We Are All at Sea: Practice, Ethics, and Poetics of “Hydrocommons” Astrida Neimanis, RIBOCA2—2nd Riga International Biennial of Contemporary Art 2020

Eva L’Hoest, The Inmost Cell, 2020, set up view at and all of the sudden all of it blossoms the 2nd Riga International Biennial of Contemporary Art, RIBOCA2. Commissioned by the 2nd Riga International Biennial of Contemporary Art, RIBOCA2. Courtesy: the artist and the Riga International Biennial of Contemporary Art. Photo: Hedi Jaansoo


RIBOCA2, the 2nd Riga International Biennial of Contemporary Art, titled and all of the sudden all of it blossoms and curated by Rebecca Lamarche-Vadel, appears to reenchantment as a body for constructing fascinating futures—reimagining methods of being human in a context of deep ecological, financial, and social mutation. Against cynicism and political despair, reworking concern into risk and peril into exuberance, the biennial seeks different actions, ideas, and narratives for different futures. Initially deliberate to open on May 16, 2020, with a five-month period and weekly talks, performances, and poetry imagined with Sofia Lemos, RIBOCA2 affiliate curator of public packages, RIBOCA2 was reformatted right into a feature-length movie launched by a sequence of weekly on-line talks and conversations accessible on RIBOCA’s web site.

Eva L’Hoest, The Inmost Cell, 2020, set up view at and all of the sudden all of it blossoms the 2nd Riga International Biennial of Contemporary Art, RIBOCA2. Commissioned by the 2nd Riga International Biennial of Contemporary Art, RIBOCA2. Courtesy: the artist and the Riga International Biennial of Contemporary Art. Photo: Hedi Jaansoo



mus will publish a spread of contributions over the upcoming months, providing readers abridged variations of chosen talks.


SOFIA LEMOS: Throughout the historical past of navigation, our expertise of time has by no means been an correct affair. Clocks would lag and lose their minutes to magnetic forces; tides would change notion of when, the place, and how deep one was; timepieces and navigational devices mapped methods to make time, and methods to ship it from place to position. In this deeply narrative time, a steady, finite, and steady time scale was used to map a lot of the world and divide it into borders. From oil spills to sewage discharges to microplastics and the by-products of industrial and agricultural processes washing up in coastal waters, from deep-sea mining and fracking to unlawful overfishing and rising temperatures that threaten the ocean’s chemistry and biodiversity, our marine ecosystems are quickly altering, and so do our our bodies in relation to them.

In the next dialog, Astrida Neimanis—feminist scholar and environmental humanities thinker, and at present a senior lecturer in gender and cultural research on the University of Sydney—suggests a we that has a standard historical past in our watery beginnings, though we aren’t all equally adrift. Neimanis proposes a framework for negotiating these relations: a apply, ethics, and poetics of “hydrocommons” that additionally acts as a framework for rethinking environmental justice claims that assist extra considerate and simply relations with more-than-human worlds.

ASTRIDA NEIMANIS: I wish to start with a quote:

We are all our bodies of water. To assume embodiment as watery belies the understanding of our bodies that now we have inherited from the dominant Western metaphysical custom. As watery, we expertise ourselves much less as remoted entities, and extra as oceanic eddies: I’m a singular, dynamic whorl dissolving in a posh, fluid circulation. The area between ourselves and our others is directly as distant because the primeval sea, but additionally nearer than our personal pores and skin—the traces of those self same oceanic beginnings nonetheless biking via us, simply pausing as this bodily factor we name mina. Water is between our bodies, and of our bodies, earlier than us and past us, but in addition very presently this physique, too. Our snug classes of thought start to dissolve. Water entangles our our bodies in relations of reward, debt, theft, complicity, distinction, and relation.1

I wrote these phrases a couple of decade in the past. They comprise the opening part of a brief experimental essay titled “Hydrofeminism: Or, On Becoming a Body of Water.” My proposal was easy: that understanding our personal human our bodies—these sacks of blood, guts, and bone which can be principally made of water—as our bodies of water related to, coming from, and flowing into different more-than-human our bodies of water, would place us in a special form of relation to different our bodies of water.

