Episode 01: Watery Thinking with Beatrice Alvestad Lopez and Bronwyn Bailey-Charteris

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Beatrice Alvestad Lopez is the very first host of the pilot episode of UNDISCIPLINED. Beatrice is a Norwegian/Spanish artist currently living and working in Stockholm, Sweden, where she successfully graduated from Konstfack, University of Art, Craft and Design. Her work is an extraordinary, rich mixture of materials and ideas. Work that exceeds the limited gallery space and often takes place in nature performed and witnessed only by the non-human bodies around her. Inspired by the writing of Astrida Neimanis and notions of hydrofeminism, Beatrice invited her colleague, Australian/Swedish curator Bronwyn Bailey-Charteris, to discuss in detail what it means to be a body of water.

Transcript

Bronwyn Bailey-Charteris: So hi, my name is Bronwyn Bailey Charteris and I am a curator. I am Swedish/Australian and I’m now at the moment based in Sydney, Australia. So, my work as a curator is really around this idea about the politics and poetics of eco aesthetics. I didn’t realise that rhymes. I have never said that out loud before. But it is really around this kind of question of how do we think about the climate and art. How do they come together? What is the kind of curatorial opportunity for thinking through these ideas? How do we take these amazing things that artists offer us into the world? How do we kind of expand those things and think about them differently? So, that is really what my work is about. 

 

Often I am lecturing. I lecture at Stockholm University among other universities and I am a doctoral candidate. I am finishing my PhD in Sydney at the University of New South Wales. And that’s where I developed this curatorial theory about art and water in the climate crisis. And that is called the Hydrocene. So yeah, that’s my introduction. 

 

Hydrocene is a water-based curatorial theory that Bronwyn named and defined in her doctoral thesis, Ingesting the Hydrocene, as an act of curatorial planetary caretaking. She believes that “ the curatorial ” – often performed by curators, but also artists, writers, theorists, other cultural workers through processes such as performance, performativity, or embodiment – has an important role to play in this current climate crisis. Relating to Donna Haraway’s book Staying with the trouble and the term of cultivating “response-ability, Bronwyn extends this term into an art context by saying that the curatorial now operates in the midst of a global climate crisis and therefore must develop response-ability to both the artists and their work, and the dying planet. 

In this way, the curatorial becomes all at once a bridge builder, a community maker, a connector and a defining force for planetary caretaking. According to Bronwyn, the art of the Hydrocene opens up the potential for more radical ways of relating to water ethically. Hydro-curious artists and cultural workers cultivate critical and collaborative methods of relating with water and bring poetry and politics together in an embodied way, often through connection to the site and community.

 

Beatrice Alvestad Lopez: Yes, that’s lovely! Maybe we can talk a little bit about how we met, you and me Bronwyn? 

 

BBCH: Yeah, absolutely, yeah. I think we were kind of drawn to hydrofeminism because we saw it in both of our practices and in the people that we are both really kind of drawn to within our community of art in Stockholm but also outside of Stockholm I would say as well. 

I think both you and I are kind of visitors to Stockholm in some way. Even if we are kind of long term visitors. So, I think we have this interest in art scenes beyond that as well. And I think water and hydrofeminism to me felt like that was helping us to connect to some of the other scenes that we are part of as well. Maybe that kind of duality that you have when you are a foreigner. You have one foot in one pond and one foot in another. So, I feel like we bonded over that in that way. 

 

And I think for me it’s always really nice when you work as a curator. You know, I trained originally as an artist, and I still think similarly to an artist but I tend to work just a little bit more collaboratively and  work with artists very closely. So for me, this was another beautiful chance to kind of meet you as an artist and hear about your work and then instead of like making an exhibition together or making another publication together, we decided to make this kind of hydrofeminist gathering together. So, I think it’s another kind of way that artists and curators or artists and organisers or artists and friends come to hang out. 

 

BAL: Yes, definitely. And it was, it was really fun to see how many joined the Facebook group when we started to send the invitations out. There seem to be people who really want to have a little community and share ideas around water. 

