Instructions for Being Water: a Performance Score

Composed by JuPong Lin and Devora Neumark PhD, Fierce Bellies Collective[1] founders--in collaboration with Seitu Jones.

IMG_0210 painterly water.jpg

NOTE TO READER: This is a live art performance score.[2] The authors invite you to adapt the instructions to suit your conditions.

1.     Study the entire script, including the endnotes, before enacting this performance

2.     Find at least three other people with whom you are willing to make kinship

3.     Gather materials (print score on waterproof cloth)

4.     Make your way to the nearest ocean[3], at low tide

5.     Acknowledge the Indigenous Peoples of the place you choose

6.     Give thanks to your ancestors whose migrations (forced or otherwise) have brought you to this place

7.     Step into the water and open your senses

8.     Notice the temperature of the water, the smell of the air, the touch of your feet

9.     Listen with your entire being

Voice #1: (sound of the water)

Voice #2: (sound of your breath and heartbeat)

Voice #3: (sound of winged and four-legged beings)

Voice #4: (sound of wind)

Voice #5: (all performers voice the question below)

How do your people call the ocean? (Non-English languages welcome).  Lín ê lâng án-tsuánn kiò hài-iûnn? (Taiwanese Hokkien)

All voices: (a chorus of above voices)

10.  While in the water, someone from the group speak the following letter out loud:

Original French

Bonjour Devora

Je t'écris depuis le Nord du 50e parallèle.

Chaque jour, c'est l'eau du Golfe qui passe d'abord me saluer avant de te faire signe à toi qui samedi lira cette lettre, à 1 000 kilomètre du monde boréal dans lequel je vis depuis deux ans.

Samedi, comme promis, l'eau passera d'abord par ici.

Samedi, je mettrai ma ligne à pêche à l'eau, à l'embouchure de la Mishtashipu (prononcer : "michetachébo"), de la Grande (Mishta) Rivière (shipu), là où la rivière, la Moisie, se jette dans le Golfe du Saint-Laurent pour l'accompagner dans sa puissance.

Samedi, je me tiendrai à la pointe de ce territoire magnétique où se croisent les courants les plus contradictoires.

Les Innus sont les gardiens du Nitassinan (prononcer "nitassinanne"), de la Terre-Mère. Historiquement, la Moisie constituait le lieu de rassemblement des Innus, des derniers nomades qui venaient chaque été y camper pour pêcher et fumer le saumon, pour y récolter les petits fruits, en faire provision pour l'hiver.

Samedi, il y aura certainement sur la plage quelques familles de Uashat ou de Mani-utenam. Les Mamans s'assoiront sur leur glacière Canadian Tire avec leur café de chez Tim Horton et riront de bon coeur en attendant le moment propice pour lever le grand filet à saumon tendu à 500 mètres de l'embouchure. Samedi, il y aura plein de petits enfants bronzés qui pousseront des cris de joie en se baignant tout nus dans la Mishtashipu.

Samedi, je lancerai ma ligne dans cette eau nomade qui à chaque marée ramène vers ses grèves des épaves boisées qui font signe du Nitassinan : là où les épinettes noires sont la dentelle de la Terre.

Samedi, je me nourrirai de ce temps-là que j'aurai enfin à moi, pour moi, en regardant flotter ces dentelles d'eau douce qui bientôt deviendront salées, océaniques.

Samedi, l'omble de fontaine ou encore l'anguille décideront peut-être de faire mon souper.

Samedi, sur le bord de la Moisie, je me poserai et me reposerai. L'eau passe d'abord par ici.


[Free Translation]

Hello Devora,

I am writing from north of the 50th parallel.

Saturday you will read this letter: every day it is the water of the Gulf, which first passes to greet me that will come your way, 1,000 kilometers from the boreal world in which I’ve lived for the past two years. Saturday, as promised, the water will pass first through here.

Saturday, I will put my fishing line at the mouth of the Mishtashipu (pronounced "michetachébo"), from the Grande (Mishta) River (shipu), where the river Moisie flows into the Gulf of St. Lawrence to accompany its power.

Saturday, I will stand at the tip of this magnetic territory where the most contradictory currents cross.

