Sound composition of a trawler fleet protesting in Plymouth Sound against fishing restrictions.

Lee Berwick: Dwr (Welsh for ‘water’) was created on retreat in North Wales and uses sonification to explore the potential of enchantment.

Finally, a playful contribution from the SW Trio Wildlife Discotheque who often work with museums and other cultural institutions sharing their vinyl wildlife recordings. These recordings had been gathered over many years from the overgrown, neglected and wilder corners of local charity shops, record fairs, and car boot sales. The discs plot a crackly history of nature sound and the pioneers who spent hours in the field with cumbersome gear and an ear for sound and song.


Benthic Caress – literally  – means loving the ocean. This silent disco in the sea takes place during Plymouth Art Weekender, and is a one hour, one off, participatory performance where you, the participants, are both the audience and the performers. Selected sonic works that make up the soundtrack for this unique celebration of our seas will be announced shortly. In the meantime, grab your tickets here while you can.

Behind the scenes I’ve been spending the summer doing Summer Schools – the Association of Commonwealth Universities brought 50 students from far flung places to Bath Spa University for a packed week, including visits to Avebury and the Avalon Marshes. A week in Utrecht offered an immersive experience with Rosi Braidotti, exploring posthuman ethics, whilst 48 hours in London included presentations from Parliament, The British Library, Routledge and the Wellcome Trust. Inbetween, I squeezed in a workshop with DAISI and The Box, and did my first Instagram Takeover, for Plymouth Art Weekender. These next few weeks will be taken up preparing my film Liquid Mimesis for screening at a conference in Adelaide, working on my progression assessment for the PhD, and presenting my most ambitious work to date: Benthic Caress.

Benthic Caress – artists call out

Benthic Caress is a one-hour participatory performance piece, which offers a unique experience in the Tidal Pool at Devils Point, Plymouth, during Plymouth Art Weekender 2017. Benthic Caress is a gathering of 100 people  within the confines of the tidal pool, who will take part in a ‘silent disco’ where the soundtrack is a collection of specially curated sound pieces selected from a call-out to the lively international network of ecoacoustic artists, showcasing work which celebrates the diversity of marine life. Benthic Caress is a collaboration between Laura Denning and the artists taking part. Saturday 23rd September (time tbc: tide-dependent).

Artists are invited to propose or submit a 10 minute (max) sound piece which explores, reveals, celebrates or mourns the rich diversity of marine life, including critically endangered or extinct species, and can include the human presence also. The brief is really very broad, but the intention is to give participants an intimate engagement, through sound, with ocean life.

Plymouth Art Weekender is in its third year. The Weekender confidently celebrates Plymouth, its people and the visual arts, promoting the city as an exciting contemporary art destination.

Laura Denning is a transdisciplinary artist who often uses sound, and moving image, but not just. She often (but not always!) considers curation to be a form of art practice also. For last years’ Plymouth Art Weekender she presented a Live Art Performance in which wild swimmers dived off The Hoe and interacted with the underwater webcam in Plymouth Sound, the footage being relayed live to the Big Screen in the City Centre. All her work focuses on water.

Full publicity and promotion will be given to the selected artists, and the work will subsequently be broadcast on Soundart Radio, for whom Laura is a regular broadcaster.

To submit a proposal/piece of work, send your MP3s to by September 10th. Include contact details, a brief description and a brief bio. Selected artists will be notified by September 15th.


Lying down in a darkened auditorium, with 30 other people, listening to Chris Watson’s Trent Falls to Spurn Point sound installation, with him in the room. Walking with Crickets with Lisa Hall from CRiSAP.  Total yet peripatetic immersion in the River Listening Sound Walk by Leah Barclay, followed by a hands on sound mapping workshop with Leah, and Grant Smith from Soundcamp. Finding Judit again, and finally meeting Simon. Seeing Tania Kovats’ work  and Dorothy Cross’ ‘Ghost Ship’ at Hull Maritime Museum.

Falling in love with Hull, enjoying the City of Culture, Paper City, the bus drivers. Meeting and talking with sound artists from all over the world. And so much more.

And coming home.