 

BBCH: Yeah! So, we came up with this term Vatten kompisar (translate. Water Friends) which we felt kind of had this nice ring to it about being like water friends. Friends of water, friends with water, friends through water, friends who gather with water, water friends. And with Vatten Kompisar, I think it’s also… It’s kind of like being like ‘oh these are my Vatten Kompisar’ and you being like ‘These are my Vatten Kompisar’. Maybe like my water friends and your water friends should all hang out. And while I’ve been writing this PhD about water I’ve had this real privilege that people are constantly telling me about artists who work with water. Like ‘You we’ve got to meet this person, because they do this work with water and you’ve got to meet this person’ or ‘I saw this beautiful work about this, etc’ So it’s kind of like this gathering place, the Water Friends group, to kind of help us at least to put together some of these pieces. And I would say, some of the people are like very deep water thinkers and water makers. Someone like Pontus Pettersson, who is a really amazing choreographer and artist who works a lot with kind of watery practices right across their whole practice. And then there are people like Tove Dreiman who have joined us being like you know, this isn’t the main aspect of her work, but water kind of is really reoccurring in her work and kind of continually resurfaces. 

And she was kind of drawn to a group where she could kind of discuss this as well.

So, I’d say that there is a whole range of people who are deep water bodies and others, who are kind of hydro-curious. 

 

BAL: It was very much an open sharing I feel. The first meetings. So people could express how they look at water or experience it. And I think we were sitting in a sort of circle and sharing this and that was just a very great moment to be part of this collective feeling of sharing. And maybe not having to think so much about your own practice all the time. It was nice to kind of hang out with other artists and just share this. 

 

BBCH: Exactly. I just, we are talking about the group but we should talk a little bit about hydrofeminism maybe, because I feel like it’s such an exciting term and we’re all just really big fans. I think of Astrida Neimanis. Big big fan girls of hers. She is just a really amazing writer and generous theorist I would say. I mean, I don’t know her personally, but her writing. And she does a lot of really beautiful talks and things that are online and have been accessible for us as a group to be able to access as well. So I really appreciate that. As an academic she makes her work really shareable and generous in that way. So yeah, she is a feminist phenomenologist, she is based in Canada at the moment but she used to be here in Sydney. She is also in Sweden sometimes, she passes through there which is great. So she has kind of a connection there, but I would just say, yeah, she came up with this term in 2012 from my understanding – hydrofeminism – and it’s a very kind of open format I would say. It’s a kind of proposition towards the idea about where does politics of water and feminism intersect and play out. And it’s like, you know, a couple of different definitions but at the same time it’s kind of almost like, you know as soon as one definition is laid upon it, it’s almost kind of like a skin of top of water that kind of shatters again and then a new layer kind of can be added I would say. It’s not really just one definition. 

 

In her book Bodies of Water, Astrida Neimanis describes hydrofeminism as a combination of feminist and ecological sensibility. She suggests that both bodies and our planet are made of the same water, which creates interdependence that forces us to critically look at the current water crisis and reject the separation between nature and culture. In her own words, hydrofeminism asks us to consider how environmental questions are never separate from the intrahuman power politics of racism, misogyny, colonialism, ableism, and classism.

Hydrofeminism also means learning from water both metaphorically and materially. Neimanis speaks of water as a substance in constant transformation and relation between bodies. It is a connector, a differentiator, a facilitator, a communicator that brings all kinds of bodies into intimate contact, despite and because of our differences. 

 

BBCH: But the way how I think about hydrofeminsm, what I picked up form Neimanises offeirngs and writings about it, is that it’s about basically this feminist sesibility and ecological sensibility being understood collectively through water. And I think it’s very important to think about the materiality of the way that waters move between bodies as like kind of this side for ethical and political and societal and artistic questioning. So the way that the body within hydrofeminism isn’t just kind of a concept, it’s actually materialy enacted by the way that the waters move between the bodies. So, when we think about some kind of, you know, sisterhood or activity or like ideas about care that we are often thinking about within feminism, it brings this new level to be thinking about it through these lens of water and hydrofeminism, because we are thinking about the capacity for waters and toxins and other things to kind of move between our bodies at the same time. So, but that’s my understanding of it. I think it really is just such an incredible concept because it is very porous, and it also is part of a whole big body of work that Neimanis and other thinkers and writers have offered into this field that I kind of loosely think of as thinking with water rather than thinking about water. Thinking with water as like a collaborator, as a kind of agent in its own right. 

 

BAL: I think, I started to do my work without knowing exactly about hydrofeminism, but working with water was always sort of very present and also something that felt meaningful and something I could really intuitively connect with by embodying it or experiencing it but also as a way of thinking. I think what was amazing about reading Neimanis was that, oh, this is actually a way that we can think about our environment and how we relate to it. And I feel that is very powerful and something that we really need. I think, first of all, to change how we think about our environment in order for it to make better decisions and that it affects everyone. And I think that was kind of my first sort of attraction to her theories. 

