Photo: Daan Verhoeven
A polyvocal assembly of texts and images, ranging in style and form, attempting to reanimate the intersections, relationships, and fluid exchange that occurred between individual practices and diverse disciplines at the Deep Anatomy PSi Fluid States cluster on Long Island, The Bahamas, 26 April — May 10, 2015.
SAM TRUBRIDGE: director of Deep Anatomy, performance artist, curator, and scholar
JESS RICHARDS: PSi Fluid States correspondent for Deep Anatomy, novelist, and performer
SALLY MORGAN: Deep Anatomy contributor, conceptual artist, and painter
WILLIAM TRUBRIDGE: director of Vertical Blue and world-record breaking freediver
MICK DOUGLAS: contributor to five PSi Fluid States clusters, including Deep Anatomy
SARA MALOU-STRANDVAD: Deep Anatomy contributor, sociologist, and freediver
AMELIA TAVERNER: Deep Anatomy contributing artist and costume designer
TRACY C. DAVIS: PSi Fluid States correspondent for Deep Anatomy, scholar, and writer
DENISE BATCHELOR: Deep Anatomy contributor, photographer, and video artist
DAAN VERHOEVEN: photographer and freediver
SAM TRUBRIDGE: Held on one of the less frequented “Family Islands” of The Bahamas archipelago, Deep Anatomy was a Fluid States cluster that took its place within another event that occurs annually in this location. Since 2008, the 202 metre “Dean’s Blue Hole” at Turtle Cove on Long Island has been the site for the esteemed Vertical Blue competition, dubbed “The Wimbledon of Freediving” by The New York Times. Around forty to fifty athletes from around the world attend the event every year to attempt national and world record dives, hosted by world champion and eighteen-time world record-breaking diver William Trubridge. Competitors attempt to dive as deep as they can without any breathing apparatus in three distinct dive disciplines: with fins, without fins, and pulling on a line.
This Fluid States cluster used the unique geography of Long Island and the structure of the Vertical Blue competitions as the site for provocative intersections between the local community, freedivers, and performance studies academics. The programme and curation of the event considered performance and freediving as integrated processes: where action and intellect combine, and a “deep anatomy” occurs. This notion applies Richard Sennet’s discussions on craft to the work of athletes and artists, where a physical act or process is invested with deep ethical values through material consciousness and care-full action.
“History has drawn fault lines dividing practice and theory, technique and expression, craftsman and artist, maker and user; modern society suffers from this modern inheritance.” (Richard Sennet, 2008, The Craftsman, 11).
Similar divisions have been referred to in other texts on cross-disciplinary dialogue, as early as CP Snow’s (1959) The Two Cultures. Sennet’s specific discourse draws on sociologist George Simmel’s discussion on “the foreigner,” citing displacement and estrangement as deeply affecting and redemptive affects in the process of cross-disciplinary dialogue, that “can drive the actual practices of change and reduce our consuming desires; the dream of dwelling in equilibrium and at peace with the world risks, in my view, leading us to seek escape in an idealized Nature, rather than confronting the self-destructive territory that we have actually made” (Sennet 13). In Deep Anatomy, this idea has strong implications for the sport, the art, and the communities involved. A glance at the stunning images of freediving photographer Daan Verhoeven testify to many notions of an idealized nature that pervades the sport, but also reminds us of the same preoccupations that occur in many aesthetic practices. The concept of the sublime emerged often in the works and dialogues presented here. Many of the artists worked against this to maintain a tension between romantic intentions or readings and the physical, strenuous, and visceral realities found in the freediving act as much as the performance acts documented here. In this way, a play between surface and depth occurs that echoes the geography of the project. In these islands (Baha-mar: “shallow sea”) of flat unthreatening depths and long sands, the sudden abyss of Dean’s Blue Hole is an invitation to look beneath the surface of things, and dive into unsettling inhospitable places beyond the reach of breath and sunlight.
