Sophie Sleigh-Johnson

Thames Littoral | Flatland

Thames Littoral




The marshes of the Thames Estuary posit a space of indeterminacy. Two Tree Island, once a rubbish dump, is now a flat wilderness of marsh, a topography where the industrial converges with the natural. As a space on the periphery, the estuary marks the convergence of oil refineries and freight container ships with marsh reeds and clay mud; both merging in the smoke of chimneys and the rising mist, marking sites of transit. These islands present a radically fragmented and border-less terrain, constantly mutated by the tides, that suggests something tangible yet also beyond visibility. It is a 'non-site', where absence and flatness heighten the liminal state between the obscured and the revealed; the vaporous indeterminacy of the marsh fog becomes a signifier for this state between being and non-being. Inhabiting a space beyond reason, this spatial realisation of otherness typifies the marsh's relation to the sense of modernity as vaporous, melting into air, a temporal indeterminacy. The marsh islands, and the intervals of fluidity between them, in their fragmented state, can be read through the idea of text, which, according to the writer Maurice Blanchot, never begins but is always beginning again. Blanchot writes in fragments that prove appropriate when reading the impermanent estuary, where the river water confers an infinite present, a broken temporality. Text is the suspense, the interval of rupture that designates both return and disappearance.

To negotiate this site is to go beyond the visible. Text can go beyond language, enacting the fractured state of being. To enact this textual space by enunciating language, to inscribe the immaterial words into the vapourous air, registering the space of interval between performing the text and its duration and spatial location. The interval between sound and silence of this performative utterance, both signified by the redolent whiteness of the page between words and the space between the not yet audible and the no-longer audible.

It is to enunciate the immaterial, the textuality of being into a 'non-site', the most generative of spaces, by virtue of its invisibility. The fragmentary space encapsulates the form of existence; a transference through text to realise the potential of multiplicity and temporality latent in these empty mudflats.