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Over and Under the sea.

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S ...

 is a collaborative project between Gudrun Filipska in the Uk and Carly Butler in Canada. It involves a combination of real and virtual walking and running, various documented mapping processes, celestial navigation, prints performance works and an archive of postal communique, books, essays and zines.



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Ucluelet comes from Yuułuʔił which means "people of the safe harbour" in the indigenous Nuu-chah-nulth language and is the homeland of the Yuułuʔiłʔatḥ.

We make investigation into distance across a number of coastal locations; Our own locations on the Suffolk Coast UK and Ucluelet Canada; The Locations of the first wireless signal from Poldhu, Cornwall Uk to St John's Newfoundland; The route between the first undersea wireless cable layed between County Kerry in Ireland and Trinity Bay Newfoundland.

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Carly Butler is an interdisciplinary artist who lives and works on Vancouver Island in Ucluelet on the traditional territory of the Yuułuʔiłʔatḥ First Nation. Her practice reinterprets nautical knowledge around navigation and survival to reflect on longing, regret and nostalgia.




Gudrun Filipska is an artist and researcher of Welsh and Polish descent who lives in the UK. Her work considers the cultural and literary associations of journeying in an Anthropocene-context often aiming to include, feminist and 'other' itinerant practices – and offering counter positions to colonial and male-centric travel and walking cultures.

The title of our project references the first transatlantic wireless signal sent from Cornwall to Newfoundland in 1901. The message was three dots the morse code signal for the letter ‘S’. 

Our research focuses on undersea and oversea communication/miscommunication and

signal sending. We create experimental artworks, archives and writing thinking through concepts of distance and proximity through Atlantic and Nautical contexts.

S Project - detail from our two person s


Walking by proxy/

Much of our work has considered distance and restriction as an enabler of practice and has experimented with various proxies:

Tracked by pedometers, our steps, taken around our respective domestic locations are translated to a digital map where our 'avatars' walk carefully designed routes between UK and Canada. 

We have mapped trajectories to find a variety of half way points between our respective homes using combinations of celestial, nautical and gnomonic mapping techniques, embracing alternative cartographical practices and Google maps alternatives. These maps and charts form part of the 'S' archive along with a catalogue of objects, artefacts and letters sent between us. 

The idea of walking long distances without leaving home is a physical expression of our current limitations as artists/ parents with ties to domestic space, and works with an ambivalence towards assumed identities generated around motherhood. The 'S' project explores the radical potential present in the circular/fugal and domestic walk (set against male, colonial adventuring narratives), feeding into dialogue about feminist walking and journeying practices. The project also critiques the idea of the 'globe trotting artist’ as marker of success, and challenges the attendant requirements of money and mobility, reaching out to another part of the world and sending a 'signal' to another artist with an isolated practice.

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The 'S' digital walking project involves three routes: 


Route one: Road and shipping route – (meeting point: Newfoundland) - Filipska will walk a route from her home on the edge of the Fens in the East of England along the Ickneild way- the ancient chalk spine of England to Dorset tracing the routes of various Drovers roads into Cornwall. In Poldu, Cornwall her footsteps will be converted to nautical miles and follow a shipping route to Newfoundland. Butler’s Journey will take her from her home in Ucluelet, Vancouver Island to Saint John's Newfoundland, crossing Canada, roughly following the 50th Parallel and the Pinetree Line - a series of now defunct 'pulse mode' radar stations established in the 1950's as a nuclear warning system. 

Route two: Great Circle route – (halfway point: Baffn Bay). Great circle route navigation involves calculating of the shortest distance between two points on a sphere, a technique often used by mariners; Filipska’s route takes her towards Scotland, crossing the Atlantic, skirting Iceland and crossing Greenland into Baffin bay. Butler’s route takes her through Canada towards Nunavut and into the Arctic. 


Route Three: Land route - (halfway point: Olyokminsky, Russia). Filipska’s route takes her through the channel tunnel, up the coast of France and Belgium and due east - a route which is completely flat until the Ural Mountains. Butler’s route takes her up the coast of British Columbia toward the Gulf of Alaska, passing Anchorage and crossing the Denali National Park. She will then cross the Bering Straight (only passable by land when frozen) and enter Russian territories, meeting Filipska at Olyokminsky on the Lena River.

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Gudrun grew up excited by the possibilities of rave culture, happenings that necessitated sporadic travel, walks to woods, caves and warehouses; it all seemed very egalitarian at the time. As she became more versed in walking as act of 'research' or as 'art' she began to notice the lack of women, people identifying as female or people of colour.

