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Environmental art Portugal

B O D I E S  O F  W A T E R

Published at Three Knots Mag, 2023

(The original was written and is published in Spanish)

Skin with skin, so we are; the ocean and me. There is a small miracle that occurs every time I immerse myself in the water: the limits of my skin, so convinced of where they are while walking on land, suddenly dissolve in the sea. I appreciate the double ambiguity in this liquid state: neither feminine nor masculine, or rather, both*, between both seas, somehow we recognise ourselves, water and me. I get lost beyond the eyes perception and the glance of the skin, throughout its millimetric extension observing sensations, temperature, movement, gravity and balance; and so forward I go, while lacking movement. I analyse and dive, without finding the separation between my physical body and that of the sea. I know it is somewhere; but in all my body I do not find the exact place where that happens. Where do we start, and where do we finish?

Somehow, it is even more mysterious than I have come to understand this continuum between abstractions, water and me. There it is, and is no longer, beyond the binary. Nature and I, environment and humanity: an epistemic separation that simplifies an organisation, and by extension, comprehension while it reduces and confuses us. In some way, entering the water and the sea gives us the visual opportunity and the sensory evidence of a horizon and a half beyond the simple Cartesian belief by which we got used to living by, and to recover a wisdom, the sapere of the root of the word: to try with the senses, to have a taste. Knowing the sea is also entering its smells and something as essential as its salt flavour, and entering its nature is to open the doors to ours: one of adaptation, transformation, expansion and evidence of the nuance of what can be the “I”, in its being and disappearance, at the same time, in union even though independent. Or rather, interdependent.

 

In his research on the human microbiota, Hawaiian scientist Cliff Kapono encountered ocean bacteria in surfers whose molecular composition was more similar to that of whales and dolphins than to that of those who spend their lives in an office. So we change and adapt to our surroundings, literally from the innermost part of our beings. Who are we, exactly?

 

Between technical knowledge and the subtlety of being carried away, the sea is my place of preferred contradiction, a space of freedom that gives me the conditions to reply to the offer with doubt and distrust, followed by the alternation between surrender and control, reflection and lightness. My experience in the sea is that the ability in they entail the search for a deep knowledge of the floating displacement object by which we are being carried away: of water, in general; of the place where we are, in particular; and then, of the fact of being carried away. An interchange between knowing and disappearing into the liquid, without sinking but floating. And that is my favourite activity: to float, in motion. Which implies trusting, a basic concept for the entire relational structure that we weave as individuals and collectively and that defines much of our life experience. And also of being between elements, water and air. I like interstices, diversity and multiplicity, openness towards cultures, environments and possibilities. It might be the Mediterranean DNA, of the water that unites us, instead of creating distance.

In the water, the movement is made between knowledge and learning curiosity - or motionless, observing the cadence of currents, winds, waves, foreign bodies and how everything makes us feel. Perplexed, in recent years I have noticed that I did not know what I felt in the sea: I had dedicated so much time to absorbing foreign knowledge that I had stopped to ask the accuracy of my own body: what do you think? What do you feel? Little by little, I started reading myself, reaping from the word investigate - deriving from vestigium, the footprint we leave when walking. If the footprint is something so physical in the knowledge process, why ignore the role of our body in that inquiry?

 

That print was framed through the body: first observing the temperature differences arising from the currents and identifying how they could make my legs feel warm while a cold current passed through my ankles — that amazement took quite a long time. After many months, I have discovered that, submerged or floating, I can rest in the uncertainty and paradox of identifying the physical sensations of the body in the water at the same time as my profound inability to fully verbalise them. There is the sensation of not having weight; fluidity - does it have texture? - and the delicacy of the water on the skin, its lightness; the predominant emotions of joy, tranquility, some ecstasy that surprises me, and again, I don't know exactly where it is located. There are times when some emotions dominate my whole body, while others only inhabit small corners. Some get to hide, timid. I observe the combinations between them as ingredients, and I calculate their percentages: today, joy, but also a bit of sadness, anger, tiredness, and contemplation; in a few minutes, it may or may not change. The physical rhythm of the water and the sounds it carries, or that we co-create together, and the characteristic one of the shores. Its smell, when there is one, and its taste, salty, change in increments of the sea: Mediterranean, more, Atlantic, less.

 

How do we relate to the sea? In our society, how do we live with this limit between people and the aquatic landscape, how do we observe its sense of place and characteristics, the species that inhabit it, and those that depend on it, such as people?If relationships are essential for our individual health, why isn't the quality of our relationship with our environment a fundamental question? Some of the most intelligent people I know, from the land and from the sea, have the wisdom and sensitivity to deepen their knowledge in relating to other people and to nature: how they interact and create bonds with plants, trees, animals, rivers, and stones denotes a friendship that seems to derive from a deep knowledge, respect, recognition and admiration of these beings and elements, living and inert. They connect in a palpable way – with their hands, arms, legs, feet, the full movement of their bodies – emotionally and also very rationally. Behaviour, in the way it conveys our values, can have many manifestations and nuances. In a profound way, the customs that these wise people - those who have really tasted life - weave into these small daily practices create an emotional landscape structure enriched with relationships, intimacy with all things, beyond their time and place. In the face of uncertainty, that seems like a pleasant and successful port to live.

 

 

*In the original in Spanish, “sea” is interchangeably used as feminine and masculine.

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