The Sea of Cortez sits between the Baja Californian Peninsula and mainland Mexico. In an unusual display of geographical symmetry, land and sea are intertwined. The Peninsula reaches south into the Pacific Ocean, while the Sea moves north, dissecting the two landmasses. On closer inspection they appear to revolve around one another; dancing. In this part of the world the relationship between land and water offers a unique balance in the power play between the known and the unknown. The land attempts to envelop the water, and the water swirls around the land searching for a way in. Perhaps the dance is more of a battle, meeting in a littoral hub, unable to draw a clear border. As weather patterns change, and the water surges with the moon, the shore becomes a no-man’s-land. It is barren in its belonging to neither territory, and despite this holds one of the richest areas of biodiversity. Terra Incognita and Mare Incognitum meet at the shoreline to create a space in so constant a motion that it barely exists. It has a thickness that is uncompromising and ungraspable at the same time. The shore defies the compulsion for mapping, allowing instead only for ambivalence. In response, the researcher desires nothing more than to become amphibious, while struggling with the impossibility of this goal. Water is the final frontier: the place where understanding floats around on mountains of human waste drifting along the currents. This plastic island never breaks down, so will never truly become a part of whichever ecosystem it collides with. Instead it rests, untethered and unplanned, waiting for a moment of clarity that is unlikely to surface.
Joined to the Sea of Cortez by a chain of water bodies that stretch across the globe is the Maribyrnong River; a tidal waterway, rising and falling throughout the day. If the breeze is blowing in the right direction you can smell the sea, as if the ocean is creeping inland. When the air flows the other way, the smell is equally fishy, but slightly more rancid, floating down from the recycling plant near the studios. The river supposes a linearity that is entirely an illusion, like the interchangeability between a trip and an expedition. It flows both ways, picking up sediment and dropping it in a new location. Or carrying it along until the sediment recolours the water and the river becomes a completely new body. Over time rubble builds up in areas, and wears away in others, changing the direction of the river ever so slightly. Bluestone lines the edge, shoring the earth and water at once, guaranteeing that their intermingling is kept to a minimum. Rubbish is scattered along the shoreline: some from upstream, some from down. A few starfish lie dead at the water’s edge. It’s hard to tell if they’ve washed up, been picked up by birds or clinged to the lines of people fishing. Perhaps they climbed out, attempting to escape the unknown.* Bleached in the sunshine, and dried in an overabundance of air. Their five crispy legs lead away from themselves; like points on a compass with an extra one for times when three dimensions just aren’t enough. The fifth leg hints at a potential for indecision.
* Standing on the shore I wonder if it matters how it died, or simply that it is dead. Less than a metre away a live starfish clings to a rock just beneath the water’s surface. Its colours bright, its skin soft, and its future as yet undefined. I wonder how long a starfish can live out of water. I wonder if it knows I’m here, looking down at it. Do starfish have eyes? Or in the absence of eyes perhaps its skin is so hypersensitive to its surroundings that it knows I’m here even without looking. Perhaps, regardless of their apparent inactiveness, starfish are beings of curiosity. Maybe it came out of the river simply to try to understand what it feels like to be dry, and what it’s like to exist without the pressure of water weighing down on you. Maybe – like the researcher – it longs to be amphibious, and its inevitable ruin is worth those few moments of experiencing what it’s like to reside on land.
- 'While Wading' was written to accompany Jacqui Shelton's project 'more politely than shaking hands progress report'. Image courtesy Jacqui Shelton.