Samantha Clark and Anne Bevan
Anne Bevan and Samantha Clark in front of ‘River Flow’
The flow of time
I began by talking about the large multi-panel drawing ‘River Flow’ that’s currently installed in the foyer of the building. The drawing originated with a residency at Timespan in Helmsdale, where I looked out every day at the black river, heavy with snowmelt. I was struck by the way the river’s complex flow was mostly invisible, except where revealed by the froth on the surface. It seemed akin to the way the events of our lives are mostly lost to memory, except a few moments we remember.
The drawing took about three years to complete, off and on. Each tiny circle is drawn by hand in white ink on black paper, a repeated gesture that became a kind of meditation on time, water and the act of drawing.
‘River Flow’, pigment ink on Arches paper, detail
Time doesn’t run out
Many philosophies, and now science too, tell us that time isn’t like a pot with a hole in it. It can’t run out. Nor is it a river. It isn’t a neutral, separate, uniform dimension in which events occur. Time is, we are told, multiple and varied, affected by mass. Time at the bottom of a deep ocean trench unfolds more slowly than it does among the clouds.
So, I’m interested in how reframing the ways we tend to think about time can offer us more space for uncertainty, possibility and hope, and my hunch is that water, in its very familiarity and ubiquity, will be our best and wisest teacher if we can learn to heed it.
Time is not like a river. And it turns out a river isn’t like a river either. In reality a river is not a single, linear entity. It’s rather a gathering of wetness, a confluence that’s replenished by rainfall, dews, mists, springs, meltings, seepings, oozings, that accumulate from a whole field of moisture.
A river is not a line, and a coast is even less so. Stand at the sea’s edge and you will see that the shore is where the land, that extends continuously beneath the water, emerges from beneath it and is resubmerged periodically, according to the rhythms of waves, tides, weathers and sea level. The time of the sea is cyclical, lunar, sedimentary.
Sunset at Birsay
Rain on the Sea
We are water
Here in Orkney, the story of water, time and connectedness is around us everywhere. Daily tides beat at the feet of cliffs 400 million years old. We walk the street daily over flagstones that hold the imprint of rain showers and wavelets from a single fleeting moment in the Devonian along a street that opens to piers built for vanished herring fleets, speaking placenames brought on Viking longships.
Water shaped Orkney’s deep past. But the research going on here also shows us that the water in which we are immersed, contested space as it may be, offers the hope that a deep future may also be possible.
It’s a common claim that being near water makes us happy, and we are certainly drawn to it. But in a world where sea level rise, flood and drought are already causing destruction that is predicted to intensify, we all know it’s not so simple.
But water’s true nature isn’t so simple either. An energy source and a spiritual symbol, water is both familiar and strange, everyday and extra-terrestrial, changeable and eternal. Its diffuse omnipresence in the world and in ourselves shows us, I think, better ways to think about time, the self and community. Water is, as any islander knows, not how we are separated, but how we are connected.
How might water teach us how to stay afloat together, in increasingly turbulent times?
What do you think? Drop me an email. Let’s build our watery connections.