Carly grew up immersed in the lore of the (white male) wilderness adventurer/voyageur that makes up much of what passes for Canadian history. Her recent research follows the routes of David Thompson, who mapped Canada on foot in the late 18th Century and is generally known as the greatest land geographer who ever lived. What is less well known is that his wife, Charlotte, half Cree, accompanied him on much of his travels, bearing and looking after five children as they walked. Thompson surveyed a total 3 million square kilometres of wilderness. Charlotte, though rarely mentioned by Thompson’s biographers, has been helpfully described as ‘an excellent housekeeper’. (Gordon, 2011)

Together we have interest in raising questions about why the inherent privilege of some practices would be seen as more desirable or significant than those where personal limitations mark the boundaries and parameters of the work. For example, why is walking alone such a common trope of most revered land/walking art practices?

The idea of taking time out to 'jump over the back fence' as wilderness explorer John Muir (2001) famously said, and setting out on a long walk alone seems downright indulgent when you have children (or any adult responsibilities for that matter). Sometimes it seems that the whole history of the 'walking artist' and their attendant, often banal readings of Psycho-geography are the documented experiences of a large bunch of anorak wearing toddlers, hopping over fences looking for adventure. Rather than trying to join this male fraternity of wanderers, psycho-geographers, explorers, and urban strollers, as female artists working with journeying and walking, we have come to the conclusion that not-walking, may be a far more interesting proposition.

Musing further on our society’s fixation on travel and the genuine ‘lived’ experience, we started wondering if there was a way to transform the experience of our domestic and local spaces and create an avatar who could travel for us. We began counting steps and embarking on a virtual journey towards one another from our respective homes (from Fordham in the UK, to Ucluelet in Canada). Every day we count and log steps as we go about our daily lives. (1)

We were not interested in making an argument in favour of cultures of dual distraction, as one example; watching TV while playing on your phone. Rather we saw this as a proposition to use technology as a conduit to thinking, learning and fantasising about other places. This may have implications for those unable to travel (due to caring responsibilities, economics, agoraphobia or disability).

It has become very common to rely on proxies when navigating the info-sphere and, in many ways, technology has made standing in for something else a matter of ordinary, and often overlooked experience. The word proxy from Latin procuratio means 'a caring for' and is a Middle English contraction of ‘procuracy’, translating as ‘legitimate action taken in the place of, or on behalf of, another’. In our technological age, the term ‘proxy’ is likely to evoke thoughts of websites accepting requests for services: 'proxy server' for example.

Devices enabling the counting of steps have existed for at least 500 years (2) and the contemporary commodification of human ambulation exists within a complicated nexus of marketing, health, and governance. Naturally by extension, devices skewed to a male centred bias, which make female routines and use of space seem odd and non-conforming, perpetuate the historical normative already established, that men’s' use of space in the public sphere is somehow more valid.

Male-centric design bias of course stretches far beyond pedometric devices, embedding the urgent need for women, those living and identifying as female, and people of colour, to be involved in the design of algorithms in order to counter trends, which, as society becomes more reliant on AI technologies, may deem any non-white male a less valid member of society. (3)

In a culture of 'learning analytics' and the pitfalls of data harvesting, if any new meaning is to be ascribed to step-counting through pedometric devices it may involve the re-inscribing of step count data to other uses, other routes, journeys, diversions and cultures of lending and borrowing.

Walking is often described by artists and writers as a thinking process. Using proxies and avatars (as we have in the S Project) who walk our steps but on different trajectories, opens up a dual walking/thinking space where the everyday A to B routes may parallel the long-distance avatar journeys. Here, walking’s meanings may interpolate between the quotidian and the symbolic. We may be on the school run while our avatar crosses the Bering Straight, or food shopping while walking across East Iceland. The presence of the two narratives within the same step count opens up interesting temporal propositions.

The histories of the ‘non spaces’, which often make up the point to point of practical journeys, are now also spaces of presence and non presence. The ‘non spaces’ designated by Auge, (1992) transitional zones such as Supermarkets and Airports, are rapidly being by-passed through digital means. The idea of ‘Junktime’ is an extension of this as discussed in a recent article by Hito Steyerl (2019) who outlines an ethical position for 'non-presence' in a contemporary art world which places increasing demands on artists to ‘be there’ in person. Her position is developed through Heidegger’s Dasein.

