Fluid Boundaries

Water, Water, Everywhere…

September 11, 2019

This text is an attempt at an intellectual pathology of the “Fluid Boundaries” project, shortlisted as a finalist for the Canadian Pavilion at the 2020 Venice Architecture Biennale. “Fluid Boundaries” is the project and the multidisciplinary team of anthropologists, geographers, cultural historians, architects and landscape architects whose project aimed to challenge the provincial boundaries of what we understand as “Canada” by reflecting on its waters, its human and non-human kin, its architecture and infrastructure. Collectively, the team was to become a school of fish in the multiple watersheds and rivers of a ‘many-Canadas’ Pavilion. Visitors would be subsumed by the Assiniboine, the Frasier, the Elbow, the Kitchissippi, the Mississippi, the Gitchee-Gummee, the Bering, the Venetian Lagoon.


This is the story of a Biennale that wasn’t. [1] It is a story about water.

Our proposal was called Fluid Boundaries and it sought to immerse visitors in a waterscape within the Canadian Pavilion at the Giardini della Biennale in Venice, 2020. Caught between the extreme seasonal and tidal oscillations of the Venice Lagoon, they would be met by water in all of its life-giving (and taking) glory: abundance and absence, clarity and contamination, ambiguity and definition. Our purpose with this was, and remains, to unsettle and displace by re-casting watersheds as physical and cultural terrains opening into other worlds. In short, we were not trying to see Canada differently, but to set up a moveable lens through which to see —perchance to dream of— different Canadas.

In her work on legal traditions and human-fish relations in Canada, Métis scholar Zoe Todd posits a theory of ‘fishy refraction’ at the air-water interface; a space for the interpenetration of indigenous and state actors, the human and non-human, and liquid and atmospheric boundaries. We wanted to explore the labour that takes place across them and the refraction through which plural and dynamic perceptions of Canada and its infrastructures could be subject to review. Our expectation was to displace paradigms and work through borders by developing approaches that stayed “with the mud”, [2] and understanding iterative architectural practice as increasingly exclusionary. This would be met with the resistance of water as it wound its way through our multiple proposed spaces.

“The Struggles of Elements” between water and land. Frontispiece engraved by Andrea Zucchi in Della Laguna di Venezia : trattato by Trivisano, Bernardo, 1652-1720; Zucchi, Andrea, 1679-1740; Domenico Lovisa, 1718.


Our inquiries began in the Veneto, where sixteen centuries of settlements show how Roman Empire refugees became lagoon-dwellers at the head of the Adriatic. The transition tra acqua e terraferma is where physical displacement took shape in ways violent, ingenious and sublime. The crossroads between science and economics gave rise to water-and-architecture as the two-pronged leitmotif of Venice.  [3]

Elsewhere across space and time, the first law of thermodynamics —wherein energy cannot be created nor destroyed, and its total in an isolated system is forever constant— was continuously being (re)discovered. From Thales to Leibniz, it was posited in various forms until it was codified by Newton and confirmed by the Bernoullis, du Châtelet and Noether; to constitute the backbone of all modern science.

But the atoms, molecules and particles that make up our bodies and physical world are not ours only. Many other lifeforms occupy and breathe in waters steeped with oxygen and microplastics, [4] mercury and minerals, kelp and coral, diesel fuel and sulphurous dioxides, which suggests that there are other ways in which to think about established truths and layer them as open-ended narratives for life and death, and growing towards entropy. The beings that inhabit these liquid, earth and vapor mediums push through the messy thickness of the world; they are worms and marmots and burrowing owls, miners looking for copper and cobalt and bauxite, for tantalum, diamond and gold. Feathered and frilled kin flock in air replete with gas and dust, with methane and snow crystals, with sulphur dioxide and carbon monoxide and ozone. They wheel in aerial bursts above the humidity of the Venetian Lagoon, over the dusty airs of Great Salt Lake, over the dying Aral Sea, ahead of ships bound for oceans and freshwater lakes along the St. Lawrence. They exceed the frame of terraferma, using it as a perch from which to weave old narratives into new ceremonies, belief into a tapestry of resilient knowledge.

“Panoramic Plan of the Principal Rivers and Lakes” by James Reynolds and John Emslie, from their Introduction to Natural Philosophy… A companion to Reynolds’s series of “Popular Diagrams of Natural Philosophy”, comprising 250 illustrations. London: James Reynolds, 1850.


