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Coastal Methodologies: Audio-Visual Workbooking in Ayasha Guerin's 'Submerged'

Author: Sarah Bezan orcid logo (University College Cork, Ireland)

  • Coastal Methodologies: Audio-Visual Workbooking in Ayasha Guerin's 'Submerged'

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    Coastal Methodologies: Audio-Visual Workbooking in Ayasha Guerin's 'Submerged'

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Abstract

This article considers the metrics of coastal methodologies: what we gain, and what we lose, in creating knowledge about the coast. It argues that innovative methodological approaches are needed in order to address the social, racial, and species injustices that often converge along the coastline. This essay focuses on scholar and creative practitioner Ayasha Guerin’s use of audio-visual workbooking as an exemplary model for coastal humanities research. Incorporating and expanding upon approaches pioneered by Black Studies scholars Christina Sharpe and Alexis Pauline Gumbs, Guerin’s audio-visual workbooking process pilots an ethos of anti-hydrostasis: an approach that unsettles historical oceanic/coastal archives. By piecing together personal camera footage of the coast with historical images of Black and Indigenous whalers, Guerin’s critical-creative method cultivates an attentive and meaningful connection to the lived resonances of coastal histories.

Keywords: research-creation practices, methodology, blue humanities, coastal posthumanities

How to Cite:

Bezan, S., (2023) “Coastal Methodologies: Audio-Visual Workbooking in Ayasha Guerin's 'Submerged'”, Anthropocenes – Human, Inhuman, Posthuman 4(1). doi: https://doi.org/10.16997/ahip.1364

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Published on
24 Mar 2023
Peer Reviewed

How do we think about the coast? In reflecting on ways to engage with coastal imaginaries, I will examine the metrics of methodologies: what we lose, and more importantly, what we gain, in creating knowledge about the coast. The stakes of these methodological choices are drawn along the coastline, a space imbued with the ongoing legacies of extractive capitalism, slavery, and colonial conquest. On the coast, the global ecological crisis is made all the more tangible and imminent as a result of flooding, erosion, extreme weather, rising sea levels, pollution, underground salt-water intrusion, and the loss of wetland habitats. These changes disproportionately affect nonhuman animals along with racial and ethnic minority populations and disadvantaged communities residing near bodies of water. For the coastal humanities, creative method-making is therefore a necessary step towards responding to social, racial, and species injustices that converge upon the coastline.

In shoring up a reflection on multidisciplinary methodologies for the coastal humanities, I explore creative practitioner and Black Diaspora Studies scholar Ayasha Guerin’s practice of ‘audio-visual workbooking’. Following Christina Sharpe’s In the Wake: On Blackness and Being (2016), which critically foregrounds the sea as a space that channels the reverberations of the Middle Passage, Guerin’s film Submerged (2021-ongoing) offers a critical-creative response to the racialized assemblages and interspecies interactions that characterize aquatic and coastal ecologies.1 Guerin’s practice of audio-visual workbooking finds inspiration in the ‘wake work’ of Sharpe as well as in the prose-poetics of Alexis Pauline Gumbs (2020), whose employment of a marine mammalian apprenticeship features exercises like listening, breathing, and boycotting/divesting, among other activities.

Through a compilation of historical archives and autobiographical film footage of the coast, audio-visual workbooking expands the repertoire of approaches for scholars and creative practitioners in Black Studies as well as in the fields of the environmental and blue humanities. Together, these practices emphasize the lived relations of human and nonhuman animals (especially cetacean species) while also grappling with the unresolved histories of colonialism and racism both at sea and shore. In Submerged, these unresolved histories are a focal point. By piecing together personal camera footage of the coast with historical images of Black and Indigenous whalers, Guerin pilots an ethos of anti-hydrostasis: an approach that unsettles historical oceanic/coastal archives. As a deliberately unfinished practice, Guerin’s audio-visual workbooking serves as a valuable tool for cultivating an attentive and meaningful connection to the lived resonances of coastal histories.