We think about ourselves distributed and related throughout area: human our bodies ingest reservoir our bodies, whereas reservoir our bodies are slaked by rain our bodies, rain our bodies fall into ocean our bodies, ocean our bodies aspirate fish our bodies, fish our bodies are consumed by whale our bodies—which finally go on, and sink to the seafloor as marine snow, a sort of climate underwater, to rot and be swallowed up once more by the ocean’s darkish stomach.2

This totally different form of hydrological cycle insists that we relinquish any lingering phantasm of nature as separate from tradition, or of people as separate from the world round us.
These relations additionally lengthen via deep time, and join us to all of the unusual our bodies of water that circulation into us throughout epochs and generations.

As Charles Darwin as soon as quipped: “Our ancestor was an animal which breathed water, had a swim bladder, a great swimming tail, an imperfect skull, and was undoubtedly a hermaphrodite!”3 Darwin’s “pleasant genealogy” reminds us of our evolutionary fishy beginnings whereby all terrestrial life got here from the ocean, folding that marine habitat inside of itself because it realized to face by itself two toes. The story additionally reminds us that every one watery our bodies are “carrier bags,” to make use of feminist sci-fi author Ursula Okay. Le Guin’s time period.4 She urged that the primary device that people took up was not a pointy pointy weapon however relatively a service bag: a web, a basket, a bottle, a sling.

Riffing on Le Guin, I ponder: If we actually did suck the ocean up inside of us, then would possibly we not additionally take into account our personal our bodies as service baggage—sloshy sacks of matter that maintain the likelihood for different kinds of our bodies nonetheless to come back—delivering us into futures that can in flip carry us, as a drop of water beneath a brand new tongue?

Thinking about ourselves as aqueously extending via each time and area confirms that we people have all the time been (and will all the time be) greater than human. Might this imaginary additionally encourage us to open to a special ethic of relation and care between people and the planetary waters which can be more and more in disaster? As the seas turn into breathless and heat, as rivers now not make it to the ocean, as ingesting water is commodified, because the seabed is mined, as all of the multitudes of life types that rely upon these waters are made more and more precarious, caring higher for different our bodies of water appears extra pressing than ever.

Bodies of water as a feminist figuration is thus about relationship and care. It is about sustaining and holding different kinds of our bodies, and bathing new sorts of our bodies into being. In this sense, our bodies of water as figuration is essentially about distinction, too. Even as waters maintain us collectively in a sort of deep-time hydrocommons, aqueous connection isn’t about assimilation, or perhaps a common confluence. As I wrote within the aforementioned essay:

Water flows via and throughout distinction. Water doesn’t ask us to verify both the irreducibility of alterity or materials connection. Water flows between, as each: a brand new hydro-logic. What kind of ethics and politics may I domesticate if I have been to acknowledge that the unknowability of the opposite nonetheless programs via me—simply as I do via her? Water is of the species of alterity, or what Gayatri Chakravorty Spivak as soon as known as “planetarity”—it’s each of us and past us.5

All of the water that ever was on this planet continues to be right here—no extra, no much less—however it’s the moist coronary heart of a wild gestational system that produces infinite, unfathomable, unknowable distinction. In Elizabeth Povinelli’s phrases, we may perceive our watery relation thus, as a “different kind of touching, not the contact between difference, but an entanglement of substances that produces difference.”6 This uncontainable gestational impulse is furthermore held in wondrous stress with water’s insistent perpetuity: to know the “always time” of water, even in its circulations of distinction and repetition, can be to think about what water remembers.

