Calenture - a leap in to the void

I have received a catalogue from an Australian artist friend, Jo Darbyshire, whose work shares my pre-occupation with undersea worlds - she describes her floating worlds series as concerned with the body in the landscape, sensuality, immersion and imagination

" Although abstract in nature, my paintings reference bodily experience 'moving over' a landscape, …'flying' or 'floating' over mountains or underwater reefs … a bodily 'letting go'; Pleasure."

Reading two downloadable essays written about her work I am struck by Gall Jones's references in The Erotics of Immersion - Responses to Floating Life to Calenture, a kind of fever whereby sailors would imagine the sea to be rolling fields and throw themselves ecstatically into it (a misrecognition she understands in terms of sensual desire). So much so that I have taken the term as the title of a new piece of work, produced as part of Land Use Poetics a group workshop and show in which I have just taken part at The Museum of Sketches, Lund, Sweden, in which I jumped 'blind' from a diving board, in a kind of homage to Yves Klein's Leap into the void

The Area

Speaking with Dr Lindsay Parsons I stumble across one of those terms that keeps on resonating with you  - or at least in an imagination as given to associations as my own - 'The Area'.

I was speaking with Dr Parsons about the processes whereby countries may submit claims to areas of seabed under the United Nations Convention on the law of the Sea.

‘Article 76 of the U.N. Convention on the Law of the Sea provides a mechanism for nations to claim rights to their continental shelf and slope beyond their current EEZ limits. To support claims, nations must present, among other things, bathymetric data establishing the location of the 2,500-meter (about 8,200 feet) depth contour and the foot of the continental slope’.

In gathering information about this process I had already realised that there would inevitably be areas of seabed, which would fall outside of anybody’s direct jurisdiction, but I wasn’t prepared for the fact that the collective term for this is ‘the area’.

Something about this term - reminiscent of an episode of the Prisoner, suggestive of a ‘free’ zone outside of normal limits; as evocative as the Sargasso Sea or Bermuda Triangle - continues to captivate me.

Interestingly, parts of ‘The Area’ can be enclosed by other territorial bodies of water and regions of seabed, as in the Arctic, on maps they appear as a kind of hole in the fabric of things. Immediately my mind is set running as to how such things can be differentiated at sea, the answer is of course through co-ordinates, but never the less the lack of visible, on or under the surface, differentiation, suggests that were one to find oneself wandering across such spaces, no indicators would be evident.

I wonder if at some point in the future rather than using bodies of waters as a means to travel from one territory to another they will in effect become synonymous with them. Giving rise to attempted border crossings of the kind that currently take place between Mexico and the US, necessitating the creation of some kind of seaborne physical border.

In 2,000 leagues under the sea Captain Nemo is a figure who has claimed the sea as his home, protector and domain, taking refuge in its vast, unbounded drifts from the conflicts and tyranny of mankind. Satellite systems such as the Seahorse network, used to police the seas off of the Canary Islands, give the lie however to any contemporay romantic notions of the freedom of the seas  

Talking to Tim he tells me that when he is on a research cruise (yes cruise is the appropriate term) there maybe long periods of time where no passing ships or land are visible, a circumstance which conjures a sense of emptiness and seclusion. Lindsay assures me however that the possibility of one country invading unobserved the undersea territory of another is unfeasible although the possibility of un-attributable pollution spreading from one zone to another is much more of a concern.

Rather than as a free zone ‘The Area’ is conceived of as being maintained and managed for the common good: 

1. No State shall claim or exercise sovereignty or sovereign rights over any part have the Area or its resources, nor shall any State or natural or juridical person appropriate any part thereof.  No such claim or exercise of sovereignty or sovereign rights nor such appropriation shall be recognized

2. All rights in the resources of the Area are vested in mankind as a whole, on whose behalf the Authority shall act.

The resources of which are never the less available for exploration and exploration under licence, the levy going to support developing nations.

‘The effective participation of developing States in activities in the Area shall be promoted as specifically provided for in this Part, having due regard to their special interests and needs, and in particular to the special need of the land-locked and geographically disadvantaged among them to overcome obstacles arising from their disadvantaged location, including remoteness from the Area and difficulty of access to and from it

outline of areas of sea bed subject to current  claims
outline of areas of sea bed subject to current claims


I have been playing around with the Erdas software creating a series of profiles representing an outline of the terrain traversed when journeying from one point on the seabed to another. My first experiments involved a ‘walk’ from Lands End to New York followed by a ‘hike’ down the mid Atlantic Ridge.

The image included here shows the route taken by the Nautilus submarine during its journey of 20,00 leagues, laid out in one sequence. I am thinking about creating panoramas or friezes of some kind using these profiles.

Somewhere in my mind I have the image of the seas peeled away from the earth like the flayed skin of anatomical Ecorche.