Method-Making on the Coast

In considering the impact of method-making on the coast, I will begin by broadly sketching the limits and potentials of research-creation practices within the environmental and blue humanities. In recent years, these fields have seen a growing set of multidisciplinary methodological approaches, many of which are borrowed or adapted from the natural sciences. While by no means an exhaustive survey, this toolbox includes curiosity-driven and pedagogically oriented activities like:

  • multisensorial meditation exercises (drawing on smells, sights, sounds, and touch to reflect on embodied experiences with nature)2

  • flora/fauna identification field trips (the use of augmented reality apps or other digital/print resources to identify local species in wetland habitats, intertidal zones, and other ecological sites)3

  • on-site field talks that draw on local expertise (that of sheep farmers, coal miners, fishmongers, energy labourers, etcetera) on topics related to the environment4

  • guided visits to environmentally focused museum/gallery exhibitions and archives

  • design charettes or conceptual art workshops (reimagining ecological sites or species through zines, collage, and other artistic processes, usually in group settings)5

  • tiny ecology practices (open-ended creative ‘responses to sustained ecological observation’)6

  • walkshops (perambulatory wanderings that often involve reflective journaling, performance, or site-specific collaborations)7

A number of these examples are sourced from my own immensely privileged experiences at environmental humanities summer schools over the last several years. During my time at the 10-day interdisciplinary Svartárkot Culture-Nature Humanities summer school in 2018, for instance, our cohort was guided by course director Viðar Hreinsson through a working sheep farm in the Bárdardalur Valley in northern Iceland. We also took breathtaking hikes through the Framengjar wetlands and rambled through moss-covered lava fields to observe some of Iceland’s most spectacular lakes and waterfalls. A year later, I attended the inaugural Colby College Environmental Humanities Summer Institute. On a field trip midway through the week, I and about 30 other participants and seminar leaders were ferried over to Allen Island (Colby College’s own ‘biodiversity observatory’) off the coast of Maine, USA.8 On our arrival, we trekked past stacks of empty lobster traps and into a clapboard building that housed the private art collection of the Wyeth family painters, who are known for their contributions to the American realist tradition. Here, we also listened to an informal lecture from a master canoe builder, who explained the process of assembling a birchbark canoe similar to the one on display in the gallery. Luxuriating in the fragrance of cinnamon ferns, we spent the rest of the day hiking across the island where we awaited glimpses of seals and waterfowl on the shoreline.

Experiential activities like these have become increasingly common in environmental humanities circles. Conferences held by the Association for the Study of Literature and Environment (ASLE) and the Society for Literature, Science, and the Arts (SLSA) often organize outings and field trips that are led in partnership with local nature reserves and other community organizations. Adding levity to academic proceedings, these excursions connect scholars to a grounded sense of place in which to think, to write, and to unwind. Such hands-on methods of research-creation are in keeping with the ‘interdisciplinary agenda’ of the environmental humanities in its aim to foster environmental values and constructive collaborations between scholars across the arts and sciences (Peterson 2019: 71). Building ties between local community organizations and academics (or more often, between academics and other academics), these approaches offer ways of propagating attunement and ecological care/consciousness. Anna Tsing describes this process of attunement as ‘arts of inclusion,’ which delineate ways of nurturing a deeper and more inclusive understanding of the milieu of nonhuman animals, plants, and ecological relationships (Tsing 2011: 19). When these methods are employed mindfully – in ways that address the workings of colonialism and extractivism along with the geographies of exclusion that prohibit entry of certain bodies based on race, ethnicity, creed, gender, sexual orientation, and ability – experiential approaches to research-creation can enrich our thinking by supporting socially just scholarship and orienting us toward expressions of care and compassion for nonhuman animals and environments.