Water is retentive, writes cultural theorist Janine MacLeod: “The water we drink and touch is the same water that erupted as a stream at the origins of the earth. All of the moments of the past have this same water as their witness.”7

Novelist Toni Morrison parses this phenomenon a bit in a different way: “Everything is now. It is all now.”8

Water, an archive of matter and feeling, thus reminds us that there isn’t a such factor as “away.” Sinking to the seafloor, we uncover all method of our dumped needs: SPAM cans, automobile tires, chemical traces, carbon takeovers Indeed, our function as evolutionary “carrier bags” for different our bodies of water has turn into uncannily materials, as our carrier-bag ontology has literalized itself: nonbiodegradable white petroleum hauntings, masquerading as unhappy two-handled jellyfish, floating on a gyre of deep futures later to be pulled within the type of lots of of kilos of plastic bag guts from the stomach of a whale washed up on a seaside. The presents of our our bodies to different our bodies of water isn’t essentially a welcome gesture.

Moreover, the water additionally holds traces of all the opposite variations that water has made.

For instance, Black feminist scholar Christina Sharpe, amongst others, attracts our consideration to the archive that’s the Middle Atlantic Passage, an ocean nonetheless animated by slavery and the antiblackness that persists in its wake. She writes: “Because nutrients cycle through the ocean, and the process of organisms eating organisms is the cycling of nutrients through the ocean, the atoms of the [enslaved] people who were thrown overboard are out there in the ocean even today.”9

Imagining ourselves as our bodies of water can be about attending to the totally different manners by which our bodies have been carried, or not. We don’t all thirst, or circulation, equally. We should not all gestating the identical futures. I take into consideration these classes when the breaking of relations appears in some methods more and more insufferable. The ice caps soften and the Amazon burns, however irrespective of how laborious we pull, we can’t press a pleat into the planet’s floor in order that the now-gushing glacial waters would possibly join with that scorched earth to assuage it. Corporations so massive or so mystified which you can now not see the place they begin or cease revenue from the moist, and then from the dry.

We are all our bodies of water, with pumped-up vulnerabilities, leaking, sponging, sloshing, dripping, sipping. But lately, my physique of water is usually feeling like a liquid sizzling mess.

I fear that we service baggage are forgetting methods to maintain issues. In the English language, “to be at sea” is an idiom that implies that you’re discombobulated or confused. You have misplaced your bearings. To be alive as our bodies of water, in these instances, some of us would possibly really feel tetherless. But what if for others, tetherless was one other option to say: getting free?

I’m pondering once more in regards to the whale. When Charles Darwin wrote his theories of evolution, the origin tales of whales have been one thing of a thriller, though he did muse {that a} “race of bears” may have conceivably advanced into whales. While his speculations have been for essentially the most half laughed proper out of subsequent printings of O podrijetlu vrsta (1859), we now know that his suggestion isn’t as ludicrous because it as soon as sounded. Recent scientific discoveries counsel {that a} shut terrestrial relative to the whale was Indohyus, a fox-size, deer-like land mammal that didn’t like meat in any respect, and spent a lot of its time within the water. Indohyus progressively developed a style for fish, and for a extra aquatic life-style throughout. Indoyus okrenut pakicetus, pakicetus okrenut kutchicetus, turned rodhocetus, turned dorudon. The early land-dwelling whales realized to swim deeper. Their legs grew shorter, their toes grew webbing. All of these our bodies of water are half of a family tree by which strolling and swimming whales lived facet by facet. Eventually the walkers died out, and by about forty million years in the past, whales have been thriving—tetherless and at sea.

What if for some, tetherless meant stepping up, talking out, saying no, letting go, lifting up, stepping again? What if tetherless meant refusing the false compass factors that directed us to this place? What if tetherless meant studying new tips of navigation from those that have lengthy been swimming, diving, floating, submerging, rising totally different sorts of worlds? In the phrases of poet Alexis Pauline Gumbs, “who do you think thought of the ocean. we who would be whales. how could we prepare for the lives we evolved into. immersed in a substance we could not breathe. and nevertheless called to be graceful. huge in ways that the world could not hold. except by these means. unbound by the limits of time.”10

What can I be taught from this poetics? If we’re all our bodies of water, maybe now we have all ultimately been doubtlessly at sea. What wouldn’t it imply, for me as this explicit physique of water, to let go of cartographic comforts, and as an alternative construct different types of refuge and renewal? What does that imply for you?