Lefebvre writes about a ‘constrained time’ (2014), which are moments somewhere in-between work and leisure, including travel and time for official formalities. Of course, school runs, dog walks and domestic tasks can't really be designated as 'non' or 'Junktime', they can be complicated and relational, more so, we would argue due to their repetitiveness, but the model still holds as they are not licensed spaces of either productivity or pleasure.

Bjorn Nansen (2008) states:

‘the pedometer participates in mediating and (re)configuring the meaning and rhythm of this in-between time in a way that reshapes physical activity, as well as experiential and embodied modes of comportment... this questions the possibility of an in-betweenness to time as it blurs distinctions between the rhythms of times and places – there is less of a temporal demarcation between the free time of leisure, the enforced time of work, the dead time of commuting, and the liberating time of play or exercise.’ (p 801)

Step counting in its compulsiveness, represents an erosion of the idea of ‘in between time’ altogether, the back and forth of the commuter, the steps while shopping or at the park become ‘useful’ in the sense that they add to a step count in exactly the same way as playing, getting lost, working or setting out to dérive the city. The mundane/domestic walk may reside in the same territory through this egalitarian model as the highhanded psycho-geographical game or the epic walking adventure.

There may be something in the everyday, embodied, repetitive, self-consciously performative practice of counting and recording steps. Everyday walking therefore, slips out of the net set for it by the demands of the dérive and the masculine walking history that suggests that interesting moments can only happen if the everyday is left behind.

The act of counting steps and the possibilities of lending and borrowing as a re-appropriation of the devices' intended use is an intriguing one. Nansen further states 'the pedometer extends walking practices and routines from monochronicity and modularization to polychronicity and modulation'. (p 793)

This polychronicity and modulation could swing perhaps towards a neoliberal culture of population monitoring. Yet, through the self aware act of lending steps to other uses by avatars and others we may abstract linear time into a further splitting and create the possibility of being in more than one place at once, to be going somewhere and going nowhere. To be able to travel without inserting ourselves physically into a distant landscape may offer a small step towards de-stabilising an established and stale male centric techno-political walking framework.

The dual material/digital proposition within our project is essential. The materiality of our own territories and the active interest in each other’s locations hang around items exchanged through the post and objects and images lent by people in the places our avatars pass through. The concepts of borrowing and lending are particularly pertinent in relation to land ownership, the problematics of which are all too present in Carly's home, Ucluelet on unceded First Nations territory and the insanity of the real-estate bubble in the UK, which for many makes the idea of 'home' ownership an impossibility.

We seek to avoid the notion of proxy as ersatz replacement for 'real' experience. We choose to generate these real experiences in other ways, through the digital veil of our map and vicarious relationships with other people and places.

Creating a proxy agency, which is about collaboration and caring (to hark back to the word’s etymology) we aim with the S Project to make contribution to augmented cultures which enable collaboration and form bridges towards otherwise inaccessible spaces of experience. Towards generating, in our age of environmental degradation, new ways to think about and engage with place.





Auge, M (1992) Non Places, Introduction to an Anthropology of Supermodernity. London, New York. Verso.

Breton, A. (1994) Nadja. Howard, R. New York. Grove Press.

De Maistre, X (2004) A Journey Around My Room. Richmond, Hesperus Press

Gordon I (2011) People of the Fur Trade: From Native Trappers to Chief Factors. Canada, Heritage House Publishing.

Kenny, J (2019) The Agoraphobic Traveller [] (accessed 15.12.19)

Lefebvre, H. (2014) Critique Of Everyday Life Volume 1. New York. Verso.

Muir J,Way-Teal, E (ed) (2001) The Wilderness World of John Muir. Houghton Mifflin Harcourt Publishing.

Nansen, B (2008) Step-counting: The Anatomo- and Chrono-politics of Pedometrics Article in Continuum Journal of Media and Cultural Studies . Vol 2.

Proust, M (2003) In Search Of Lost Time. Enright, D, J (Trans) Modern Library.

Steyerl, H (2018) (Accessed 20.12.19)






There are a number of examples of traveling without leaving home or travel by proxy in literature, notably ‘A Journey around my room’ by Xavier De Maistre, and Proust’s fights of allegory and metaphor in ‘In Search of Lost Time’ also Andre Breton’s ‘Nadja' where the character vicariously (and dubiously) lives through Nadja’s vision of the world to subvert his quotidian existence. Contemporary examples include the agoraphobic photographer Jacqui Kenny who uses street View to travel the world.