In staging an intervention within the environmental and blue humanities, I want to examine how these methodologies might fail to meet the demands of thinking about the intensive interspecies interrelationships that take place on the shore and may also risk re-inscribing hierarchies of difference across the nature-culture divide. This is because along with being steeped in racial and colonial histories, the coast is also a site of continuous flux that requires ‘nonlinear’ ways of understanding. As Katherine Jones and Owain Jones write in their study of tides, landscapes like the coast ‘are in constant motion, chance and cycles, denying fixity and stasis. As a result, they unsettle both linear thinking and linear understanding that, in spite of movements to break away from them, continue to shape historical and geographical accounts in many areas of thinking’ (Jones and Jones 2016: 147). Reckoning with the fluctuations of the shoreline necessitates nonlinear approaches that direct our attention to things that might escape our notice.

In the case of my visit to Allen Island with the Colby College Summer Institute, I was left with lingering questions about how our methods of research-creation focused almost unilaterally on the cultural legacy of the Wyeth family painters and the natural scientific value of the island’s local ecologies.9 To some extent, this focus prevented us from adequately acknowledging and reflecting upon the longstanding relationships of the Abenaki Indigenous peoples to the island and its surrounding coastal areas. Such conversations might have been sparked in response to the canoe builder’s informal talk on how traditional knowledge informs canoe craftsmanship, or in relation to the glorified depictions of colonial frontierism in the Wyeth family paintings (see examples of N.C. Wyeth’s paintings, which feature figures like the ‘lobsterman’ and ‘prospector’).10 While this visit to Allen Island was still effective in connecting us with broader environmental issues that occupied our discussions over the course of the institute, it also serves as an example of how our methodological choices shift our attention in different ways. What is clear is that what we think about the coast is often the result of how we think about the coast. As Donna Haraway so memorably puts it,

It matters what matters we use to think other matters with; it matters what stories we tell to tell other stories with; it matters what knots knot knots, what thoughts think thoughts, what descriptions describe descriptions, what ties tie ties. It matters what stories make worlds, what worlds make stories (Haraway 2016:12).

We must therefore ask: what is lost, and what is gained, as the result of our methodological practices?

Black and anticolonial geographer Katherine McKittrick offers important insights into the relationship between methodologies and the creation of knowledge. In Dear Science and Other Stories (2021), McKittrick contends that methodologies set within normative disciplines have the effect of disciplining thought, which ‘stabilizes race and perpetuates racism’ (McKittrick 2021: 50). For McKittrick, undisciplining knowledge happens through ‘method-making’: the ‘generating and gathering of ideas – across, with, outside, within, against normative disciplines – that seek out liberation within our present system of knowledge’ (McKittrick 2021: 44). Dear Science and Other Stories is a book that resolutely resists generic classification through the use of citation/sitation practices, storytelling, songwriting, scrapbooking, field annotations, textual accumulation (miscellanea), and the blending of creative and academic writing (to name a few examples). McKittrick advocates for methodologies that are relational, multi/interdisciplinary, intertextual, and interhuman (McKittrick 2021: 47). Responding to Audre Lorde’s assertion that ‘the master’s tools will never dismantle the master’s house’ (Lorde 1984), these methodologies undiscipline knowledge by resisting circumscribed limits on thought and being, which in turn generates more inclusive and engaged scholarship.

Audio-visual workbooking can be another tool for working outside the range of normative disciplines. This practice is added to McKittrick’s focus on the interhuman (McKittrick 2021), Sharpe’s use of redaction and annotation (Sharpe 2016: 102–134), and Alexis Pauline Gumbs’s marine mammalian apprenticeship activities (Gumbs 2020).11 Incorporating and expanding upon these approaches, Guerin’s audio-visual workbooking process pilots an ethos of anti-hydrostasis: an approach that unsettles historical oceanic archives. As I explain in the next section, Guerin’s method undisciplines knowledge by shuttling between the past and present, human and nonhuman, land and sea.