Rather than imposing a conference format within this environment, the aim for Deep Anatomy was instead to engage with the “genius loci” of Long Island, as defined by New Zealand ecologist Geoff Park in a way that “has more to do with ecology than architecture” (52). As such, the event laboured at engaging with the spirit, nature, atmosphere, and routines of a space more than introducing its own system or schema. Thus, Dean’s Blue Hole and the many spaces of the island all became “sympotic” environments, providing an array of sites for investigation and encounter between athletes, academics, the local community, and nature — from abandoned salt farms, to sheltered lagoons, flooded caverns, wrecks, and sea-beds. The programme resisted defining these activities as touristic “excursions,” and rather used them to seek out discursive insights and dialogues: thus initiating “incursions” into the various ecologies of the island, and “incursions” into a deep anatomy.
As an extension of this same process, this article moves through diverse modes of reflection upon the event: gathering voices from sources in performance art, creative writing, critical analysis, sociology, photography, and free-diving. Tensions between poesis and analysis are performed in this gathering of texts, between the implicit and the explicit, that mirror other dialogues that occurred in the event itself through various liminalities: between life and death, shore and depths, art and sport, theatre and performance. This collection of texts has been arranged in a vertical format, inviting the reader to immerse themselves in the material to whichever depth they choose. As such, it becomes a curated artefact of the event that attempts to re-perform the dynamics of the event and the various inter-disciplinary dialogues that occurred. Moreover, it encourages the reader to explore and experience the complexity of the material produced without favouring a critical, analytical voice over the embodied, poetic, and performative reconjurings of the event that other modes of writing provide. As the reader goes deeper into this article, they will experience different accounts of the same event: views from above and below the water, gazes through the mirror or veil of that mobile surface — from the tiny depths of the microscope to the giant underwater lens of Dean’s Blue hole. In this way texts overlap and at times repeat ideas between contributions. These devices assert the rhythmic, cyclical quality of language, allowing ideas to ebb and flow in a tidal pattern between sections, where knowing through poetic prose, analysis, and critical reflection flow together in a fluid document of increasing depth, from 0 to 100 metres… and back.
Can anyone tell the difference between a wasteland and a paradise, between a view and a wilderness, between a horizon and a line? Not you, and not me, or not right now. We’re still landing to our bodies being frazzled by jetlag and exhaustion after travelling on five consecutive planes.This is a jumble of confusions: of place and movement and baggage, and you and I are quickly unpacked. Is there anything needing washing? Does anything smell? Do either of us care enough about this? You don’t seem to think these things are important, and I’d only care if it was something which made you angry.
Herons fly past this screened window changing the view of shallow waters and palm trees into a sky filled with black and white wings. How near they are, how far. Is that an insect or a bat, do bats live here, or should we be watching for flamingos — the ones from the murals at Nassau Airport?
There’s trouble in distance and rumours: what is said of the Bahamas in brochures and enhanced photographs, those envious messages from your remaining and my absent friends, is different to what seems to be really here when vision is blurred. On this tropical island our Facebook messages show that other people think that we’re in paradise. But both of us know we’d never have usually chosen to come here even if we’d stuck a pin in an atlas, blindfolded. All the same, you’ve caught a piece of the Caribbean Sea in your eyes and I’m wearing the Atlantic in mine. We’re pale-skinned and allergic somewhere between oceans on this narrow strip of land.
Those stems might be burnt bushes or mangroves or no-human’s lands. We are raw from our journey to get here and insect repellent is our shared perfume. It makes lips go numb, but not blue. There’s a cockroach and a gecko in our room and we’ve been discussing which one will kill the other first.
We’re on a veranda shading our eyes from a bright view of sea and sky. Is that a boat or a branch over there? By those rocks, or are they skulls? My eyes fix to and blur whatever seems stuck. There are mouthwash-coloured waters and scar-pink pools. You would know the right names for those colours, but for now I’m not asking because you’ve got your arm around my waist and I like it best when we’re quiet like this.
There are three different time zones being shown on your watch, our phones, and my laptop. Time seems mixed-up, with jetlag. Memories become recent things, recent things seem like memories.