Maybe we start our dissolution by serving to to foster practices of fugitivity and care, not primarily for the sovereign self, however for the hydrocommons of wondrous distinction that has additionally introduced us to this time, and this place, at sea.

SL: How does de-terrestrializing oneself enable for imaginatively pondering planetary life in a different way?

AN: When we expect of being tetherless, the primary picture that involves thoughts is having nothing to carry us. We are kind of let go, and all of our security nets are sheared off. We are requested to by some means make it in an odd surroundings. Yet de-territorialization isn’t about shedding all of your conventional holding patterns. What it in truth does is invite you to be taught to be held by one thing else. And to be de-terrestrialized—if it means to be at sea—invitations us to think about what wouldn’t it imply to permit the ocean to carry us. Although I suppose I’m answering a bit bit metaphorically, I feel the purpose is, now we have come to a second the place now we have to unlearn many issues, and be taught to be in a different way with one another, with people, and greater than human others in very alternative ways. The concept of detaching from some of our comforts is perhaps one option to start that.

SL: I wish to open up some of these concepts and focus on methods to take care of complicated, interlocking circumstances. I’m referring particularly in regards to the social battle round Black Lives Matter, and the liquidity and fluidity of our identities that’s relational to the Earth’s waters. I’m additionally fascinated by the preliminary worldwide response to the pandemic by closing borders and imposing seemingly impermeable boundaries between inside and outdoors. How would possibly our pondering via, and as, our bodies of water assist us untangle our complicated but porous modern circumstances?

AN: In a really political and activist sense, we have to pay extra consideration to water, to the crimes occurring within the oceans—on the waves and under them—which can be rendered out of sight and out of thoughts, whether or not these crimes seek advice from the torturous circumstances of migrants fleeing by sea or to the destruction of the ocean mattress via deep sea mining. Water asks us to concentrate to this offshore planetarity. But extra poetically, “thinking with water” helped me perceive that the critique of binary oppositions is not only a philosophical one; it’s very materially grounded and complicates any supposed opposition between “we are all the same” and “we are all different.” Water teaches us that we share many issues and that the water that actually flows via my physique ultimately additionally flows via yours. But in our altering morphologies, actions throughout membranes, and transubstantiations, water can be constantly gestating distinction.

We are each sharing in an aqueous hydrocommons that connects us in actually materials methods, however we’re differentiated via and as and by water as effectively. This additionally holds for the very gendered binary between lively and passive, as we don’t usually get invited to consider a substitute for that. Do now we have to valorize the passive or reclaim the lively? Water teaches us that there’s something else that’s known as the srednji that holds different entities, sustains them, and permits them to flourish. That’s not fairly an lively state, however neither is it a passive state. To come again to the query of care: What is care if not an act of holding and permitting one thing else to come back into being, and to distinguish itself?

SL: Let’s discuss Ursula Okay. Le Guin’s provocation to “hold” as a definite civilizational narrative. Holding, you talked about, pertains to water’s retentive capacities and means to carry reminiscence; and to Christina Sharpe’s immense writings on the ship maintain the place worlds ended solely too violently and abruptly; and to the huge quantities of life and dying and the composting between the 2 that the our bodies of water in our planet maintain. What views does holding provide for constructing extra livable futures? How does your individual theory-practice carry out holding?

AN: I feel your invocation of Sharpe’s work on the ship’s maintain is important, as a result of there is perhaps a bent to consider “holding” in a really romanticized method. But Sharpe reveals us the opposite facet of it as effectively. We would possibly gestate futures. But what sorts of futures? Just as a result of we’re making one thing new or are bringing different kinds of life into being says nothing in regards to the sorts of lives these will probably be. I feel now we have to watch out in a philosophical register to not merely valorize ideas that discuss proliferation, or life-givingness, or abundance, as a result of if we glance round us, maybe sholding, or ne making, or ne sustaining is one thing we need to pay extra consideration to.

At the identical time, I feel there’s nonetheless additionally one thing essential in holding. I’m reminded right here of Sophie Lewis’s speak on love, the place I used to be significantly struck by her remark of what she calls “agentive activeness.” I don’t assume she needs to emphasize the activeness however extra the labor of holding, and that our lack of ability to acknowledge the labor that’s required to carry is one of the options of capitalist patriarchy.

