The pounding and roaring of the drums at the Dakota campsite still echo long after the camp’s disassembly.

How can we mobilize forms of aquatic re-enchantment, hydropolitics, and transnational advocacy for our water worlds so that we trigger modes of communal resilience and solidarity through cohabitation in the hydrocommons? What models of anti-proprietary water management can lead us to reengineer earthly futures? In times of planetary turmoil and rising temperatures, the need for watery coalitions to tackle the necropolitics beneath the uneven distribution of resources and the invention of scarcity loops is more pressing than ever. Can we tend to the vortical lines of hydropressure and heal the planetary chi?

Travelling through the interscalar imaginaries of aquatic flux and river literacy, one can see how hydropolitical decisions produce glocal frictions: the creation of virtual water markets, the distribution of toxicity through flowage rights, the drafting of coastal recuperation projects, and the planning of future infrastructure. From Colombia and Brazil’s mega-dams, to Bangladesh’s pressured floodplains, Canada’s expansive extractive petro-geographies, India’s increasingly severe monsoons, and the United States’s Dakota Access Pipeline plan, one can identify the chain of causalities that interlinks transnational trade agreements and meteorological events and precipitates the imbalance of planetary flux.

The hydrocommons has long been governed from a partitioned point of view, one that reaffirms forms of boundary-making, reinscribes subaltern hierarchies in the Global South, and reinstates the ontological division between land and sea. While hydrotrauma seems to be subjacent to our configuration of a planetary future, the mediation of the hydrocommons has been tactically successful thanks to indigenous water pedagogies and localized forms of hydric governance, which we may recover with the promise of hydrologic reengineering.

Across the world, gestures and resilient communities have risen against the extractive regimes of water distribution to propose integrated regenerative programs that depart from an agroecological view on reforestation. Ecofeminist movements and indigenous leadership are at the forefront of these battles, reminding us that technofixes can emerge from very simple decisions in integrated hydraulic planning and that these might strongly reverberate in the design of our own communities and legal systems. The Water Is Life movement and other water rights activists have long challenged how the holding capacity of human-built infrastructure can better safeguard resource distribution, opening this debate through an intersectional perspective. This crucial ecocritical move proposes a reinterpretation of hydrological systems through an interscalar perspective that deconstructs a host of political issues: the scope of juridical reasoning and reproductive rights, the space of intercultural exchange, the project of the nation-state.

The activists and scholars presented in this Classroom series challenge the dominant models of water leadership, debunking the governing rationale behind resource management while proposing resilient and poetic tactics that counter extractive mentalities. They consider the infrastructural interventions of mega-dams and river rerouting projects in various parts of the world and rethink hydrogeologies and forms of community-building. These perspectives decenter continental thinking and challenge our ontological views on hydraulic systems, while recasting ancient commoning views on hydrologic systems against the oppressive imaginaries of separation.

Dilip da Cunha’s long-standing river research reengineers how spatial thinking, design, and urban planning may be thought through, while proposing a collapse of the naturalization of the riverine margin. This proposal is challenged by Macarena Gómez-Barris as she introduces artistic and activist positions that defy the militarized oppression of the water-land space in Latin America. Introducing Carolina Caycedo’s A Gente Rio, Gómez-Barris addresses the dispossessing power structures of water management projects, which, along with intensive agribusiness, result in land grabbing and indigenous genocide. The mourning implicit in the testimonial quality of Caycedo’s film is paralleled by Ursula Biemann’s Deep Weather and counterposed by Vandana Shiva’s statement, which captures the resilient actions of communities rising up and retaking irrigation and agroecological projects for themselves. A fierce advocate of decolonized forms of self-organization and ground-water management, Shiva has inspired generations of ecofeminists and earth-rights activists across the world. In her statement, she incites us to have a practical, hands-on, and integrated view of land and water resources following the example of her local peers in India. Shiva defends a space of negotiation for the hydrocommons that reframes ideas of sovereignty and opposes the water trade market. This argument is further presented by the work of lawyer Joyeeta Gupta, who succinctly diagrams the rationale intrinsic to the water investment market and the emergence of transnational hydraulic projects. The powerful disassembling of hydrotrauma is finally channeled by the empowering readings of hydrofeminist Astrida Neimanis, who enchants us with revolutionary imaginations of our amphibian ancestry.

Margarida Mendes's research explores the overlap between infrastructure, ecology, experimental film, and sound practices, investigating environmental transformations and their impact on societal structures and cultural production. She is interested in exploring alternative modes of education and political resilience through her curatorial practice and activism. She was part of the curatorial team of the 11th Gwangju Biennale (2016), and the 4th Istanbul Design Biennial (2018). In 2019, she launched the exhibition series Plant Revolution! which explores different narratives of technological mediation of the interspecies encounter, and in 2016 she curated Matter Fictions, publishing a joint reader with Sternberg Press. She is consultant for environmental NGOs working on marine policy and deep sea mining and has directed several educational platforms, such as escuelita, an informal school at Centro de Arte Dos de Mayo - CA2M, Madrid; The Barber Shop project space in Lisbon dedicated to transdisciplinary research; and the ecological inquiry curatorial research platform The World In Which We Occur/Matter in Flux. She is a PhD candidate at the Centre for Research Architecture, Goldsmiths University of London and a frequent collaborator of the online channel for exploratory video and documentary reporting Inhabitants-tv.org


Preview image: John Emslie and James Reynolds, Panoramic plan of the principal rivers and lakes (detail), 1851. Hand-colored engraving. 

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