Thomas Jefferson introduced the pedometer to the American public in the 1930’s where it was unsurprisingly, very popular with long distance trail walkers and branded the ‘hike o meter’. Pedometers have also since been a big feature in the 1960s Japanese walking model and programme, based on 10,000 steps, called Manpo-kei.

Artificial intelligence can also be prejudiced due to its design and according to the bias of those who 'train' it. An algorithm used by Amazon to sort through applicant CV's was recently found to be discounting female CV's altogether, this was not done consciously on the part of the designers but had arisen due to the way it had been taught by men using male colleagues CV's as examples of successful candidates. Original source, Dastin, J (2018) (Accessed 18.12.19

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Travelling archive




Sichuan Institute of Contemporary Art, Sichuan, China


Today Art Museum, Beijing
The Hatch Art Gallery, Vancouver, University of British Columbia 
exhibition reviewed here
Cley Contemporary, Cley-next-the-Sea, UK
London, UK, 148 Mayall Road
New York, Flux Factory + Queens Museum

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"The simplest way I can describe it is virtual traveling,

but with actual math".

Zubair Hirji

         Moe Kirkpatrick

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"In the museum case, up in the top right corner, there is a postcard sent from Filipska to Butler, alongside a small cardboard box. The box has been opened, but still carries the Canadian customs declaration, which has simply been marked “art.” You can read the postcard if you want. It’s just a postcard from one woman to another, talking about the photos she sent. It doesn’t have stunning, beautiful wordplay or detailed sketches along the sides. It’s just a postcard."

         Moe Kirkpatrick

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"I don’t know about you, but personally, I don’t know anything about maps".

         Moe Kirkpatrick

 Three Point Transmissions


A conversation between three locations - Sainte Croix de Marreiulle France, Framlingham Uk and Ucluelet Canada. An S Project work between Gudrun Filipska and Carly Butler supported by Canada Council for the Arts including a number of live streams, trail cam footage, zoom communique and video.

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"Through distance and communication as a creative material in the collaboration of Gudrun Filipska and Carly Butler that are shaped and manipulated to enable textured forms of communication that go way beyond the screen"

An agenda for creative practice in the new mobilities. Kaya Barry, Jen Southern et al paradigm

“Communications media were used to an advantage by sending telex and telecopier messages from geographic, political and economic peripheries, creating what Ingrid called an aesthetic of distance —a means through which the Company could traverse time and space, inserting its presence in territories that it would otherwise be excluded from.”

From an article by Nancy Shaw about Iain and Ingrid Baxter who throughout their collaboration (1966–1978), utilized the 'N.E. Thing Company'—their incorporated business and artistic project—as a vehicle as a way to investigate domestic artistic, and corporate systems in relation to their everyday life and location.

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We use video to deepen the virtual experience of our two locations. In contrast to ‘lockdown’ strategies employed as a replacement for real interaction, we have always seen our project as a way to attempt meaningful engagement with a distant place within a virtual space. In conjunction with our work on the Arts Territory Exchange (founded by Filipska), we were developing a Virtual Residency program pre-Covid ( that identified the far reaching post-colonial implications of privileged western travel, and also sought to address issues around climate change and sustainability, calling for a re-evaluation of the idea of the 'artist as traveller'. Those who are unable to travel due to (disability, parenthood or economic disenfranchisement) are excluded from this role of privileged nomad, while the ramifications of this exclusion go relatively un-critiqued. Within our project and practice is an attempt to avoid the damage inherent in many interactions between artists and the places they travel. As an example of a true long-term virtual residency between two artists we are interested in how these new media strategies in the arts may shape deeper understandings of a location in a way that being physically resident in an area for a short amount of time may not. Using ourselves and the S Project as the model for this new program we see expanding our video work as a key component of both the project and the idea of a virtual residency – expanding the possibilities of proxy and location and also providing new insights into our own backyards.

Marconi knew in advance to listen for a repetitive signal of three clicks, signifying the Morse code letter S. The clicks were reported to have been heard faintly and sporadically. There was no independent confirmation of the reported reception, and the transmissions were difficult to distinguish from atmospheric noise.

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Gudrun's Avatar Comes ashore at Dyholaey cliffs Iceland after a long journey across the sea from the tip of the UK -




 - continuing across the mountains past Sefloss and working across to the Rekvavik suberbs and taking to sea again towards Greenland at the island of Geldinganes.