The boy in the grocers’ shop tells us he won’t ever afford a plane flight and you or I say that he lives somewhere beautiful. We’ve not slept for long enough to say anything complete. We buy enough to eat for a few days — flatbreads and jars of tomato sauce, cheese and jam. Carrots and apples. The packaging seems like a garble of word and colour and you pace the aisles looking confused. The only thing I want to eat is porridge oats, and you remind me to get honey.
Returning to our accommodation, we walk along decking and our movement switches on the emergency lights. They cast moon-whiteness into the shallow water. We pause to watch five bone fish swimming or fighting.
We climb wooden steps and return to our room. You truss the double bed with a white mosquito net. You use red parachute cord to tie it into peaks. It becomes a tent made from wedding veils. I watch you until I remember we need to eat something. I make pizzas in the microwave and pour wine into tumblers.
I turn off the bedside lamp with a switch which rotates. You’re silent, with your arm outstretched.
In the dark I curl into you and put my arm around you. I can tell from your breathing you’re already asleep.
Sleep drags me down with this thought:
It was four months ago that you lost your home, and four months ago my father died.
I dream of skeletal fish gnawing on something dead.
You wake in the night and put the covers back over us.
You say, “we were cold.”
I ask, “were we?”
I think perhaps the bone fish have given us bone dreams.
Usually, though nothing is now usual, you live on the other side of the world, or is it me who lives that far from you? New Zealand and Scotland are the new poles of our globe. After talking without speaking for months, smiling at emails appearing on computer screens, we met in York, then Chicago, then Glasgow.
Then I travelled to you in New Zealand, and that’s when it was finally agreed that I would come to the Bahamas with you. I knew what you were planning to do while you were here, and wouldn’t trust you in any other hands but my own. So we’ve crossed skies and time zones and now we’re on Long Island, eating raw carrots in a small hotel room.
Not venturing outside for the morning of the first day, I wash our flight socks with hotel soap as you make real coffee in the plastic cups I found on the way here.
You paint in watercolours while I write sentences in the wrong order.
Each night we’ve ever spent together I’m glad that we don’t have to argue instead of sleep, and each day we’re together you worry that sometimes you are not enough of one thing, or are too much of another. This is a peculiar discovery, or extraordinary alchemy: that I love you exactly as much as you love me.
It’s been there all along, since we first began talking without speaking. It’s as if love is mirrored and mirrored wherever we are, though neither of us spend much time looking at mirrors.
This island is a place we don’t yet know ourselves in. We’ve been warned of the dangers and told not to stray from the road — there are scorpions and tarantulas, poisonwood which leaves rashes, and there’s always the comedic threat of falling coconuts.
We won’t stray from the road.
If I close my eyes for a moment longer with my arms around your tense shoulders,
if I close my eyes while I kiss tears off your eyelids,
if I close my eyes when I feel your palm stroking my spine in that place it hurts in time with my heartbeat… I still hear us talk without speaking.
We’re not talking about what we’re here to do, not yet. For now, we’re turning it around in our minds in pictures and phrases. We explore this island on foot, and learn by hearing strangers talking. We can’t travel far, but we listen well. This island is poor. People smile often, have parties in caves, and talk softly. Derelict houses and white churches punctuate the eighty-mile-long Queens Highway. The salt harvesting industry shut long ago, but the salt still remains.
In our hotel room, you paint and tell me all the right names for colours, and I write till I find the correct order for sentences. There’s a television on the wall but we’ve been watching the window instead — today it’s showing fanning palm leaves and rain. We inhabit this room with thoughts about drowning, love and trust. We check on each other often, taking turns to offer water and food, affection and space. We fill the gap between our bodies with your pictures and my words. There is the occasional sound of someone else’s door slamming.
SALLY MORGAN: I first met her twenty years ago, and then I disappeared. Disappearing feels like drowning under brown water. Fingertips reaching for the air but not finding it. My feet feeling for sand, but not finding it. All I can see is brown water. There is no sound because there is too much sound. I’ve gone, and no one can see me.
