Water Treatment Walks (spring 2016) was a durational performance by Aberystwyth artist Jess Allen, whose practice typically uses long-distance walking as a way of engaging with strangers on ecological themes in rural landscapes. Water Treatment Walks took place over five days from 9-13 May. The walk followed 60 miles of mains water pipeline between the Dŵr Cymru water treatment works at Bontgoch, and the sea at Ynyslas: the ‘last tap on the line’ at the visitor centre on the Dyfi national nature reserve. The performance overlapped with – and was a ‘pragmatic’ echo of – Jane Lloyd Francis and Gwilym Morus-Baird’s bardic pilgrimage from the source of the River Leri to the sea: Ar Lan y Leri.
Wearing hi-vis work clothing, carrying a 2 metre length of blue water pipe, a bottle of tap water and two glasses, Jess spoke to almost every person she met, asking them: ‘if you had to make a promise to ‘treat’ water differently in future, what would it be?’. Their responses were written onto the pipe which accrued its promissory graffiti as she walked. At the end of the exchange Jess and her respondent would drink a toast together, with and to tap water; a gesture of trust and celebration. Stopping to fill her water bottle along the way from the homes and businesses she passed, she met over 60 people – in gardens, on building sites, footpaths, in kitchens – and talked about water in both English and Welsh.
Jess describes how the work was an experiment in how we might reconceptualise water as something worthy of being ‘treated’ thoughtfully, and thus an attempt to admit the agency of the more-than-human in everyday human routine.
“Sitting here with you now talking about water… is more meaningful. If someone from Dŵr Cymru had phoned me up to tell me to ‘save’ water, I wouldn’t be thinking about it in the same way” – Gwyn, Llandre, Day 1.
There were two additional elements to the work. On two of the walking days Jess held ‘water surgeries’ – “playful performance encounters about water use for one or more participants, based on the format of a GP consultation” – at cafes along the route. And during the Spring Gathering weekend (28-29 May 2016), the Hydroambulator appeared on the streets of Borth: a “walk-about performance to encourage tactile and playful engagement with water: pre-school water play on wheels for people of all ages to re-see water” (images below).
ARTWORK(S) & DOCUMENTATION
Maps of the walking route for each of the five days are available on the Water Treatment Walks website.
Jess’s blogs documenting process and walks are available on the Water Treatment Walks website.
Search Twitter and Facebook using the hashtag #watertreatmentwalks. A selection of posts (from Jess and others) are linked below.
Preparations for the performance
Day 1 walking post 1, post 2, post 3, post 4, post 5
Day 2 walking post
Day 4 walking post 1, post 2
Day 5 walking post 1, post 2
Hydroambulator post 1, post 2, post 3
A selection of images is below. A full gallery is available on the Water Treatment Walks website. Image credits: Richard Gott (images 1-7, 10), Jess Allen (images 8-9), Sara Penrhyn Jones (images 11-15), Caroline Freeman (images 16-18).
ENGAGEMENT & PARTICIPATION
The walks engaged approximately 60 participants over 5 days (9-13 May 2018), who made promises and drank toasts to/with water.
There were two Water Surgery events:
Caffi Cletwr, Siop Cynfelin, Weds 11 May (5 participants)
Oriel Tir a Môr, Borth, Thurs 12 May (1 participant)
The Hydroambulator appeared in Borth on Saturday 28 May (Community Gardens) and Sunday 29 May (High street) engaging approximately 25 passersby.
ABOUT THE ARTIST
Jess Allen is performance artist and aerialist from Aberystwyth. She combines long-distance walking art with one-to-one performance in rural landscapes, using the walk to set up unexpected interventions with the strangers she encounters. Her work is characterised by conviviality, camaraderie, connection. She has a PhD in biology from Aberystwyth University, and a PhD in contemporary performance from the University of Manchester. She trained as a dancer in between with an MA in Dance Making and Performance from Coventry University. She has worked as landscape and conservation officer for local government, dance lecturer (improvisation/somatics), community arts facilitator (AHRC Multi-Story Water) and as an aerial dancer for Full Tilt Aerial Theatre and inclusive (disabled/nondisabled) companies Blue Eyed Soul and EVERYBODY dance (UK/US/Europe). She currently teaches on the Syrcas Byd Bychan community circus programme at Small World Theatre and is a certified AeroZen aerial yoga teacher. jessallen.org.uk