Something to listen to while reading
This planet we cling to is predominately covered in water, it’s one of the reasons we exist. The very first forms of life where shaped in the ancient oceans before crawling slippery out onto the dry land. Since our relationship with the vast oceans has been complex, at once benign and terrifying a place so alien the connections between the life that started there seems so remote from the life we know.
Still it’s part of the alien nature of the sea that seen the sea become the focus of so much of humanity’s cultural output Take the works of the Romantics like Turner or Caspar David Friedrich,, through so many poems, books and music, it’s e be too much to go into it now.
The sea remains a preoccupation of artists as can be evidenced in The Bluecoats current exhibition Underwater, which has collected a number of artists who explore our relationship with the sea. The exhibition includes Bill Viola, Ed Pein, Dorothy Cross, Mark Anstee, Cut and Scrape, Shirley Kaneda, Ellen Gallagher, Janaina Tschäpe, Klaus Osterwald. Though I’ve only selected to write about a few of them.
The first Leviathan to be encountered in the exhibition is Mark Anstee’s Removed and Destroyed without Warning, a full sized 3D rendering of a submarine upended jammed into the Vide space. It sits there like the corpse of a Giant Squid washed ashore emptied of its threat and majesty, but there it is a reminder of the things we don’t understand and don’t know, evidence that monsters live just below the surface.
Then onto Dorothy Cross’s disconcerting video, which sees an unidentified woman wade through the water which teems with jellyfish. It has the quality of a dream, as the images are loaded with meaning. In this dream you are submerged in the unknown surrounded by the unformed creatures of the imagination. Apprehension fills this dream, somewhere between the inhuman intent of those creatures and the need not to surrender to the waters deadly suspension. For me it’s easy to read as a representation of the fragility of our position and the difficultly of understanding the motivations of others.
One thing I’ve failed to mention is that throughout the gallery space there can be heard the classic sonar ping, which is being emitted from a piece by Cut and Scrape, it turns out to be the distress call of a submarine under attack from a luminous squid. This is the most playful piece in the exhibition taking all the things I’ve said about monsters from the deep and knowingly plays with these clichés. Of course you can argue that this playfulness is an attempt to control and manage our fears.
Sharing the space with this distressed sub is Seunghyn Woo’s sculptures though they don’t seem to be sculptures but rather flora dredged from the bed of the ocean, along with the flora there has also been a series of unidentifiable objects dredged up maybe once they were once human objects but the sea has claimed them, transformed them Seunghyn Woo Seunghyn Woomade them creatures of the sea a kin of thousand wrecks who now colonize the sea bed.
The Creatures of the sea feature in the appealing grotesque drawings of Ed Pien , well there not creatures we would not recognise these could be the proto humans who crawled out of the sea all that time ago. Equally they could be the bubbling spawn of Lovecraft’s Cthulhu waiting, dreaming until the time they can leave the sea and take their place on the land.
This exhibition shows the power of the sea as symbol for our fears and hopes, a spawning ground of the imagination.