Since we re-found each other, and our previous long-term relationships shattered into unfindable pieces, we have been lovers.
And now I have asked her to drown me.
I look out of the window again, trying to guess at the landscape beyond this alternating view of paradise and wilderness. We don’t have a map of Long Island. We don’t really need one: there is only one road. I look at your paintings. You read my writing. As your pictures meet my words, I think we might have to invent:
a map of love
and a map of trust
then we can peg these maps out in this offshore wind — the tail end of a hurricane that’s happening elsewhere. We can step back and watch wastelands and paradises and wastelands flap along a line. Under torrential rain, my words will smudge their meanings through the colours of your paints as they run, diluted.
WILLIAM TRUBRIDGE: As siblings growing up on a boat in the Caribbean and Pacific, Sam and I experienced islands as places of play and discovery that catered for both science and fantasy. It was fitting that Sam’s first theatrical production, as both designer and director, was the island-set play of Shakespeare’s The Tempest, performed in a swimming pool in Auckland. Although I was not a free-diver at the time, my role as King Alonso did feature an entrance swimming under water for ten metres, escaping the shipwreck that marks the beginning of the play.
Eighteen years later, our new collaboration in Deep Anatomy was a union of water and performance made in the same spirit as this production, taking place alongside the daily exploits of international freedivers in Dean’s Blue Hole. Sports and arts are usually incongruous subjects whose intersections occur in specific, prescribed contexts with little space for much intersection beyond events like Superbowl intermissions and the opening ceremonies for international sporting events. The ingress of sports into art is even rarer. The word “performance” is one of the few overlaps in their vernacular, and it describes the common ground upon which the idea of Deep Anatomy germinated, when Sam came to work (perform) as platform coordinator (master of ceremonies) during the Vertical Blue Freediving competition.
Sam’s own addition, Many Breaths, drew on discovery (the retrieval of a ship’s anchor of unknown origin), science (calculations of mass, buoyancy, lung volume), sport (freediving to add breaths to the lift bag), and play (the challenge of lifting and recovering a huge anchor with only exhaled air). It was an improvised performance with an unexpected but dramatic result. The other pieces incurred on and extracted different qualities from the island and its surrounding water body. The idiosyncrasies of sea salt, the seaborne remnants of our plastic lives, the seaborne remnants of the lives of perished migrants, and the dissolution of neuroses left by water itself: these were all starting points for performances and installations that happened discreetly, in the beautiful bays and shorelines of Long Island.
Athletes and local island-dwellers who were involved in or witnessed the pieces were given access to look at their world and its associations through the eyes of artists and scholars. Happening far away from the galleries and big screens, this was an investigation of detail without affectations. Just as most of the freedivers were there to explore their own limits rather than compete against their peers, the artists of Deep Anatomy explored their own ideas and art in a timeless setting, and without any constraining agenda.
SAM TRUBRIDGE: Deep Anatomy operated somewhere between the models of the symposium, the conference, and the gathering. The athletes were already congregating at Vertical Blue for their own purposes, so in some sense their encounter with Deep Anatomy created was incidental on their part and opportunistic on my own, engineering various “intersections” between disciplines over the programme of the event. This was the name given to the programme of public talks held at Lloyds Bar, on the crossroads by Dean’s Blue Hole, where athletes, artists, scholars, and locals were invited to make short presentations on the “off-days” between the three major “acts” of the competition. The whole event emulated this model of the intersection, by inviting a small group of artists to work on the island and follow the competition, resolving their visit with a day of performances and interventions two days after the last dive.
