Creatures of the Lines is an artist film and collaboration with anthropologist Heather Anne Swanson. It explores how desires for economic growth and linear progress has produced straightened forms in England’s watery terrains and asks what risks are associated with the conversion of once-curvy and braided worlds into a linearised landscape.


Drawing on their longstanding research interests and conversations exploring the risks to and in aquatic ecologies with academics from Loughborough University, the film explores how English waterscapes have been transformed via the construction of canals. As arteries of British Empire, canals linked Indian cotton fields to domestic textile mills, facilitating vast ecological transformations from monoculture agriculture in the colonies to industrial discharges in England’s waters, soils, and air– and thus serve as a key site for exploring often-overlooked histories of colonial capitalism and their material presences in contemporary worlds.


Attempting to work from within muddy, submerged sites, rather than from grand narratives or “god’s-eye” viewpoints, the work begins inside canals, telling stories from within the lines. Making use of the open-ended sensibilities of ethnography and natural history, it raises questions about ecological transformations and their ties to infra/structures of global political economy.


Creatures of the Lines (2021) Trailer

Creatures of Lines, (2021) video still

A film by Sonia Levy

In collaboration with Heather Anne Swanson


Cinematography: Sonia Levy

Underwater camera assistant: Yosi Romano

Editing: Sonia Levy, Susanne Dietz and Lara Garcia Reyne

Editing consultants: Sam Smith, Hanna Rullman and Marcus Held

Sound artist: Jez Riley French

Music: Georgia Rodgers

‘Late Lines’: Severine Ballon (cello)

Voice: Gemma Brockis

Chants: "I sing..." adaptation by Sara Rodrigues & Rodrigo B. Camacho



Many thanks to Paul Wood, Simone Guareschi, Sarah Evans, David Ryves, and Daniel Gschwentner (Loughborough Geography Department); Laura Purseglove and David Bell (Radar Loughborough); Gideon Corby, Esther Adelman (Wildlife Gardeners of Haggerston) and Sarah Lo; Timothy Mulligan, Cassie Clarke and Spencer Green (Canal & River Trust); Sara Rodrigues, Roxanna Albayati and Rodrigo B. Camacho (New Maker Ensemble); the research project 'BLUE: Multispecies Ethnographies of Oceans in Crisis' (funded by the Danish Independent Research Fund); along with Sam Smith and Nella Aarne (Obsidian Coast), Anna L.Tsing, Sheila Halsall, Karen Holmberg, Peter Christensen, Line Marie Thorsen, Filip Tydén and members of the Aarhus University EcoGlobal Research Group.


Creatures of the Lines was produced with the support of Radar Loughborough, Aarhus University Ecological Globalization Research Group, and Aarhus University Interacting Minds Centre 2021 Seed Funding


Filmed with the kind permission of the Canal & River Trust

Keyword Glossary

Heather Anne Swanson and Sonia Levy


A (Highly) Partial Field Guide to British Canals: Introducing some processes and beings

was produced to accompany Creatures of the Lines screening on TBA 21 st_age


View and/or download HERE





Waters of Connection: Marine Transport, Introduced Organisms, and Inland Ecologies

Heather Anne Swanson with Sonia Levy


Waters of Connection: Marine Transport, Introduced Organisms, and Inland Ecologies

was produced to accompany Creatures of the Lines screening on TBA 21 st_age


Associate Professor of Anthropology at Aarhus University and Director of the Aarhus University Centre for Environmental Humanities, Heather Anne Swanson describes the tightened relationships between the oceans and the British canals. These infrastructures were introduced as part of the British empire and global shipping commerce in the 17th century. Since then, canals have not merely transformed England’s landscapes and freshwaters as they were fashioned into an effective means to transport goods; they have also become an ecological space where ocean materialities and freshwater lifeworlds merge.


Swanson invites us to question “What may be noticed if we study oceans from inland areas?” – a line of research that has grounded her collaboration in Sonia Levy’s film, Creatures of the Lines.




Listen to the audio essay on the player above or on st_age  website