MUD & FLOOD ~ The return of Nehalennia (2022)

MUD & FLOOD ~ The return of Nehalennia (2022)

MUD & FLOOD ~ The return of Nehalennia (2022)

An essay by

*BAD Award winner 2022

MUD & FLOOD ~ The return of Nehalennia
Nonhuman Nonsense (Linnea Våglund, Leo Fidjeland & Filips Sta?islavskis)
Marte Stoorvogel | Dept of Estuarine & Delta Systems at NIOZ

This is an interactive installation: You are invited to listen to the shells, cut your hair, drink the mud and take an apple.

A contemporary temple to a long-forgotten goddess of the Zeeland sea, where she emerges as a 21st-century hydrofeminist created by an artificial image generator. In chorus with scientists connected to the Netherlands Institute for the Exploration of the Sea (NIOZ), she teaches us that the border between land and water should be a soft border, not a hard border of basalt blocks and high dykes. It is precisely the mud and clay of salt marshes that protects us from rising water. 

The climate crisis is forcing the Netherlands, a river delta largely below sea level, to reform its relationship with the sea to avoid catastrophic flooding. Engineers are increasingly trying to find ways to build with nature rather than against it. We now realise that the ecosystems that used to exist in these areas, the mudflats and salt marshes that were historically considered 'evil places', play a key role in mitigating storm damage. They absorb the force of waves, prevent erosion and dynamically adapt to sea level changes.

This realisation is controversial, knows Marte Stoorvogel as a researcher attached to NIOZ, because it means giving up some control over the natural forces of water. In some places, dykes will have to be opened and some of the reclaimed land returned to the sea. People will have to move, mosquitoes and smells return, we have to learn to accept risk and coexist with natural processes.

Berlin-based design studio Nonhuman Nonsense sees this as an opportunity for a paradigm shift in our relationship with water, deltas, mud and marshes. A shift in which humans are no longer fighting heroic battles against danger and evil, but feel dependent on the non-human beings with whom they share ecological habitats, connected by water.

However, this realisation changes not only our actions, but our whole way of thinking and how we understand the world. It is, according to Nonhuman Nonsense, a transformation that takes place not only on a technological and scientific level, but also on a philosophical and mythological one. To underline this, they revive the ancient myth of the goddess ~Nehalennia~, freely translated meaning "she who is by the sea", and create a new cosmogonic story based on current scientific understanding of the mud and flood. 

The story of Nehalennia, dating back to the 2nd century BC, can teach us to understand why transitional areas are important and give meaning to the 'sacrifice' of human spaces for non-human habitats. It recreates a living relationship with the sea that was once lost but is now returning based on scientific understanding.
By resurrecting a pre-Christian goddess, Nonhuman Nonsense and Marte Stoorvogel create a story that is rich and local and at the same time part of a global discourse in which the climate emergency forces us to re-evaluate our entire relationship to non-human beings and forces.

With thanks to Zeeuws Museum - Nehalennia Altaar | Céline Mathieu - text & Voice| Birt Berglund  - sound design| DALL-E  - painting