The Sensory Attunement Coracle by Ryan Powell


In this new film, Ryan Powell builds a coracle for the River Roding, as an act of ritual:

The Sensory Attunement Coracle is a floating sculpture, experienced from the inside, on your own, on one of the UK’s most polluted waterways, the River Roding. You crawl in through a porthole and are pushed out onto the flowing water. From that point on you give over your autonomy and your attention to the river in a merging of movement and thought. Your journey is directed by the elements: the wind, the currents and the tide and, as you make your slow and meandering way, you tune in to the shifting sonic environment around you and the feeling of your body suspended in space.


The piece is responsive to the River Roding. It was built on its banks and is made mostly from materials that grow there naturally, primarily hazel and reed. The Roding is London’s third largest river but is little known about and suffers from multiple sources of contamination. It has the highest level of ‘forever’ chemicals of any river in the country with concentrations 20 times higher than safety limits. It also suffers from the dumping of sewage and high levels of illegal fly tipping due to its proximity to major roads. My piece aims to encourage people to give care and attention to this neglected waterway. Please check out The River Roding Trust who share this aim and run practical volunteer sessions cleaning up the river.


I see the Sensory Attunement Coracle as a ritual object, the centrepiece of an imagined pagan ceremony: Each spring a coracle king or queen would be chosen through a lottery and  this person given to the river as a symbolic offering. The coracles roof would be adorned with blossom and wild flower, the human offering would then enter the vessel, the roof placed above them and then are pushed out into the water to complete a circular journey: The incoming tide carrying them up river and the ebb bringing them home. I made this journey in the spring of 2023 as the first offering to the Roding. My journey is documented in the film.


Offerings are given in religious ceremony all over the world. Not so much in contemporary western Christianity but certainly in the pre-Christian cultures of the British Isles. An offering is the giving of something that is precious: food, weaponry, an animal’s life or a human life were all given as pagan offerings in the UK. What is offered through the Sensory Attunement Coracle is attention.


As sacrifices go this may seem like a copout but I stand by the preciousness of attention. Humans, (like many other animals), crave attention. Attention means care, love and security. Attention affirms our importance in others eyes and in our own. It also has a literal value in the modern world: our attention makes money and lots of it. Complex mathematical systems have developed around the monetisation of attention. We spend our lives increasingly online which can feel like a cacophony of clamouring for your attention. According to the screen time report my computer generates I spend an average of 6 hours each day looking at the computer screen. If I included the phone screen, my little computer that I gaze at almost as soon as I wake up, this would be even higher.  Mass production has obscured the vast supply chains that go into creating objects, the result is that they carry less symbolic weight as an offering than the metal weaponry that was cast into rivers by the pre-roman Britons. Modern fruits of factory production are interchangeable and forever losing value: I could throw my phone into the river as an offering but perhaps it would be an insult to the gods to offer an iphone 6 and not the latest iphone 14 (latest at the time of writing, I’m sure there is a newer one when you read this). Like weaponry in the past, attention in 21st century western capitalist society has both economic and symbolic value. And so that is what you give through the Sensory Attunement Coracle. You lie down, gazing at the sky through the porthole and giving your attention, as much as possible, to the river and nothing else. The river can’t harvest your data to sell to advertisers but neither could the pagan deities make literal use of a sword or metal shield. The real change is in the person undertaking the ritual. The ritual reaffirms a communities shared values and beliefs and initiates individuals into that system of belief. Perhaps each year’s coracle king or queen should abstain from screen time for a number of days before the float in a kind of preparatory fasting or in the way that priests and priestesses linked to fertility gods in pagan Europe were often celibate.


A word on coracles:


A coracle is a small roundish boat made out of woven wood with a waterproof covering of tarred cloth or animal hide. The term is an anglicised version of the Welsh but is now a coverall term for many traditions of boat building that share these characteristics. There are living traditions of coracle building around the world, and there are regional variations in the UK. They are made from materials that are readily available to rural people, particularly where there were common rights to cut wood, and can be made with just a few simple tools. They have been important to people’s livelihoods for time immemorial, allowing poor rural workers to supplement incomes through fishing, catching eels, poaching and transporting goods and people. The River Severn has a rich tradition of boat making. Coracles in this area had a particular importance as a way of crossing the river without paying the bridge toll and it was said that in the early 20th Century every family along the river bank had a coracle.


The boatmaking tradition that I ended up following is that of the Irish Boyne Curragh, so called because they are made along the River Boyne. This was a practical decision, guided by the availability of wood. Boyne Curraghs are made from hazel and I had access to a decent patch growing on the banks of the Roding.





Ryan Powell is mixed media artist whose work explores the politics of space and the interplay between human action and the natural world.

He is interested in the way that political contestation has shaped the landscapes and spaces we live within. He uses documentary practices such as field recording, oral history interviewing and observational filmmaking as well as experimental video and aural collage techniques as means of revealing histories that have left little behind by way of the visual evidence, histories that must be teased out based on hits and clues in the landscape.

His work has been shown at festivals and events including the International Film Festival of Portugal, unDependance Festival, the International Film Festival of Cape Verde and the London Labour Film Festival where he received the award for best documentary short for Their Land, Our Home. He has produced work for current affairs websites including Novara Media and has undertaken commissions for the University of Cambridge and Swarm Dynamics among others.

He recently completed a moving image installation for the Dean Heritage centre in the Forest of Dean using experimental video collage techniques. See Ryan’s website.

Follow Ryan on instagram at @ryanpowellfilms

Find out more about the work of The River Roding Trust on their website.




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