As her Avatar crossed Iceland fuelled by her everyday pedometer steps around the village she was living in at the time, she, followed the markers location on the arcgis map and did deep dives into google maps, obsessively screen capturing anything that interested her, (or that extremely bored her for that matter). She scrolled through photographs uploaded by visitors to the locations, slipping into tourist sites, caves, Lava museums and watching men play golf surrounded by puffs of geyser steam. She looked inside museums of archaeology and Volcanic history, passed through ancient grass roofed replica villages filled with tourists and followed along motorways.


She found that street view made it hard to find the picturesque views and scenes she had come to expect from Iceland, she found herself lost for hours in business parks, suburbs, housing estates and the tight streets of tourist chalet accommodation, searching for glimpses of mountain, flashes of sea. She lingered by parked vans, a lamppost leaning at an odd angle, endless low warehouses. The Reykjavik suburbs seemed strangely empty, she felt excited when she spotted a group from a distance crossing a zebra crossing, of course when she zoomed closer they dissipated as she(and the google car) moved back or forward in time.


She thought about what Iceland abstractly meant to her growing up, she was always reminded of it having the name Guðrún whilst living in Wales and then Cheshire, sometimes randomly reminded of Guðrún Ósvífrsdóttir in the mediaeval Icelandic sagas by adults in the know. She listened to Bjork, the Sugarcubes and Sigur Ros as a teenager and imagined what it must have been like being a young artist or musician in Rekyavik in the 90's. Although she never visited in person she always wanted to go, later, happy that her S Project Avatar could travel there at a time when she could not.


The images attached to the more touristic locations and beauty spots she found offered an almost gratuitous amount of the picturesque, She overdosed on waterfall shots, Capsar David Freideric style images of tourists standing on cliffs in the mist – somewhat unpalatable but nevertheless alluring. She hovered over cliffs and descended down rocky paths through the veil of other tourists' cameras. The effect being at times video game-like, with the vertiginous mix of both the soaring and pedomentric rythms of walking simulator games such as Dear Esther and Fire Watch.


She became interested in the signposts, especially those that warned of hazards or danger, her attention was piqued especially by those warning or 'recent tourist death'. Wondering who died and what happened, what the locals thought of the tourist adventurer and their precipitous desires to see, to lean a bit further over the cliff perhaps, to get that so very instagramable shot. Or to wander further into a cave or across a causeway when warned not to...


She studied the names of the people who had upload their photographs to google maps...; Dorian Paetroley photographing an arial view of the Mostfellbaer suberbs, Lark Thwing photographs an educational display in the LAVA Center in Hvolsvollur, Jakub Schneider photographs a woman in yellow outdoor gear and walking poles in a valley with a waterfall in Skogar, Juan Antonio Surana snaps a cute grey cat outside a museum, Anh Tuan Nguyen photographs a close up of her hand full of beach pebbles on Reynisfjara Beach, Bernard Loiseau captures a waterfall in Horse Park Fakasel, Chih Tsung takes a close up of rock-wall texture in a beach cave. We see partial views, close ups of cows grazing, horses running and people posing. Their names seem to be from all over the world, we may wonder what gave them the idea to upload their touristic and sometimes quite personal images to the Google map. But Gudrun is greatful, she imagines stroking the fur of the grey cat basking in the sun outside the Skogar museum and laughs at the dog who looks exactly like a sheep until she zooms in close at Ostrovok.

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Not owned by anyone the 'high seas' are not officially part of any particular nation, they are a place where something close to anarchy has the opportunity to prevail. Piracy, overfishing, and the difficulty to regulate policies on climate change and plastics pollution are just some of the present issues in these unregulated waters i


The 'high seas' therefore contain a wildness and ambiguity with which many artists feel deep affinity. Artist Ursula Troche asks “Where are you from?” How about the sea? Can we not answer with a sea – or more?'ii


The sea exemplifies the symbolic marking of territory as a performed concept through the opportunity for new metaphorical and abstract boundary making. iii Into this seemingly arbitrary historiography of sea-mapping why shouldn't we name the sea as our place of origin? After-all the idea of drawing a clear territorial line in such fluid matter is somewhat difficult. This brings into relief the gendered historical practices which move between land and sea; the charting and map making, the esoteric codes and languages and the demarcated realms of fishing rights, national boundaries and the varied languages of oceanic navigation.iv (The trend towards feminist practices of wild swimming and eco-feminism, a reclaiming of waters within both theory and embodied practices speak of a kick back against these male striated sea faring, cartographic and navigational practices).

