Titled Being, Bathing and Beyond, the seven contributing authors, scholars and/or artists look at the film and make their move in different directions. The six essays by Júlia Ayerbe, Jeremy Sharma, Pauline Shongov, Jakub Węgrzynowicz, Emma Nilsson and Lutz Koepnick are texts-based essays with and without visual elements. David Turner submitted a sound work. Aiming to make the volume accessible to as many people as possible, illustrations have alternative text, and the sound work is accompanied by both a written script and a written description of the audio.
To some, disability and representation plays a role. Emma Nilsson, takes us to Le Corbusier’s modernist masterpiece Maison de Verre (1928-32) in her keynote essay. Here, the tub, and with it, the bathing woman, becomes an example of how ‘architecture inevitably reproduces and reinforces the prevailing notion of the other’. To her, bathrooms and those who are typically depicted using them reproduce certain ideas and ideals that she is keen to challenge. But as she moves on to a different and more contemporary example, Maison à Bordeaux, a building built specifically for a disabled body, she is adamant in reminding us that ‘The liberation of one repressed body does not automatically re-articulate other (repressed) bodies, not even the ones carried by the same individual.’ Addressing the architectural reality Palmer faces as she attempts to make her bathroom fit her needs, Nilsson underscores some of the complexities involved in designing for a variety of bodies, disabled or not.
These ideas are picked up and discussed further in Júlia Ayerbe’s essay “The bathroom may be a space for utopia”. Here we are presented with three bathrooms: the bathrooms of the disabled artists Frida Kahlo and Kennedy Healy, as well as Hitler’s bathroom, photographed and used by photographer Lee Miller at the end of World War II. Her account reveals ableist assumptions made by art historians and scholars encountering these artists’ work. Her essay is both critical and political, yet optimistic at its foundation: ‘Entering the space, take off the weight of gravity, relax the muscles, and feel cured, even if it only lasts as long as bath time.’
But we must not forget that bathing and being in water always relies upon hard materials keeping the water in place. Pauline Shongov’s essay is perhaps the strongest advocate for this material approach, as she begins her essay with a brick from a demolished bathhouse in Silven, Bulgaria. Her essay travels from one brick to another while meditating on what it might mean to approach such fragments of the past. From the reading rooms of local archives, where material about the bathhouse has been buried among other remnants of Bulgarian history, she asks: ‘If we take as a point of departure something as simple as a brick, what forms of knowledge production may this propel us towards co-creating?’ To her and her two colleagues in the Off-site project, Maya Shopova and Borislav Angelov, materials from these sites are shared with invited artists, prompting exchange, dialogue, artistic practice, and research. Shongov’s essay is as much a text about materials and fragments as it is a text that asks how we, methodologically, can approach these fragments in new, exciting, and collaborative ways. Amongst the contributions, her text is perhaps the strongest example of what might happen if we ‘go beyond’, and move from one maker to another, one reference to the next. In an elegant manner, this practice foreshadows the next planned volume of Metode where editors Kjersti Solbakken (curator of LIAF 24) and Ingrid Halland (editor-in-chief of Metode) will tackle what it might mean to be regenerating pasts for the not yet, art based local heritage, and knowledge that is transmitted across time and space.6
In the Norwegian context water and activism go hand in hand, both today and historically. In the late 1970s and early 1980s, the Alta conflict marked the Norwegian political debate. A large hydroelectric power plant was to be built in an area inhabited by the Sami population, and the resulting artificial lake would flood a village and radically alter the landscape. The plant was built, marking only the first of a series of violations of indigenous culture, lands, wind, and waters.7 In his essay “Post-comfort waterscapes: navigating pleasure and discomfort” Jakub Węgrzynowicz turns to Polish watery activism and the work of Cecylia Malik and the feminist collective River Sisters. Their work addresses climate change, crisis, and lack of care, raising awareness of the damaging effects of dams in Poland. But Węgrzynowicz moves further, looking both at the practice of mermaiding and his grandparents’ careful use of water and resources, to ‘understand what the titular waterscapes could mean, both in the scale of the riverbeds and of our homes’. His writing aims to reimagine what these spaces could be, acknowledging our part in a larger ecology.