In Maori cosmology, [5] creation starts in the womb; in Greek, “mother” is synonymous with “womb,” not “women.” The womb —long thought to be a near-animal that wound its way around the female body, making it fertile or mute— was seen as the natural recipient in which water and all other elements —flood, blood, rain, milk, seed and dew— could fuse. [6] In this context, “(w)ater is the blood that nourishes even before milk can flow;” [7] not so much an element as a transitional state, a site for ontic transformation.

Its molecules —the oxygen and hydrogen at the base of our existence— formed with matter being expelled from a dying star. According to Genesis: “the LORD God formed the man of dust from the ground and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life, and the man became a living creature (Genesis 2:7).” [8] In indigenous cosmology, these particles come from Sky Woman, Nanabush, Glooscap, Raven, Sedna and so many other First Beings/People. In each of these cases, emptiness is wrought into something when it is displaced by the figural.

Water, too, is displaced by the fish moving through it, by the humans who need it and want it and use it —and who, in their desire and need, channel, constrain and squeeze it with lines and concrete embankments, abutments and conduits, crest lengths, spillways, seepage collars, rip-raps, intakes, heels and toes—. The ground —the artificial, colonial edge of the “shore”— is thus itself displaced by the waters that move on and over and through it.

Venice sinks. New Orleans sinks. Deltas form. Sediment is carried through the world in tributaries, out into bays and gulfs. Water makes ground, water disappears into the ground. Buildings float and sink until they are consumed by their milieu. They are swallowed by underground rivers and their underwater dwellers, consumed by roots and rot; transformed by branches, parasites and spores; eroded by flying, climbing, digging wildlife; defaced by ice, wind, rain and snow.

The earth is unsettled by the beings that bore (through) it: the earthworm consuming it slowly; its tunnels bringing air into the ground, replenishing what it devours. [9] It is displaced by grinding mills and slurry pumps, by High Intensity Dry Roll Magnetic separators, by impact crushers and belt conveyors, by rock hammers, hydraulic mining shovels and haulers.

History is dislodged. In Hassankeyf, Turkey, the construction of the Ilisu Dam threatens 20,000 people and the ark and archive of history they have built themselves on, and around. Walter Raleigh’s History of the World locates Hassankeyf —”the Citie of Hasan-Cepha, otherwise Fortis Petra“— just below the island of Eden: “for the isle of Eden, which lieth in the breast of Tigris is but twelve miles from Mosal, and that ancient city which Ptolemy and Tacitus call Ninus… is set but a little higher upon the same river.” [10] When transnational (read: financial) support from Austria, Germany and Switzerland was withdrawn given the scale of human, non-human and historical erasure, Veysel Eroğlu, the Turkish Minister of Forestry and Water, declared: “We do not need their money. We will construct this dam at any cost.” [11] Ilisu’s new waterways will submerge the history of at least eight civilisations, spanning the Middle Bronze period, the Late Bronze, the Roman, the Byzantine, the Ummayads, the Abbasids, the Artuqids and the Mongols.

The air we breathe displaces the void into our lungs, by travelling through nose and mouth, throat and lips, into the depths of us. Air catalyses into bright red, oxygen-rich blood. This air is clean and it is dirty. It purifies and pollutes, oxidises and corrodes. [12] It is the fluid medium birds inhabit and displace through speed —“the peregrine falcon can reach speeds of 240 mph at peak dive”— or staidness: the American woodcock coasts at 5 mph, the kite and the harrier hawk hover in place. The air is infused with the scent of the earth and death, with the salt of the sea, with the poison of smokestacks and chimneys, of exhaust pipes and volcanic vents. Everything is displaced by something else, in a persistent negotiation and re-negotiation between air and wind.

“There is also the ——, the secret wind of the desert, whose name was erased by a king after his son died within it. And the nafhat–a blast out of Arabia. The mezzarifoullousen–a violent and cold southwesterly known to Berbers as ‘that which plucks the fowls.’ The beshabar, a black and dry northeasterly out of the Caucasus, ‘black wind.’ The Samiel from Turkey, ‘poison and wind,’ used often in battle. As well as the other ‘poison winds,’ the simoom, of North Africa, and the solano, whose dust plucks off rare petals, causing giddiness.” [13]

Water is air is earth; and so forth, in a myriad permutations. These are our molecules and how they’re re-arranged. Their displacement makes space for the ways of the world.

