Intertidal: Compositions for the Fraser Lowlands

These compositions foreground the rhythmic shifts of bodies and masses moving from one location to another, in cyclical and unconscious patterns, and reveal the minutia, and the more-than-human shared spaces of temporality.

I acknowledge with gratitude that this research has taken place on the unceded territories of the Tsawwassen, Union Bar, Xaxli'p and Yale Nations in Fraser Delta salt marshes and tidal flats from Sturgeon Bank, Roberts Bank, Boundary Bay and beyond.

about the artwork

Intertidal: Compositions for the Fraser Lowlands is a multidisciplinary project that explores acoustic impressions, field recordings, walking methodologies and other visual process ephemera which can shift how we view sound in relation to the land.

Realized over 9 months in 2021, during the COVID-19 pandemic, other dissemination of this project includes a book chapter publication, conference presentation, journal article, artist talk, sound workshop, sound album and various video snippets collected over an artist residency in-situ.

about the fellowship

The Jack and Doris Shadbolt Endowment for the Humanities funds the Shadbolt Fellowship Program as a means of increasing the visibility of the contributions of the humanities and arts to the university community; and engaging the wider community in the work of the humanities and arts.

The Fellowship exists to promote the practices of, and approaches to, the humanities and arts as important sites of creative and critical engagement with the major concerns of our times.

artist statement

by prOphecy sun

Following a long lineage of artistic production, cartographical and exploratory practices that embrace experimental, decolonial methodologies of walking, performance and sound making, this research takes up reflective approaches, and an ethics of care that pays attention to privilege and the unpredictability of the present. As Eve Tuck and Marcia McKenzie articulate, place as a concept is rooted in colonial viewpoints which take land and its many inhabitants for granted (Tuck and McKenzie, 2015).

This interdisciplinary project draws attention to the immeasurable, and the more-than-human relevancy of walking and land art practices. In particular, this work foregrounds the futility of time, and the vitality of elements that live inside and outside prescribed time frames such as sonic frequencies and motion. As Stephanie Springgay and Sarah E. Truman articulate, bodies challenge time and space, melding a multiplicity of rhythmic patterns through walking, thinking, and writing practices (Springgay and Truman, 2017). For example, the different temporalities of soil, rocks, minerals, or human or nonhuman sonic realms and frequencies. This research considers these approaches and how sound is translated, waterlike or airful; fluid, open, complex and interconnected, living and undeniably mobile and improvisational.

Taking this as my starting point, from January 16 to August 13, 2021, I collected 30+ binaural audio samples, photos and moving images from walks along lightly forested, rocky, and meadowed terrains, adjacent to water passages, trains, ports, shipyards, and bird estuaries in the Fraser River Delta salt marshes on the west coast of British Columbia.

Three specific locations were chosen: Roberts Bank, McNeely’s Trail, and the George C. Reifel Migratory Bird Sanctuary, because they spoke to the climate crisis and the contested zones of migration, which includes a mix of wetland, marsh, and commercially industrial vetted points of crossing and migration.

Each area has a different soundscape and set of material challenges that inspire different responses.

The text, images, video stills, and process shots highlight some of these interactions and draw attention to the space and breath between bodies, organisms, plants, and other matter which exist in the air, water passages and land. They point to my reflections of the trains, trucks, birds, water, wind, people, grass, voices, and other species moving in their habitats. Produced as a mixture of immersive video and sound compositions, the pieces foreground the rhythmic shifts of bodies and masses moving from one location to another, in cyclical and unconscious patterns, and reveal the minutia, and the more-than-human shared spaces of temporality.

Works Cited

Springgay, Stephanie, and Sarah E. Truman. Walking methodologies in a more-than-human world: WalkingLab. Routledge, 2017.

Tuck, E., & McKenzie, M. (2015). Relational validity and the “where” of inquiry: Place and land in qualitative research. Qualitative Inquiry, 21(7), 633-638.

artist biography

Dr. prOphecy sun is an interdisciplinary performance artist; queer, movement, video and sound maker; mother; and current Jack and Doris Shadbolt Fellow at Simon Fraser University.

sun’s practice celebrates both conscious and unconscious moments and the vulnerable spaces of the in-between in which art, performance and life overlap.