‘To bathe or not to bathe in water is a question of power, inequity, and politics as never before’ Lutz Koepnick writes in his keynote essay “On Water’s Edge”. Here, he continues with further examples of artists and their work exploring the problems of climate change, activism, and politics, from Antarctica to Aralsk. But watching Palmer immerse herself in water on film, accompanied by the sound of water and meditative piano music, opens up for a broader understanding of immersion. ‘To be immersed into something is to experience a certain dissolution of the body’s or mind’s limits, a process of entanglement between us and what is not us that suspends existing demands for autonomy, agency, and self-determination’. Immersion could be a practice – a method perhaps – well attuned to experience reverberation and resonance: between body and matter, or one body to the next. Although often understood as being private, bathrooms and bathing are social practices, forming social relations, as argued by both Barbara Penner and Christie Pearson in their respective books Bathrooms (2020) and The Architecture of Bathing: Body Landscape Art (2020).8 Bathing creates connections between people.
David Turners allows us, as listeners, to immerse ourselves in his work titled He Draws Himself a Bath. We are faced with splish, splash, and bubbling. Yet, Turner’s work offers more than immersion into a physical, sensuous space; it brings us close and upfront with what it might mean to have a relationship to other human beings. Firstly, he talks about his father. How his father takes baths and what they mean to him as he grieves the death of his late spouse. His work also brings up social relations at a larger scale: how one group in society taking baths might differ from others. Lucien Freud’s paintings can help us understand these bodies, Turner suggests, inviting the painter in to offer nuance and depth to the issues at hand.
Also, Jeremy Sharma, a painter himself, references a painting: a work by Pierre Bonnard. Here, this reference is located ‘between’ two films: the essay takes us from a film, through a painting, through to another film. Allowing us to take part in his encounter with these works, this essay opens up different perspectives on bathrooms – still or moving. But his text(s) also bear evidence of Metode’s format for collaborative and open peer-review, where authors develop their work through three intensive workshops. Through this process and conversations with the others, his thinking changes. He writes: ‘In my second draft of writing, I am tasked to confront maybe this weak paragraph that tries to tie things up too soon, too neatly or correctly. How to conclude?’
… how do I conclude? I ask myself.
In Rendell’s visual essay in Fields, the text never seems to end. As the writing comes to a conclusion, she does not end. Instead, she begins a new paragraph by explaining how the first drafts, when read and critiqued by Tallentire, sparked further debate. Then, the two anonymous reviewers offer their input, raising awareness to new questions. Then, Tallentire takes another look, which leads to another set of thoughts. The process is not so dissimilar to the development of essays for Metode. These approaches are removed from the double-blind peer-review system, meant to be an objective and rigorous system of quality and approval, but which fail to create dialogue or resonate between baths. I think about this Volume of Metode as a series of baths, where we soak ourselves in waters where others have been before. What are the consequences?
‘We create our texts out of the sea of former texts that surround us, the sea of language we live in. And we understand the texts of others within than sea,’9 Charles Bazerman writes in his book What Writing Does and How it Does It (2004).10 There are still many issues that are not resolved with this volume. As we float around in a pool of texts by others, there will always be blind spots. These blind spots can be theoretical: as we continually reference each other, making links and citations, we might also create an echo chamber. Working on this volume did challenge our views on what being in water might mean, and some perspectives were overlooked. Sometimes due to ignorance, other times due to the lack of knowledge of a field. Methodologically, each text opens up for certain questions but forgets others. As Bazerman’s quote is a suitable choice for rounding off an introductory note on water and writing, the sea itself is vast. While it is easy to get an overview of a pond, the sea is unpredictable, unsettled, and immense. For me, this assertion is relevant as I consider my own university teaching. Furthering the scope of view, what tools will we need in the future to make students think critically in their approach to issues related to disability, gender, class, technologies, climate change, ecology, and beyond? How can I encourage students to immerse themselves into their own writing practice, as well as the work of others, creating citations as they go along?