The Innu are the guardians of Nitassinan (pronounced "nitassinanne"), of Mother Earth. Historically, the Moisie was the gathering place of the Innu, the last nomads who came here every summer to camp, to fish and smoke the salmon, to harvest the berries, to stock up for the winter.

Saturday, there will most certainly be some families from Uashat or Mani-utenam on the beach. The Moms will sit on their Canadian Tire coolers with their Tim Horton coffee sand laugh heartily while waiting for the great salmon net stretched 500 meters from the mouth of the river. Saturday, there will be plenty of tanned little children who will shout for joy while bathing naked in the Mishtashipu.

Saturday, I will launch my line in this nomadic water, which at each tide brings back wooden wrecks, which signal Nitassinan: where the black spruce is the lace of the Earth.

Saturday, I will feed on that time that I will finally have to me, for me, watching these bits of floating lace of fresh water that will soon become salty, oceanic.

Saturday, the brook trout or the eel may decide to make my supper.

Saturday, on the edge of the Moisie, I will self-reflect and rest. The water first passes through here.

[Valérie Gill, from Letters to the Water, August 2015]


11.  Watch for the changing tide

12.  Smell the salt in the air

13.  Wade deeper into the water

“I grew up fishing on weekends with my father and uncles in the Twin Cities lakes. I learned to appreciate the form, lines & functions of boats... and studied wooden boat building with a focus on African watercraft.”

[Seitu Jones, January 2017]

14.  Share stories about your first experience in a boat

15.  While in the water, someone else from the group speak the following poem out loud:

From across the ocean, and many miles of mountains

and valleys, I fold, unfold, refold, shrinking the divide between

my home on Turtle Island and my birthplace –

Tâi-uân; between the Japanese empire and occupied Taiwan,

an island someone called "mudball in the sea." [4]

My mother called it a speck, a booger picked from the nostril of China.

[JuPong Lin, from 1000 Gifts of Decolonial Love, April 2017]


16.  Immerse yourself fully

17.  Taste the salt on your lips

18.  Spot for bald eagles and other birds of prey

19.  Pay homage to the lives lost at sea

Voice #1: (bonded through the Middle Passage)

Voice #2: (while yearning for safe harbour)

Voice #3: (extinguished by swallowed plastic or covered in oil)

Voice #4: (displaced by the rising seas)

Voice #5: (choked off from water by imperial expansion)

All voices: (a chorus of above five voices)

20.  Someone from the group speak the following letter out loud:

Dear Water: The Blackfoot work Kiitohksin means “that which sustains us.” Not just the things that sustain us but the relationships & everything intangible we rely on (& that rely on us). We haven’t lived up to this vision of the world; we have abused you & our relationship with you. But this is not an apology; it’s a promise. In this time of reconciliation, mending partnerships starts with you – that which sustains us & binds us & creates us.

We are water & we must heal ourselves.

[Liam Haggerty, from Letters to the Water, October 2016]

21.  Retreat back to shore

22.  Sit facing the open sea, a foot from the water’s edge

23.  Be present to the changing tide

24.  When the water washes over your knees, someone else from the group speak the following poem out loud:

Black-tipped, wide-spread wings like the lost Siberian crane

that landed in the fields of farmer Huang Jheng-jun this June,[5]

first sighting ever in Taiwan.

The farmer named his rice in honor of

this new apple-snail-eating helper friend--Jin Ho.


This great-winged celebrity of critical endangerment,

Majesty shielding its home from pesticide drenching.

Enough beauty to keep alive its relatives?


Fold, unfold, fold a prayer for the Siberian crane,

the most critically endangered of the 11 sister cranes,

pushed closer to extinction every warming year,

their marshy homes drained for farming,

their existence made precarious by

the rising heat of insatiable pumps, sucking black gold

out of sacred soil; blue gold from watersheds,

our earthly commons.