Her recent research has focused on ecofeminist perspectives, co-composing with voice, objects, surveillance technologies and site-specific engagements along the Columbia Basin region and beyond.

sun hosts Tapes and Beyond on Kootenay Co-op Radio and is the Arts Editor for Ecocene: Cappadocia Journal of Environmental Humanities. She performs and exhibits regularly in local, national and international settings, music festivals, conferences and galleries and has authored several peer-reviewed articles, book chapters and journal publications.

curatorial essay

Three Walks: Deep Listening in the Intertidal Zone by Shalon T. Webber-Heffernan

On my bike ride to work each day I take a path by the train tracks, temporarily evading the bustling city streets of Toronto/Tkaronto—a brief reprieve. I’ve come to know this path well and have learned that it is home to an ecosystem of indigenous North American plants well adapted to harsh urban conditions. Many plants on this path are ruderals—species that are the first to grow after a disturbance and which thrive without being cared for (benign neglect). I cycle past the Sumac, Queen Anne’s Lace, Goldenrod and Chicory, the Common Milkweed, Aster, and clusters of Pearly Everlasting and hear them speaking. Over time, this trail has taught me about deep listening—how to tune in to the language of plants and about a distinction between the involuntary nature of hearing and the intentional, felt, and resonant qualities of listening. On deeply humid summer afternoons, the sweet songs of the plants on this trail particularly lure me, and speak the most vividly. Intently, I listen for their revelations. Their voices are indirect, not clear or literal, but rather, arrive quietly and barely at all. A language beyond words emerges.

It is in much the same way that I approach prOphecy sun’s new body of work, Intertidal: Compositions for the Fraser Lowlands. This processual project involving text, photographic and moving images, video stills, and sound should be taken in slowly with space to breathe and time to interpret. By way of walking, observing, decentering, the project unfolds over three distinct locations on the west coast of British Columbia: Roberts Bank, McNeely’s Trail, and the George C. Reifel Migratory Bird Sanctuary. Through forested, rocky, and meadowed terrains alongside water passages, trains, ports, shipyards, and bird estuaries in the Fraser River Delta salt marshes, sun displays a complex palimpsestic dance of deep time, industry, and environment. There is an invitation to sit with the affective and afferent frequency of this work and what Emelie Chhangur has described elsewhere as the “polymorphous unfurling of pasts, presents, and futures” of the land and all its relations—to be with the in-between spaces of plants, animals, and bodies, and the porous spaces of minerals, energy, land, air, and waters. sun situates this work within a feminist framework of embodied carriance, a “form of attunement, a meditation that requires focus on the careful acts of walking, listening, embracing the minutiae of embodied sensations and noticing the ways that the body, asserted into the landscape, is capable of dominance or an intent to yield.” (4)

These resonant encounters also signal complex processes of environmental change and crisis that inflict violence on vulnerable human (and non-human) populations. sun’s sensory attunement is a soft resistance to the kinds of slow violence that Rob Nixon describes as that which occurs gradually and (for many) out of sight, violence of delayed destruction that is dispersed across time and space, and attritional violence that is typically not viewed as violence at all. Can we probe the acoustic dimensions of historical erasures that overwrite continuous Indigenous presence at site? What sounds emerge from the comings and goings of capital flow? How might we connect with the acoustic environment and all that inhabits it? There is a counter intuitive approach to accessing this work. One might start by asking, what am I unable to perceive? How might I understand my surroundings differently? What does it mean to both carry and to care for, to hold and to give? What emerges from exploratory walking processes that make up Intertidal is not necessarily an end product, but rather a beginning of an iterative exploration that continues to uncover new sensorial potentials, and an insertion of energetic liveness to the materialities of care and intimacy that exist within the quiet labour of holding together to stay alive.

sun considers the relational ways that space and matter can and do interact as active participants with a lively, performative force, rather than being inert and determined. In this vein, new materialist questions of space query the position of human-centred ontology, and question power structures that mark material bodies as subjects of power. Throughout the work, sun highlights how many Indigenous scholars (and Indigenous communities and worldviews broadly) have long understood the agency of space and relationality with land and have considered the non-hierarchal relationality with non-human entities long before the creation of “new materialism” as a field. Mohawk and Anishinaabe scholar Vanessa Watts, for example, considers the intimate relationship between people and an environment in what she calls “place-thought”—a premise that “the land is alive and thinking and that humans and nonhumans derive agency through the extensions of these thoughts” (21). Intertidal figures environmental life in quite this way, revealing the agential status of these three locations themselves as already always there living—as actants with the potential to affect human and nonhuman worlds. The land is the star of the show, and it is easy to get lost in her dreams.