“Diagram: Tabula Anemographica seu Pyxis Navtica” by Johannes Janssonius, in Atlantis Majoris, Quinta Pars, Orbem Maritimum seu Marum Orbis Terrarum Navigationibus hodierno temporum frequentatorum descriptionem accura tissimam continens, 1650.


But for every displacement, for every space that allows movement, something else must be moved out. For every joule of energy at hand, another is expended. [14] Our project was attuned to the braided multiplicities seeking temporal relationships between moving parts; it was conceived for the interwoven narratives that gave voice to the fish, the birds and their non-human outlooks. Displacement can elicit suffering, but it can also help us to resist established narratives by inviting us to recollect and re-imagine possibilities outside current constraints. They can teach us to accept things as they are, knowing this is not how they have always been or how they will remain. [15] We know molecules re-organise, but never settle.

Venetian swifts and starlings, black-caps and bats, commingled with the scent of bittercress and knotgrass, of sea-fennel and amaranth, were to be brought into the Canadian Pavilion. These “ingredients” would have met and re-mixed with sturgeon, walleye, rainbow trout, salmon and perch. In our proposal, the Veneto would travel upstream of the Fraser River, the Assiniboine, the Red River, the Mackenzie, the Yukon, the Nahanni, the Churchill, the Great Lakes… Like the barnacles, mussels and algae of Venice’s tidal excursion strips, our models and maps would have clasped and clung to the Pavilion and its grounds. [16]

The waters of the Blackfoot River in Missoula, Montana, begin in Lewis and Clark County and were formed during the last Ice Age. They are the home to rainbow, cutthroat, brown and bull trout, each of which lives between two to seven years, but the molecules of which may well be mixed with those of Lewis and Clark themselves, who were instructed by Jefferson to tell the Indians they met on their way that this land —all of it— now belonged to him, as new “great father”. Perhaps the fish today are part Sacagawea, daughter of an Agaidika (Salmon Eater) Lemhi Shoshone Tribe who was sold into marriage to Toussaint Charbonneau, the Quebecois trapper who became the expedition’s guide. They may have Nez Perce or Teton Sioux in them, the molecular histories of which still haunt the waters of the Blackfoot, the Yellowstone, the Missouri, the Milk, the Little Bighorn. Water is a moving, living archive we can sift through, too. [17]

The ocean quahog is a clam that has been found to live for over five centuries in the North Atlantic, from shallow water to depths of up to 1300 feet, where water pressure is of 550 lbs per square inch. The increasingly endangered bowhead whale can reach 200 years of age and dive to depths of over 500 feet in the dysphotic zones of the Arctic and Subarctic seas. The oldest living geoduck mollusc is 175; the oldest living sturgeon on record, 132. Hanako, the oldest koi fish that we know of, reached a venerable 227 years. What’s recorded in these elder scales and bones? What do their bodies archive in the immemorial waters of the Earth? Charbonneau may yet be in the flesh of the trout or Sacagawea swimming with the a’gai of the Upper Missouri. Perhaps a clam knows about shipwrecks we do not. Did Hanako, in her languid waters, see Japan wrenching itself out of the Edo period and into the Meiji era? How did sturgeon witness the Canadian Confederation? What kind of memories, what sort of histories, became embedded in their flesh and blood?

In 1900, the First Nations community of Shoal Lake 40, near the geographical center of Canada, was stripped of its land and access to clean water so that settler residents elsewhere could have it instead. The community now straddles an island bisected at the boundary of Manitoba and Ontario. An enormous, gravity-fed aqueduct —like the ones the Romans engineered— draws water from Shoal Lake and Lake of the Woods to Winnipeg, Manitoba, almost 100 miles away. A large dyke curves over the western end of Indian Bay, historically the lands of the Oceti Sakowin, the Anishinabewaki and the Metis.

The current Canadian Prime Minister, a Haida-tattoo-sporting scion of the house of Trudeau, visited Shoal Lake 40 three years ago. Between 1968-69, his father, Prime Minister Pierre Trudeau, rejected any outstanding treaty settlements, as a result of which Shoal Lake 40 has lived under a boil water advisory for over twenty years. The liquid politics of water manifest as infrastructure, [18] legal jargon, district gerrymandering, territorial grabs and exclusion. These, in turn, solidify into more concrete policies on access to resources, their exploitation and benefits.