The competition itself provided a similar opportunity for intersection, where athletes gathered on the beach for nine days of diving, divided into distinct three-day groupings or “acts.” The Blue Hole itself provides a natural piece of performance architecture, where the sand rim and the cliffs around the space provide perfect opportunity to spectate feats of sportsmanship that are usually done beyond the coastlines where there is enough depth. The construction of the dive platform and its floating perimeter provides opportunity to watch the athletes up close as they descend into, then ascend from the deep. Also, next to this activity, the beach space provided another context for encounter, where people passed time in the warm shallows, stood on the edges of the hole to watch dives, bought conch salad from the small stand, or walked the length of the cove together. It was an environment not dissimilar to the concept of a “sympotic space” derived from the “symposia” of the ancient Greek philosopher/poets that David Wiles describes in his (2003) text A Short History of Western Performance Space. Perhaps this environment had less emphasis on food and dining, but it nonetheless bore many of the same social and spatial dynamics of Greek symposia that favor conversation, intimacy, friendship, and a relaxed interactive atmosphere. Other spaces around the island became similar sites for this kind of performance, often the crescent of a beach where the gaze ventured beyond the coastline to offshore actions and interventions upon the water, emerging from the water, entering the water, or working underneath its surface. Thus, spectation and performance were regularly conducted in a half-clothed state (like Plato’s symposia) with all of the senses enlivened by the environment. Skin was wet from sea or sweat. In this warm place, bodies experienced sensory details on a level with the eye and the ear. Even in the hastily rearranged apartment-cum-gallery that Mick Douglas used for his presentations, these senses became an overwhelming part of the work.
MICK DOUGLAS: Some of us are easily enraptured in the flux where water and land overlap. Witnessing a human entering the depths of Dean’s Blue Hole sends signals back to me, like a sound-wave bouncing back from a solid surface, back to the liquid surface where water meets air. This is the surface to which the free-diver seeks to return. This is the surface of the shallow sea that the islands of the Bahamas, a fluidity above an oceanic plateau of calcium carbonate (limestone). This is the dynamic surface of sea-level that islands of the Bahaman narrowly rise above. This is one location of the earth’s seventy-percent liquid surface that gives possibility to relations of depth. This is charting a performance research process of sampling, salting, and sounding with a curiosity directed toward surfaces, transformation, and circulations.
In response to Mick Douglas’ invitation “sampling, salting, sounding, part 1” at Apartment #3, Petty’s Settlement, Long Island, The Bahamas
By Sam Trubridge
In colder places we protect our bodies from the touch of the air, from the wind, and from the rain. For most of us in Deep Anatomy, this is our usual experience of performance — with our senses muffled by clothing, buildings, and colder climes. On this hot island, a body opens its senses to the sun, the warm air, and the wet sticky sweat. It feels the relief that a breath of wind brings, even longs for rain, and feels the silky weightlessness of warm water. Bare feet find sand, hot asphalt, prickly grass, loose stones, and slide stickily over tiled floors, catching the inevitable grit, the ubiquitous sand. We are ushered in to Apartment #3 one by one, after waiting on furniture arranged in the car park outside. We’re invited to walk along a thread with our eyes closed, following its path through the thick afternoon air of the apartment. Recorded, repeating sounds haunt the space with a looped fragment from some low-tech source: too short to be musical, too vague for any recognition, a child asks if it is a ghost. Breezes shift over the skin as fans whir overhead and an open doorway yawns its warmer air as we pass it. We follow the thread like the freedivers, who close their eyes and relax, waiting for their freefall to finish. This small room goes on forever, like the slow three or so minutes that it takes to cast off and return from the depths. We wait, slowly groping the floor with our toes, reaching for the line, waiting for it to suddenly end. But it goes on, weaving us on an impossibly long path, until it finally ends — and our toes swipe at nothing but the greasy tiles. We open our eyes — to find ourselves surrounded by a spiral jetty of assorted plastics arranged from blue to green — the limpid colours of these shallow waters, this shallow sea: Baha Mar. Through which the impossibly fragile line of our passage leads — this blue thread that we have walked upon — a tightrope, as thin as breath. Sounds echo from megaphones laid on the floor, on the kitchen table, by the door. I have been instructed to carry a bleached white conch shell in with me, held as if an offering. As I retrace my path back it weighs heavier in my hands, for it has not yet released the burden of its significance. It brings me to a pause, almost on the edge, almost upon exiting, and its unresolved weight compels my hand to bring it up to my ear, to listen for the sea. But instead of that familiar sound I find that the sound of the megaphones is channelled and condensed to create a something like a siren or the slow plaintive call of a submarine’s sonar. I sink in that sound, created by the spiral of the shell’s cavity that has transformed it into this call. I am in the deep again, at the bottom of the abyss. Turning on the edge of this hot room, just before my exit, I look back like Orpheus did, before turning to the door and the breath outside.
