Truthing Gap

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Mapping - Howard Gardens Gallery 12th Nov - 18th Dec 2009

A series of works in progress 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.

The Proverbial Bit of String ..... Nov 24th 2009, Howard Gardens Gallery, Cardiff

The Proverbial Piece of String - Gallery Talk - Dr Tim Le Bas (NOCS) and Rona Lee discuss their current project Truthing Gap exploring methods of visualising and modelling the emergent landscape of the deep sea bed. Chaired by Dr Clive Cazeaux

Mapping and naming

I have brief chat today with Peter Hunter, an oceanographic cartographer who tells me more about the processes whereby seamounts and rifts are named. Nowadays it is more formal process than previously and subject to agreement by the country whose waters the feature is found within. Apparently it is usual to choose a name, which marks a connection with the site or operates a gesture of respect towards a contributor to the field. No celebrities or politicians yet. Historically more of a sense of humour seems to have prevailed however as evidenced by the naming of areas of the Rockall Plateau after parts of Middle Earth as described by J. R. R. Tolkien: Eriador Seamount, Rohan Seamount, Gondor Seamount, Fangorn Bank, Edoras Bank, Lorien Knoll, Isengard Ridge along with that perfect accompaniment to a cup of tea the Peake and Freen Deeps of the North Atlantic.

3D vision 2

Took the 3d samples down to Southampton today and everybody was very interested in them. Surprisingly it took some people a while to understand what they were looking at and even longer for them to work out that one of the prints inverts the height and depth of the seabed.

I think, and Tim agrees, that of the two the most successful is the one in which the seabed is raised up and the land dropped down, Sardinia and Corsica becoming holes

The next question is how to resolve the status of the work conceptually, especially given how aesthetically compelling the prints are. There are a number of possibilities including the idea of isolating those parts of the seabed which are currently subject to territorial claims under the United Nations Law of the Sea ratification process, the first part of which is to be finalised in May.

I am also interested in tracing the divisions of the seas as agreed in the 1950s

Either way more tests and the creation of different modelling formula will be needed I think.

3D print
3D print

3D vision

Today I picked up the first set of tests to see whether or not it might be possible to generate a 3d model from the bathymetric data that Tim and his colleagues work with. These have been made at Metropolitan Works, part of London Metropolitan University where I have a visiting fellowship. The results are great I hope Tim will find them exciting too.

A little light relief

Surfing - a term that in this context takes on a new meaning - the net last night, in search of images which reveal a popular sense of the sub maritime, I came across a collection of photographs taken by Bruce Mozert in the 1930's of underwater tableaux. Searching more widely the predominance of images of women in underwater settings is striking revealing perhaps, in the fantastic character of these exotic projections, a deep sense of association between the feminine and the fluid along with a desire to colonise and domestic such spaces. The later being evident too in the number of underwater restaurants, shops and hotels that exist worldwide.

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


This coming week I have meetings arranged with NOCS researchers whose role it is to advise on the making and refusal of claims to undersea territories.  I remember going to Poland in the 1980’s and being forcibly struck by the idea of living in a country whose boundaries had changed so many times over the centuries. Rationally I understood this fully of course but coming from an island nation something about the concept effected me powerfully.

While we mourn the loss of parts of our coastline to erosion and the threat of rising sea levels hangs like a spectre over the future, negotiations are taking place around the ownership of the seabed, which will fundamentally change our existing perceptions of national boundaries. While the landmass shrinks, the expansion and extension of human territory continues, un-hindered.

The planting of a flag on the Artic seabed by Russia in 2007 (footage of which was then revealed to incorporate material from the film Titanic) vividly brought the issue to popular attention. In 2008 Britain made claims to parts of the Southern Atlantic around the Ascension Islands adding to those already in place for areas of the seabed around the Falklands reigniting and casting a new perspective on old conflicts.

