Mal de Mer
Mal de Mer
video, 40 minutes
Over the course of one year, the artist threw a gopro camera under the Sturdies Bay dock on Galiano Island, British Columbia, Canada. The camera captures a shifting underwater Salish seascape — life forms changing in symbiosis with the seasonal weather, currents, and fluctuations in life-cycle of marine organisms. Enhanced by the accompanying soundscape (composed by Graham Meisner), the camera’s point of view takes on something akin to a creature swimming through this habitat, even though the perspective is entirely mechanical (that of the underwater camera). The initial impetus of the work was a meditation on the fragility of the world’s oceans in light of anthropogenic change. Without references to how this area looked in the past, the waters appear marvelously abundant in life, although humans’ presence is heavy. The original soundscape was dominated by the sound of ferries coming and going, creating much underwater turbulence and noise. What is captured on video is sea life having adapted to human industry — a kind of eco-romantic ruin.
Soundscape composed by Graham Meisner.
The Longue Durée meets Deep Time: Marina Roy’s Entangled Worlds
by Randy Lee Cutler (excerpt)
Mal de Mer 2016, recently shown in the Nanaimo Art Gallery’s exhibition Landfall and Departures: Prologue is a time based work that considers the substrate of the sea from a creaturely point of view. In this iteration, the piece begins on the seabed and looks up toward the water’s surface as if through the perspective of a crustacean crawling on the ocean floor. Kafka’s transformed character Gregor Samsa into a scuttling insect from The Metamorphosis was the initial inspiration for the piece. By dropping a GoPro into the water in the Salish Sea, Roy works with metaphors of fishing and hunting with the camera. Exploring and undermining its own machinic agency, the camera is also the bait dangling from a line in the water. The accompanying audio by Meisner offers a vibrating, often jarring soundtrack that furthers the alien point of view. As the video unfolds we are immersed in the sounds of water and movement. Fish swim by and golden algae undulates across the creature’s field of vision. All variety of sea life inhabits this beautiful yet alienating world full of marine plants and fungi. At times the pillars from a wharf come into view encrusted with white lichen, orange and brown barnacles and purple starfish. The kaleidoscopic effect is mesmerizing taking us out of time into a temporal experience that is perhaps more animal than human. Through the camera’s eye we are subject to an amateur almost alien aesthetic that questions the ontology of looking. Roy’s deskilled approach draws from conceptual art and brings a more than human sensibility to the fetishized glossy image. Given the artist’s longstanding investigation of otherworldly, post humanist worlds, Mal de Mer reads as an offering, a window into the two thirds of our planet that is, like us, predominantly water. Informed by philosopher Elizabeth Grosz’s book Chaos, Territory, Art: Deleuze and the Framing of the Earth, Roy’s planetary investigations manifest the expressive potential of the forces of the planet and of art itself.
“The forces of the earth (cosmological forces that we can understand as chaos, material and organic indeterminacy) with the forces of living bodies, by no means exclusively human, which exert their energy or force through the production of the new and create, through their efforts, networks, fields, territories that temporarily and provisionally slow down chaos enough to extract from it something not so much useful as intensifying, a performance, a refrain, an organization of color or movement that eventually, transformed, enables and induces art.”[i]
Slowed down measured energies with their more than human articulation are echoed in the long duration of Mal de Mer, suspending the viewer into a netherworld that offers insight into a different temporality, a different time sense. This is inflected by our increasing awareness that our actions are pushing the world’s oceans closer to the brink of destruction. Submerged in this aquatic spaciousness we are left to wonder about the delicate balance of this liquid realm which is usually out of sight and therefore out of mind. Humans as a global geophysical force inform the movement and materiality of Mal de Mer with its real, symbolic and imaginary expressiveness. Even as the work celebrates an aquatic world tingling with life, we are reminded of its precariousness within the longue durée of time. The Earth is alive, rhythmic, undulating and mutating in response to human activity.
[i] Elizabeth Grosz, “Chaos. Cosmos, Territory, Architecture”, 2008, p. 3–4.