[JuPong Lin, from 1000 Gifts of Decolonial Love, April 2017]

25.  Wade along the water’s edge

26.  Find a place where the water licks your hips

27.  With your mind, draw up qi from the water through your legs, lower dantyan, mingmen, upper dantyan, head, and into the sky

28.   With your mind, draw down qi from the sky through your legs, lower dantyan, mingmen, upper dantyan, head, and into the water

29.  Dive into deeper water, immersing your body fully, facing down

30.  Float and hold your breath for as long as you can

31.  When everyone has re-surfaced, listen to each other breathe

32.  Below the surface, form a qi ball between your hands[6]

As you would on a cold day to warm your hands, rub them together while resting your attention on the feeling of your qi or life force. Feel the energy in each of your hands and also the connection between them. This may be subtle at first so your awareness may need to be heighted. Once you feel that your hands are warm and you can sense the qi, slowly begin creating space between them, keeping your palms, fingers and thumb parallel to each other in a relaxed gesture. Alternate bringing your hands closer and further apart in a slow and steady rhythm to further awaken your sensitivity to the qi (but don’t let your hands touch when you bring them together). Notice if you feel heat or an energetic flux between your palms.


33.  Expand the qi ball send the qi across the water to find where it connects with the shore nearest your heartland

34.  While in the water, someone from the group speak the following letter out loud:

Original French

Eau de la Terre

Eau de l'Univers

Eau de la peine

Eau qui coule dans les veines

Eau de la joie

Eau que je bois




Sur la Terre et dans nos coeur

Merci de m'apporter la vie


[Free Translation]

 Water of the Earth

Water of the Universe

Water of heartbreak

Water that flows through the veins

Water of Joy

Water that I drink




On Earth and in our hearts

Thank you for bringing me life


[Roxane Poulin, from Letters to the Water, August 2015]

35.  When the water rises above your waist, someone else from the group speak the following poem out loud:

Ancestral memory, manual memory, muscle knowledge, plant medicine,

animal relations, sun-moon, yin yang[7] cycles,

always moving like salty waves, falling rising, folding-unfolding

into infinite timelessness,

a beak enfolds a reversal, enfleshes cultural memory,

unfolds a revolutionary chorus of all beings.


Fold for Bikini Atoll

Still scarred by US nuclear weapons testing,

Pu'uloa, Oahu, renamed Pearl Harbor by US occupiers,

Turtle island where indigenous resurgence calls on

Islanders everywhere to stand in solidarity.


[JuPong Lin, from 1000 Gifts of Decolonial Love, April 2017]

36.  Immerse yourself fully in the water a third time

37.  Follow the tide to shore

38.  Consider building a boat

39.  Link arms and face the open shore

40.  Listen to each other breathe

41.  Follow the breath in and out of your body, breathing into each other’s bodies

42.  Open your pores

43.  Teach one another how to save a life

44.  Retreat to shore

45.  Sit at water’s edge

46.  Speak the following letter out loud:

Original French

Chère eau,

Je t’aime. Je t’aime parce que tu es mon symbole de résistance. Tu t’infiltres, tu t’enrages, tu te calmes, tu résistes, tu aspires, tu propulses, tu nourris, tu abreuves, tu nettoies, tu transportes, tu protèges, tu coules, tu tombes et tu t’élèves.

Tu es puissante et indomptable, je t’aime.

[Free translation]

Dear water,

I love you. I love you because you are my symbol of resistance. You infiltrate, you enrage, you calm, you resist, you aspire, you propel, you nourish, you quench thirst, you clean, you transport, you protect, you flow, you fall and you rise.

You are powerful and indomitable; I love you.

[M-A Poulin, from Letters to Water, August 2015]

47.  Draft a letter of gratitude to the water and read it out loud

48.  In repose, sense your openings, your pores

49.  When the skin on your neck feels dry, someone speak the following letter out loud:

Thanks to a gathering of molecules most extraordinary. A delicate balance of two tiny atoms dancing around a larger one. Millions of groupings moving and changing and holding together.  An attraction that makes life possible. Thank you for your movement.

[Andrea Mackay, from Letters to the Water, August 2015]


50.  Study this image.[8]

51.  Consider the Salt March: After nearly 400 km, upon arriving at the coastal city of Dandi in April 1930, Gandhi and thousands of Indians illegally collected salt from the seaside as a symbolic act of defiance against the British Raj.