Canada is bound by three oceans. It is home to over 20% of the world’s freshwater supply. In March of 2018, more than 80 of the 170+ water advisories affecting over 120 First Nations in Canada were described as long-term. [19] In the meantime, in 2017, Canada celebrated its 150th birthday to the tune of half a billion dollars.

Rebecca Belmore reminds us of the violence involved in the colonisation of watery sites. [20] The mercurial legalese of Native Affairs, of Crown Lands, of Mining Rights, of pipeline directives, all determine who can stand upon which rock, who can raise a church or disembark where. They calcify power into bones.

1871 map of Kahnawake before the watersay project. Source: https://www.easterndoor.com/2019/06/04/a-colonial-reminder-remains-six-decades-later/


“One lake captain who had learned his trade in European waters once said if he had his choice between the North Sea and Lake Winnipeg in a storm he would choose the North Sea.” [21] “A young Japanese fisherman,” writes the Turkish poet and playwright, Nazim Hikmet, “was killed by a cloud at sea.” [22] The sea —Homer’s “unharvestable sea”— [23] is a thing devoid of the “grain-giving earth” that sprawls before Odysseus and his sailors. Treacherous and murky, the sea is categorically not home but, like the poem, it is epic —something to be fought and overcome—. In chaining Odysseus to the mast to resist the Sirens’ lure, Homer helped seed a quite limited perception of the ocean as a menacing abyss for being and knowing.

We know, you know, that this isn’t the whole story, and has never been. Water has never been a single thing. [24] Its fluid, porous volume has an architectural resistance to it. Architecture sheds, diverts and channels water away from itself.  In architecture, water needs containment and expelling, and with this expulsion go the creatures that live in and course through it. With it go the ice, the mist, the steam and condensation; the stories and myths, the narratives, geologies and histories: the energy which swells, collects and dissipates to reappear wondrously again as clouds and floating chunks of ice that glaze before dissolving in the sun.

Architecture basks beneath this solar blaze, baking in its edifice. But if the building is its face, what does it see and where does it look at?

Abandoned causeway on Champlain lake slowly swallowed by the surrounding landscape. Quebec waters to the right and Vermont waters to the left.

Beaugrand-Champagne’s map illustrating Montreal island’s topography and hydrology between 1542 and 1642. Source: undermontreal.com/montreal-lost-rivers-maps/


We hide our waters. [25] We channelise our streams. We disconnect from the hydric ecologies that sustain, nourish and ravage. These are not the “unharvestable” waters of Homer, nor is this the ill-harvested sea in which economies of dumping, overfishing and toxic holdings get played out. We look for water elsewhere, anywhere but here, beneath our feet.

The Mars Global Surveyor suggests that water may exist below its surface. Water can be found in the oxygen we drag in and out of our bodies, in the air around us; in our very blood, in other worlds. Our land is privileged because we can inhabit it: but “we know we are human because we cannot live underwater,” writes John Durham Peters in The Marvelous Clouds: Toward a Philosophy of Elemental Media[26] But our epistemology prefers land and orients to water only as a resource or for leisure (and not as being in its own right, with its ontology, meanings, needs and histories.)

Aristotle laid out the foundation of Western space not as receptacle, but as expanse. [27] We cement water, bury the world under concrete and asphalt, creating impermeable grounds and surfaces. These aquaphobic, dry and poreless visions interrupt the cosmic link between the upper and the nether worlds. Waters don’t, however, willingly behave: they find their way, over and out.


Cemented waters, Arlington Street, Ottawa.

We have privileged what we can get from water, what we can extract from it, how it can nourish us in and for our own linear, unidirectional human desires and trajectories. We pay less heed to what we might learn from it, return to it, to how we may respect and honour it. We have removed the consciousness of water from the consciousness of our desires: quicker energy, dirtier water, beautiful denim jeans. [28] We lose water in the clothes we make, in the lands we settle, in the cities we fill, in the buildings we erect, in the pipelines we drive across prairie and butte, tearing through sacred sites.