An Anti-Hydrostatic Cinema

Ayasha Guerin’s 21-minute film Submerged (2021-ongoing) traces aquapelagic histories of Black and Indigenous whalers and their displacement from shoreline regions. In constructing this narrative, Guerin assembles an audio-visual workbook comprised of archival photographs, maps, deeds, historical documents, maritime drawings, whale sound graphs, and images of museum artefacts. Anchored by a voice-over narration and compiled through the use of film (including hand-held camera footage on land and sea), Submerged functions as a creative project ‘in flux’ as it attends to the shifting environmental conditions of coastlines, and their ‘hydrological’ (or watery) environs. The film focuses primarily on Long Island, the homelands of the Unkechaug, Shinnecock, Monettauk, as well as on the traditional and unceded ancestral territories of the Coast Salish in southern Vancouver Island, where Guerin partially resides. This in-progress/in-flux methodology tracks histories of enslavement and displacement under colonial capitalism, and it measures their still-unfolding effects upon both humans and cetacean species. The result is what I call an ‘anti-hydrostatic cinema.’ In Submerged, Guerin advances a critique of the hydrostatic displacement of bodies (the movement of Black and Indigenous men from land to sea and of slaughtered whales from sea to land) in colonial records of the slave trade. Through the juxtaposition of still (hydrostatic) images of historical maritime documents with moving (anti-hydrostatic) images of present-day coastal regions, Guerin resists ‘settling’ or hydrostatically equilibrilizing the racialized and speciesist histories of whaling enterprises.12 In other words, the outcome of this audio-visual workbooking method is anti-hydrostasis: an ethos of continually unsettling historical archives and of creatively-critically mapping the impact of colonial capitalism upon present and future communities, in all their particularity and diversity.

This method expands upon Guerin’s scholarly work on the intersecting historiographies of Black slavery and Indigenous shore whaling (Guerin 2021). However, contrasted with the authoritative finality of scholarly publishing (which typically maintains a divide between the subject and the object of study) Guerin’s creative process models a coastal humanities methodology that accounts for how personal experiences of the changing coastline play out against the backdrop of its complex histories. Due to the additive nature of workbooking, Submerged serves as the deliberately unfinished product of an ever-evolving practice of unsettling the past through the autobiographical lens of Guerin’s shoreline experiences.

Audio-visual workbooking extends Guerin’s scholarly work on aquapelagic histories into a reflection on her lived, personal experience on the coast. For instance, in the introduction to the film, Guerin narrates her arrival on Vancouver Island during the early months of the Coronavirus-19 pandemic. Walking along the beaches of Vancouver, she observes ‘sprawling ecosystems of barnacles and mussels, birds and seaweed’ that lie at the interstices of the intertidal zone, where land and water meet (2021: 1:11–1:17). The autobiographical introduction contextualizes how Guerin’s scholarly work has begun to intersect with, and seek inspiration from, the unique geographies and histories of the coastlines of Vancouver and Long Island.

The film is composed of short clips taken from Guerin’s hand-held camera at sea (on board ferries and other watercraft) and from walks along the cobbled, seaweed-strewn shore. As it toggles between land and water, the film references both still (historic) and moving (present-day) images. This tactic challenges static, terrestrially grounded perspectives of oceanic and coastal environments. Guerin’s approach to colonial and slave trade archives maps out modes of relating to ‘multispecies living beings that have been cast, through the logics of colonial capitalism, as in/unhuman’ (2021: 4:30–4:35). This practice is reflected in the title of the workbook, which describes the state of being submerged, or ‘unseen from the perspective of land’ (2021: 4:00–4:02). By tracing the legacies of the slave trade into the lived present, Submerged leans into the unceasing motion of the tides that erode the borders of the littoral/aquatic and the animal/human, blurring their edges.

The use of land-based and at-sea footage keeps viewers awash in the tides of the maritime accounts of Black and Indigenous whalers who were displaced from land (and blocked from citizenship rights or threatened with re-enslavement) to take up low-wage employment upon whaling boats. Pulling viewers from land to sea, and back again through alternating footage, Guerin’s audio-visual workbooking method pieces together the colonial capitalist machinery of the whaling trade that led to transferences of flesh (the process by which the racialized bodies of Black and Indigenous men were drawn into the sea aboard whaling ships, at the same time as the bleeding bodies of whales were hauled out of the sea and brought onto land).

