Tidal Village

Thumbnail 2 night houses No region is immune from climate change but the risks of displacement are greatest for countries with high exposure to hazards and with large populations, especially in areas that lack the capacity or resources to adequately prepare. Tidal Village is a piece of work made on the high tides of the Severn Estuary, in which I am exploring ideas and images about flooding and loss.

Several years ago, I went to see the Severn bore on a spring high tide. It was early morning; birds were singing, sheep and their new lambs bleating in the fields. Suddenly everything went quiet – as if the world had stopped – and in that moment the bore rushed round the bend and away in front of me – taking my breath with it. The silence, roar, and vacuum of air pulled a sobbing sound from me – a puny human echo of the river. This vivd breathless feeling stayed with me, and I have recently been sucked back up the estuary to explore ideas about home and loss to flooding. The sheer power of the Severn speaks for itself and gives voice to the potential risk as it rushes in from the sea.

Saturday 23rd September 2017
We walk along the narrow path edged with blackthorn down to the water’s edge. The tide is coming in fast and I quickly chose a place to site my 3 houses. I like working with the stuff of childhood and am reminded of playing by the pond when I was little, but this water has a current that sweeps in with enormous force.

On the water
The smallest house is picked up and carried to the end of its anchor line. The two taller houses capsize, and I make notes for moderations and useful things to bring next time – like a spare memory card for my camera and a long stick. I think about flooding, about Bangladesh, and how we may all end up being sucked out into the rising tides.

Floating village

Paper dolls in water

I take the cut paper dolls from my basket and drift them into the water, which is already starting to recede. My houses come to rest back on the mud and I pick them up by their anchor lines and carry them back to the car. We go to the pub for a late breakfast of cider and crisps, and sit looking out across the estuary where water and land shift so fast they seem to be interchangeable.

Estuary

Saturday 28th April 2018
I choose a high tide just before sunset and as we turn the corner it seems that the river is already huge and full. At the bank I see that there are a few feet left to go and we tether the houses and set them out onto the water. The tide slaps them in against the banks and I push them back out into the current with a stick pulled from the hedge, lamenting the lovely long bamboo pole I left propped against the wall at home.

Tidal Village 2

One house

Tidal Village 1

I film the houses as they bob, bump and separate. I step into a channel about 18 inches wide to get a better shot and drop straight down into water up to my waist. It’s growing dark and the lights in the houses look magical to me, so Rich keeps filming.
Rich

Paper dolls in water at night

My camera went in with me and now lies wet and useless in my pocket, but I feel strangely warm despite being soaked through. The dark pours in and we haul the houses out of the river and walk back to the car under a nearly full moon. It’s a surprisingly chilly night and even when I’m back home I find it hard to warm up. It’s as if the cold has soaked right into me, right down to my bones.

3 night houses

Climate change not only sows seeds for conflict, but it also makes displacement much worse when conflict happens. It is a threat multiplier in many of today’s conflicts, like Darfur, Somalia, Iraq and Syria. The Arab Spring led to the current war in Syria but there was also a five-year drought in Syria’s northeast that preceded the war, which displaced around 1.5 million people. An annual average of 21.5 million people have been forcibly displaced by weather-related sudden onset hazards – such as floods, storms, wildfires, extreme temperature each year since 2008 – and many of those who are displaced across borders as a result of climate change may not meet the refugee definition and get the support that they need.*

*Information taken from the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees