Sublime

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


Modern Hellespont

Modern Hellespont - video  Video
Modern Hellespont - video

This footage was shot at the Ideal Home exhibition and then re-edited. I am still fascinated by the endless character of the swimmer's endeavour, something that connects to some of my earlier performance works exploring the nature of tasks, often domestic in character, which of necessity must be repeated time and time again.

The other aspect of this piece by which I am preoccupied is the design of the pool itself - shaped to enhance the artificially generated current against which the swimmer is pitted, it has a geological dimension to it and has I think subliminally influenced both the work I am now doing with sea bed mapping and also the architectural models that form part of the submersion series.

The approach of the crowd to the edge of the tank, conjurers up the image of a 19th century fairground attraction, featuring the 'maiden in the tank', or something similar.

Hellespont is the former name of the Dardanelles, the strait of water that separates Europe from Asia. Legend has it that Leander would swim across nightly to meet with his beloved Hero who would light a lamp at the top of her tower to guide his way. One night the wind blew out Hero's light and Leander was drowned. Hero threw herself from the tower in grief and died as well. The poet, Lord Byron became the first known person to swim the Hellespont in 1810.


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Truthing Gap: Photos

The Submersion Series: Marshall St

Marie Tharp

At coffee break someone mentions Marie Tharp describing her as an ‘artist who drew sections of the seabed’. Further research uncovers a cartographer and geologist, working in the fifties - a time when women were not allowed onto research vessels, who with a pen, ruler and data collected by her colleague, oceanographer Bruce Heezen, plotted the Mid-Oceanic Ridge, a line of undersea mountains that run along the sea bed between Europe/Africa and the Americas. An undertaking that laid the foundations for theories of plate tectonics and continental drift which were controversial until well into the 1960’s.

‘She wondered whether the depression was evidence of a continuous rift - a crack in the world - down the middle of the ridge. And … in turn whether that rift might be evidence of what scientists now call seafloor spreading, popularly known as continental drift. She and Mr. Heezen argued about it. She threw erasers and bottles of ink at him. It took him some time to come around. “I discounted it as girl talk and didn’t believe it for a year”

Many of the tributes to Tharp, who died in 2006, emphasize her fiery nature and powerful intuition observations which charecterise her achievements in a way that it is hard to imagine happening to a man, the later offering never the less a point of reference for my own less than rational approach.

Banff

  • Banff - Storms
  • Banff - Nightpool
  • The Submersion Series
Banff

These images were made in 2007 during a residency on the theme of 'imaginary Places' at Banff Arts Centre, Canada. They are primarily concerned with the ambiguous nature of the water's surface.

As compared to the first set of images in the submersion series - shot at Tair Lair tidal pool in Scotland - in which a female figure offers a counterpoint to the landscape, suggestive of an interior space, here the body of the viewer provides an echo for the emptiness of the pool.


Tair Lair

  • Images
Tair Lair

Series of photographs taken at a tidal swimming pool Aberdeenshire


Banff: Banff - Storms

Banff: Banff - Nightpool

Tair Lair: Images

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.

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

Mean of the earth

Tim continues teaching the 3D modelling software he uses. Today our source was a bathythemetic map of the world. While showing me various functions he pointed out that the programme had calculated that in approximate terms the mean height / depth - depending on how you view it - of the Earth's surface is 1424 metres below sea level!

A statistic which for a moment held us both rapt, bringing home afresh the extent to which the sea, rather than earth, dominates the surface of the planet.

The most common height above sea level is 85 metres and the least 3,3800 metres below.

s[H]elf II

s[H]elf II
Residency and Exhibition: La Chambre Blanche, Quebec City, Canda. 1999

Reasoning Backwards

Reasoning Backwards
Exhibited: Dartington Arts Devon 2000

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

Truthing Gap: MAPPING exhibition  (Nov 13th - Dec 11th 09)

A series of works in progress, generated at the National Oceanography Centre, as Leverhulme Artist in Residence, exhibited as part of a group show on Mapping at Howard Gardens Gallery, University of Wales Institute. 

Each marks an attempt to engage with processes of representing the undersea world while providing a counterpoint to the virtual and optical emphasis of scientific methods. Seeking ways of 'knowing', centred upon the imagination, desire, the body and touch, capable of resisting the separation of subject and object demanded by the use of observation as a way of encountering the world.

MAPPING exhibition  (Nov 13th - Dec 11th 09): Text

A New Set of Borders for the Kingdom uses geological and political data (deploying the same modelling programmes as the oceanographers I am working with) to reveal the underwater borders of the UK, while refering also to the current territorial undersea expansion of many nation states. For my scientific colleagues this kind of 3D dimensional map, which differs significantly from the 2d and screen based representations with which they are familiar, has prompted a new awareness of the different ways in which the movement of water and air determine topography.

By contrast to dive, to fall, to float, to fly while reminiscent of corporeal and geological forms has no actual geographic referent. Shaped by the tug of gravity, it conjures a space that pulls similarly at our imagination, both drawing and threatening.

Composed of 10,923.00 metres of string, enough to reach the bottom of the deepest surveyed point on Earth, Challenger Deep, A sailor went to sea, sea, sea, to see what he could see, see, see and all that he could see, see, see, was the bottom of the deep blue sea, sea, sea functions as another kind of index, offering a measure of both the distance involved and a trace of the near 2100,00 circuits of the space I walked while laying it out.

Similarly each of the 10-plaster reliefs that make up Ten Atlantic Days, the outlines of which were generated by a pen, hung by a thread from the table of my cabin aboard the RRS James Cook, offer a record of the motion of the sea over an 8-hour period on ten different days. Inspired in part by William Moon's embossed maps for the blind, they operate as kind of fingerprint making the otherwise invisible, tangible.

A freeze frame of a different sort is provided by the process of firing two handfuls of silt, collected from 4,000.00 metres below sea level in Whittard Canyon, a deep submarine canyon off the coast of Ireland, making the insubstantial solid. I want, I want, I want suggests the possibility of reaching down into the depths and grasping what lies below, giving a lie to the difficulty which accompanies the actual processes of retrieving such material. Its earthy materiality striking a sharp contrast with 11"21' North, 142" 12' East - Mariana Trench Abstraction a computer generated model, in which scientific data is manipulated so as to allow an impossible viewpoint in, around and through, the deepest place on earth.

Finally A long slow walk of 20,000 leagues fancifully charts a walk along the route of Jules Verne's Nautilus submarine, from the Pacific, through the Mediterranean, under Antarctica, to its demise in a whirlpool off the coast of Norway. A journey, the playful idiosyncrasy of which, offers a wry perspective on attempts to 'know' the deep sea.

That Oceanic Feeling

  • Exhibition documentation
  • Publication
  • R.V.Callista Trip
  • Sound
  • Symposium - November 13th 2012
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