I have also been exploring the possibilities offered by cutting out different oceans and extruding them – as in this image  of the Mediterranean (bottom right) - the boot of Italy is visible in the top centre. I am now getting some of these files translated into 3d form using a 3d printer to see what the results look like.

Doing this exercise has brought up the question of where the boundaries lie between one ocean and the other - seemingly they frequently follow the pattern of the undersea plate boundaries and I have considered using these as basis for isolating one from the other. It also occurs to me to make a series of ‘models’, which expand the existing territorial boundaries of different countries to take account of undersea claims they are making, extending Canada for example into the arctic by an additional 750,000 square kilometers

More generally the question of what I might ‘do’ at NOCS is surfacing more frequently. Up until now I have been gathering information, learning new processes, forming contacts etc and this will continue for some while, I need to let the situation work on me, to absorb record and process the information I am being given access to. Tim and I were talking about the work we have done together so far, he was saying how important he felt it was to make a departure from the usual visual conventions of scientific modelling. I agree but at the same time its important to me not to simply produce material, which while it might be aesthetically pleasing, bears no logical or conceptual relationship to the source or context in which it was generated. I want to have a dialogue with something bigger than my own preoccupations or tastes. At the same I keep returning to the conundrum of wanting to give form to something the ineffability of which is precisely what attracts me to it. The scale of the material I am trying to synthesise appears impossible sometimes, making some kind of imaginative, allegrorical reading, which  combines creative license with 'hard' information seem the only appropriate way forward.

Profile of the journey of the Nautilus submarine (from 2000 Leagues under the Sea) - laid out in one sequence
Profile of the journey of the Nautilus submarine (from 2000 Leagues under the Sea) - laid out in one sequence
'cut out' of the Mediterranean
'cut out' of the Mediterranean

Google earth goes underwater

Goggle Earth Goes underwater

This week amid a flurry of media coverage Goggle Earth issues an update, which allows viewers to navigate the deep-sea bed.

My own attempts - clumsy no doubt - to use this facility afford the exhilarating experience - and it is strangely physical  - of crashing down towards and through the sea’s surface into an environment which is strangely reminiscent of some of the undersea scapes I have been producing using the Erdas modelling software

What is strikes me most forcibly is level of visibility it assumes. In parallel I am editing some video footage shot at a depth of between 2,500 to 3,000 metres which makes evident the difficulty of seeing anything beyond that which might be illuminated by the beam of a Remotely Operated Vehicle (ROV) (an area of approx 9-16 sq metres). No horizon is visible confounding immediately one of the primary pictorial conventions of landscape. The other surprise perhaps is the constant stream of snow like debris that falls  through the water to rest on the bottom and which as soon as it is touched swirls up dramatically, obscuring the view. For me this powerfully evokes the depth involved while for the scientists I am working with it is a source of extreme frustration .

I remember when I was producing work in response to the site of a wrecked boat at Prawle Point  in Devon, putting the camera (see Above and Below this page) in waterproof a housing and allowing the tide to animate the camera as a means to embed within the work a trace of the circumstances in which it was made. By the same token this dark, awkward, footage excites me because of the echo it offers of the physical the space of the deep sea bed and the resitance it offers  to  the attemtp of the camera to reveal it.

Sitting in the video archive at National Oceanography Centre watching this footage I am awed by the hours and hours of tape held there, all of which must be painstakingly logged. I read the entries which record sightings of a purple anemone, small sponge, vase bug etc In this world, which is so vast and lacking in familiar landmarks a mussel shell serves as an provides an important point of orientation

Returning to Goggle Underwater I find myself thinking about the virtual world it conjures and the ways in which this in turn shapes our perception of the actual world. I can’t help feeling that despite the wealth of data on which it draws, Goggle Underwater represents a making of the world in our image, which is as much scenic as it is scientific.

Video shot at a depth of  2,500 - 3, 000 metres  Video
Video shot at a depth of 2,500 - 3, 000 metres
Google Earth Ocean floor
Google Earth Ocean floor
Footage shot with remotely operated vehicle - mid atlantic 3,000.00 metres  Video
Footage shot with remotely operated vehicle - mid atlantic 3,000.00 metres

turning the world inside out

I have begun to learn the software Tim Le Bas, the scientist with who I am working, uses to model bathymetric data. I start with a map of the world, reversing the usual blue /green coloring of land and sea and going on to reverse height and depth. At one point I transform the Himalayas into a void – even then its hard to conceive of the fact that if Challenger Deep was turned inside out it would tower a mile higher than Everest!

Circling above the globe it is possible to change your viewpoint at will, turning the world upside down in a second, its amazing though how, once the familiar, western centric viewpoint of the Americas, Europe and Africa is displaced, hard it is to orientate at all. Left to my own devices I manage to produce a set of strange exaggerated, psychedelic landscapes, which look like covers for a Yes album. These and other experiments can be seen on the Maps/Models page

Reverse map of the world
Reverse map of the world