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Low Tide

Katherine Richards & Lara Farina

The exhibits that follow were made by individual contributors to The Middle Shore, using the materials found on the Strand. There, you can find the original deposit of items that our collectors were given to winnow and sort (Low Tide 1). The Low Tide images are digital fragments depicting the material culture of the Middle Ages, (art, writing, architecture, etc.), together with modern and contemporary representations of the medieval (in media ranging from academic prose to Lego building blocks). We encourage you to peruse these images, pick them up for a closer look, and ruminate on your responses to them.

Identifying information can be found in the Sources & Credits page. If you plan on submitting an exhibit of your own, we recommend not looking at that page until after you do so. You will see that the Strand images are not accompanied by identifying information. We wanted our Low Tide collection to approximate the detritus left on the beach by retreating waves. The objects in the Strand are thus decontextualized fragments, shorn of prior wholeness but sometimes encrusted into new amalgams. Objects of different eras and different media are jumbled together. On a beach, you might find a scrap of fishing net entangled with barnacled rocks, a plastic ring-pull inside a shell, or some dried-up jellyfish next to a broken bracelet. In the Strand, you might see a section of a brick wall, some lines of Middle English embedded in critical commentary, a recent photo of a young woman wearing a flowing dress, a head made of clay. Head of Clay These images were selected in as random a manner possible for a human arbiter. They were placed in no consciously chosen order. That said, every beach has elements that influence its wave-tossed deposits: underwater landforms, ocean currents, prevailing winds, or nearby populations who lose their things at sea. You might try to identify from the Strand’s contents the hidden forces shaping our tidal midden.

Exhibit: a noun but also a verb. From Latin ex (out) + habere (to hold), an extension from the body, an offering, a sacrifice. Might we also say an extraction from the habitual, the habitus, the usual wrappings of the body? Fittingly, the OED gives William Caxton’s Eneydos (1490) as its first English example — Caxton, translator and printer, who used once unfamiliar media to circulate old things. The exhibits respond to the Strand with new collections formed through analysis, creative play, imagistic elaboration, personal retrospection, and speculative conjecture. To make their displays, the contributors selected image fragments they found arresting, evocative, or simply intriguing and mixed these with materials they either already possessed or acquired for the purpose. In many ways, Low Tide 1 is like the first scattering of things one stumbles across in the littoral zone of a beach. The contributors’ thoughts and feelings about this first grouping combine, in their exhibits, with their discoveries further along the shoreline. The Low Tide pieces became seeds, foundations, or instructions for continued gathering. In their wanderings, some contributors go back in time to other beaches they have visited, others linger over the fragments close at hand, while others venture on to more distant temporal reaches; often, they move in different directions at once. Their creations take the form of games, memoirs, maps, spells, bestiaries, and reliquaries. Wander through these arrangements playfully or purposefully.

Each exhibit concludes with an essay written by the contributor. The essays offer commentary on the exhibits as well as discussions of the contributors’ creative processes and affective experiences during the project. The Middle Shore is as much concerned with the movement of material fragments as it is with the pieces themselves, perhaps even more so. The feelings, urges, doubts, memories, and logics recorded in the contributors’ essays attest to the agents/motivators of this movement, enabling our greater awareness of the present forces at play in reconstructing medieval culture. Cyborgs at the ShoreCyborgs at the Shore.

Like the fragments in Low Tide 1, the Low Tide exhibits follow one another in a random sequence, with no order derived from theme or content. Yet some patterns do emerge when the individual contributions are considered as a whole. We have discussed the prevailing themes and moods of The Middle Shore’s contents elsewhere, Lara Farina and Katherine Richards (2017). “Working and Playing on The Middle Shore.” In The Routledge Research Companion to Digital Medieval Literature, eds. J. Boyle and H. Burgess. London: Routledge, 2018. but here we want to provide only the roughest of maps to our digital beach, well aware that the pleasure of beachcombing lies (at least partially) in finding the unexpected. However, we will point to one theme that emerged as a surprising yet fundamental concern: the scholar’s struggle to play. An oxymoronic phrase -- and yet many of the contributors discuss a hesitancy to roam too freely while researching and crafting their exhibits. Considering that wandering, roaming, and playing were encouraged at the onset of the project, the reluctance to move in certain directions is striking. What keeps us from playing?

Medieval Dice As guides to the shore, we know we run a risk if we tell you to play here. You may have had your fill of suggestions for maximizing your free time: “Have a hobby!, Make time to meditate!, Relax with friends!, Cook with joy! Join a team!” We are under a lot of pressure to play, lest we become un-fun ourselves. Yet play cannot be commanded, only offered. We also recognize that the idiosyncratic activity we propose will not register for many as a form of work. Countable products, rather than experimental processes, are increasingly the measure of work in academia and elsewhere. A visitor moving Low Tide’s pieces, or moving with them, may not produce a piece of work that accounts for their time. Our contributors have set forth in this liminal zone of work/play, helping us put words to the affects that lead to one or the other, but also acting in ways that blur the distinction between the two.

We invite you to pick up their trail and, from our collections, assemble your own to take with you or leave on our beach.

Katherine Richards & Lara Farina
West Virginia University