One never swims in the same waters. The cleaning power of water has sustained our Victorian desire for cleanliness. Out of sight, out of mind. Water is lost in the depths of the earth, aquifers are unreplenished or left, slowly, to recover. To turn fast oil into loose oil, men drenched in crude with slick hands and overflowing pockets pump water into the ground to break up limestone and sandstone, dolomite and shale —the “rich” deposits in the Bakken formations of Montana, North Dakota, Manitoba, Saskatchewan. Hydraulically fractured rock loosens the ground. High pressure water breaks up rock. Tight oil becomes fast oil. We lose water to the ground, so that we can draw out oil and natural gas from it. Water destabilises the ground so we can stabilise economies.

We have no tenderness for what we cannot see. And yet, on feeling the lost water of the ocean after returning to land, Robert Macfarlane writes:

Lying there, I could still feel the day at sea, blood and water slopping about in my bag of skin, the tidal churn of my liquid body, a roll and sway in the skull. My mind beat back north against the current, thinking of the puffins’ flight, the lines we leave behind us, the spacious weave, our wake, then sleep. [29]

Waters are archives, indexes, registers and atmospheres. They are measures, qualities, impressions making up an alien, monumental multiverse. They challenge boundaries and any characterisations we assign to them from the constraints of our earth-bound understanding. A re-orientation towards an ethics of fluidity through water is a conciliatory project that demands a constant state of unsettled resolution and tenderness. When faced with oceans and rivers and rain, with streams and tributaries, when we feel the damp air and wet earth, we need to be able to conceptualise a de-centering of the human imaginaries that have framed relations towards everything outside ourselves.

Access to this other world was at the inception of our Biennale proposal, and what we hoped to engage as a prompt, a provocation, and a postscript, with water(s) as an analogical gateway to a reconsidered architectural discourse and ethical imaginary. Our proposition sought to move towards a counter-colonial architecture ⸺hence our team, collaborators and advisors [30] ⸺as a critical methodology set against the canon of a universalising intellectual and spatial project. It was to be an architectural reflection on plurality and agency ⸺an architecture that looks to, and listens with— coupled to Emmelhainz’s summons for generosity and compassion. This was not about ourselves; nor about how “we” are seen or “represented.” It was about what our ways of seeing and representation have denied ourselves and others.

The North Star —the Dogstar— was used by Ancient Egyptians to know when the Nile would flood. The floodwaters themselves are pregnant with the murk that helps imagine pre-categorical relationships and spaces that are “found” and more-than human. If clarity is exclusionary, plurality requires experimenting with engagement.

The design process, as we know it, is iterative; demanding that every iteration be more articulate, more definite and more pellucid than the one before it. Our institutions of knowledge, governance, pedagogy and geography all presuppose a definiteness that does not, in fact, exist. If all of our cultural artefacts prefigure our worldview, architecture does too, and this is what we hoped to lay bare.

Venice has been married to the sea for over a thousand years. For the Sposalizio del Mare, the Doge would travel out from the Lido in solemn procession on the state barge. He would cast a ring from his finger into the waters and wed Venice to the sea, declaring them as one.

Today, the sea takes Venice as its subject. Venice marshalls itself not to sink. Pavilions float in the Giardini like so many toppings on a sundae. The sea, unseen, makes itself known in the marshes and eaten-up sea-walls; in the wooden, underwater fields of pylons, in the murderous crush of tourism. It is mediated by the craftsman behind the forcole that propels the gondolier in swirling arcs and eddies under the Rialto, to the Dorsoduro, the Canneregio, San Michele, the Island of the Dead, out to Murano of the glassworks or Burano of the laces. But where is the sea if it is never a place and always in transit? What is the water? Where are the oceans that can suck us out of our selves?

[1]  This reflection is primarily inspired by  Dr. Todd’s use of “fishy refraction” and “fish pluralities.” Cfr: “Fish Pluralities: Human-animal relations and sites of engagement in Paulatuuq, Arctic Canada.” Etudes inuit. Inuit Studies Volume 38 Issue 1/2 (2014); “Fish, Kin and Hope: Tending to Water Violations in amiskwaciwâskahikan and Treaty Six Territory.” Afterall Journal, No. 43, Spring/Summer, 2017. See also, the works of Macarena Gómez-Barris (The Extractive Zone: Social Ecologies and Decolonial Perspectives, Duke, 2017), Leroy Little Bear and Karen Amimoto Ingersoll (Waves of Knowing: A Seascape Epistemology, Duke, 2017).