Guerin interprets these fleshly transferences though the lens of Black feminist writer Hortense Spillers, who argues that enslaved subjects were regarded as ‘quantities of flesh’ rather than individual bodies (Spillers 1987; Guerin 2021: 11:41–12:14). This interpretation extends to the film’s recounting of Indigenous whale harvesting practices, where Guerin cuts from on-sea footage of the Long Island shoreline to an archival photograph of an early deed between English colonizers and the Montaukett peoples, whose ancestral homelands border eastern and central Long Island, New York. Prior to the mid-seventeenth century, Guerin narrates, the Montaukett, Shinnecock, and Unkechaug peoples engaged in the sacred practice of harvesting drift whales that had been washed along the shore after a high tide (2021: 5:28–5:41). With the arrival of colonizers and the drafting of deeds designed to pay male Indigenous whalers in blubber (as opposed to bartered goods), overhunting whale populations became necessary for the survival of both Black and Indigenous whalers but led to the unsustainable exploitation of global whale populations (2021: 7:13–7:25). ‘While it was flesh [that] served as the primary narrative of their arrival,’ Guerin explains in a voiceover, ‘it was the flesh (of whales) that they returned to sea to find [that enabled them] to recover their own narratives of survival’ (2021: 12:08–12:12) Figure 1.

Figure 1
Figure 1
Figure 1

Screenshot of Submerged, ‘Junk of an 85 Barrel Whale, Sunbeam 1904,’ 8:30. Photo courtesy of Ayasha Guerin, 2021.

The hydrostatic displacement of bodies (Black and Indigenous men at sea, slaughtered whales on land) in historical records of the slave trade exemplifies the persistence of what Zakiyyah Iman Jackson contends is the ‘racialization of the human-animal distinction’ (Jackson 2020: 2). Guerin’s workbooking method responds to this distinction by compiling an account of the ‘precarious terrestrial existence for men who often shared a life of displacement and migration with the whales they hunted’ (2021: 18:12–18:15). The film identifies the potential for human-cetacean kinships while at the same time refusing to analogize the Black condition – which, as Bénédicte Boisseron persuasively argues, has no referent (Boisseron 2018: xvii). Workbooking in this way serves as a strategic response to the irremediability of human-animal histories of enslavement and Indigenous displacement, revealing the extent to which ‘species endangerment has been entwined with histories of racial subjection, exploitation, and precarity’ (Guerin 2021: 57–58). This has the effect of uniting postcolonial and ecocritical critiques that often emphasize terrestrial, rather than aquatic and coastal, histories of human-animal oppression.

The audio-visual workbooking process also opens up a way of exploring how these historical archives are brought to bear upon today’s coastal communities and habitats, which continue to contend with the extractive logics of the whaling enterprise as well as with the rise of petro-industrialization that followed in its wake. Guerin’s attention to such extraction in the historical and lived present of local ecologies in turn exemplifies Michif-settler scholar Max Liboiron’s point that such extraction is firmly aligned with a colonial agenda – in other words, it is not merely a legacy of colonialism but it is colonialism itself as an historically constituted but also palpably present condition (Liboiron 2021:6). A study of these past and present entanglements is the basis of the resulting film, which activates senses of sight and hearing at strategic moments to highlight examples of human and marine mammalian kinship along the shared routes of slave ships and whaling vessels. As Guerin suggests, this effort imitates whales’ use of echolocation, which allows cetacean species to map underwater worlds in three dimensions through sound. While it would be difficult to depict the echolocative capacities of whales in a scholarly paper, the audio-visual workbook instead becomes a place for Guerin to move between the senses of hearing and sight in order to model ‘a sense of the relational’ (2021: 14:59). As such, this use of echolocative relationality answers the call of Alexis Pauline Gumbs’s Undrowned: Black Feminist Lessons from Marine Mammals, which includes meditative exercises on ‘who is your pod?’ along with collective, relational breathing activities that are imaginatively ‘whale-like’ in practice (Gumbs 2020).