By Jess Richards
ACT TWO: Fear / Freedom
When you were about two and a half, you nearly drowned.
You were rescued by your pregnant mother, but the breath had already gone from your small body. You’ve told me about your memories of lying underwater, not able to breathe any more. You were staring up at the surface. This was shallow water, but you only need two feet of water to drown in, for an adult. For a toddler, it must be possible to drown in a ditch or a puddle.
Why was no one watching you closely enough?
I wanted to hold you when you first told me this memory. I wanted to cradle you and kiss your hair, as if you still were that small child. But I couldn’t physically hold you – you told me this story by email. So I held you in my imagination where you have always felt real.
I didn’t know about this memory or your plans to drown without dying, when we first started talking on computer screens from opposite sides of the world. I was on a writing retreat for a month on a remote peninsula in the Scottish highlands. There was a bridge and a river just outside the cottage, and I hadn’t spoken to any other humans for quite some time. You knew I was lonely. I’d been lonely for a while, and didn’t mind it. But even so, you kept me company by sending emails. We talked without speaking and I knew you were there with me, even though your real body was on the other side of the world.
We wrote to each other about art and writing. About relationships and death, ultimatums and images. We wrote about strength and fear, about how we both had our own terrors and courages. We talked about characters and animals. We made up strange places, beings, new objects. You said you were a small scruffy lioness. And that I was a dark lioness, perhaps because I was so often nocturnal. You emailed me a watercolour painting of two lionesses. I sent you a poem, and you sent me a poem in response. One night I sat outside on the cottage doorstep at around four in the morning, smoking a cigarette and thinking of you.
I heard the sound of two great rocks cracking together in the river, so loud and sudden it made me get up and walk towards the rushing water. Through half-dark, I watched a golden-furred creature leap out of the river. It was a small lioness. She ran through thick grass, dripping water from her fur, and disappeared between birch trees.
I knew you’d be awake on the other side of the world, so I sent you an email. I said, “I just saw your lioness. Everyone knows there are no lionesses in Scotland. But I saw her. She was in the river but she was terrified of the water, she ran away. I just need to know if you’re OK?”
You replied immediately. You told me you’d just been working on a proposal for a new overseas project about drowning. You told me your memory of nearly drowning. You said you were going to drown without dying, all these years later, and that you would be terrified. You said that the terror in your face would be filmed as someone’s hands held you underwater. You didn’t yet know who those hands would belong to.
I stared at your email on my phone. I looked up at the stars and thought about how near and far away they seemed. My heartbeat stopped for a moment. I looked at my hands, they were shaking. I saw them around your neck, then stroking the terror from your face. I imagined that you would die, in a country you didn’t call home, drowned by a pair of clumsy hands which felt unfamiliar to your body, with a stranger’s eyes staring down at you. I imagined that this time, you would die, as an adult with the terror of a two and a half year old. I know from my own terrors that fear makes us time-travellers.
I imagined that if your mother wasn’t watching you closely enough when you were a toddler, a stranger would not watch you closely enough as an adult.
At this point, our bodies had never touched each other, though we’d travelled through each other’s imaginations from opposite sides of the world.
I wrote and said that I wanted to drown you without killing you.
You wrote back and said that you could not ask me to do this.
You told me that this project was about love and drowning and trust.
I told you that when my long term relationship ended, I ran away and kept running.
You said you’d been a runner in the past, and I thought that perhaps you still were.
I explained that now I was scared because I couldn’t stop running, like an ostrich with no sand to bury my head in.
Soon after we wrote to each other of all these things, you told me you trusted me.
