Guest Blog 2. Vanessa Daws, Psychoswimography: to explore place through swimming.

01. Lutyens

Dublin as a Swimming City – Vanessa Daws

Psychoswimography : to explore place through swimming.

Planktos : Drifting

I’ve been living in Dublin for four years. The first thing I did on arrival in Dublin was arrange a swim down the River Liffey in the heart of the city. This initiation ritual allowed a sense of total submersion, acceptance and a feeling of being welcomed by Dublin. The swim, carried out at dawn, slightly guerrilla in style out of naivety, was before I had even met the Dublin Sea Swimming community who have since become intrinsic to my swimming and art practice.

I’m a visual artist and avid open water swimmer, I’ve always swam, not competitively, or for particularly long distances; but when passing a body of water, be it pond, fountain, lake, river or sea, it’s hard for me not to resist the urge to take a quick swim. My art practice investigates where this drive to swim, to immerse oneself in water comes from. Is this urge spiritual, escapism or social? Is it the sheer thrill of the unknown; to feel the water on our skin, the cold on our head, adapt our breathing and to feel we exist? The cold water sparks off chemical reactions, a feeling of euphoria and giddiness while semi naked in the frigid sea that somehow allows us to act feral, to shout and laugh high on endorphins.

My art work is interested in exploring social sea swimming practice and place, where people from all walks of life meet in all weather conditions throughout the year to swim, chat, drink tea and shiver.

Encounter, conversation, invitation and journey, are all elements that build up my art practice, as well as art forms such as film, sound, installation, live events, drawing and publications. Through meeting swimmers and the shared experience of water my work explores ways in which we accept as normal our pursuits and chosen rituals, and also how through acclimatisation and adaption we can surprise ourselves and go beyond our expectations.

02. Liffey

Dublin has a thriving swimming community. There’s the daily sea swimmers who meet either by time or by tide on their local beach, swim hut, steps or rocks from Skerries to Bray and beyond. Then there is Leinster Open Sea Swimming, an organisation that promotes open water swimming and runs sea swim races throughout the summer all along the Dublin Bay coast, the highlight being the historic, official Liffey Swim. Also there is the generation of wetsuit clad teenagers jumping off the highest buildings into any available body of water. So hundreds of people are all using Dublin’s rivers, canals and bay as their playground or place of ritual and inclusion.

03. Urban Swimming

I am also interested in exploring more unconventional bodies of water, Urban Swimming is an ongoing swim intervention which aims to temporally change the way we view public fountains. When ever I see a fountain with swim potential, I would swim around it, no fuss or ceremony and then just walk off. This work is documented using film and digital image, the work observed by anyone who happens to be walking past at the time.

Urban Swimming 2011- ongoing

My swim art practice has taken me to watery places as diverse as the frozen Pirita River in Estonia, Santa Barbara, The length of the Rideau Canal in Canada, London, Lisbon, The President’s Fountain in Sofia, Bulgaria, the M50 Aqueduct and the Pontcysyllte Aqueduct, Wales and the to the bogs of Ballycroy in Co Mayo.

04. Lambay Starfish

The Lambay Swim Triptych 2014 – 2017

“As each day passed, Colin had become more and more fixed in his feeling that the mystery surrounding the garden was one of it’s greatest charms” (1)

I have been swimming at Low Rock, Malahide every week since moving to Dublin. Lambay Island sits on the periphery of the swim vista at Low Rock and is the largest island off the east coast of Ireland. Lambay is steeped in intrigue and mystery; a sequestered place where wild wallabies share their home with the 7th Lord Revelstoke and shipwrecks and castles hide many secrets.

05. Lambay Swim Collaborative Journey

The first Lambay Swim was in June 2014 and was a collaborative journey to Lambay Island made by myself and the swimmers of Low Rock, Malahide as part of the Artist in the Community Award, funded by the Arts council and managed by Create. We swam in half hour slots, taking it in turns, based on the English Channel relay-team rules. We set off in sunshine, but as we neared Lambay, the water became choppy and a mist came down. Everyone swam the last 500 meters in together, through a wall of inquisitive seals onto a beach full of starfish.

06. Uncharted 2014

We presented this swim project to the public on December 6th in an event called “Uncharted”. The event aimed to create an aural myth of our “Lambay Swim”. We gave a tour of Low Rock through sound work and performed narratives. As part of this event we also invited the audience to enter the sea and as the sun rose we ate barbecued Lambay wallaby burgers for breakfast.


07. Uncharted

Below are two sound pieces from “Uncharted”

Lambay Island –

The original Lambay solo crossing –

08. Lambay Solo Swim Expedition

A year later on the 22nd July 2015 I swam from the yellow swimming huts at Low Rock in Malahide to the harbour on Lambay Island. The “Lambay Solo Swim Expedition” was the second Lambay swim. The distance as the crow flies is 8k, I swam 9.64k because of the flow of the tides. The swim only took me 2 hours and 37 minutes as I had meticulously studied the tides with Raja Maitre the Howth Harbour Master and the SWS winds gave me an additional push along.

A solo swim is never solo.

I had asked 12 people from the world of science, art and swimming to accompany me on this expedition and act as my support crew and to observe and respond to this swim as they would in their own professional activities. These responses are currently being discussed and recorded and will used as the source for an exhibition and publication.

09. Lambay Solo Swim Expedition

The third Lambay Swim will be a circumnavigational swim of the island in 2016 and will be the toughest of the three swims.

10. 1st Solo Crossing of UCD Lake

I am currently at UCD on the Art in Science residency. I have been exploring the history, myths and science around the rather un-loved and un-thought about UCD Lake. This project started off with the “1st Solo Crossing of UCD Lake” – 31.01.15, Water Temp 4º, Distance 75m, narrowly avoiding swans and the lurgy. This work will exist as a publication and temporary on site installation.

(1) The Secret Garden – Frances Hodgson Burnett, 1911