52.  Ask yourself: What is my Salt March?

53.  Post traces of your being water to:


54.  Repeat as necessary



[1]  The Fierce Bellies collective locates the launch of this composition in Musqueam, Squamish and Tsleil-Waututh unceded and traditional First Nations territory, currently known as Vancouver, BC. We also acknowledge the Indigenous peoples of our current home places: Nipmuc lands now called Massachusetts; Kanien’keha:ka – unceded Mohawk traditional territory –  a place which has long served as a site of meeting and exchange amongst nations; and the home of the Dakota, where the Twin Cities began at the confluence of two rivers is Oheyawahi or “a hill much visited.”


We propose instructions for being water, instructions rooted in holistic thinking and oneness, in alignment with Chinese and Taiwanese, Jewish Kabbalistic, African American and Indigenous traditions and practices. We write as a team of artist-researchers, in synchrony with a team of climate scientists who today issued a warning that humanity has only three years to dramatically lower greenhouse emissions “or face the prospect of dangerous global warming” (Ian Johnston, 2017). They said “entire ecosystems” were “already beginning to collapse, summer sea ice was disappearing in the Arctic and coral reefs were dying from the heat” (Christina Figueres, Hans Joachim Schellnhuber, Gail Whiteman, Johan Rockström, Anthony Hobley, and Stefan Rahmstorf, 2017). In our desire to contribute to a radical alternative to the widespread eclipse of the truth about interconnectivity, we – the Fierce Bellies collective – lean towards each other and again outward. We invite new kinships and invoke ways of living and being to counter the current patterns of destruction[1] stemming from the colonialist dualistic thinking that creates a sense of separation and otherness.


[2] “I saw scores as a way of describing all such processes in all the arts, of making process visible and thereby designing with process through scores. I saw scores also as a way of communicating these processes over time and space to other people in other places at other moments and as a vehicle to allow many people to enter into the act of creation together, allowing for participation, feedback, and communications.” Lawrence Halprin. The RSVP Cycles; Creative Processes in the Human Environment (New York: G. Braziller, 1969), pp 1-3.


[3] “Zitkala-Ša was born in 1876, on the Yankaton Reservation, south of what is now the Standing Rock reservation. When she was eight years old, she was taken away from her mother and sent to a boarding school in Indiana.


After spending three years at White’s Manual Labor Institute, Zitkala-Ša returned home to her mother on the reservation. She found her mother living in poverty. Her brother, who had also been educated in the boarding schools, had been fired from his job with the Indian Bureau and replaced by a white man, because he had advocated for his people in some small matter. Zitkala-Ša also discovered that white settlers were occupying her tribal lands through a policy called “allotment.” In 1887, Congress passed the Dawes Act, which redistributed tribal land, which had been held communally, to individual American Indians. This had the effect of weakening tribal unity, which of course was the point.


The same forces at work in Zitkala-Ša’s life are at work in the Dakota Access Pipeline: white supremacy, capitalism, and colonialism. While American Indians have been physically colonized, the forces of capitalism and white supremacy have colonized all of our minds and hearts. These two forces have such power over our thoughts, so deep rooted are their assumptions, which it is nearly impossible for us to imagine any other way of being. How are we to live differently? Zitkala-Ša’s life story suggests a possible answer. Today, the Dakota Access Pipeline is both a physical manifestation of that colonization, as well as a spiritual symbol of the colonization of our minds and hearts by capitalism and white supremacy.


[4] Keliher, Macabe, and Yonghe Yu. Out of China or Yu Yonghe’s Tale of Formosa: A History of Seventeenth-Century Taiwan (Taipei: SMC Publishing Inc, 2004).


[5] “Rare Crane a Boost to Taiwan’s Troubled Wetlands,”, accessed August 28, 2016,


[6] “Qi is simultaneously what makes things happen in stuff and – depending on context – stuff that makes things happen or stuff in which things happen.” Smith, Richard J. The “I Ching”: A Biography. Lives of Great Religious Books (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 2012) 44.


[7] “It is worth noting here that the moon also signifies water, the yin. Water bears live-giving power. Several myths describe women who become pregnant by touching water.” Robin Wang. Yinyang: The Way of Heaven and Earth in Chinese Thought and Culture (New Approaches to Asian History 11. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2012).


[8] Unknown. 1930. English: Gandhi at Dandi, South Gujarat, Picking Salt on the Beach at the End of the Salt March, 5 April 1930. Behind Him Is His Second Son Manilal Gandhi and Mithuben Petit.