REPRESENTATIONS OF EMBEDDED AND EMBODIED WATER RELATIONS IN PLACE - MALAWI AND ELSEWHERE   

by James Bonner
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My work with(in) water has emerged from my doctorate studies focused on the southern African country of Malawi, and broadly in the context of interdisciplinary social-ecology studies and sustainability science. I have been exploring various sources of evidence, and seeking to represent, some of the multiple social, ecological, cultural and economic relationships between water, people and place I encounter- “interactions with water within a cultural landscape” (Strang, 2004). 

I have been piecing together some of the material from the reflective journals, hand drawn maps, photographs and sound recordings I collected and developed during my fieldwork, along with various sources of secondary evidence and information I have encountered. 

Drawing on ideas of ‘assemblage’- a process and output of piecing or gathering together various elements or objects- and its use in various disciplines from social sciences to the arts, I have developed a number of visual collages to represent these relationships of people, place and water in Malawi.

These collages, gathered from a series of ‘water walks’ I took during my fieldwork, represent some of the specific engagements I had, and evidence I collected. I have developed these, and some other engagements, into audio-visual ‘montages’ on my website at: https://www.couchtocairn.com/water-engagements 

Dziwe la Nkhalamba and Likhubula Pools, Mount Mulanje, Southern Malawi
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Dziwe la Nkhalamba (Old man’s pool) is a waterfall in Malawi’s highest mountain- Mount Mulanje. It has natural and cultural significance, recounted in local folklore, mythologies and storytelling and which also feeds Likhubula Pools further downstream. Recently a new pipeline project was built to divert water from the pools to the capital city of Blantyre. What impact will this have on the local landscape, as well as human and non-human life? 

Zomba, Lake Chilwa and Chisi Island, Southern Malawi
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Lake Chilwa is the second largest lake in Malawi- only Lake Malawi is greater in surface area. But in 2018 it dried up so much you could drive or walk from the mainland to its island, Chisi, several kilometres away. The lake has a history of occasional drying. But is climate change playing a part in more recent occurrences? What is the local social, ecological and economic impact of this? What is the relationship to growing demand for water in the nearby town of Zomba? 

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This collage is from a recent visit to the small coastal villages of Port Logan and Portpatrick in the south west of Scotland where I cycled, and spent some time engaging with the water I came across, and things associated with it. I have been collating a series of these engagements on my website too: 
https://www.couchtocairn.com/water-engagements-elsewhere

Beyond (or in parallel to) my doctorate my ‘giving attention to’ water has increasingly seeped into my everyday life, and the way I relate to, and understand, the world around me. Incorporating my main passion and past time, cycling, I have increasingly been adopting my methods of engagement and representation with water in various places I visit. These seek to physically and visually explore some of the ‘troubling’ ideas I have encountered during my doctorate research in the context of water. What is my relationship to this ‘thing’ that is both within me, and outwith? Is it an ‘object’ or ‘subject’- or something of both? Can we adopt embodied creative practices to challenge the binary division between humans engagements-elsewhere

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This collage represents a few images from some of the connections I have made. I have furthermore created intertwined audio-visual records of these experiences on my website: https://www.couchtocairn.com/connecting-through-water-from-afar

‘Connecting through water from afar’ is a project I have been undertaking during summer, a time in which we have been required to maintain ‘physical distancing’ from one another due to the Covid-19 pandemic. It involves me communicating with a friend in a different place in the world, near or far, and both of us going to a body of water which we touch at the precise same moment. Recording this engagement through photographs and videos, and then sharing our thoughts with one another, it is an embodied experience in which we affirm our friendship from a distance. In this sense water is a conduit for both a physical and symbolic connection and recording our relationship- to each other as people, but also to the water itself. 

Connect with me
James Bonner, Doctoral Researcher at University of Strathclyde, Glasgow
james.bonner@strath.ac.uk / james.bonner@outlook.com
www.couchtocairn.com | Instagram: @couchtocairn | Twitter: @jamesbonner82 

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