Charlie Tweed

Swamp Mechanism (2023)

It has taken you many hours to get this far, wading through the sludgey ground interspersed with pond weed; your feet constantly sticking in the heavy clay, making loud squelching sounds as you pull them out with force.

There is little light here, just one distant star and no moon, the air is thick with moisture, traces of smoke and burnt industry. You feel that this swamp has been here for thousands of years, slowly seeping downwards, taking unsuspecting lifeforms with it. All around you hear muffled calls and mumbles emitting from the population of wading birds; lapwings, snipe, curlew and redshanks.

Far off in the distance there is the sound of metal masts as their distinct tones resonate in the breeze, reaching the high notes. You remember that this is a saltwater marsh, a bufferzone with the sea;  you think about how long it will last, how soon it will dry up, or when it will be drained and co-opted.

There is a bleakness here that you find enticing, you realise that the ground beneath your feet is alive, teeming with microscopic lifeforms and energies which have been here for thousands and millions of years.

Every so often the pond weed wraps itself around your legs, it seems to be wanting to drag you down and prevent your movement.

You imagine yourself stuck here for a lifetime, slowly merging with the swamp, you realise that this could be the way to go. The place for you to transform.

You feel small here, lost, alone, unhinged, you are having an out of body experience, imagining yourself interconnected with complex meshes of non human materials with alien temporalities.

You feel the bacteria in your gut moving, you are aware of their presence.

You sense that they are whispering to you, reminding you about horizontal gene transfer, and past moments of change.

You begin to realise why this mechanism is located here, submerged deep into the ground, powered by this ancient swamp that exhales all around you.

What is it thinking or feeling right now? You wonder. Can it see me somehow? Not with eyes of course but perhaps with magnetism or by feeling your movements, or can it smell you? Is there some kind of sentience within this swamp and its layerings, within its residues.

As you get closer to the structure you hear an amplified sound. Almost whistling, a swarm of voices in harmony, followed by fuzzy static, then low retorts and something like intakes of breath.

What are they saying? You cannot understand the language.

It starts to shake, making movements, changing colour, detecting your presence.

A deep sound with intensely low notes emits from its centre. The whole structure is vibrating. You feel like it is trying to scream, or warn you off.

At its base there are large green organic forms that float just above the swamp, like suspended water lilies.

Growing out of them is a vast organic structure that looks a bit like a beehive, with thousands of tiny silvery metallic threads making up a dense circular mesh. There is movement coming from inside, tiny swarms of life that push themselves through the mesh like goo.

Expanding from this mesh are thousands of tiny star shaped petals that are multi-layered, and coloured yellow,  blue,  red and mauve. They look like water lily flowers or rhizomatous aquatic herbs with scattered vascular bundles in their stems.

There is an intense noise emitting from them, they are vibrating. Squealing, humming. Flashes of electromagnetic interference makes everything become blurred before fading back in. Before a transition to complete distortion and static.

You begin to wonder if it is some kind of translation mechanism, drawing out the voice or the consciousness of this swamp. Or is it some kind of trap.

As you get closer the vibrations become more intense, the rhythm increases. They begin to trigger bodily responses, you feel your mouth moving in time to the deep bass sounds, muttering an unintelligible language, attempting to simulate ‘their’ behaviour,  the low notes, the whistles and squeals, one moment a smile, then a dribble, then spitting, spluttering, howling, muttering; you respond to the tempo, banging your arms and feet against the boggy clay, you feel stunned by the pauses, you try to dig yourself in, to calm yourself down.

But something has been released.

You realise that your arms are out of control,  that all you can see is colours, shapes and moments of darkness, you hear an awful wailing, a screaming, you realise it is you and also them, you are rolling around now on the floor, vomiting uncontrollably, embedding your limbs in the mud as you try to morph with its rhythms, to enact its consciousness, thinking of  merging with everything, as you try to become swamp, feeling your cells drifting away as your body decays and becomes compost.

About this work

Swamp Mechanism is part of a writing series in which Tweed outlines a set of speculative eco-technological spaces. Where technological, human and non human relations are re-imagined.

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