[2] Burkholder, Sean and Karen Lutsky. “Curious Methods”. Places Journal, May 2017. https://placesjournal.org/article/curious-methods/?cn-reloaded=1

[3] Our Biennale sought, of course, to provoke terraferma, to prod it, and in this we were guided by the injunction of an “aqua fluxus”, a term borrowed from Da Cunha and Mathur. See their Mississippi Floods (New Haven: Yale University Press), 2011; Soak: Mumbai in the Estuary (India: Rupa), 2009; The Invention of Rivers: Alexander’s Eye and Ganga’s Descent (Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press), 2018. See also “Monsoon [+ other waters]”, Keynote Presentation: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=6wQwUc2rjH4

[4] As Dr. Max Liboiron reminds us, plastic is our kin since it shares an organic ancestry with us. Resisting the dominant discourses where plastics are toxic, Dr. Liboiron suggests that, despite their being bad kin, one can still do good kinship with them. Caring for them, learning from them, imagining what their journey might have been like, can teach us a lot. From “Anti-Colonial Science & The Ubiquity of Plastic,” interview with Frank News. http://www.franknews.us/interviews/206/anti-colonial-science-the-ubiquity-of-plastic

[5] Illich, Ivan. H2O and the Waters of Forgetfulness, Dallas, Texas: The Dallas Institute of Humanities and culture, 1985, 25.

[6] Ibid.

[7] Ibid, 5.

[8] King James Bible online. https://www.kingjamesbibleonline.org/Genesis-2-7/

[9] In the northern part of Turtle Island, native species of earthworms were extinguished by the last glaciation. After the glaciers receded, the forests evolved without earthworms, which were only reintroduced by European settlers about 400 years ago. Earthworms increase the cycling and leaching of nutrients by breaking up decaying organic matter and spreading it into the ground, making them responsible for profound changes in the physical and biotic properties of soil. Since plants native to these northern forests have evolved with thick layers of decaying organic matter, the introduction of worms can lead to loss of biodiversity, as young plants face less nutrient-rich conditions. In Klein, Andreas et al. “Changes in the genetic structure of an invasive earthworm species (Lumbricus terrestris, Lumbricidae) along an urban – rural gradient in North America.” Applied Soil Ecology 120 (2017) 265–272.

[10] Raleigh, Walter. The Works of Walter Raleigh, Kt, Vol II: The History of the World, Oxford University Press, 1829, Book 1, page 102.

[11] Interview with Minister Veysel Eroğlu,  published in Ekonomik Ayrıntı, January 7, 2009; weblink inactive; sourced from Akgun Ilhan, “Keeping Hassankeyf Alive: Against the Ilisu Dam,” https://www.academia.edu/1548415/Keeping_Hasankeyf_Alive_Against_the_Il%C4%B1su_Dam

[12] See Heather Davis’s “The Land and Water and Air that we Are: Some Thoughts on COP 21,” in SFAQ, March 15, 2016, www.http://sfaq.us/2016/03/the-land-and-water-and-air-that-we-are-some-thoughts-on-cop-21/. Davis writes: “Every time we breathe, we pull the world into our bodies: water vapor and oxygen and carbon and particulate matter and aerosols. We become the outside through our breath, our food, and our porous skin. We are composed of what surrounds us. We have come into existence with and because of so many others, from carbon to microbes to dogs. And all these creatures and rocks and air molecules and water all exist together, with each other, for each other. To be a human means to be the land and water and air of our surroundings. We are the outside. We are our environment. We are losing, with the increase in aromatic hydrocarbons and methane and carbon, the animals and plants and air and water that compose us. In this time of loss, we need to imagine.”

[13] Ondaatje, Michael. The English Patient. Toronto: Vintage Canada, 1993, pp. 16-17.

[14] Nataraja ⸺the Lord of Dance⸺ depicts the Hindu god Shiva in the Tandavam, the simultaneous cosmic dance of creation and destruction in which the universe is at once made and un-made. The whirling dervishes in their Sema observe a practice of ecstatic worship that engages with ideas of Fana’ and Baqa’ ⸺the states of annihilation and subsistence on the path of the human towards the Divine.

