During this online residency I’ll be documenting work continuing on the audio/literature project I started at my in situ residency at FAC in Dec 2022. Walyalup or Fremantle as a first site for it was apt, where I spent a lot of time around the port. A common thread in the work is ballast: the entity that fills ships’ hulls to keep them steady when not carrying cargo (the “ballast” here is just sea water itself), and the rocks under railway lines maintaining the tracks’ stability. It occurs in nature too: creatures like blowfish and argonaut octopi stay afloat thanks to water ballast in their bodies. So you go to this trouble to make something float, but then you have to weigh it down a bit for it to work properly – a kind of temperance.

Ballast is a vector for stowaways. Shipping ballast water is collected in coastal waters in one place then discharged in another, often full of organisms that get moved around from port to port. These creatures form a population of unwanted species when discharged in foreign environments, and have names like: Spiny Water Flea, North American Comb Jelly, Round Goby, Toxic Algae, Mitten Crab, Zebra Mussel, American Razor Clam, North Pacific Seastar. 3-5 billion tonnes of ballast water is transferred throughout the world each year, and the amount is increasing. Ballast water creatures are starting to turn up in new places as new shipping routes open up due to climate change, like the Northwest Passage in the Arctic Circle.

Rail freight (and its ballast) acts as a conduit for human stowaways, but its corridors also enable other species to mobilise in these relatively protected zones of industry. The history of trains is bound up in the history of time; time zones were created for them. Over the years I’ve wondered not just about the sentience hosted by trains, but their own imaginations and agendas. My favourite hobby is anthropomorphising stuff, but the iron horses make it pretty easy. I like to think all players have consciousness.