In terms of the UK coast/seas the Crown Estate owns its territorial seabed (but not the water itself, fishing rights are a different issue...) out to 12 nautical miles and around half of foreshore around England, Wales and Northern Ireland. v


Beyond the 12 nautical mile limit the seabed is ownerless but various government bodies have sovereign rights over marine resources to the edge of the continental shelf and the 200 nautical mile limit. The Department for Energy and Climate Change have responsibility for gas and oil and the Crown Estate for offshore wind (which causes much political tension with the Royals acting as advocates for green energy and pushing for more, whilst also profiting from their installation on the sea bed). vi

i In 1982, a new UN Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS III) was formed. This enshrined Grotius’ ‘freedom of the seas’ but with more detailed national rights and privileges. Vessels of all nations had the right of ‘innocent passage’ through territorial waters. Fishing, polluting, weapons practice and spying are not considered ‘innocent’, and submarines and other underwater vehicles are required to navigate on the surface and to show their flags. See more at

ii Quote from Ursula Troche, read full article by her here

iii For more on how space is constructed, ordered and controlled at sea in relation to politics and human mobility see Lines in the ocean: thinking with the sea about territory and international law in London Review of International Law, Volume 4, Issue 2, July 2016 Henry Jones.

iv Indigenous territories also extend into the sea. For a Canadian perspective see for an Australian perspective see



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Our Work around residency with Design Inquiry



"A workaround is a creative improvisation to get to a desired result, usually when there’s something in the way. The obstacle could be a technical fault, a policy or an interface designed to exclude you (deliberately or not). The workaround, often developed over time, in collusion with others who are encountering the same obstacle, is usually unofficial, illegitimate, or even prohibited. Who says workarounds are not permitted? Policymakers, gatekeepers, manufacturers, engineers, and — let’s be honest — designers. But those who come up with workarounds are also designers, sometimes canny, ingenious people with inky or oily fingers, their eyes on the changing conditions of the situation at hand. The workaround is an improvisation because it’s not developed from afar, in a theoretical or abstracted situation: the workaround comes from the frontlines of the problem, where the rubber meets the road, the ink meets the roller, or where the computer says no.

Usually, the workaround is designed to get past the problem without eliminating it. What does that mean for the problem? If the workaround catches on, it eventually comes to the attention of the system’s designers, policymakers, manufacturers, gatekeepers, and the problem is sometimes addressed. But could this process be accelerated by celebrating the workaround? Could the workaround create spaces of play, invention and kindness*? By drawing attention to the creativity in peoples’ improvised solutions, could we close the feedback loop and draw attention to the problem that systems are often designed to produce errors, unfairness and even injustice?"



// notes on closing distance

Chiasmic relations / Liverpool St.



Desires for proximity are either met with the death of the Other - provoked by this frustration at the inability to consume them - ( i )or a push away, upwards.

i Levinas, Emmanuel. Page 86, Ethics and infinity Duquesne University Press 1985 ' The face is exposed, menaced, as if inviting us to an act of violence, at the same time the face is what forbids us to kill'.

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Notes on Thalassophobia and virtual travel ///


I am travelling across the Atlantic, whether over or under I am not sure (the former I hope) – sometimes when I am walking around my home, or running or dog walking, collecting steps, I think about where my avatar is now – somewhere out at sea, lonely/floating/flailing/adrift but slowly moving, on trajectories plotted for it by gnomonic projections and fuelled by my footsteps. 

I often spend time looking at maps of the North Atlantic – floating just above the surface of the ocean as close as the satellite imagery will let me without turning to blur and pixilation. I track ships as they move between Europe and Canada, different colour dots representing different ships – container, dry bulk, gas carriers, ocean liners, passenger ships - I watch youtube videos of container ships, oil rigs, crashes and wrecks. I look at other peoples photographs.

Sometimes the thought of another version of myself out at sea, causes me to stop – arrested by a sense almost like vertigo – because I am scared of the water, the depths. I imagine in moments the possibility that myself and my avatar could swap places - that I could find my self at sea, adrift, scared of whats below and of the big ships, the real me replaced by a grey cursor hovering around my life.