Migratory dance of the mallard
Freight trains carrying Amazon packages by tidal waters
Estuary entanglements leaving trace
Thin sky asking the monotone marshland
Lush timidity, swift and wayward flow
Driftwood resting in grass, determined spirit of the Woodpecker
Wind flitting past fire structure
Heart opening vastness, tears
Footsteps, a memory, a voice
Is it the whales or the planes I hear?

Methodologically speaking, this sonic walking project is a practice of being with, or perhaps being near by the land. sun acts as un-authoritative narrator, not intending to speak about the land she walks upon but rather nearby—taking up a performative iteration of Trinh T. Minh-ha’s positioning against the colonizing gaze; sun walks lightly, refusing a colonizing extractivist footstep. Working against a consumptive impulse, Intertidal enacts aesthetic deceleration, and sun’s audio compositions urge listeners to slow down and tune in as a decolonial intervention—a moment of stillness as radical act.

sun’s embeddedness in this work is best understood as a performative strategy used to work against dominant paradigms of insertion, her ability to blend in is a quiet refusal.  Like a sensory physician sun deliberately guides us in an experience of tuning-in to these three landscapes. In the process, she reveals something akin to what Laura Levin calls the environmental unconsciousness. Place-based performance engages the idea that the environment becomes a part of the performance in locally material ways that cannot be overlooked. As Levin notes “recognizing the independence of the non-human is not simply a philosophical project but also a political one… this framing of site-specificity provides access to the ‘environmental unconscious,’ rendering perceptible those aspects of environment that we habitually engage but routinely overlook” (105). Through a delicate choreography, sun foregrounds a deep sensitivity to environmental surroundings, making “visible” the frequencies, and resonant materialities of intimate (and genuine) practices of care.

Works Cited

Levin, Laura. Performing Ground: Space, Camouflage, and the Art of Blending in. Palgrave Macmillan, 2014.

Nixon, Rob. Slow Violence and the Environmentalism of the Poor. Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press, 2011.

Reassemblage. Directed by Trinh T. Minh-ha. 1982. Film.

sun, prOphecy, et al. Sonic Poetics of the Tidal Flats. Simon Fraser University, 2021.

Watts, Vanessa. “Indigenous Place-Thought and Agency Amongst Humans and Non Humans (First Woman and Sky Woman Go On a European World Tour!),” Decolonization, Indigeneity, Education & Society. 2, no. 1, 2013.

Chhangur, Emelie. Curatorial essay for Jess Dobkin's Wetrospecitve, AGYU 2021.

exhibition catalogue

The Intertidal exhibition catalogue is designed by Keiko Lee-Hem and produced by Hall Printing.


I would like to thank the Jack and Doris Shadbolt Fellowship selection committe, Simon Fraser University, the Department of Gender, Sexuality, and Women’s Studies, Stephen Collis, June Scudeler, the Tsawwassen First Nation, George C. Reifel Migratory Bird Sanctuary, Routledge Press, Aman Chandi, Nadine Attwal, Taylor & Francis/Routledge Press, Michael Filimowicz, Reese Muntean, Freya Zionovieff, Darren Fleet, Kristin Carlson, ASLE2021, KeikoCreative, Deanna Peters, Hall Printers and the sandhill cranes, bald eagles, mallards, spotted towhee, snow geese, yellowlegs, long-billed dowitchers, and western sandpipers for your inspiration, generosity and kind support.

2021 Jack and Doris Shadbolt Fellow in the Humanities, Simon Fraser University prOphecy sun
curatorial essay Shalon T. Webber-Heffernan
artist statement, artist biography prOphecy sun
web design Deanna Peters/Mutable Subject
sound compositions, editing, mixing prOphecy sun photographs, drone, video stills Reese Muntean and prOphecy sun