JEMAGWGA Gwylene Gallimard & Jean-Marie

Whose Water



A video essay by Jean-Marie Mauclet

Created as part of “ Rehearsing the Past: Looking at the city from another direction”,

Organized by Neill Bogan .

Spoleto Festival USA 2001

“Listening Across Cultures and Communities”,

Mariy-Jane Jacob and Tumelo Mosaka curators.


The present text is the voice-over for “Whose Water?”.  The visual is, simply, the slow filming of the peninsula of Charleston, from the water, for one hour, in real time. It starts north of  “Shoreview”, on the Ashley river, goes down to the tip of the peninsula, up the Cooper river, past the twin bridges. It ends at the old coal tipple.


The voices used for the voice-over are those of James E. Campbell, Gwylene Gallimard and Jean-Marie Mauclet. The filming, sound work and editing are by Anthony Bell.



Sometimes, the waters of our rivers are so flat, so horizontal,

and the long hours it takes to row them across just as flat, just as horizontal,

that time itself turns featureless, foreboding.


Horizontal time is everyday’s time.

It is everything’s time.

The time of vegetative, low-level energy,

with its pulsating monotony, its inescapable predictability.

Before, now and after.

Just like the even strokes of the ores, as we row the flat waters of the Charleston rivers.

Repetitive time. Circular time. Obsessive time.

That of the clock.

Closed, sullen time.


Yet, should the pulse of the rower be distracted by a swell coming from nowhere; should an osprey, heard earlier yet not seen, dive for fish only yards away starboard; should an unseparable team of dolphins appear and fade, only to return again, slicing the water open again, so close we can see their eye – though the rythm of the row and that of the water prevail – a swell, a splash, a glance, will rip the rustling silence and reveal an other

time within time, unexpected, untamed, unattended, eternal in its eager nature, yet fleeting in its instantaneity.

The time of music? poetry? dance? Individual, private time. For each different.

Time as experience. Existential time.

Open, sudden time.


Sudden time, however, can it be remembered? Or, as soon as it is memory, doesn’t it get recycled into sullen time?

The memory of past events, as a form of their celebration, is possible only as an actuator of said events. Otherwise, doesn’t memory turn into stone, monumental silence of an eternal past?

Isn’t it what monuments do best:  to cast a thick layer of concrete over events, which were supposed to be remembered but are, now, banished into an unspeakable subcouns-


Don’t monuments freeze our memory of the memorialized into a state of deadly sameness?

As we know, sameness is sameness, is sameness…

As we may know, sameness, as a mirror, can be shattered  and transform one self-image into multiple reflexions. This auto-iconoclasm draws others, otherness into the mirror, desolves sameness into soon-vanished dust.


If monuments proclaim identity, what are they but stepping stones to authoritarianism?

If identity remains a closed proposition, what is it but self-censureship?

If from closed, we slam open the gates to a non-scripted future, then, if there are any monuments left, won’t they be catalysts, lightning rods, funambulists, clowns, dancers, artists?




If monuments, like icebergs, are the emerging -say- twenty per cent of a bigger body of history now burried in our memory, can we say that they really represent? symbolize? reveal? convey? –  or, do they rather hide, trump, distort, lie?


Well, let us try to unveil the eighty per cent most American monuments hide, underground, in the American mud, the American subterranean substratum/ subconscious/unspoken.


Isn’t it fair to say that three quarter of the eighty percent in question are readily available in history books?  “Official history”? But what of the last iota, the last little heep of memory dust? The innermost American unspoken? The forever submerged 1 per cent? It may be there that lies the true essence of the true monuments of America. Monuments to silence and anonimity. Monuments to unscripted, uncontrolled heroes?


So – in our quest for the essential American monument, as we row on and on against the strong tides of conventions, towards the edge of history   –  the  Charleston waters –  around the peninsula – extended tip of a tropical iceberg – we reach an area carefully cordonned off  by some local authorities “for further investigation” -we read- by scientists of course, preservationists for sure, archeologists definitly, historians at last (!), the Smithsonian Institution and other agencies in charge of uncovering, saving, classifying, exhibiting, interpreting, filing all discoveries of historic significance. The primal clues to our past.


