Floating Harbour

Walk 7

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19492012This is the Cumberland Basin, where the Floating Harbour is held apart from the tidal waters of the New Cut.  Directly above is 2012, from the air.  2012′s mud and traffic.  Almost the same as 2013, except when we were walking the island last week the tide was out and the Floating Harbour was hosting an intervarsity rowing event and we were viewing it at an angle perpendicular, looking across the flexing waters.  As one of our participants was only two months old, we walked and stopped and drank some tea and ate some chocolate and watched the rowers for a while and returned to Spike Island to write in the warmth of the cafe.  Outside, the water turned.  And time passed.

And we, writing.

And not writing.

There isn’t anything to show for it yet – but this is the way of collaboration.  Sometimes, it takes longer; sometimes it might grow into something else; sometimes this moment we are turning around now might be lost later on.  And it’s best not to plan the ending before it has arrived.

Collaboration is an action performed by more than one on more than one actor’s terms.  It needs dual attention.  It can be an embarrassing airing of a process we normally roll through privately or intuitively or with complete freedom.  Collaboration asks for different levels of care and the requirements for clarity and communication can ask questions of your own work, later on.

Sometimes this process can be halting and full of difficulties.  Sometimes it doesn’t work, but in this process and its failure is something else.  Something curdled, split.

But don’t throw this away.  Let it fester a bit.  Come back to it from time to time.  Even this can be useful.

But when it breaks, when things slow and the tide turns and things get claggy—let it.  The other artist is thinking too.  And living and sleeping and working and caring and paying and breaking.  It is not a case of walking at the pace of the slowest, but moving in time with them from the beginning.  Even if you’re walking in opposite directions, keep pace.

These thoughts were prompted by reading SJ Fowler’s interview on collaboration with The Learned Pig from last week:

For me it is entirely about the process. I do not feel comfortable in any situated objectivity when it comes to the end results, and more than that, quite fundamentally, I’m seeking out these collaborations because of what the process provides me. Which is a mediation of sociality through the creative act, a wholly communal engagement with a normally private process.

Yes.  That’s it, right there.  This interview comes after the recent publication of Fowler’s book, Enemies, which in turn is the product of an innovative, multidisciplinary project in which Fowler has worked with over 150 artists and writers from across the UK.  It is recommended.  Ferociously.

Further into the interview, Fowler wonders about geography’s role in his vast project.  His comments have been particularly useful to my thinking about this project (being regional, being not-London, being site-specific and specifically a channel of water and a slip of land in south-west Bristol).  Speaking on London, Fowler claims that the incredible cost of living, the pressure of work and the “little aperture” of time leftover for art means artists living and working in the capital “work rapidly, roughly, and often. They are freer in collaboration” while outside of London “the energy is lower because it can be [...] and by consequence [regional artists in collaboration] are less prolific, less self-effacing and less adept at collaborating.”  By his own admission, this is “horrific” generalisation.  Of course it is.  But it does prompt a discussion on the frameworks of collaboration, the expectations of partnership and the ‘contract’ between collaborators.  How is, for instance, “adeptness” in collaboration different to or affected by participation and engagement and access to employment?  Fowler’s statement suggests collaborative success is affected positively by the agility and concentration of the activity, and to some extent the stress on time that forcibly distances the maker from the work.

But are we confusing matters by talking about geography?  Those that live outside of London are many and regions outside of London are manifold.  There are countless reasons for the aperture to snap shut, even outside of London.  Enough time / enough money / enough work /enough strength / enough clarity / enough clout / too many commitments / too much ego / too much authority are not mappable things.  Not entirely.

But most importantly, when the aperture is not open, we wait.  That’s OK.  The work can stand it.

Walk Two

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Taking a cue from National Poetry Day last week, we set out in search of water.

This time, turning away from the green slick of the tidal Avon, we headed for the Floating Harbour, a vast ’80 acres of tidal river’ pinned in to create a busy inland port.  A sealed body.  A container for water, for trade, for the choppy glitter that the tourists’ packet boats trail between bars, galleries, restaurants.  A Floating Harbour?  Like a money float, we thought, perhaps?  A bottled supply of buffer, delay, duplication, constancy.

We started to sketch the water, taking notes, reading the momentary alignment of passing boats as if they were snatches of conversation, sentences, overheard.

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We looked at the water, realising we kept describing the surface skin: peaks, mirror, rippling, movement, splash, wake.  A fisherman catching roach suddenly drew a vertical line out of the depths and we paid attention.

We tried to take a sample of the water from underneath what we could see.  It looked the same, but quieter.

We were talking a lot about writers’ practices, the daily routine and the relentless rolling of the day into night when some writers begin and others pack up.  We started to talk about the containment of time, the allotment of schedule, of discrete moments, of split vision.  We started trying to look at the water, this bright band of movement from left to right, in segments.  To think: we were here, we will be there, though, at some point.  And we must be back here by 4pm.  We talked about the water as a model for writing.  The surface as semantics.  The hidden mechanics of the moving body underneath, the rolling movement of narrative, time, force.  We were dealing with the fine ripples, the muscular flick of a repeated wave caught on the foreshore, that we framed in a little guide for looking made especially for this workshop.

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Six frames of reference, moving around the reassurance of you are here: you will be here, you were here, you could have sworn you were here, you wish you were here, you will never never never be here no matter how hard you try.

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We used this model of looking, splitting our attention across six points, six times and focussing on brief moments of alignment, of interruption.  A boat glides across, a seagull drops from the breeze, a fish splutters up the fisherman’s line, the Pyronaut.  We started to notice other containers for water and we had other conversations about writing poetry, about prose, about writing for academic purposes.  Containers each.  And ways we shape our time, our attention.

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We started with the same scene, the same water.  And amongst us, we wrote very different accounts of our walk.  A meditation on water, a short story, a sequence of poems, a conversation, a promise.  And in many ways, all our responses were all of these, just split and layered across the surface in different arrangements.  Some of these will be appearing here in time.

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The next walk in the Spike Archipelago series is Sunday 13th October at 2pm, meeting at Spike Island foyer.  We will be exploring the buildings, developments and missing structures of Spike Island.  Please do join us!  Contact hccwriting@gmail.com for further information.