[15] To echo Irmgard Emmelhainz’s text “Shattering and Healing,” we see vulnerability as a way of learning to “live with our own fragmentation and shattering.” Her use of the recipe to repair a broken tool suggest how a damaged part can be repaired by a tender reckoning: “So perhaps instead of self-liquefying (further), we need to come to terms with our own brokenness and vulnerability. I’m not thinking about subjectification, which implies a textual position, an interpellation, cultural appropriation, political positioning even; nor about subjectification as reinventing oneself through a mix of libidinal drive and neoliberal mandate to find ways to adapt and stay competitive in the ever-in-flux liberalized market. When I think about what it would mean to learn to live with our own fragmentation and shattering, I am reminded of a recipe for repairing that I heard once: when a tool is damaged to the point that it can no longer be used, it needs to burn red-hot and then be smoothed out so the damaged part can be removed by submerging it in water. This water can be drunk—you should actually drink the story of the damage and repair it; if you have faith, you can even heal the source of the damage. Afterward, you can give the broken part a new function or purpose. While this recipe is for repairing iron tools, healing by “drinking the story” and repurposing the damaged part might also work as a strategy for embracing our own shattering. Through a sort of cathartic separation from the damaged part, we can cleanse ourselves and then commune with the remains.” https://www.e-flux.com/journal/96/244461/shattering-and-healing/

[16] In our first proposal, we envisioned producing models of rivers and liquid landscapes that would receive interactive projections and soundscapes of Canadian waters and landscapes. Each model would have been unique, submerged in a container of water that matched its living parallel in Canada in pH levels, salinity, in its particular contaminants and toxins. Over the course of the Biennale, the water over each map-model would have weathered, worn, obscured and, potentially, eaten-away the landscape beneath it, implicating the ecologies and communities around it. Some map-models would have silted over, others remained clear. Each model would have been regularly documented in kind and resulted in The Atlas of Lost and Found Waters at the conclusion of the exhibition.

[17] If the medium of architecture is space, how can we formulate a resistance to the fetishisation of particular architectural histories? Countering the grand narratives of Eurocentric historiography and The Canon is the task of whom we call “the fishy architect”. Architectural history does not reside exclusively in the worn vellum of Vitruvius, Alberti and Serlio. The so-called “universality” of that architectural synod leaves no room for other histories. The fishy architect promotes a radical empiricism of the spatial by which one can displace the particular histories and memorial trajectories that have painted the intellectual project of architecture with such a singular brush. The result? There are no ramps in Heatherwick’s vessel. Not one. 

[18] On June 26th, 1959, The HMY Britannia, with Queen Elizabeth II and Dwight D. Eisenhower on board, traversed the waterway linking Montreal and Lake Ontario for the first time. This 306 km long waterway displaced countless homeowners, dynamited farmlands and flooded communities, drastically changing the landscape and leaving a bitter wake in its path. (Seaway officials displaced the Mohawk community of Kahnawake/Caughnawaga with as little as a six days notice for eviction.)

[19] We are indebted to Fountain, Rebecca Belmore’s watery and bloody installation for the 2015 Venice Biennale. Her performance challenged the space of the Canadian Pavilion by collapsing/displacing two spaces into one: the one on the clean, abstract place of the exhibition, and the marginal, degraded and contested site of Iona Beach in Vancouver. The latter, shown with a sewage pipe, strewn logs and a heavy gray sky, sits on traditional Musqueam lands at the intersection of the waterways of Canada’s logging industry with a series of sewage treatment ponds, the flight path of migratory birds and Vancouver’s international airport. [Charlotte Townsend-Gault, “Rebecca Belmore and James Luna on Location at Venice: The Allegorical Indian Redux,” Art History 29, no. 4 (2006): 737.] While addressing the inherently colonial structure of the transnational space at the Giardini, Belmore’s work challenged a binary Canadian/indigenous representation by including and acknowledging the complexities of places, histories and identities.

[20] See Vice News’ Fact Checking on the Canadian water crisis: https://news.vice.com/en_ca/article/j5da9g/fact-check-indigenous-water-crisis-isnt-improving-despite-promises-from-trudeau

[21] Winnipeg Tribune, “Pages from the Past,” (1970), p. 70.

