Charissa Turner

"Hypoxic Medias"

Section MS13, Rosa Whiteley

Keywords: water

In 1904, the chalk stream tributaries of the River Stour in Kent were in excellent health. The web of dependencies between floral and faunal species produced an ecosystem of minute balance. Tightly interwoven within this ecology was the Ephemeroptera, more widely known as the Mayfly. More than a century on, these chalk streams have experienced years of agricultural capitalism in the form of water abstraction, dredging and fertiliser runoff. As a result, new hypoxic environments in the drying chalk streams have caused the Mayfly life cycle to shift. Algae blooms and drying riverbeds produce a mosaic landscape of life and death, wet and dry. Utilising the hydrophilic and hydrophobic properties within the process of Lithography, Hypoxic Medias captures this shifting ecology in the changing environment of the zinc plate. Just as a lack of water creates hypoxic environments down river: excess dryness in the printing plate was allowed to develop, slowly abstracting the original image of a healthy chalk stream. The preparation of the zinc plate has been preserved, representing the chalk streams’ evolved ecological exactitude. Interfering with the time window between wetting the plate and inking, the plate is allowed to dry slightly, making areas more vulnerable to ink sticking— which disrupts the image of the stream. Multiple iterations of this process have produced a timeline of change. The blurriness and splotches created by this hypoxic media are not a form of damage or emptyness, but instead create a new image of the landscape in flux. Similarly, the shifted states of the chalk stream should not be viewed only as damaged, but also as new environments within the wider river system. These landscapes will not return to their 1904 states, therefore maybe we should learn to accept, not reject, these altered landscapes. This research has been explored through an ecofeminist lens. The ecofeminist stance of man’s desire to control nature relates to the hierarchy that places capitalism above the health of the chalk streams and ecological communication. It also relates to river abstraction, dredging and plant trimming, indicating man’s need to control nature directly as it is perceived as ‘too wild’. Pursuing the idea of excess leading to scarcity and the lifecycle of Mayfly, Elizabeth Povinelli offers interesting theories. Povinelli speculates on life and death in her book Geontologies: A Requiem to Late Liberalism, which questions the binaries of these states. She puts forward the idea that something doesn’t die and become obsolete, it instead becomes something new, such as the Mayfly becoming nutrients for other species; the dead Mayfly leads to life and therefore is life. These meta-binaries are part of a cycle, continuously reproducing each other. Perhaps the hypoxic chalk stream has simply changed its cyclic state, incorporating human intervention; it has not become a ‘dead zone’.

Selected Bibliography: Jacobus, L.M., Macadam, C.R. and Sartori, M. (2019) ‘Mayflies (ephemeroptera) and their contributions to ecosystem services’, Insects, 10(6), p. 170. doi:10.3390/insects10060170 Macadam, C. (2011) The Mayfly’s lifecycle: A fascinating, Fleeting story, The Freshwater Blog. Available at:
Povinelli, E.A. (2016) Geontologies a Requiem to late liberalism. Durham, UK: Duke University Press Books. Rosenburg, L. (2022) Agricultural pollution triggers toxic algal blooms, an environmental hazard, Green Matters. Available at: Unknown (2022) Organophosphates - all you need to know, Available at: