"...a man may break down or he may come through. Whether he comes through or not depends on his own self-respect, and his capacity to distinguish what matters from what is merely passing." (Tarkovsky, 1987)
The ocean disperses thousands of years worth of permafrost. The snow forces its way down from the summits, flows out onto the fields and into the sea. Along the way, the moon exposes itself as a cyclonic menace with one meandering eye peering from the sky. If only the element of water could disappear then we could ac- knowledge the visible geographic forms that were carved right under our feet. The activity beneath the water's surface is masked by the hypnotic hum of the shoreline that protects itself, fearing to be known. Above the water, the clouds bargain their borders as if deities were shifting every boundary right from under our feet, with a complete disregard for the particles within.
The freight container sits in the gallery and it secretly hides its most precious worth. The gold-plated screws hold the entire structure together. These gems were reincarnated from their dreary utility and although they awoke beaming with new worth, they found themselves still doomed to fulfill the same eternal task. The container is anchored by a dark colour painted on the bottom half of the gallery walls and across the floor. The activation of this space through colour alone alludes to the powerful constructs of the dimension and boundaries of any place we occupy. That force that keeps us grounded in place does not in anyway need to be physical in its construct.
The exterior of the container is simply allowed to be itself. It makes no attempts to be anything but. The interior is latent with visual pleasure but it can only be experienced from the distance. The halftone images plastered on the walls some- times shed their skin and we catch a glimpse of the chipboard that desires to make itself visible again. The human mind is unaware of the moment when the image on the wall shifted from the abstracted speckles of dust into a pallid, digest- ible form. Even the chipboard walls of the container were glued together from constellations of countless wooden scraps that only through coercion became a singular, operational surface. The images appear to be levitating in this structural space like the ink of the halftone prints, which at close glance appear to be floating islets lost within a white abyss.
The container's fate was determined the moment it was assembled. Those things built in metal and stone represent all that is timeless and everlasting in our world. Every- thing else is left to the destructive whims of the natural world before it is recycled back into the soil or swallowed by the ocean.
"...There is a history of the senses that preconditions the way we perceive natural phenomena such as light, shadow, reflection, and colour, and these perceptual attributes are no less symbolically rich and mythologized than any human-produced artifact." (Keith Mitnick, 2008)
Visitors enter the container and their gaze is directed towards the most distant wall where an apparition is prophetically bound like a sail on a mast. The land behind the figure glows in moonlit monochrome. The visitors place themselves within the pages of the human genesis - the story told so much it rings true - that life on earth is still a mystery and our kind dreams of leaving it behind.
The new story would begin like this -
even the toughest of forms are destined to leave some soft matter behind.
Surely the visitors can experience what is immediately strange within. They embark on a journey that ends at the edge of the world and plummets into the unknown. If the world were a finite disc its end would always point towards the infinite, celestial sphere existing immediately beyond human experience. At that prosaic horizon the visitors could stretch their necks through the firmament and the cosmos would greet them with antiquity.
The visitors entertain a claim -
The historic mapmakers of the early Mesopotamian Times were not mistaken just limited. If only they could have encountered the many ringlets of lost volcanic uplifts and the reefs bounded to shift- less discolouration's of varying depths. The maps might have included one gigantic ocean prominently occupying the centre of the globe and all the land masses would be left to encase its enormity. The ocean would become the prominent body, central to our knowledge, and then the land would be un- known and it would be something to fear.
The world as a flat form seems comprehensible. The geographic forms naturally stretch in cylindrical boundaries around the centre - the hills, arid grassland, shallow shores, and then the ocean and then nothing. What is most central to the visitor is the most familiar and even the imagination of space just beyond our immediate experience is still attainable.
The container pulls the visitors into the centre of the voyage it endured. Each time the visitors catch a glimpse of meaning it leaves them, eludes another and escapes just out of reach, onwards into the impasse of the sea - reminding them of the constant impermanence that surrounds life. The journey does not mean anything until they locate a narrative that resides comfortably within. The experience is validated as a fragmented record to someone who once withstood the loneliness of this passage. That transitional space remains uncharted for now and at its depth we begin to map meaning as we encounter it, as it is happening, and perhaps without a clear direction the only way to experience the final frontier is to endure the fullness of the present moment.
ON THE SEA
"...A proper story is like a river; some- times it may be traced back to a source in the hills, but what it becomes reflects the scenery through which it flows. It has a history, and its history is marked by the appearance of new incidents or new characters; its colours change; it is told in fresh idioms; it may be concentrated into a ballad or a song only to be dispersed again in more prosaic tellings." (Michael Oakeshott, 1999)
The ocean is a fluid terrain. To the best of our abilities we add stability to this ever- shifting realm by mapping its domain, charting its depths, labelling its ecology and often, we find ourselves conjuring up the image of the blue planet alone in that singular stillness placed within the infinite span of the universe. We even call the sea a body of water referring to something familiar to our being. Through our ex- tensive systems of classification we tame the ocean and make it knowable but the terrain still remains mythic, and impossible to ground. It noticeably occupies three quarters of the globe and places all that is of earth to the confines of land.
The shipping container is a suggestion on how alienating it is to construct new meaning when the object and subject are void. It houses something yet in formation, soft and visual in its nature. The journey was endured and all that remains are fragments that elude to the beyond of stories that still need explanation and therefore, further exploration: the lonely geographic formations, the old carved paths shrouded in snow, the floating masts, the lonely wanderers and those who wave from icy docks.
To tell one story in fragmented scenarios holds resemblance to the early writings of the Greek explorer Pytheas, who coincidentally made one of the earliest discoveries of the Arctic Circle. What is most curious about the formal structure of his ancient text is that the journey is often represented through multiple titles that serve to inform the greater whole. One journey is often the result of a constellation of fragmented snippets. From here we can begin to entertain the thought that between departure and destination, an adventure unfolds countless possibilities and, therefore, multiple of ways for reading its results. Without a guide, we begin to search for meaning and the experience of being lost is a moment of venerable suspension.
We have seized a vessel that has not yet finished its trajectory. The time has come to study its subconscious mediated from a most intimate depth, which could uncover the mystery of its past. A story within the container is told as an impartial lucid vision that transcends beyond any written account and is perhaps antithetical to the way we experience our own history. Our experience of the past is told; we do not invent it, we reiterate it. Something that has happened is not shaping, it has been shaped - a puzzle in completion. We know how to live the present moment because the past grounds us. We have recognized, classified and made records of the puzzle we have crafted over thousands of years and continue to revive our achievement. Curiously enough, most texts about the sea are told from a position in time where the prosaic point of departure acts as the beginning of the story. One story is ending while another is unfolding: not even the beginning is fixed and similarly, the container places us at the point where the pieces have countless possibilities to fit together or drift apart.
Cunliffe, Barry. The Extraordinary Voyage of Pytheas the Greek. USA: Penguin Books, 2003. Mosciski, Pawel. Archaeology of Things to Come. Star City, ed. Lukasz Ronduda, Alex Farquharson, Barbara Piwowarska. Nottingham: MAMMAL Foundation, 2011. Oakeshott, Michael. On History: And Other Essays. Indianapolis: Liberty Fund, Incorporated, 1999. Soltnit, Rebecca. A Field Guide to Getting Lost. USA: Penguin Books, 2006. Tarkovsky, Andrey. Sculpting in Time. Austin: University of Texas Press, 1987.
SOUNDLESS TRAGEDY written by Zuzanna Juszkiewicz.
In conjunction with ALL LOST by Dawn Johnston and Access Gallery.
Header Image, Exhibition Image by Dawn Johnston and Access Gallery.
Vancouver, BC, 2013