I’ll relate this to the second half of your query in my very own concept and apply as an instructional. I work in a college, and I’ve a fairly safe employment standing, and so lots of my work thus turns into about how I can maintain others. How can I commit my time, and labor, and power towards permitting others to develop flippers and be taught to breathe in a different way and untether themselves from wherever it’s they’re? It’s about how my physique as a physique of water could be a literal milieu for permitting different kinds of worlds to develop in and round me, and to be half of that lively facilitation and gestational exploration of new sorts of worlds.

SL: We live in a second of deep necropolitical attain, with doubtlessly genocidal penalties for Indigenous peoples within the Americas, for individuals in Eurasia and Southeast Asia, when the afterlives of slavery reverberate loudly within the demonstrations towards antiblackness within the United States, France, and the United Kingdom. I suppose as a consequence of this, I’ve been pondering extra about how Western European philosophical traditions are primarily involved with mortality, in distinction to different traditions of information and practices that remember multiplicity, metamorphosis, and mutation. Could you broaden on this concept of composting, which can be current in your pondering?

AN: Philosophically, I feel the idea of composting is totally different elementally from, however very a lot tied to, an understanding of our bodies of water the place there’s neither particular origin nor particular finish. All our bodies are all the time already changing into different our bodies in different methods. The water that’s in my physique isn’t going to vanish when my sovereign self does. It’s going to be taken up by one other physique in one other method. Once you perceive that, you begin pondering in a different way in regards to the questions: What is the origin of me? What is the top of me? How do I maintain the presents to my ancestors and obligations to these our bodies that my physique will turn into?

With composting, it’s changing into totally different with each repetition. We can assume of that in phrases of evolution. But we are able to additionally assume of it in numerous methods. I take this up with my colleague, Jennifer May Hamilton, very explicitly in phrases of the historical past of feminist thought, and different kinds of intersectional important concept inside environmental pondering, for instance.11 This analysis examines how modern environmental concept takes up and incorporates concepts, theories, and ideas from feminism, Indigenous thought, important race research. My concern is across the methods the origin tales of these concepts then get forgotten. What does it imply to include a feminist or an Indigenous idea right into a shiny new environmental concept? Even perhaps naming the theorist that you’re quoting, however not taking with you the feminist, or the anticolonial, or the important race commitments that that theorist had after they developed that idea? Composting is a fabric course of that occurs with our bodies via time, however Jennifer and I additionally theorize it as a circulation of concepts and thought, and a query of recognition of and debt to those that come earlier than us and on whose shoulders we stand.

SL: I’m additionally pondering of the materiality that connects us to as we speak. The flows of hyper-connectivity, the underwater fiber-optic cables that cross oceanic flooring, fairly often are laid over earlier colonial commerce routes. We have talked in regards to the numerous lives misplaced at sea from the pressured migration of enslaved Africans in trans-Atlantic, Indian, and Pacific oceanic routes, and now we have talked in regards to the crossings of thousands and thousands of refugees escaping battle eventualities, but in addition willful motion. How does hydrofeminism strategy the longer term of connectivity and communications?

AN: One of the issues I’ve realized from attempting to consider hydrofeminism is that it isn’t a lot about merely acknowledging the relation. It’s very simple to posit a relationship. More necessary is to consider kako we’re associated, what allows us to narrate, and who advantages from that relation and how. What is the standard of that relation? How many somersaults of mediation are required to get to that relation?

So for instance: Although I’m completely astounded by and grateful to the brilliance of the fiber-optic networks underneath the ocean, what wouldn’t it imply to additionally acknowledge the price of these networks in phrases of extraction and incursion into deep-sea realms? Hydrofeminism, having realized from many different kinds of ethics and philosophies and concepts round social justice, isn’t within the Istina that there’s the relation. It needs to ask: What is the profit and the injury of that relation? How am I accountable for that relationship? What do I owe to it?