I know what I suffer from is called Thalassophobia, an intense fear of deep bodies of water, especially the ocean. I am not scared of water itself, the element, but the deepness, the vastness and the unconceptualisable idea of this underneath. This combines very particularly with Megalophobia, a fear of large things, particularly for me, ships, tidal waves and underwater unknowns. A recurring nightmare I have had since a child involves being stuck inside a colossal submarine.

Gastón Gordillo touches on this vast strangeness. He sites the search for the missing Malaysian Airlines plane in 2014. Satellites, aircrafts, and ships had meticulously searched for the plane’s debris, for weeks without avail - surveillance technology in all its precision failed to locate the plane in the vast mass of water which was always moving, enfolding, flowing. Gordillo describes the game of cat and mouse which ensued through the temporal and proximal discrepancies between the objects being spotted by satellites and their disappearance by the time boats and helicopters reached the pinpointed locations. They would disappear, sometimes for good, sometimes re-appearing hundreds of kilometres away. The sea complicit in one of the greatest aviation mysteries of all time.

'This is liquid matter that...lets the force of gravity pull those objects down toward a dark abyss that the naked human body confronts as a physical environment devoid of solid ground and breathable air: the oceanic void.' (1)

Humans cannot live in the sea, the sea kills us, it is not our place. Gordillo further points to a 'generalized ungrounding we call drowning.'  (2)

The birth of modern navigation disciplined the feeling-sea with increasingly rigid striation ( The Smooth and the Striated in Deleuze, Gilles and Félix Guattari A Thousand Plateaus: Capitalism and Schizophrenia, trans. Brian Massumi, London: Athlone Books. 1988) across its smooth wilds. Meridian lines, longitudes, latitudes, circle routes, parallels- distances measures, lines on maps drawn. (We know that the entrance of women into this newly striated world was considered incredible bad luck – unless of course they were bearing breasts to the waves and strapped to the helm).

This complicated Cartography of the North Atlantic. Lines of possession - routes sailed by French and British explorers in the 1500s and now by giant cargo ships carrying toys, fruit and gas – you can board them as a passenger should you so wish and travel all the way from the Uk to Halifax, Canada- a journey of three weeks - pioneering fantasy and commerce merging with the contemporary internet networks which connect us instantly through cables running deep under the Ocean. Wires splayed across seabeds, emerging as arterial fronds on vastly different but interconnected beaches.

The history of seafaring is intimately tied to that of technology, before the advent of radio or digital navigation systems there are accounts of sailors feeling their bodies merging with their vessels – a true afloat-ness which meant, movement and body/boat became one. Jake Phelan states;

'At sea the body is no longer central to perception. The combination of wind and waves takes effect not on the body but on the boat; size, depth and distance, position and direction, become relative to the boat, no longer relative to the person. The lived body still perceives, but this experience of the world is mediated through technology'  (3)

He sites an account of a sailor who when feverish with illness saw himself as part of his vessel;

“Had the feeling that the rattling of the ship’s engine was myself; felt the motions of the ship as my own; it was I who was bumping against the waves and cutting through them. Was not seasick. Landed feeling broken” (4)

Women have seldom in the past had the opportunity to enter into this merging – becoming boat, becoming navigator, they are delegated to the metaphorical world of under-sea, a landless place of death and birth. Because of course (feminist theory tells us) they carry the sea inside them.

Yet as pointed out by Astrid Neimanis, boundaries and demarkations are essential as part of this dialogue on aqueous becomings, membranes are crucial, (metaphorical and real) to mediate between our own fluids and the outside. These membranes are about protection as well as connection and porosity, there are thresholds which may hold warning of danger as-well as the promise of safety and merging. Such possible membranes are listed by Neimanis as;

'Gravitational threshold, a weather front, a line on a map, equinox, a winter coat, death' (5)

The sea exemplifies the historical marking of territory as a performed concept through the opportunity for new metaphorical membrane/boundary making. (6) And brings into relief the gendered practices which move between land and sea; the charting and map making, the esoteric codes and languages and the demarcated realms of 'at sea', 'in port' 'at home'.

We know that the histories of men sailing are the same histories of the women and children left behind --- tides of thought and heaving sighs, men dreaming sea, the sons of sons of sons, performing their afloatness Towards the tingling excitements of unknowns that became 'exotics' - that became ethnocides, and then the convenient forgetting of spectator travel. The idea of being adrift is disturbing in multiple ways.

These histories of colonialism, environmental insecurity and the historial and very present issues that women with children and caring responsibilities are lessable to leave 'home' than men, make travelling by proxy or through an avatar more of an option...or necessity. 

