Serpentine Bridge Commission: KING TIDE

Kaaba_mirror_edit_jj image courtesy of a website called “winds of jihad”

Hans Ulrich Obrist likes to ask all his interviewees about their great unmade – basically, “What project do you wish to do but have never been able to?”

Mine would not be a project. It would have been a summons. To have been able to take Mr. J.G. Ballard to the Gulf before he died. To have shown him all his prophesies wrought real. 

But back to the point of this post: He imagined London under water in The Drowned World.

And cogitating on this vision is the inspiration for my apocalyptic contribution to the Serpentine’s Bridge Commission this year.

It is a short piece of fiction. Please do listen. I hope you find it frightening. 

I call it: King Tide.


Reading courtesy of Sangeeta, the automated siri voice in your OS X machines. 

You can listen and download other audio texts by some brilliant authors here. Including Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie, Luisa Geisler, Valeria Luiselli, Natasha Soobramanien and many others. 

And for the sake of those who might be unable to listen, I’ve posted the text below as well. 

King Tide

By Sophia Al-Maria

The following sound fossil has been exhumed from the future, somewhere in the vicinity of latitude 51° longitude zero.

When we began recovering information from the time-mines, in the form of temporal core-samples, we made a discovery:

all matter is malleable, and in it time can be recorded,

Just as trees keep track of the seasons, diamonds trap the images of their surroundings and even stone can be a tape.

The question is how to best interpret it.

In the case of this sample, it has been sonified, in order to hear the post mordayal sounds of that which is coming.

In the popular askings and graspings of our time, there is one particular known:

our climate cassandras say it again and again:

the king tide is coming!

So stop where you are.

Close your eyes.

And from the lifeboat of now, look down into the depths and see what becomes of this city, our lovely Londinium, our beloved Babylondon,

See, how she has turned into a watery shadow.

Her triumphs and follies the stuff of unsung epics, un spoken legends, wordless poems floating in a manless time.

This place is remnant of no body’s memory, it is the environs of indifferent species, outgrown giga fauna expanding beneath a swelling sun.

Look down, and see the road you are on now.

It is refracted many leagues beneath the surface, Its twists of silver concrete beneath a flickering current. It’s almost pretty. Like many of the roads it is graceful but broken.

A sputter instead of a slide.

Now let us take our vessel under the water, and you will see the bridges of London, great spans stretching over serene gullies. The freshwater Thames now a tropical haze of blue green saline.

Nektonic lurkers watch you from beyond your sight, you progress to the east.

Eventually you come to the white giants of Essex, pride of what was once the largest off-shore windfarm in the world. You paddle through the spokes of the two-hundred and seventine turbines – guardians of an estuary that is now an underwater canyon.

Still brilliant white in the marine half-light, you watch them as they turn, soft and slow and webbed in plastic, They stand as Ironic monuments to the pathetic efforts of our time.

After some while tilting at the windmills, you arrive at a plateau.

It was once a car park for taxi cabs. Now it is a forest of greasy kalp.

Swaying in the circulatory system of the sea. Each vehicle squats like a sprouting bulb, at the base of long thin stems of spilt oil.

You see jellyfish the color of antifreeze.

They make aimless rounds, spreading their larva in an uneven whorl.

These cluster around the clutch and pedals, nurseries in the burst ribcage of a cab driver.

At the abracksial tip of every leaking stamen there is a slick of rainbow grease, toxic pollen for the fishes to collect.

This petro forest, and the tainted jellyfish who haunt it, are a cruel reminder of the jetsam we did not jettison in time. You leave the grove in sorrow.

But know this, right after the deluge – it was human bodies that drifted like so much plankton.

The city became feed for our inheritors, meek organisms of the late anthropicene, blooms of flesh-eating bacteria, aquatic mega rats and mutant roaches now at home in water.

The inhabitants of drowned councils, and sunken tower blocks became inhalable intake, for Shard sized basking sharks.

London, perhaps the most lush city fall on Terra, has a radiant secret at its centre.

Decades-long ecosystems that once sprung up around a whale fall, now thrive for centuries on entire metropolitan sprawls.

Osedax, those bone-eating zombie worms of the abyssal zone, now outsize Big Ben, replacing his rhythm with the billowing pulse of their gigantic gills.

As you descend again at 51 by 0 degrees, you see something glinting, like a beacon.

And you hear it too. Tiny. Warm. Familiar.


There is something breathing beneath the bristle worms. A mammal trapped. Somewhere beyond the hagfish trawling the murk.

And it

is the sonic core of this sample.

And it

is beating.

Sending a warning.

As you draw nearer you begin to understand it is a secret.

A secret you always knew.

One that whispers to you.

the absolution of re-absorption.

the relief of extinction.

the beating heart at the very centre of time.

You knock on its crystal walls. It is hollow.

You wipe the algae scum from the window to see what life is left.


It’s a projection,

a trick,

a holograph cast inside this glass casket,

sunken at the bottom of the post-historic sea.

The core of this fossil is you.

On this day.

At this moment.

In this place.

Heart beating.

Blood coursing.

Oxygen breathing.

But you are not alive.

You, are the illusion of human life.

A homosapian asleep without dreams.

Like you are waiting.


But for what…

For time’s first kiss…

for some caress that isn’t coming?

Open your eyes,

Open them,


One Response to “Serpentine Bridge Commission: KING TIDE”
  1. Sebastian Maria Betancur Montoya says:

    Loved the graphic tidal flow of the text lines at the end of the written version : )

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