FaB – the Finale: Primordial at Cleveland Pools

Lose yourself this weekend – wander down Hampton Row and slink through the discreet gate to behold the hidden gem that is Cleveland Pools. You will not be disappointed. You will always remember coming here. There are just 2  more days to see 11 outstanding artists whose work considers how we relate to other species, and how we relate to water. Saturday is an open day, with nothing scheduled except time to take it all in.

Sunday is the finale, with two exceptional events for you to take part in. At 11am Devon Forrester Jones leads an immersive and collaborative experiential event that sets the intent for change.

This is the social body – cells together. Functions vary. Discourse is osmosis. For the body to continue cells must communicate, enzymes must be responsive, must accept the substrate. To do that we have to increase the sensitivity of the cells, of ourselves.

At 2pm Carol Laidler and Pat Jamieson (alldaybreakfast) draw the exhibition to a close with a participatory event that relates to their haunting and evocative sound piece that has been one of the highlights of the show.

The history of water
holds in solution
what has been done
by whom
to whom
at whose behest
and why
This is what came down the river
This is what was thrown away….

And lastly, by way of an outroduction, let me share with you a little about my art practice and the work I have included in Primordial. 5 Soups is a simple augmented reality experience, in which viewers are invited to step through still images, using their smart phones, to discover experimental poems, both visual and sonic. Primordial is a short film, shot on a mobile phone, at Cleveland Pools itself. Human and other species intervene in the pond life and disrupt the tranquillity of this forgotten space.

Two mesmerising filmworks in Fringe Arts Bath 17

Wander into the backstreets of Bath, beyond the Holburne Museum, between the canal and the river, and meander down to the breath-taking site that is Cleveland Pools over the next two weekends. Here you will discover a selection of film and sound works by a range of artists whose work all considers our relationship with water. Two artists whose work will captivate you are Annette Arlander, and Amy Sharrocks. Their work couldn’t be more different from each other – in one a lone woman has her back turned from us as she contemplates the tide in a vast, unpopulated land/seascape, whilst the other film shares the experience of 50 swimmers as they travel across London from lido to lake to canal swimming in each site before moving on to the next one.

Primordial is on view at Cleveland pools 3/4th June and 10/11 June 10am-4pm (BA2 6QS)

Annette Arlander – Tide in Kan-Tiang

A small tree grows in a rocky cove near Kan Tiang beach on the Island of Koh Lanta in Thailand. On one of the last days of the year 2015 I stand next to it for a day with two-hour intervals in order to experience the tide together with it.

Annette Arlander is a Helsinki-based artist, researcher and a pedagogue, one of the pioneers of Finnish performance art and a trailblazer of artistic research. She graduated as a director from Theatre Academy in 1981 and as Doctor of Art in 1999. Arlander was Professor of Performance Art and Theory at Theatre Academy 2001-13, Professor of Artistic Research 2015-16 at University of the Arts Helsinki and visiting professor at Stockholm University of the Arts. Her art work focuses on performing (in, with, through) landscape by means of video or recorded voice, in the border zone between performance art, video and environmental art. At present she works with the project “Performing with Plants”.

Amy Sharrocks – SWIM

On 12 July 2007, 50 people swam across London. ​

SWIM was an open invitation, all-access swim from South to North London, inspired as much by Burt Lancaster’s odyssey across the American landscape of the ‘The Swimmer’ (1959), as by the Keystone Kops and Benny Hill. The live artwork traced the blue across a brown cityscape, offering a very British response to Frank Perry’s film at the start of the 21st Century. SWIM drew out Burt Lancaster’s male purpose and concentration on the body beautiful into an inclusive, participatory celebration – a kind of flesh mobbing – with male and female swimmers of all ages, sizes and abilities, exploring ideas of freedom in this dream of swimming the capital. This film documents the day and the journey through London.

Amy Sharrocks is a live artist, sculptor and film-maker whose artworks are centred in collaboration and exchange, the impact we have on each other and the world around us. For 12 years she has made work about people and water. She has floated boats on swimming pools across the UK, group dowsed the central rivers of London and swam across the city with 50 people for SWIM.  Sharrocks won the SculptureShock award from the Royal British Society of Sculptors for her work on falling, and was shortlisted for an Arts Foundation award. Her writing on falling was collected into the Live Art Almanac 4, the best writings on Live Art 2016. The award-winning artwork Museum of Water was shortlisted for European Museum of the Year 2016 and is currently touring Australia.