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Wapping River Thames projects

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   Nature in the city: the impact of water on urban scenery

The visual culture of the Thames has tended to focus on its domestication and social and economic role while this project is about the river as a natural force. The photographs show the existence of the wet world in the middle of urban London. The focus of interests is the substance of water and variation in its dynamics.  Water in a river is always on the move. Natural changes like the tide, daylight and weather influence how it and the riverbanks are perceived. The Thames is sometimes calm and beautiful, but also has the potential of turning into a power beyond human control. An intention of this project has been to create a visual, sensual experience and expression of water. The aim is to raise awareness of the presence of nature in the urban environment. It is also a tribute to a great river, not because of what it was in the past, but because of what it is in the present.

The photographs and text were part of my MA in Photography and Urban Culture (PUC) at Goldsmiths College, University of London in 2006. 

Sounds of Wapping

The video Sounds of Wapping is a co-operative project between Portia Winters and Tine Blom. Tine was the filmmaker and originator of the project, and she made the video recordings of tides, waves and materials, and the edit. Portia contributed to the project design, made the field recordings, additional sound design and final sound edit.

With special thanks to Goldsmith's college and the EMS, University of London, and Lillehammer College, Norway.

The video was presented at the Research Days  of Lillehammer College at Lillehammer Library in September 2013, and at the Conference  Urban Materialities at British Library in October 2013. 

The aim of this collaborative video project were to bring into focus the presence of the river in our urban existences. This is both in terms of the moment to moment and also historically, through the centuries. When so much of contemporary life is fast-paced and short of the chance for reflection, the river offers a reminder of the rhythms and processes of the earth that exist with us and unfold and repeat at different speeds.

The daily, seasonal and annual changes of the river are threaded into a magnetic rhythm, which, upon visiting the river, settles the body and airs the mind. Still, the river too is marked by rapid change and unsettled trajectories. Each visit, being intricately different according to the parameters of the tide, the weather, the human activities and so forth, detail the perpetual unfolding of the river's rhythms. These visits hold immense value as a demonstration of how the urban, rather than existing in commonly perceived isolation is, in fact, not at all alone either geographically or temporally. We are not actually raised above nor unaffected by nature.

Indeed, the urgency of our need to listen to this augmented pulse of existence is perhaps proved by the balm experienced by our visits and considerations of the river. In listening and observing at the riverside, many more textures of sound, pulses and activity are uncovered. The act of sensory attuning may enhance our chances of re-identifying with nature's aesthetic. It reveals the binds between nature and culture to be more complex than we readily admit, and also reminds us of how vulnerable we are to the river (and the sea), whose tempestuous forces we do not control.

We would like to map a visual and sonic chorography of the Thames with field recordings made over a series of visits. In some parts, we would focus on what can be uncovered by returning to the same place, and in other parts explore the details of different points along the river. We would like to work towards a visual and sonic installation that combines straight documentation with moments of subtle compositional processes. Our aim is to bring out the distinctive and highly complex as well as compellingly engaging character of the flow of the river. From boats to rain to tides to corners of the smaller river drainages, the sounds and the moving stills of this project seek to present the observer with points, flows and moments of the multifarious character, which is the Thames.

In conversation with Portia Winters, the philosopher Jónsson reflects below upon the act of listening to nature. His observations about its educative powers can be broadened to embrace the full sensory experience:

“To have a musical experience is not just a momentary sensation or feeling caused by sounds in our vicinity. It is not just what we hear, but also what becomes of what we hear. What we hear may change the way in which we relate to the world, not just in a particular moment, but in the future. So, in order to account for musical experience we would have to consider how we relate to things, what our values are, and how these get projected into the future. In short, experience is not just something that hits us, so to speak, but also something that changes us. To be able to have experience is to be able to be educated."                                                                                           Ólafur Páll Jónsson                                                                                                                                 

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