SALLY MORGAN: I do not speak to attack.
I speak to hear myself.
I speak to define myself.
When you discuss this project with others, you talk about exploring a fear you’ve had since you were small. You don’t expect to conquer or cure this fear. You want to re-experience it.
There is another layer within this project: can you trust someone enough to let them drown you without killing you – is it possible to love and to be loved, without drowning? You don’t expect to conquer or cure love either. But I know, perhaps more than anyone else can, how deeply you experience it.
Now we are lovers, I couldn’t let anyone else drown you. I trust my pale hands on you. I trust your pale hands on me. Our bodies understand each other. Perhaps this is because our minds and imaginations met each other long before our bodies even touched. I loved you before I held your hand, looked in your eyes, or kissed your mouth. Perhaps it had to start in this way, for us. I have my own terrors which I never speak about but you understand them all the same. Last night my thighs and legs were shaking. You held me in your strong arms and talked stories into my ears until I was still.
Tonight, there are storms. We’ve been filming, editing and writing all day, and it might have been dark for some time. Hunting for your watch, you check the time, and tell me it’s now 3am. We watch the horizon as two storms rage at each other in sheet lightning flashes. I wonder what happens if storms collide. Does such a collision make a tempest, and could it make wreckage of this island? But though the winds rise to wailing gales, though the hinges of our door rattle and buzz, we’re exhausted so we try to fall asleep. I half-dream that white sheets billow around our bodies like sails and we’re up in the sky, looking into the eyes of two storms from the deck of a ship. You roll away from me and murmur, be my parachute, so I wrap my arms around your shoulders and hold your back tight to my chest. As I drift, a line from one of Shakespeare’s plays comes into my mind, and changes its words and rhythm like some kind of Siren-charmed tune. I listen till your breath tells me you’re asleep, and whisper, Be undrowned. As you sleep, swim.
This morning, the sunlight bakes down on your wide-brimmed hat. You’re ankle deep in ripples on the edge of Dean’s Blue Hole. Your hands are clenched behind your back. You’re watching divers and I’m up in the shade on an amphitheatre of rocks, watching you. You’re also looking at the place where light blue water darkens to black. That’s where the sand ends and the deepest hole in the world drops to a depth of 202 meters. Your body shrinks and changes posture so slowly, that no one would notice unless they didn’t blink or take their eyes away from you. You’re completely silent as divers plunge to great depths using just one intake of breath.
You stand as still as a child seeing something impossible.
A child who once stopped breathing, remembering breathing.
It’s the body, more than the mind, which remembers fear.
SALLY MORGAN: I’m standing in the water at the edge of Dean’s Blue Hole, looking at the indigo depth of it. Sand, the colour of my hair, runs off the edge in barely perceptible strands. The shallows all around the hole are tinged with turquoise, and the sand under my feet is rippled and hard, making me clench my toes to be sure to remain upright. Tiny angel fish dart around my legs. Above me on a rocky ledge, concrete angels stare down at the place where three local women slipped into the blue hole and drowned, as each tried to save the other. The angels are wearing useless concrete wings. They could never have saved anyone. They look sad about it, embarrassed even.
In the water where the women drowned, the free-divers, who have collected here to break records, are darting in and out of the depths, taking their skins on and off like selkies. They are as graceful as seals and they are as fearless as I am terrified. I stumble on the rippled sand. I’m ashamed of my terror of the thing that they take so much joy in.
The hole mesmerises me. I have been watching the divers, but now I am watching the softness of the grainy sand and the seduction of that slope shifting so subtly into the deepest waterhole in the whole world. And all I know is that I want to step onto that slope, the way I stepped onto that other one when I was not yet three years old. I feel a memory moving through my whole body, so I stand as still as I can because I am compelled and cramping with fear. I am remembering drowning. I am remembering slipping so slowly backwards into shallow water. Remembering a rippled sun, and my lungs filling.
When I look up she is watching me from the top of a cliff, and the sight of her makes me step back from that edge. The intensity of her gaze makes me think I can see the pupils of her eyes, dark in the centre like this hole. Just as deep and compelling, but that’s not possible. She is too far away. Still, somehow I can see it. Somewhere in my mind I see it.