 

BBCH: Hmm, I really agree. I think it is exactly like that. It’s the sense that it opens more doors than it closes, you know with hydrofeminism. And there are some beautiful lists that Neimanis writes that hydr feminism is a weather front and it’s an old coat and its grief and you know, these kind of like beautiful terms. Which I think really laid like artists and curators and people who think with these kind of materiality around us and try to form some kind of meaning out of them. I feel like a lot of people are drawn to Astrida Neimanises work for that reason because she is kind of very generous in the way that she lays these pieces out for us and like lets us think about the stuff like the weather differently. Or lets us kind of consider the way that bodies are connected but that doesn’t mean that they are equally connected or equally distressed in different situations or, you know, she really writes beautifully about the way that like even though the water connects bodies it doesn’t at all mean that we are kind of blanketed and we are all the same. It’s actually continually showing a difference. That’s what water does. It continually finds  different ways to pursue each container that it finds itself in, that it continually kind of re-shuffles and organises itself. And that’s kind of this really beautiful and material understanding of the way that water moves through us as a society. And so I think it’s also like, yeah, I just really appreciate that it’s never this kind of simple connection. It’s always a connection that includes toxicity and difficult things and it’s an intersectional feminism as well, so it’s aware of the kind of different opressions that exist in society and the fact that somebody is carrying multiple opressions you know and different scenarios. And there are oppressions that we can’t recognise in each other but perhaps water offers us a way to consider the way that those oppressions play out. 

 

So yeah, this kind of offering of complexity, I think, is really beautiful in hydrofeminism. And I also think that kind of leans towards learning and pedagogy and like a kind of idea of collective learning which I feel that comes across in her writing about it, well at least in my interpretation of it as a theory. But it’s not really something you do on your own. It’s not like you can kind of be a hydrofeminist and just stay over here, in your corner. It’s very much more about finding points of connection and difference. She also writes about this amazing idea of hydrologics which is the idea that water has its own knowledge and its own kind of sets of ways of understanding things. So, like water is, you know, when you think of the classical idea of water is like being able to move stone, for example. Even though it seems so gentle, it can actually, you know, break through stone or it can be like a memory holder or secret keeper because of the way that it archives. You know, when you think of water in a swamp. The waters in a swamp are kind of like this incredible living archive, where they filter things and they keep the secrets of the creatures that exist there or have existed there. Well, this kind of thing. 

 

So, she names this kind of different way that water has this knowledge, its own knowledge, not a human based knowledge. But its own kind of set of knowledges, this kind of hydrologics. So, I feel like hydrofeminism is another kind of way of starting to understand the hydrologics that water itself kind of offers us. So, it’s kind of like a nice kind of frame or lens to look at the hydrologics that water is offering us. 

 

BAL: Yeah, it’s just mind blowing when you realise that the water that’s here is the water that’s always been here. It just blows your mind really because we might just think of it as something we need to drink but it has actually the origin of all life in it. 

BBCH: And I think when you kind of think about it in relation to some ideas like deep time it’s really helpful here, like helping us to see beyond this very short period that we are in and you know the climate crisis and the kind of like extinctions not to lose sight of that but to also see these scenarios within this kind of deeper time, within this geological time that moves way beyond archive of humans centred time frames and to try to really understand, you know, I’m really such a fan of Rachel Carlsons writing. And she’s got a really beautiful book from the sixties called The Sea Around Us. And she talks about like the beginning of the oceans and how the oceans were formed and she talks about the rain that came then and it rained for five hundred years and it’s like initial rains, the clouds were so heavy, so no sunlight came through. It’s this kind of dark and heavy planet raining for five hundred years and gently filling up the oceans. And the oceans are getting fuller and fuller because they are taking the salts and the minerals down from the rocks into the oceans and forming the oceans. And I mean, just like the way that Rachel Carlson writes this kind of beautiful poetic scientific writing. I would say that she is a hydrofeminist in that way, because she kind of shows us and builds for us this image of something we can connect to in terms of seeing the rains. Not as a new phenomenon and not something that is just annoying but actually, you know, something that is so deeply kind of ingrained within the whole planet that we exist on. And really, like you said, there is no life without the oceans and there is no oceans without the rains and you know, kind of seeing yourself within these cycles and our little tiny tiny second that the humans have been here, for me I feel like this is kind of all part of hydrofeminism in a very expanded sense.