And the closer to the forbiden area, the harder the row. Like some Ulysses, caught in a  legendary tempest where survival depends on cunning as much as on seamanship, one of the rowers jumps overboard to explore further. Although the waters are shallow , they are muddy, traiturous and unknown. To his major dismay, our fearless explorer  discovers that the past has been caped with a heavy lid of concrete!


What now? Now! Abandoning all metaphores, letting go of legends and shunting off all institutions, we plunge into the mud and, in our frenzy, dig, rake, scrape,  uncover the lid and  – as we feel  –  our way on its surface – we – realize  – that – it  is – what ? – scrached?  etched? carved? with reliefs? hierogliphics? signs maybe? letters? That’s it, letters, big letters carved on the concrete surface… … … There is an “i”, and then a “n” – “in” –

“g”  and “o”  and “p”  – gop?  – No – “d”  for “god”, and then there is an  “m”?  or a “w”?

it is a “w” and “e” – “we” – “in god we” –  As soon as a “t” and then a “r” are deciphered we know:  the great American subcounscious is covered over with a slab of concrete  marked: “in god we trust”!


Gasping for air …and meaning….we resurface. As we row away from the site and decide to call it a day, the silence is deep among us. Deep and hollow : Easy or hard, near or far away, the search for our roots is ever a haunting journey.


* * *


Day two. We are determined to explore all the dimensions of the  lid. We swim to the periphery,  feel our way down to its bottom edge and, as blind dogs smelling blood,  we start digging way underneath. Soft as it is, the pluffmud dissolves easily  in the salt water. Quickly we find ourselves under the lid. We are in a cave. The underwater world of the great American subconscious is a cave, a bright cave in the perfect shape of an open rotunda of pure classical proportions. Complete with a guilded dome supported by a set of seven columns of the Corinthian order, elaborate abstract floor patterns of marble, in the center of which what could well be an unknown version of the Rosetta Stone stands, some four feet tall,  on a circular bed of seashells.


Of course, y’all don’t have to believe our saga. But it is further true that, as we enter the cave, small groups of strangely familiar figures, file in as well,  one at a time, so gracefully it could be a ballet, and assemble into harmonious tableaux vivants, in carefully chosen areas of this prestine, rational space.


Here, a group of Native Americans, tall, proud, yet of modest demeanor in their simple tunics draped over their naked body. Barefoot, decorated hairbands, brades, feathers. Men gather around a fire, carving wood, smoking a pipe, all engaged in a very civil conversation, as women tend to the needs of small children, carry flowers, weave baskets. When a man produces a drum, everyone forms into a circle and starts a gently rythmic dance.


Here, a middle-aged white male, long dark beard and unattended black hair, takes off his feathered hat,  kneels down and, in a dramatic gesture, kisses the ground. Behind him, a very tired tribe of young women with children in their arms gathers around  what looks like a very aged holy man, reading from a very heavy holy book. All presently get on their knees as well and gaze to the heavens in search of very needed holy help.


Here, pinned on a picket fence, a grainy poster reads:

“To be sold on board the ship Bance Island, on Tuesday the sixth of                                                         May next, at Ashley Ferry: a choice cargo of about two hundred and                                                         fifty fine, healthy negroes, just arrived from the Windward and Rice                                                         Coast.

The utmost care has already been taken, and shall be continued, to                                                         keep them free from the least danger of being infected with the small-                                                        pox, no boat having been on board, and all other communication                                                         with people from Charles Town prevented.”


And there, a very different company, strictly of men, in white shirt sleeves and tie, dark pants and prepy loafers, around an elongated designer table, pencil and Coke at hand, poised to take notes from a conference, the topic of which appears on a white board:  “What went wrong?”

Please come closer and read the content

(1) nobody said it would be easy.

