Mal de Mer

Mal de Mer

video, 40 min­utes
2017

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.