WE'RE ALL WATER // Marianne Dages

01 Nov 2018 12:00 AM | Susan Viguers (Administrator)

I had a dream I was fishing for words. Feet in the water, I stood on the shore, cast a line, and pulled up words from the incoming waves. The words took the form of long, unbroken recitations sounded out into the wind. If I kept speaking, the word flow continued. If I stopped, the line went slack. This idea of words in, or as, water lingered with me, as a metaphor for the obscurity of language’s sources. 

Artists’ books upend our expectations of narrative and structure. In my opinion, the most interesting artists’ books subvert their own traditions as well. Word Rain by Madeline Gins is one such work; a treatise on the germination and perception of text in the guise of contemporary fiction. Reading Word Rain is like reading a book that has become sentient and is looking at itself. With mathematical grace, Gins blurs the boundary between writer, reader, written, and read. Rain, vapors, and mists are referenced throughout the text to emphasize the fluidity of the book’s modalities and our relationship to its changing states.

The book ends with two sentences, declaring these two concepts to be one and the same. 

The body is composed of 98% water.

This page contains every word in the book. 

1. “It’s raining in the ocean.”

Reading is a loss of borders, a loss of self. When the reader is reading, they are gazing into a mirroring pond, encircled by an enveloping mist. Two eyes move across the pond’s face, or words on a page, and gather the reflected light. The reader shifts their gaze, right to left, left to right, across the fluctuating words. Thoughts bubble to the surface as they do. The reader is captivated and continues to stare, unaware a soft rain has begun to fall, the mist is strengthening, and the reader’s body has become diffuse. The reader becomes a mirror in an empty room.

This summer I read The Sea Around Us, a book published in 1951 in which Rachel Carson described a then new technology called sonar. Sonar works by emitting sound waves that reflect back when an object is encountered. In its early days, scientists were confounded by readings that seemed to indicate the presence of a “phantom bottom” that rose and fell. The false ocean bottom was in fact millions of swimming fish as yet undiscovered to the human eye. This “living cloud” had created the illusion of solidity where echoing the sonars call (Carson, 40-41). I picture the phantom fish as words yet to be formed, their scales glittering beneath the still reflecting pond.

2.During the cleaving something becomes apparent and something remains blank.”

As I write, I am reading. I stare into a computer screen; a reflective glass masking fathomless information below. Occasionally, I catch my reflection in its mutable skin but am otherwise detached and removed. I lose track of where I am and how the words got there, yet experience a heightened alertness as I reach for the next word and the next thought. It’s a paradoxical sensation of depth and reflection, tactility and disintegration. Gins employed the verb to cleave to describe the simultaneous feeling of joining and separating, referring to as it the “‘material’ of thought itself” (Helen Keller, 285).

Setting type, I am particularly aware that letters begin and end as slivers of metal held in the hand. That they are gathered from their cases and strewn back in, again and again. It’s in the unseen moment of contact between ink, metal, and paper that these ligatures and lines transcend their physicality to become the vapor of thought. When I write, I use the same letters as you - ABCDEFGHIJKLMNOPQRSTUVWXYZ - yet our work is different, due to the moment of cleaving that binds letters into word bodies and releases them as incorporeal thoughts. I think of the cloud drawing moisture from the ocean, growing heavy, and falling as rain. I think of the rain becoming the ocean, becoming moisture and the cloud that draws it up again. I think of my body, made of 98% water, standing in the water and of our words and their cycles and their endless returns. 

3: An Equation for Madeline Gins

(artist’s book) -? = book

book - words = blank book 

(blank book) - (thread, glue, fabric, leather) = paper

paper - water = cellulose

cellulose - carbon = H₂0



The sound of an exhale on a cold day. 


in the steam

of breath 

on glass

marks = letters = words = thoughts

thoughts = words = letters = marks


The title of this essay is quoted from Yoko Ono’s poem “Water Talk,” written in 1967 and the song “We’re All Water” by John & Yoko/Plastic Ono Band, 1972.

The cloud and “Dry Tongue” images are scanned and altered from Sverre Petterson, Introduction to Meteorology (New York: McGraw Hill, 1941).

“It’s raining in the ocean” is quoted from the first page of Word Rain.

“During the cleaving....” is quoted from page 13 of Helen Keller or Arakawa.

Carson, Rachel L. The Sea Around Us. New York: Oxford University Press, 1951.
Gins, Madeline. Helen Keller or Arakawa. New York: Burning Books, 1994.

____________ Word Rain. New York: Grossman Publishers, 1969.

Marianne Dages is an artist who writes and publishes books under the name Huldra Press. She lives and works in Philadelphia, PA and has been thinking a lot about water. 


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