(2) staying focused when everything’s changing around you

(3) from follower to leader

(4) overcoming negativity and resistance

(5) tips from five extraordinary leaders:


Winston Churchill -Oprah Winfrey – Mike Krzyzewski – George W. Bush

and…  Martin Luther King.

As you read this part of the script , the following text will appear, at the bottom of the screen:







(all this in a very pompous, academic, superficial tone)





Charleston is a monument.

A monument to past American and world history.

A monument to itself and to us, its inhabitants.

A monument for future reference.


What an awsome responsability it is, indeed, to keep a monument alive!


Today, in our series of lectures on “Building – Unbuilding the city”, we will apply the four models of government identified in a previous session, to the truly monumental city of Charleston.


They are:              Energizing               Preserving              Purring     and   Bleaching.


As you remember, none of those modes is exclusive of the others. You may be applying one, two, three or the four of them at the same time. Or you may have chosen to select one only, for the time being.  Clearly the ways NOT to ram your administration into principled dead-ends are flexibility and opportunism.


So, let us start with ENERGIZING.


Energizing is based on a strict cost/benefit analysis. City management develops a set

of economic standards with pilots,  markers, thresholds and triggers, which, when applied to designated sectors, help identify srengths and weaknesses at great speed, prompting  the decision to ENERGIZE this or that sector. Therefore guaranteeing the steady course expected from any good administration.

Energizing is, for a historic city like Charleston, a necessary tool. Because history dictates  long term trends which cannot be disturbed by parasitic events, facts or developments, the short term must be managed promptly. As the Chinese proverb says: take care of little thinks first: it will give you the time to attend to the important ones…

Or something to that effect!



Preserving refers to the overall image a city has of itself and its future, as acquired through its past. Preserving has to do with making your city a witness to its past; offering its citizens and visitors a window into the past.  Making sure that the future will look like the past.

What characterises PRESERVING is the development of (a) guidelines to safeguard the permanence of the image of the city and (b) a stringent body of ordinances to enforce them. Every aspect of the city image is covered. Old as well as new. From building height to color schemes; the proper entablature of a colomn, a window sash,  the matching of historic moldings, standing-seam metal roofs or historic ornemental iron work.

Of course, not only may old buildings not be defaced, but new construction must blend into the historic patina. That is why no visible architecture has been built in Charleston,  since  – say – the sixties.

Contemporary structures are,either papered over with recycled, traditional gestures of facade architecture, or use what is considered a staple of Charleston’s building tradition: THE BRICK. Or, more accurately, the brick veneer applied to exteriors, designed so that they (a) do not attract the eye and (b) do not distract from the historic context. To be sure, there exist eye sores, even in Charleston: appartment buildings or hotels, parking lots or run-down areas. But they are few and they fulfill an important function for diversity and tourism.

Finally, Charleston has learned an essential PRESERVING  lesson: from now on, any new construction will have to rise from underdeveloped, blighted or otherwise condemned areas. The valuable stock of real estate representing Charleston’s history is now safe. It will remain in the hands of those who know best (a) how to make the city prosper: its successful entrepreneurs and (b) where to look for a perennial model: the past.


We will brush over PURRING. Purring is a method of  government  which cannot be used for extended periods of time. However, its judicious manipulation can prove rewarding.

Now –  Look at a cat – Observe how its purring not only expresses contentment but generates an infectious sense of  security. See how the animal surrenders its defenses for the sake of a beneficial rest. As we know, though, the rest may be real but the sense of security relies on an accute, self-assured, unbreakable instinct of conservation.

Of course, purring does not define a management style unless we add, to the permeating sense of security, a soft-handed determination to keep things under full control. As for cats, again, it seems that purring requires the constant ability to jump up and defend the territory,  whenever-wherever needed, tooth and nail, if need be. If you are of the rat family, beware!


Finally, we come to BLEACHING.

Litteraly, bleach cleanses. It renders white, whiter. Color, colorless. Although it may not be the intent of bleaching to elliminate diversity, it is the most efficient way to realize, fast, a significant concensus which, in turn, will permit quick, sweeping decisions at the right time.