Placing viewers of Submerged into a nonhuman (and uniquely cetacean) perspective creates opportunities for listening and seeing otherwise. In the latter half of the film, viewers are presented with split screens of still and moving images of whales and whale song graphs (Figure 2). The interchange between the aural and the visual partially decenters the sensorial apparatus of the human by emulating whales’ ways of being in the world. Together with the depiction of whale song graphs, this representation of nonhuman phenomenology recognizes the value of non-anthropocentric interpretations of the acoustic capacities of nonhuman animals that have recently come into focus within the overlapping fields of animal studies and sound studies.13 The split screens of ocean footage (one of which cuts to black, similar to Christina Sharpe’s use of redaction) invite viewers to think beyond ocular-centric views of the seashore and to instead consider how cetacean phenomenologies rely upon echolocative modes of engagement with the interstices of land and water.

Figure 2
Figure 2
Figure 2

Screenshots of Submerged, 15:29–31. Photo courtesy of Ayasha Guerin, 2021.

The blackout frames represent this shift towards a (perhaps unknowable) cetacean consciousness, but also gesture to the ‘temporal echoes’ of the colonial past that reverberate into the present. These reverberations are intelligible in the form of sea level rise, which is expected to lead to the loss of cetacean populations as well as the imminent erasure of a number of coastal communities (many of which include the descendants of Black and Indigenous whalers, as Guerin points out). In its attentiveness to these temporal echoes, this method actively engages with mammalian kin in ways that are ‘responsive and responsible’ to these historical reverberations of colonial and racial histories of the coast (2021: 19:27).

What this achieves is a deeply engaged sense of place that explores what Anja Kanngieser and Métis scholar Zoe Todd describe as the difference between a ‘case study’ and a ‘kin study’ (Kanngieser and Todd 2020: 385). Drawing on the work of Zoe Todd, Kim TallBear, Robert Alexander Innes, Brenda McDougall, and Donna Haraway, Kanngieser and Todd propose that kin study ‘enables us to reposition or re-place case studies’ through an awareness of how ‘our presence, whether local or through invocation over distance, changes the sites we are speaking about’ (Kanngieser and Todd 2020: 387). Interpreted this way, Submerged exemplifies an approach to engaging with racial and colonial histories of place that ‘consider the ongoing, co-constitutive, rooted, and flexible nature of place and our relationships to it’ (Kanngieser and Todd 2020: 387). This is especially true of aqueous and fluid ecologies like coastal zones, where the co-constitutive relationships between human and nonhuman kin shift in often imperceptible ways to terrestrial human observers. Guerin’s film captures this shifting sense of place and the effect of invoking place through environmental histories of colonial enterprises at sea. Audio-visual workbooking therefore becomes one way of re-placing – making watery and fluid – these environmental histories that appear still and hydrostatically anchored in the past. Moreover, as a kin study of cetacean-human relations over time and in the lived present, Guerin’s anti-hydrostatic cinema refuses to settle these colonial and racial histories as only rooted in human experience. This way of interpreting Submerged as specifically anti-hydrostatic draws from Tiffany Lethabo King’s reading of the shoal (a place that is neither land nor sea) as a site where it becomes possible to conceptualize Black and Indigenous theory and critique (King 2019: 6). As King writes in the edited volume Racial Ecologies, this mode of postcolonial visual critique resists the static interpretation of oceanic maps of the colonies as ‘fixed and inert, already knowable objects’ and instead considers them to be ‘dynamic processes’. As such, the oceanic map (and in Guerin’s case, the map and the historical archive) is not ‘simply a representation of plants, ocean, shoreline, and Black laboring bodies’, but ‘a scene of motion, movement, and flux that [has] not yet been given fixed borders or placed in colonial categories’ (King 2018: 66–67). Audio-visual workbooking is an important practice because it is a deliberately in-flux methodology that figures the coast as a site of dissolving borderlines, a fluid marker that swells in the tide and shifts with the sands of time beneath both fin and feet.

