A Voice for Water Bodies

Futuring Waters: A Speculative Manifesto for and from the Waters of Eleusina Author/Editor - Jenny Marketou : Published by European Capital of Culture: Eleusis2023.EU ISBN978-618-86365-9-0 Distributed by HyperHypo

As water is marketized and polluted Julie Ward finds an artist who celebrates this life-source

The modern environmental movement which began in the 1970s with the designation of Earth Day (April 22nd) earthday.org and World Environment Day (June 5th) worldenvironmentday.global has grown considerably in recent years with huge climate protests, largely propelled by young people. chartist.org.uk However, much of the attention focuses on air pollution and threats to the land and the life it sustains. This is understandable – there is an immediacy about the air we breathe and the earth we walk upon. Yet we have a primeval connection with water that lurks deep in our subconscious. Our bodies are on average comprised of 60% water. We experienced our pre-birth life floating in amniotic fluid. Yet many develop a fear of water and are unable to swim. Meanwhile, we consign this precious element to market forces where it becomes a lucrative commodity even whilst it harbours toxic waste. 

The concept of ‘Mother Earth’ has somehow managed to exclude the very substance that covers 71% of our planet’s surface. Our engagement with water is generally in the context of highly managed processes, via turning on a tap, crossing it by means of engineering (in vessels or over bridges), containing it by building dams, culverts, pipelines, reservoirs, canals, lagoons, etc. Even when we immerse ourselves in water for exercise and/or leisure we mostly swim in chlorinated man-made pools or dip our toes in the waves on overcrowded beaches. Meanwhile, we continue to pay extortionate prices for bottled water, often taken from springs on indigenous land. Agri-business and industrial processes devour water at the expense of local communities, leaving aquifers dry. Our seas and oceans are warming and rising, awash with micro-plastics and pollutants. Coral reefs are disappearing. We can’t see the seabed, so we care little for the detritus that lies rotting fathoms below, leaching dangerous compounds into the water.

The appropriation and degradation of this vital life-source – water – has continued largely unnoticed by the masses. But water (in all its forms) may well be the new oil, fought over by competing interests and increasingly monetised for private profit. In the UK we have seen how dangerous that can be with all our public water utilities sold off to private companies whose priority is shareholder profits not the provision of affordable clean water. unison.org.uk Since the deregulation unleashed by Brexit we are quite literally swimming in sewage as companies take advantage of watered down rules whilst failing to invest in waste treatment plants, using our rivers and beaches as convenient dumping grounds for human effluent. thelondoneconomic.com On the coast near my home in the north east of England we recently witnessed a mass death of crustaceans likely due to decades old toxic waste disturbed by the dredging of a river estuary for a controversial ‘free-port’ whose owners are unconstrained by legislation. The government dragged its heels regarding an enquiry into the crustacean disaster so the fishing community whose livelihoods were destroyed initiated their own crowd-funded scientific study. newscientist

The signing of the historic High Seas Treaty in 2023 BBC was welcome but it has come too late for many water bodies and communities that derive their living from the sea. We need a rules-based order that holds polluters to account, and innovative people powered initiatives that are unafraid to draw on traditional knowledge and nature-based solutions. One such example is the work of Jenny Marketou a Greek-born multidisciplinary artist based in New York whose practice focuses on speculative strategies that go beyond existing human-centric systems, seeking to give nature a voice. She has organised ‘wet gatherings’ of discarded objects and living eco-systems as part of the regenerative Billion Oyster Project in New York harbour and an Aquatic Lab for Vienna Art Week, always seeking sustainable solutions to man-made problems in collaboration with scientists. issuu.com Marketou draws on a wide range of practices including fine art, film, sculpture, installation and text-based work. But at the heart of her practice is community engagement.

I encountered Marketou’s work in a workshop as part of contemporary Eleusinian Mysteries organised by the 2023 European Capital of Culture in Elefsina, Greece. Jenny had been commissioned to create ‘Futuring Waters’, a speculative manifesto for the waters of this ancient city whose bay has become a graveyard for rusting vessels, leaking oil and chemicals into the Gulf of Saronikos. As part of a two year residency she worked with various groups facilitating discussions and creative actions, gathering knowledge and ideas through interactive activities, and co-creating a manifesto for water rights whose overarching demand is a ‘World Water Law’, whilst laying out the specifics that must be addressed at the local level to protect and restore the city’s water bodies. These include a demand to move the port outside the city where better commercial transport infrastructure exists, enabling the citizens to recover and enjoy the seashore, rebuilding the fishing economy and sustainable tourism. eleusis.eu

Marketou has published a book documenting her ambitious and painstaking work in the field of water rights. In addition to the Manifesto, the volume includes original essays from guest contributors on heritage, decolonial legacies, water architecture and aqua-politics. I was surprised to find photos of myself within its pages, engrossed in mark-making, subverting corporate language, proposing the introduction of ‘River Parliaments’ and demanding NestlĂ© be jailed for a raft of egregious environmental infractions. mashed.com The role of the arts to influence political and social change should never be under-estimated. Working together with scientists, researchers and local communities Jenny Marketou shows the way.

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