Bleaching is based on the global belief that economic freedom is the only model on which to manage a town, a region, a whole country, ultimately the world. Market-based solutions  to urban growth are rapid, clean and irreversible. And they promote the values on which the future can safely rest, in a fast-changing world.

Governments of all sizes are entangled in an inextricable web of overlapping and often contradictory regulations which  slow down the natural processes of economic growth. It is in the interest of elected officials to transfer part of their responsabilities to private entities, which will (a) do a better, more efficient job and (b) profit in the process and invigorate the economic base. At the city level, for example, who is better equiped to manage the housing stock but real-estate professionals? Indeed, the cushioning effects of cumbersome,  publicly funded socio-economic programs will be more discrete. The punch of economic stimulation provided by the free market will knock out the weakest subjects. But, at last, the inevitability of  progress will have been established. And in any case, who is better equiped to attend to the wounds of the weakest but  foundations, civic organizations, faith-based or not, all with a long track record? Indeed, the private sector can be just as charitable as any government agency!


There are essential corollaries to the liberal approach, though. Once you have deregulated real-estate and made it accessible to those who can afford it,  you must be ready to provide the big three commodities of a modern city: easy traffic, varied entertainment and public safety.

I remember Robert Moses when he declared that to build a highway ”… you have to hack your way with a meat ax…”  We know what this image implies. We know progress requires sacrifices.  We even can quote Mr. Moses’ favorite opponant, Lewis Mumford :”A city exists, not for the constant passage of motorcars, but for the care and culture of man”.

Well, Mr. Mumford, today, it is possible to satisfy traffic and to tend to the care and culture of the people. See Charleston. Highways surround the city, feed it from all sides. Yet, they do not disturb existing neighborhoods.

Besides, entertainement is plentiful and of high quality. Aquarium, I-Max, the downtown shopping district,  restaurants, galleries, museums, libraries, and, of course, the yearly Spoleto Festival. Two weeks of world-class culture in a world-class city.


Finally, we must talk about public safety. Public safety is the key to any city’s future. If we refer to our earlier comments on ‘Purring” and apply them to Charleston, we know that the “All America City” requires a police force that is sharp in its delivery and smooth in its appearance, inspiring confidence in a constant show of SELF-confidence. Good policing is the bound that keeps the city together. Together, citizens must help the police do the best job it can at eradicating violence, crime, corruption. As a very good friend of mine, down in Florida said in his latest delivery as a neighborhood pastor: ” Economic growth cannot last in a corrupt environment”.  It is precisely when one tries to stabilize neighborhoods,  establish conditions of economic opportunities, that the most volatile fringes of our society are most likely to challenge the forces of law and order. Cities succeed or fail at this juncture. Authorities cannot hesitate, in a balanced and fair way when possible, to impose peace where peace is needed most: in our city neighborhoods. They are at the core of our economic strength. If need be, all pockets of economic resistance will be forcefully eliminated because – and this will be my final remark – there is no wealth without peace and no peace without a strong police force. Such is the price of social justice.


Thank you.











Look at time – in any direction.

Look at history  looking behind or looking forward.

Look at us – being carried from past to future.

And no time really to consider the present.


The present is the sacrificial lamb of history.


Philosophy, science, take place in the present.

It is their claim to reality.

The same for art.


If the forces which shaped the past are to shape the future, then, the present is only a gray

filter of neutral mindlessness; an uncommited, silent exercise in official peace-keeping; the

neutralizing – gagging – suppressing of dissident voices.


Isn’t it the work of philosophy, science, the arts, to puncture the filter, to break the silence?

And always endeavor  to enlarge the focus of our knowledge?

And to frown upon any past which attempts to hand down unbroken treasures, icones of worship?

And to be the iconoclast, when the temptation arises to build memorials for future contemplation?

And to judge empires for being empires: networks of self-serving power groups, which accumulate influence – and money – or both – and more, for their self-perpetuation?

