Enxhi Mandja on Phoebe McBride's 'On Becoming a Water Bat: echoes of an unseen world'

Part of Aberdeen Programme

Phoebe McBride, ‘On Becoming a Water Bat: echoes of an unseen world’, 2023. Courtesy of the artist.

We commissioned writer Enxhi Mandja to respond to Phoebe McBride’s On Becoming a Water Bat: echoes of an unseen world’. You can read or listen to Enxhi read the text below.

On Becoming a Water Bat: echoes of an unseen world’ (2023) was presented on the LUX Scotland website from March – April 2023 followed by an online discussion event with Phoebe.

The work was commissioned as part of LUX Scotland’s Aberdeen programme which offered an emerging artist working with moving image the opportunity to develop a new work with support from LUX Scotland. The Aberdeen programme was supported by Aberdeen City Council.

Enxhi Mandija is a writer and artist based in Aberdeen. Her writing has appeared online and in print on MAP Magazine, SPAM Plaza and The Yellow Paper. Her first pamphlet, River bodies, was published in 2024 as part of Rosie’s Disobedient Press’s Emerging Artist Writers Programme.

Recalling

Cast a voice – a continuous clicking sound – into the darkening air.

Returning to a place swells it with meaning. You can see the hours you have already spent in it waiting for you, like a robe on the back of a chair. Time swells and consumes, the robe is heavy but wearing thin. In memory, a place emerges made out of sounds that are no longer. The creak of dry grass under your feet, clinking pebbles, water moving long after a body has left its surface. Sounds remembered insist on returning, catching you unawares, making you turn your head, muffle a gasp.

Imagine we moved in a world built through sound. Every step, every quiver of the hands, agitates sound waves. When they reach a surface – a wall, a tree, a person sitting – they bounce back. We have the right instruments, the right bones in our ears, so from those signals we can tell: how far the wall is; how rough the tree’s bark; if the shoulders are slumped and tired, or upright and relaxed. We are receivers, recipients full of frequencies, which in turn we emit, taking part in the constant sway of call and response. In this sound world, in which everything we do reverberates, we are wholly enmeshed in our surroundings, each of us a nest of relations, made out of all the other bodies, animate and inanimate, from which we depend to know where we are, how much space we occupy, how we are moving in it. Shifting beings, we are continuously remade, built upon listening.

The transformation that takes place is outside of your will and your control. You find yourself adjusting to a place whose spatial composition has changed. You cast your voice out loud, to find the contours of a space you remember, but nothing comes back. In the swaying mesh, some relations held constant. There were reference points, where your voice used to reach out to and be held and bounce back from, that now return you only a gaping silence. The air there has suddenly become thick, woolly.

At first, you try to resist. You cocoon yourself in your wings of skin and veins – which, really, are a sheath of stretchy neoprene – yet something, in the form of touch, keeps intruding. The woollen hands that hold you are gentle, but you’d much rather they left you where you are, didn’t disturb you in your haze, your half-slumber. You pause to consider: how long before water reaches you through wool and wings, before a reckoning, before you wake.

In the fast-flowing river, sounds move slow, a light cast underwater. The camera seems to slow down, hold its breath, tense its muscles. It’s almost as if she can feel the cold air breathing from the surface of the night water. The plunge shakes her whole, whips all air out of her lungs, blurs her vision.

She is entering another world. She comes undone in coils tumbling like apple shavings. For a moment that stretches long like the deepest breath, all she hears is the rumble of blood in her ears. No breath and no sound, she cannot place herself, cannot scream to find her bearings, until. Something shifts and swiftly, stillness. The camera drifts over the gentle sway of weeds and grassy stalks that weren’t asleep, wonders if they were always nocturnal.

You try and open your mouth. Sound travels differently, but it does – slower, softer, seems to travel from further away. To remember is to recall – so you call, and call again, until an echo circles back, carrying some trace of its receiver. Water is denser than air, it holds you, becomes a new guise for you to wear. So cold you can’t feel yourself anymore, you have become one and the same.

The river is dark, heavy in the throes of winter. Before we return to it, it will be months – it will be almost summer. Light will warm the surface gently; air will smell sweet by the gorse bushes, a breeze will make us shiver lightly. Our voices will ring out and multiply, catching one another and bouncing back. Until the river chimes in, and we become polyphonic.

Image description: A still shows a close up of a small bat’s wing being delicately expanded by two hands in soft grey gloves. Against the daylight behind, the wing is a translucent pinkish red, with fine veins and membranes tracing across it.



Audio Version

Enxhi Mandja on Phoebe McBride's 'On Becoming a Water Bat: echoes of an unseen world'

Part of Aberdeen Programme

The LUX Scotland Aberdeen Programme aims to support early career Aberdeen-based artists and curators. The programme has run from since 2018 and has included job opportunities, workshops, screenings and online commissions. The programme was led by Project Manager Rachel Grant between 2021–24.

Supported by Aberdeen City Council Creative Funding, this continues our previous work to support, develop and promote artists’ moving image practices across Scotland, and builds on our work in the Aberdeen area, which began in 2018.

Learn more