humans’ flesh is their own, the water belongs to the tribe [1]

Ruthia Jenrbekova on Bodies of Water by Julischka Stengele
Julischka Stengele
© Barbis Ruder
Ruthia Jenrbekova on Bodies of Water by Julischka Stengele

“To disappear into deep water or to disappear toward a far horizon, to become part of depth of infinity, such is the destiny of man that finds its image in the destiny of water.”
Gaston Bachelard

I had a dream about you. It was a wet dream. All dreams are wet, for they are made of fog, molded of mists and evaporations ascending from the depth of the unconscious up to the rippled surface of sensory perception. This surface is deceptive, changeful, flickering, covered with the magic web of caustic patterns. Peer through these patterns  – who do you see there? This is you, of course – who else? – hidden behind the play of lights and shadows, inseparable from the amniotic fluid, yet unable to breathe the air. You are the warm primordial soup, the slime. You are not born yet, but the history of your life will begin very soon. What destiny awaits you? Keep watching. Will you be able to face it without looking away?

The surface ripples again and here you go – a newcomer emerged out of blood-flavored solution. Welcome to the oasis of humanity! For the moment you are so fresh and full of strength in your sporty swimsuit, eager to play the game of life. You will make your way across the sea whose depths keep memories of numerous lives that had been arisen and disappeared long before your birth. So far you’re not discouraged by all those failures. Many have drowned trying to cross that sea, but the bad things only happen to others, don’t they? In any case, it has to be you upon whom the Fortune will smile. Otherwise, what has it all even started for?

That is how you are set off on a human race, exchanging what have you for what have others – water for water, tooth for tooth. You think your thirst can be quenched, as you’re spellbound by a cliché of a decent life taken from an old beauty magazine: a young and healthy body lying down peacefully by the side of a little private pool brimmed with the emerald-blue, crystal-clear water. The pool is glowing with a promise of bliss; it looks so real, so tangible! This is definitely worth giving a try, just reach out your hand… And so you reach out, and start giving away what have you for what have others: water for water. And so you give your saliva and sweet milk to your loved ones, give your bitter tears to your dead ones, and give your salty sweat to those bodies of money that keep you in their global sweatshop, promising you wealth in exchange for unremitting toil. You are seduced by this promise. After all, you’ll get an easy life by the precious emerald pool of your own! And look, here it is – enjoy!

Next moment the ray of light coming from the sky suddenly goes off and the mirage disappears – welcome to the desert of reality! You realize that instead of swimming you’re lying down on the dry ground, pinned to it by the weight of your circumstances, weakness, poverty and sorrow. You thought that your juices and milk, your tears and sweat will help you to attain what you desired for, but eventually you got nothing in exchange. You must feel cheated. Only the desert could tell you the real price of water, and now you know it. It’s priceless, because water doesn’t belong to anyone. As the desert nomads say – your flesh is yours, but your water belongs to the tribe. This is to say, it belongs to all of us who inhabit the little blue planet. The water is shared, not exchanged. And this new knowledge overthrows the old image of human race, where you had to sacrifice parts of yourself for money in order to earn a decent life. You are in the desert – but now you feel that there is an entire ocean inside you.

So you stood there, in my dream, naked and straightened, dignified with the new awareness of who you are: a human being, nothing more than a worthless bag of water, nothing less than a dauntless spirit of fire. You’ve got only something to give without guarantees. And you were spitting your waters out towards the people, releasing a playful fountain graciously, like a whale artist, as if saying – look, I have so much that it is already enough for all.



[1] This is a paraphrase from Frank Herbert’s novel Dune (1965), where the Fremen, nomadic people of the desert, had a saying: “A man’s flesh is his own; the water belongs to the tribe.”


Ruthia Jenrbekova is an artist/researcher from Almaty, Kazakhstan. She works as an interdisciplinary post-studio artist and cultural organizer. Co-founder of the imaginary krёlex zentre institute (together with Maria Vilkovisky). Fields of interest: queer ecologies, material semiotics, performative aesthetics, arts-based methodologies. Currently, she is a PhD-in-practice candidate at the Academy of Fine Arts Vienna. She lives and works in Vienna and Almaty.