Gravity

Truthing Gap

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Truthing Gap
Submersion Dive Training Centre - Oban 2005

Between 2008-10 I was Leverhulme Trust, Artist in Residence at the National Oceanography Centre, Southampton, one of the world's top five oceanographic research institutions, working with sonar geophysicist Dr Tim Le Bas exploring methods of seabed mapping and undersea survey.

The deep seabed constitutes the largest, yet least known environment on the planet, one that is currently subject to rapidly accelerating economic, political and ecological pressures. Problems of depth and visibility mean that undersea surveys are conducted using sonar rather than optically, a circumstance that might be said to place the deep ocean 'beyond' the post enlightenment drive of science to render the world as observable phenomena.

Technically the term 'truthing gap' refers to the necessity to verify sonar data with other findings, here it refers the play of myth, imagination and objectivity, involved in envisaging environments that cannot be directly experienced, probing issues of knowledge production, perception and the nature of the scientific gaze. The work of Dr Le Bas and his colleagues seeks to minimize the challenges posed by such locations to attempts to map them, painstakingly cleaning and re-modeling raw data to achieve recognizable forms. For me this difficulty and the visual practices to which it gives rise are fascinating.

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See also That Oceanic Feeling


Talk

Gave my introductory talk today. Despite my anxieties that my audience might feel alienated by the speculative nature of what I do and the fact that it has little to do with the acquisition of hard data, it seemed to go well. A number of points were raised, prompting discussion about different mapping conventions and the impact of these upon popular perceptions of different areas of land mass - Africa appearing much smaller than it is and Russia much bigger – the later being a significant factor in levels of American cold war paranoia, apparently.

At one point I mention my interest in the possibility of creating a globe, which inverts height and depth. Clive Boulter a structural geologist responded by saying that he frequently uses pseudoscopic techniques or reverse relief as a way of viewing terrestrial features. As he discusses the possibility with Tim of using a similar approach to model undersea environments I feel that I have perhaps in some small way facillitated a conversation that might not otherwise have happened.

Perhaps the most striking discussion was had later on the bus to the station. Bramley Murton was talking about the way in which at depth buoyancy counteracts gravity and how, seeing a small jelly fish swimming along at 30,000 metres below sea level, its tentacles splayed out to the sides, he had been prompted him to reflect on the extent to which while in terrestrial environments the fact that everything finally falls to the ground exerts a primary influence, in undersea environments it has a limited currency.

I am still pondering the implications of this conversation, immediately it made me think of the extent to which the notion of a return to earth fundamentally unpins our myths and beliefs and how profound a shift the idea of being buoyant represents to the ways in which we understand who we are.

A Kingdom of the Vertical

I am reading Jules Verne's 20,000 Leagues under the Sea (1869) - a depth which incidentally far exceeds any that actually exists but refers if translated correctly from the French - sea becomes seas - to the overall distance travelled by the Nautilus submarine.

In Chapters 16 and 17, A Stroll on the Ocean Bed and A Submarine Forest a hunt takes place on the seabed.

Verne describes a number of phenomena: the passage of light and sound through water, the shooting of an albatross from underwater, the sensation of seeing ones own inverted reflection overhead, mimicking every move; the passage of waves from below; which conjure up a world in which the familiar is strangely displaced and distorted. In one section he echoes Bramley’s observations about gravity (see Talk posting) describing plants whose attachment to the seabed amounts to nothing more than the most tenuous of balancing points, the boughs of which grow uncompromisingly upright, un-impinged by the pull of either gravity or wind – ‘a kingdom of the vertical’

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

That Oceanic Feeling

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That Oceanic Feeling

That Oceanic Feeling  John Hansard Gallery - Southampton - 28th Aug - 13th October 2012

The exhibition investigated our relationship to the deep sea - the most remote and inaccessible environment on the planet, combining new and recent works made whilst working alongside geoscientists at the National Oceanography Centre, Southampton, asking what it might mean to look into this otherwise dark space.

Commissioned by the John Hansard Gallery Funded by Arts Council England, Grants for the Arts, University of Wolverhampton 

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That Oceanic Feeling: Exhibition documentation