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What is a River? Relating to a Body of Water in a City

illustrated essay and a walking tour, 2024

Most cities have emerged around rivers. They have served as fresh water and energy sources, communication routes, and military defence lines. Industrial interventions cause significant changes to the bodies of water, including widening and deepening of their channels, diversion of their flow, construction of power generation mechanisms, and other river engineering practices. The more a city grows, the less agential they become within its limits. The river turns into a flow which is contained by embankment walls, encased in sewer facilities, or buried underground.

Departing from the notion of modern water as a relational logic that limits wet matter to a compound of hydrogen and oxygen (Linton, 2010), this project offers an alternative relational logic that conceives of a river as an incommensurable, complex, and interspecies environment. It draws from posthuman feminist and infrastructure studies and investigates three techno-scientific tools that seek to regulate the watercourse yet fail to accomplish this task: a water reservoir, a lock, and a sewer. By carefully observing how these tools reorganize a river, the project explores the power of water over urban facilities and its capacity to gestate elusive life forms.


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