As I understand it over and above claims to their immediate territorial waters countries may assert their right to parts of the seabed on the basis of ‘land mass extension’ - or by demonstrating a geological connection, which establishes the seabed as part of their terrestrial continental shelf .The capacity to establish cultural or historical links provides another basis for such claims.

‘Experts say that fewer than half of the world's maritime boundaries have been agreed and there is significant potential for conflict where more than one country submits claims to overlapping areas.’

I find this juxtaposition of physical and cultural factors fascinating, the one rooted in seemingly irrefutable materialities, the other reliant on interpretation and influence.

A Wikipedia entry on territorial waters refers me to the Principality of Sealand, a micro nation located on HM Fort Roughs a former World War II sea defence in the North Sea, whose claims to the seabed on which it is built remain so far unrecognized.

Russia plants flag on Arctic seabed
Russia plants flag on Arctic seabed

Britannia under the Waves

Coments from the Times. August 2008

British Claims to Ascension sea bed raises stakes over quest for Falklands Oil

Sorry Mel, but its not your sea at all. It never has been either...
Sam, Norwich,

Who are all these damn liberals who want to give away our oil? Retired town hall layabouts by any chance, who will be able to afford fuel no matter what it costs. Still if high costs keep "ordinaries "out of the way, I suppose that is good. They have served their purpose now they get in the way. D.L. Stephens, York, England

Perhaps time to reinforce the Falklands defences? The RN could do with another couple of destroyers patrolling down there me thinks..John, Portsmouth,

Argentina is a poor country but growing every day, discovering oil in our sea would mean a lot to this country and help us immensely, England is a developed country that doesn't need it as much as we do. You should let us take our oil that would help with the country's development. Mel, Buenos Aires, Argentina


Let the UK taxpayer foot the bill for another costly war so a few oil men can stuff a few more petrodollars into their bulging pockets. I suppose the ban on flying St George will be temporarily lifted to boost moral for this adventure...Nigel Allen, London, UK

We owned the territory, so we are the owners of the oil. We are owners, always owners. Something is wrong with us. Read the history, see the maps, .... What are we doing in the Falklands (or Malvines)? What are we doing there? Argentina is a far poor country. Lets them free in peace.
Chris B., Cheshire, UK

Rob, Your comment proves how ignorant you are on this matter. Bolivar never freed Argentina from Spain San Martin did. In any event Argentina had a military fort in Las Malvinas since 1810 to 1833 when the Americans destroyed, then the British invaded them and are still there as invaders.
Andres, Buenos Aires, Argentina

Been to Ascension Island. Owned by Britian, populated by mostly Americans and surrounded by an ocean with delicious grouper, tuna, and lobster. Superb diving, except most divers have been bitten by the agressive moray eels.
Jerry Stroud, Orlando, USA

Britain and Argentina should not be drawn into mutual attack. It only hurts both countries.
Name Withheld, Hong Kong,

As well as the residents being British citizens.
Chris, Rochdale, UK

Rob, incorrect. We claimed them, as did the Spanish (both left plaques to this effect when forced to leave). The issue of sovereignty was never resolved. The Argentines then colonised them. This colony was then wiped out by the Americans in 1833 and we then went back and reclaimed them after.
Matt, Birmingham, UK

Britain would, wouldn't it ? BRITTANIA still rules the waves it seems.................!!!!
ian payne, WALSALL,

Its funny how Britain is apologetic and generous towards other nations, ONLY when there are no natural resources involved? I say help the poorer nation; give it to Argentina. I have to share my homeland with poor immigrants, the Government can share its resources!!!
Matt, Norwich, UK

As Rob says. the Argentinian claim to the Falklands is without merit and should be ignored.
Andy, Cheshire, England

i think it's more about fairness...
but since when has Britian ever been fair in regard to colonial expansion into other peoples countries!
simon, norwich, uk

Britain owned the Falklands before Argentina was even a country on it's own, after Bolivar freed them from Spain. So their claims are frankly ridiculous.
Rob, singapore,

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