To mark my avatars crossing the Ocean, I drop knots in my village to mark distance.

Historically the word 'knot' as a measure of distance comes from sailors counting the number of knots tied equidistant on a rope passing through a spool within a certain time frame, a knot being 1.5 miles per hour.--- I think about the person I am travelling so far to meet, Carly Butler who comes from a line of Mariners and makes work about sea cultures, sailing and meteorological knowledges.

Her work has taught me that the codes of the sea are many, and complicated to an outsider, but that a lack of practical knowledge can be fatal (discipline is important as her work 1000 knots illustrates). For the metaphorical flows of hydro-feminism (In me everything is already flowing) mean less when you are cast adrift with out ability to navigate or tie a decent Bowline.


(2) ibid

(3) Seascapes: tides of thought and being in Western perceptions of the sea. 2007. Jake Plelan.

(4) ibid

(4) Hydrofeminism: Or on Becoming a Body of Water Astrida Neiminas in Undutiful Daughters: Mobilising Future Concepts, Bodies and Subjectivities in Feminist Thought and Practice Palgrave Macmillan 2012.

(5) For more on how space is constructed, ordered and controlled at sea in relation to politics and human mobility see Lines in the ocean: thinking with the sea about territory and international law in London Review of International Law, Volume 4, Issue 2, July 2016 Henry Jones.

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The water between us. Ghosts at sea, voices, transmissions.


The body of water across which our signals cross is a mysterious one; utilised by conceptual artists such as Bas Jan Ader, who in 1975, boarded his little ship ‘Ocean Wave’ and attempted to become the first person to cross the Atlantic Ocean in the smallest boat possible. Three weeks after the expedition started, his radio lost its signal. His boat was found some miles away from the Irish coast. His disappearance remains a mystery but is hailed by some as a masterfully executed conceptual artwork.


The ocean is haunted as JR Carpenter tells us. She writes about the history of the North Atlantic as one of ghosts not only in a literal but an ontological sense. Telegraphy has always been associated with otherworldly realms. If intelligent speech and 'consciousness' could be transmitted independent of the body's direct voice then surely the dead could also speak to the living though these same electromagnetic means...Carpenter suggests the medium has always been haunted – morse code clicks through static, cables laid under the ocean carrying voices, messages distorted by distance, misheard, delayed. She plays with these ideas in Whisper Wire, a work about sending and receiving through electromagnetic medium, disjointed and disembodied messages appearing as poetry through a javascript generator.


The first wireless transmission in 1901: the message breaking through the radio hum across the vast ocean – easy to misinterpret, or mishear perhaps. Although Marconi claimed he heard the three clicks, the truth of his claim is still a matter of some speculation based on residual notions at the time that radio waves travelled in straight lines and that Marconi may have mistaken atmospheric static for clicks. perhaps it was the wind, or some disembodied message from somewhere else, another time.

Amanda Lagerqvist suggests there may be different types of ghost – analogue and digital – according to the era in which the subject died. These presences shift from the back and forth of telegraphy and wireless radio to the transcendental realm of the internet which is always awake, always transmitting. i The sea is awash with ghosts, analogue and otherwise.

To be at the edge of this watery and vast hydro-geography offers something very particular and also yet intangible to the minds of artists and writers. In The Pleasures of the Coast, The Technical Coast a 'Hydro-Graphic Novel' JR Carpenter writes

'I pass days at the very edge of the sea, my feet touching the Ocean. An indefinable superstition condemns me not to lose contact with it. Because there is only one way left to escape the alienation of the Coast: to retreat ahead of it.' ii

Perhaps humans like to be at the edge of things...dip your toe in the Ocean at the same time as your lover on a distant shore and you are touching perhaps, or so when we are lonely we like to believe.

'Water extends embodiment in time – body, to body, to body. Water in this sense is facilitative and directed towards the becoming of other bodies...we require other bodies of other waters (that in turn require other bodies and other waters) to bathe us into being.


i The Internet is Always Awake: Sensations, Sounds and Silences of the Digital Grave in Digital Existence: Ontology, Ethics and Transcendence in Digital Culture. Edited by Amanda Lagerkvist. Routledge 2018.


iii From Bodies of Water. Post Human Feminist Phenomenology. Astrid Neimadis, Bloomsbury 2016. Quote can be found in the introduction Figuring bodies of Water.

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