The urban fabric of greater London has been shaped by the river Thames and shapes it in reverse on multiple levels. The stream of waste—discharge of the socio-economic life and developments within the urban fabric—through the river, swallowed by its river beds or being transported on ships down-stream for disposal on landfills within the nearby rural areas such as Thurrock (s. fieldtrip), has been one longstanding influence of the urban context of London onto the ecology of the river and the landscapes it reaches.
The present leisure activity and, to some enthusiasts, the 'sport' of mudlarking emerged out of the past usage of the Thames as litter of the city throughout history. Mudlarking is rooted in the hunt for old treasures, objects of the past or things that had lost value once and would now be of value again. The river becomes a site to extract the city's (material) memory.
When an American congressman compared the Thames unfavourably with the mighty Mississippi, 2,320 miles long, the trade unionist and M.P. John Burns replied: “The Mississippi is muddy water, but the Thames is liquid history.”
Whilst the sound of mud-larking can spark excitement it is also another new force re-shaping the river's ecology. As people start to dig into river banks of abandoned landfills (s. fieldtrip) and to break apart sediment on the hunt for treasures along the river, more and more toxic substances seep from their containment within the soil into the streams of the river.
Abandoned disposal site near Thurrock leaks into the river
Close up of old disposed objects in the river bed
The case of mud-larking stands for an operational framework of our group's further analysis, mud-larking metaphorically for information around the flows of waste in, on, around and through the river Thames. Field trips to waste disposal sites, conversations with employees at the sites, with artists Eloise Hawser and geo-chemist Dr. Kate Spencer were paralleled with further online research into waste processing and disposal sites in and around London.
The research began to be exposed to the complex network and large amount of waste infrastructure. As waste is managed by municipalities and boroughs, we chose to narrow the research down towards a specific area. The strong presence of the Canary Wharf district in resources about waste management and its equal role in the 2050 Thames vision slowly shifted the research to Canary Wharf and its contrast of waste management statistics as compared with its parent borough and nearby communities, most markably Poplar.
At this point the overall groups began to fall apart and re-organise in the final research clusters (Displaced Waters, Carceral Waters, Polar, Sewage).