Leanne Shapton's Swimming Studies charts a life spent in the water, from Olympic hopeful to recreational bather. A collection of personal essays, interspersed with abstract watercolours, portraits, and in one chapter, a series of black and white photos that catalogue her collection of swimming costumes as if for a museum archive, it is simultaneously joyful and an infusion of longing.
Just as Shapton remarks after watching countless YouTube videos and documentaries about professional swimmers, that it's the minutiae of their lives that sticks with her, 'the interiors, the kitchens, the glasses of milk, a swimmer eating dinner from a plate set atop a television set, lamplight, parents, teal duvets, socks on staircases, and carpeted hallways', so it is with Swimming Studies. The 4am starts, driving in the blue-black early mornings to swim practice; the laundered scent of a borrowed towel; the absentminded touch of a rival team mate's hand on her shoulder: Shapton gathers the sights, sounds and smells of her life, and filtering them through chlorine-steeped water, seeks to better understand herself and her history.
A Bigger Splash
The title a reference to the David Hockney painting of the same name, that depicts a splash in a swimming pool but not the person who made it, Luca Guadagnino's psychological and erotic thriller stars his longtime collaborator, Tilda Swinton, as Marianne Lane, a rockstar recovering from vocal surgery at a stylish villa on the tiny island of Pantelleria with her boyfriend Paul. When their romantic idyll is interrupted by a visit from Harry and his daughter Pen, the apparent still water of the opening scenes quickly reveals its undercurrents.
Based on the 1969 film La Piscine, directed by Jacques Deray, A Bigger Splash is darker, and ultimately more unsettling. More than alluding to the ongoing migrant crisis, it neither ignores the implications of setting the story on a Mediterranean island with a long history of processing slaves, nor downplays the realities of our current cult of celebrity.
As much of a feast for eyes, ears, and mind as Guadagnino's I Am Love and Call Me By Your Name, as always Swinton says it best: “Luca conducts a film as he might a piece of music played by a widely spaced and wild-hearted orchestra. His eye for detail is everywhere.”
Kenwood Ladies' Pond
You swim quickly, your breath a pant as your body adjusts to the shock of the water. Soon this eases: now you look around. A canopy of leafy trees, dandelion seeds floating in the air; coffee-coloured water; two women softly chatting, side by side on the other side of the water. Birds above, and a muffled shriek as someone jumps in for the first time. This is Kenwood Ladies' Pond.
One of three swimming spots on Hampstead Heath, people have swam here for over 200 years. Open year round, some swim everyday. It is their morning meditation, an essential daily ritual. They speak of freedom, confidence, euphoria, and most often, the women of the Ladies' Pond speak about connection.
Often described as a solitary pursuit, swimming here is different, a collective experience. Reading up on the history, the notes of a documentary currently being made about the ponds explains: 'According to one of our swimmers, Russians have an expression that captures the ponds' appeal. 'Zhiyaya yoda' literally means 'living water' – the idea that everyone who swims in a body of water contributes to its essence.' This seems just right.