Conclusion: Submergence in a Time of Environmental Emergency

The stakes of our methodological choices are as high as the rising sea levels that threaten to erase coastal communities and to accelerate biodiversity losses both at sea and shore. But, if we are in a state of environmental emergency, in which our methodological approaches matter more than ever, what does it mean to submerge? As I have argued throughout this essay, a careful attentiveness to coastal imaginaries is needed to meet the demands of thinking through the social, racial, and species injustices that converge upon the coastline. We learn from Ayasha Guerin that to submerge, or to be unseen from the perspective of land, is one way of challenging the inherent anthropocentrism and white/Western-centeredness of research-creation practices in the blue and environmental humanities. To do so is to maintain a commitment to anti-hydrostasis – a resistance to equilibrilizing or ‘settling’ the past. Indeed, to do is to acknowledge that what we think begins, as always, with how we think.

And how we think of course lays the groundwork for how we act and respond to environmental emergency. Linda Tuhiwai Smith (Ngāti Awa and Ngāti Porou, Māori) frames this as a key question for decolonizing methodologies in research: ‘How does decolonizing methodologies help us when the world is in crisis?…Critique is not enough. We have to continue to act, to use our own imaginations, to enhance our own institutions and forge our own pathways’ (Smith 2021: 285). Likewise, Zoe Todd calls upon Blackfoot and Cree philosophies (and in particular Papaschase Cree scholar Dwayne Donald) to consider how an ‘ethic of historical consciousness’ must be attentive to practices that acknowledge webs of human-environmental relationships (Todd 2015: 249). To follow decolonial and anti-racist methodologies outlined by Tuhiwai Smith, Todd and others is to expand the range of methodological approaches on the coast that support Indigenous self-determination, knowledge, and praxis and that resist instrumentalizing knowledge held by Black and Indigenous thinkers.14 Particularly for white and non-Indigenous scholars in the coastal humanities (like myself, as a white settler), it is upon us to ensure that coastal methodologies engage with Black and Indigenous knowledge in ways that push back against colonial systems of thought. This in turn extends Astrida Neimanis’s call to white scholars in the environmental and blue humanities to ‘learn from the anagrammars of black feminist poetics’ and to become adept at ‘pars[ing] both the deep connections and utter incommensurabilities that confront us in the death of a single life, a species, or a whole ocean – relations that cannot be measured according to the tools of the White Anthropocene’ (Neimanis 2019: 503). In response to these evolving ecological relations, we must ask ourselves: how do methodologies of research-creation support communal and democratic ways of knowing and being on the coast? To do the work of thinking about the coast, can our methodologies benefit from collaboration, a combination of media, or alternative modes of dissemination? What relationship does this methodology create between the past, present, and future of coastline ecologies and their human and nonhuman counterparts?

Sinking to the depths, following Guerin, Sharpe, Gumbs, and other Black feminist and Indigenous thinkers, is a move that counters the structuring of time as environmental emergency: a time that sees the violence of rising sea levels and other effects of unmitigated climate change solely as a crisis to come, rather than an ancestral condition inherited through and rooted in centuries of colonial exploitation and racial subjugation. Guerin’s critical-creative method – in its refusal to balance the boat or to settle racial and colonial histories that lie beneath the ocean surface – demonstrates the importance of submergence: a practice of diving into new depths of relating to, and understanding, the coast.