[22] Hikmet, Nazim. Japon Balıkçısı (“The Japanse Fisherman”) https://www.siir.gen.tr/siir/n/nazim_hikmet/the_japanese_fisherman.htm

[23] Counterpoint: In Greek, “pontos atrygetos” can also mean “the unharvested sea,” indicating a sea of potential, of latency and promise.

[24] Indigenous peoples around the world have for centuries understood waters in their unique pluralities, powers and possibilities. Heroic Homer is but one voice in a choral sea of stories.

[25] We walk on hidden rivers and the bowels of the city. If one cannot see them, sometimes one can hear flows rushing through a manhole or the borborygmus of a collector. Not so long ago, dozens of rivers crossed the Island of Montreal. Those rivers determined the paths of Côte des Neiges and Côte Saint-Luc Streets, carved the Lansdowne Avenue in Westmount, formed a pond where Square Saint-Louis is now, and pooled at the foot of the Saint-Jacques Street escarpment where the Turcot railways are. The current Musée Pointe-à-Callières sits where the St-Pierre met the St-Lawrence and where an Iroquoian settlement was before the arrival of the French. The first phase of covering the St-Pierre River began in 1832 with the construction of the 350 meter-long William Collector. If by the 1930s a third of the river had disappeared in the sewer system; today, it runs in 15′ and 17′ concrete conduits. These landscapes never see the sun. Old bricks are eaten up by calcite formations and the limestone in cement forms stalactites, stalagmites and flowstones. http://undermontreal.com/

[26] Durham Peters, John. The Marvelous Clouds: Toward a Philosophy of Elemental Media. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2015, p. 55-57 (Chapter 2: Of Cetaceans and Ships; or, The Moorings of our Being), p. 53-114

[27] Illich, Ivan. H2O and the Waters of Forgetfulness. Dallas, Texas: The Dallas Institute of Humanities and Culture, 1985, 17-18.

[28] “It takes around 1,800 gallons of water to grow enough cotton to produce just one pair of regular ol’ blue jeans.” That’s more water than it takes to make a ton of cement or a barrel of beer… And that’s just in terms of growing cotton, when you take into account the dye process as well as the machine wash almost 9,982 gallons of water are used.” Consider almost 10,000 gallons of water.  It takes as much water as there is in a 15 x 30 foot oval swimming pool to make a pair of jeans. 

[29] McFarlane, Robert. The Old Ways: A Journey on Foot. UK: Hamish Hamilton, 2013.

[30] The Fluid Boundaries core team comprised eight individuals with expertise in architecture, landscape architecture, Indigenous and Canadian studies, geography, cultural geography and anthropology.  Its advisory team included curators from the Ontario Art Gallery, from the IUAV in Venice, as well as graphic designers from the United States, two Canada Research Chairs, and five schools of architecture across Canada and the United States. It included experts in Indigenous Law and spatial justice, in environmental ethics and sustainable practice, the waters and fish.

Dr. Zoe Todd (Métis) is an artist and scholar from amiskwaciwâskahikan (Edmonton), Canada. She writes about fish, science, art, prairie fossilscapes, Métis legal traditions, the Anthropocene, extinction, and decolonisation in prairie contexts. Her current work focuses on the relationships between people, fish, and other nonhuman kin in the context of colonialism, environmental change, and resource extraction in Alberta. 


Émélie Desrochers-Turgeon is a trained architect and PhD student at Carleton University’s Azrieli School of Architecture and Urbanism. Her doctoral work, funded by the Vanier Canada Graduate Scholarship, explores issues of settler colonialism, architectural imagination and spatial justice. Her work addresses the relationship between history, language and narrative in the representation and display of architecture.


Dr. Ozayr Saloojee teaches at Carleton University’s Azrieli School of Architecture and Urbanism, where he also co-directs the Carleton Urban Research Lab, the focus of which is on the relationships between water, cities and equity. His current teaching, research and creative practice explores questions and implications of counter-colonial urbanisms, landscape infrastructure and contested geographies.


Johan Voordouw is an Associate Professor at the Azrieli School of Architecture and Urbanism and a registered architect (ARB, UK). He completed his graduate studied at the Bartlett School of Architecture, London and his undergraduate studies at the University of Manitoba. His research interests include digital design practice, new modes of architectural representation, and their connection to fabrication and emerging theoretical discourse.

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