SL: I need to return to the mouthful expertise of language as a “body of water,” the way in which by which saliva lubricates phrases and worlds on the identical time. I used to be questioning if we may speak in regards to the poetics and ethics of care. How can a poetics of care assist us articulate deeper and extra significant worlds?

AN: Art means various things to totally different individuals, and everyone has a definition. For me, artwork permits us to think about one other risk in a deeply embodied method. And poetics, as an artwork type, permits our our bodies to really feel in a different way. That might sound very trite, however go searching us: clearly, rigorously articulated science isn’t bringing the change we’d like on this planet proper now.

I imagine that poetry, artwork, efficiency, and maybe in some small method my very own writing apply is asking a reader, a viewer, an viewers to permit themselves to really feel in a different way about one thing, to be actually moved of their bodily self in a special course, and that that disturbance is perhaps the ripple we have to begin setting us on a special course—maybe for untethering. Until we be taught to speak about our emotions and deal with our inattention to the somatic physique and its function in determination making, ethics, and politics, I feel we’re misplaced.


[1] Astrida Neimanis, “Hydrofeminism: Or, On Becoming a Body of Water” in Undutiful Daughters: Mobilizing Future Concepts, Bodies and Subjectivities in Feminist Thought and Practice, eds., Henriette Gunkel, Chrysanthi Nigianni, and Fanny Söderbäck (New York: Palgrave Macmillan, 2012), 85.
[2] Astrida Neimanis, Bodies of Water: Posthuman Feminist Phenomenology (London: Bloomsbury, 2017), 3.
[3] Charles Darwin, in At the Water’s Edge: Macroevolution and the Transformation of Life, ed., Carl Zimmer (Toronto: The Free Press, 1998).
[4] Ursula Okay. Le Guin, Dancing on the Edge of the World: Thoughts on Words, Women, Places (New York: Grove Press, 1989).
[5] Astrida Neimanis, Hydrofeminism, 90.
[6] Elizabeth Povinelli, The Kinship of Tides. Tidalectics: Imagining an Oceanic Worldview via Art and Science, ed,. Stefanie Hessler (Boston, MA: MIT Press, 2018), 167. 
[7] Janine MacLeod, “Water and the Material Imagination: Reading the Sea of Memory Against the Flows of Capital” in Thinking with Water, eds., Cecilia Chen, Janine MacLeod, and Astrida Neimanis (Montreal: McGill-Queens University Press 2013), 48.
[8] Toni Morrison, dragi (New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 1987), 198.
[9] Christina Sharpe, In the Wake: On Blackness and Being (Durham: Duke University Press, 2016), 40.
[10] Alexis Pauline Gumbs, Dub: Finding Ceremony (Durham: Duke, 2020), 17.
[11] Jennifer Mae Hamilton and Astrida Neimanis, “Composting Feminisms and Environmental Humanities,” Environmental Humanities 10, br. 2 (2018): 501-27.


Astrida Neimanis is a author, a trainer, and at present a senior lecturer within the Department of Gender and Cultural Studies on the University of Sydney and a researcher on the Sydney Environment Institute. She coedited (with Cecilia Chen and Janine MacLeod) of Thinking with Water (McGill-Queen’s University Press, 2013) and authored Bodies of Water: Posthuman Feminist Phenomenology (Bloomsbury Publishing, 2017). Her work primarily investigates water as a website of injury, need, concern, and fecundity, and as an concept and imaginary, but in addition as an surroundings and embodied place. She attracts inspiration from shut readings of philosophers, writers, artists, and waters themselves, for a plural view of feminism that’s intersectional, antiracist, and dedicated to acknowledging the significance of queer and anticolonial concept to modern environmental thought.


and all of the sudden all of it blossoms, RIBOCA2’s on-line sequence of talks and conversations.



12_TheInmostCell_11min_soundcolor_EvaLhoest 13_TheInmostCell_11min_soundcolor_EvaLhoestEva L’Hoest, The Inmost Cell (stills), 2020. Commissioned by the 2nd Riga International Biennial of Contemporary Art, RIBOCA2. Courtesy: the artist and the Riga International Biennial of Contemporary Art