Notes

  1. To view an updated version of Submerged, visit Guerin’s website at http://www.ayashaguerinworks.com/. Also, for a discussion of ‘racialized assemblages,’ see Alexander G. Weheliye, Habeas Viscus.
  2. Some of these methods have been utilised by thinkers working on sustainable research practices. Consult María Heras et al., ‘Realising Potentials for Arts-Based Sustainability Science’, and Right Research: Modelling Sustainable Research Practices in the Anthropocene, Eds. Chelsea Miya, Oliver Rossier and Geoffrey Rockwell.
  3. The applications for fieldwork can be varied, but I am particularly thinking of citizen science-based projects like Herbaria 3.0. For an overview of this project, consult Tina Gianquitto and Lauren LaFauci, ‘A Case Study in Citizen Environmental Humanities: Creating a Participatory Plant Story Website.’
  4. I recommend scrolling through the (albeit somewhat outdated) history of ASLE field trips here: https://asleukiland2017.wordpress.com/field-trips/.
  5. See, for example, the publications of Mystery Spot books (the brainchild of Chad Rutter and Emily Roehl), which supports artwork that reimagines human-altered landscapes. https://www.asle.org/features/emily-roehl/. Sarah Kanouse’s work on para-seminars and environmental design charettes also demonstrates the range of experimental environmental humanities practices: https://publish.illinois.edu/ehsymposium2020/sarah-kanouse/.
  6. This exercise can also be used for pedagogical purposes. See Jeffrey Jerome Cohen, ‘Tiny Ecology’. ASLE Teaching Materials, https://www.asle.org/teaching_resources/tiny-ecology/.
  7. Examples of walkshops abound. A few notable walkshops are The University of Edinburgh’s ‘Walking the Environmental Humanities’ (http://www.environmentalhumanities.ed.ac.uk/walking-environmental-humanities-walkshop-natural-change/) and the ‘Theory in the Mud’ composting workshop at The Seed Box: A Mistra-Formas Environmental Humanities Collaboratory at Linköping University, Sweden (https://theseedboxblog.wordpress.com/2017/02/01/composting-theory-in-the-mud-walkshop-changethedate/amp/). For a review of walkshops, read Susanne Pratt and Kate Johnson, ‘Speculative Harbouring: Wading into Critical Pedagogy and Practices of Care.’
  8. Colby College website, ‘Island Campus.’ https://islandcampus.colby.edu/.
  9. I interpret my visit to Allen Island in relation to my identity as a white Canadian woman of mixed settler ancestry (I currently reside in Ireland).
  10. For examples, visit ‘The Wyeth Dynasty of Painters,’ N.C. Wyeth, Christies 29 July 2020. Link: https://www.christies.com.cn/features/the-wyeth-dynasty-of-american-painters-9860-1.aspx?sc_lang=en.
  11. Consult chapter 4, ‘The Weather’, for examples of Sharpe’s practice of annotation and redaction. Sharpe defines redaction and annotation as a move ‘toward seeing and reading otherwise; toward reading and seeing something in excess of what is caught in the frame’ (117).
  12. In the realm of physics, hydrostatic equilibrium refers to the balance used to weigh substances in water. I’m proposing the term anti-hydrostatic to explain how the whaling trade decimated whale populations (thus, removing whales from water) while at the same time bringing whalers onto the water and into a new relationship with the oceanic realm. This term also signals a resistance to interpreting the past events of the slave trade as settled, balanced, or otherwise equilibrilised. Following Christina Sharpe, whose work on the wake focuses on ‘the continuous and changing present of slavery’s as yet unresolved unfolding’ (13–14). This essay uses the term anti-hydrostatic in order to convey how Guerin’s anticolonial and ecocritical work contributes to an unsettling of historical archives that in turn expose the ongoing effects of extractive capitalism and the slave trade on human and nonhuman animals on the coast.
  13. See Ben de Bruyn, The Novel and the Multispecies Soundscape. For other examples, consult Louisa Collenberg, ‘Sonic Becomings: Rhythmic Encounters in Interspecies Improvisation’; Rachel Mundy, ‘Museums of Sound: Audio Bird Guides and the Pleasures of Knowledge’; Andrea Avidad, ‘Deadly Barks: Acousmaticity and Post-Animality in Lucrecia Martel’s La ciénaga’.
  14. For some key examples, see Arts-Based Methods for Decolonising Participatory Research, Edited by Tiina Seppälä, Melanie Sarantou, and Satu Miettinen; and T.J. Demos, Decolonizing Nature: Contemporary Art and the Politics of Ecology.

Funding Information

The author wishes to thank Ayasha Guerin and to acknowledge funding from the Leverhulme Trust and the British Academy in supporting the research for this publication. Many thanks as well to Melanie Dennis Unrau and Rich Gorman, along with two anonymous peer reviewers, who provided helpful comments on an earlier draft of this article.

Competing Interests

The author has no competing interests to declare.

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