And to name the true heroes of the day: the victims of the empires, usually silent because kept silent, ignorant because kept ignorant, poor… because the present is always too short for the trickle to reach down?

And to prove to the world – every minute of the world – that whatever happens, happens now?

Simple enough, right?

But then, what of the propensity to build monuments?

This urge to “pass on”?

This rage to be remembered?

Or is this only the passtime of the rich and powerful? As long as they can manipulate the selective memory of history?


Is there no destiny but manufactured?

Will we keep our hands free to experience life, express life, experiment as we go?

Aren’t memories legitimate only if one can question their legitimacy?

Aren’t projected dreams acceptable only if they are innocent?


To keep our hands open.

To tune our mind to incoming influences.

To appreciate the vulnerability of thruths.

To measure the temporarity of dogmas.

Were it not for ideologies, couldn’t history be the unfolding of freedom? With its oddities, its impossibilities, its tardiness, its intense sense of instant responsability, its vulnerability, its humor?                                          (a light chuckle, here)


And when will we stop personalizing history, the past, the future, memory, destiny as separate, independant entities, with their own independant pulse. All worthy of a monument celebrating their history, past, future, memory, destiny?

Echoes of self. You must go.

So we can live.

(another chuckle, here – if you can)


WHOSE WATER?                            This text was censured and taked out


Six AM. The morning shift of the New Charleston Mosquito Fleet – a handfull of sleep- disorder victims, age 20 to 60 – arrives at the City Marina and rigs the thirty foot  gig.

It takes six adults to row the boat built by inner-city kids for alternative recreation and in memory of the original Charleston Mosquito Fleet,  a flotilla of small fishing sailboats whose black owners fed Charleston fish for 100 years. The Charleston Mosquito Fleet

was docked at the foot of Market street and, with some help, would still be selling its fish there, today,  if  it had not lost this privilege of prime waterfront space – or  is it  a right? – Someone, tell us – WHOSE WATER? –  The Charleston Mosquito Fleet was shoved off to a remote mooring, where  it could not do business, sell its fish, any longer. The Charleston Mosquito Fleet died out.  WHOSE WATER?


Today, from the City Marina, the sleep-deprived bunch will row up river, against the tide, all the way to “Shoreview”. Then they will row back, with the tide and call the three-mile row  a rowing day.  OUR WATER.


“Shoreview” is known, around here, as a “project”. A little ghetto really, a subsidized housing complex along the Ashley river. Destined originally for a military population, right after the second World War, “Shoreview” was designed as in a park, complete with beautiful oak trees planted along meandering streets, traffic circles and a million-dollar view on the Ashley river – Mostly African-American, the residents of this estate started receiving eviction notices at the end of 2000. The Bleach Company – 722 2615 – was about to break ground for a  – guess what? – million-dollar condominium complex – with – you can see it on the brochure already – “ unspoilable view of the Ashley river”.

WHOSE RIVER?                  WHOSE WATER?


It is seven AM and the New Mosquito Fleet gig is returning to port. It slips by the Citadel – you remember? the Citadel?  – WHOSE  HISTORY? Please – and just north of the twin Ashley river bridges, starboard, the river bank appears cluttered with the sight of cranes, pilings, concrete trucks and the burgeoning profile – still low – of a new building site. Atop the tallest crane, a name and a telephone number: the Bleach Company – 722 2615 –  Right where the official Charleston Downtown Plan reads “Brittlebank Park will be extended south”, there  will flicker “the Bristol”, a million-dollar condominium complex. Unspoilable view on the Ashley river!



Only a few months ago, this was a modest fishing spot. For modest folks, no doubt.                                                                       WHOSE WATER?              WHOSE WATER?


Building pretty                            Unbuilding cities

Promoting life-style                    Severing life-lines

Pushing condohood               crushing neighborhoods

Should we call that  ………….              Cultural polution?

Selective deprivation?

A sun-tanned, final solution?



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