UNIT 5, TOWERDYKESIDE
THURSDAY 27 – SUNDAY 30 APRIL
11:00 – 16:00 / 16′ (looped)
by Michael Pattison
Natasha Thembiso Ruwona began a research project with Alchemy Film & Arts in November 2020, shortly before opening the 2021 edition of Alchemy Film and Moving Image Festival with an online expanded cinema performance. Site visits, informed by historical research, began to shape what is now this new moving-image commission: an essayistic meditation on the River Teviot, Atlantic salmon and Hawick-raised Tom Jenkins (1797 – 1859), Britain’s first Black schoolteacher – completed as part of The Teviot, the Flag and the Rich, Rich Soil, Alchemy’s programme of residencies and community engagement exploring the borders, boundaries and lines of Hawick and the Scottish Borders.
Receiving its world premiere within visible and audible distance of the Slitrig Water, the small river that runs into the Teviot, what is held (between waters) continues and expands the artist’s thematic preoccupation. Namely, water: its fluidity, multiplicity, tenderness; its colonial uses, its imperial histories, its double consciousness as both healer and harmer (life-giver, trade-maker, street-flooder, home-destroyer).
Applying these throughlines to Hawick, a town whose globally significant textiles industry and cultural identity are both indebted to its water, what is held builds a densely yet attractively alliterative word collage alongside the gently immersive plucked vibrations of a mbira and digital and computer-generated imagery of water(s). Within its self-connecting threads, the work positions the town’s ongoing flood prevention scheme within a tradition of speculative fiction: a human act of engineering that, like the camera, captures – in both senses of the word – a moment of otherwise endless and formless motion.
‘Water remembers, resembles,’ Natasha asserts in a typically calming second-person address to Tom Jenkins, the imagined recipient of this time-travelling audiovisual correspondence. The assertion’s first verb lends a sentience to water; the second implies an external perception of it that is nevertheless dictated by intrinsic form. To remember is to perceive a semblance. Or else imagine one: ‘No two waters share the same sound.’ By the time this latter line is delivered, what is held’s puns and wordplay have begun to take hold, rippling through the work with their own associative logic: an assonance suggestive of a river’s own rhymes.