Her body is so still, poised as though she will dive off that rock. Watching me. Keeping me safe. Yet tomorrow she will do that thing that I have asked of her. She will drown me at Lover’s Beach. Drown me without letting me die.
SAM TRUBRIDGE: By engaging with a so-called “extreme sport” in Deep Anatomy it became possible to look at an activity that has been marginalised and defined as dangerous with label. The cluster attempted to discuss a contemporary symptom of this kind that is preoccupied with physical limitations and mental constructs such as fear and terror, recognizing the pervasive impact this has across society. Freedivers disregard these inhibitors in order to reach great depths, conquering considerable mental and physical boundaries in order to redefine the limits of human performance.
An alliance with this sport helped to consider the limitations that are imposed on our physical and mental lives by the performance cultures that we inhabit. The presence of a sociologist in the Deep Anatomy team also allowed for a more quantitative analysis of the sport to parallel other subjective, poetic responses. This intersection between arts and the sciences is also encapsulated well within the practice of the freedivers themselves.
On the one hand, divers combine rigorous analytic processes with intimate knowledge of their physiology to their training: measuring oxygen levels in their blood, analysing dive profiles, understanding blood-shift, as well as CO2 build-up, lactic acid, nitrogen narcosis, and hydrodynamics. Over the years of running Vertical Blue, medics working on the event have shared their knowledge, and in turn learnt from the divers themselves about recovery procedures and lung physiology.
On the other hand, freedivers are aesthetes, revelling in the beauty of a dive. Frenchman Guillaume Nery’s video of diving in Dean’s Blue Hole has been watched more than 25 million times on Facebook, leading to music video commissions by Beyoncé. Moreover, beyond the obvious spectacle of the sport, these athletes also open up a political and cultural quality through these carefully prepared “risk-acts” that change the way we see our bodies and what we are capable of. In cultures dominated by the “new security paradigms” of health and safety, they open up new possibilities that would make us more able, more empowered, and more independent in our abilities to survive life’s challenges and survive in nature.
In this way, the freediving athlete has both qualities of the scientist and the artist. As I have written elsewhere, there is a celebration of each dive and every achievement in Vertical Blue. Freediving, like every other high-performance sport, exists at the very edges of possibility — and all the athletes perform at the top of their game, exploring their individual potential: showing the world that we CAN do more than we ever expected, and not to be afraid of the demons that try to persuade us to settle for less. The victories of divers from all ages and abilities show that we can all be superhuman, if we only try, affirming the value of the sport today as a political, almost revolutionary act: proving our amazing potential to reach for the almost impossible.
MICK DOUGLAS: I am the sort who enjoys skin layered with salty traces of seawater that has otherwise evaporated to air. I am drawn to the vast tidal zones, mangroves, and coastal wetlands of the west side of this Long Island, and to ponds that seasonally evaporate to leave behind encrusted surfaces of sea-salt that the locals freely harvest. Whilst the divers are oriented to explore a vertical plan of deep incursion, into liquid sea and themselves, I am interested to explore the horizontal plane of liquid surface and its residues for what might be revealed and what remains hidden. This is a surface of sensation and affective connection. This is the dive platform floating on the surface at Dean’s Blue Hole, upon which a medic is poised with a sample of saline fluid, in readiness for thinning the blood of a re-surfaced diver whose heart has not adequately resumed its pumping job. This is the Atlantic Ocean’s daily presentation of washed-up plastic fragments; a flow of human material by-product that uncannily corresponds to the oh-so-vivid blue-green colour palette of light refracted through these shallow waters. This is the saline sedimentation of Long Island’s twenty-five-year abandoned ruin of a salt ponds system in a wetland merging with the Bahaman shallow Caribbean Sea: a former industrial-scale foreign-owned operation that was once the primary employer and contributor to local economy. This is collecting elements that come to inform a process of responsive performance-led inquiry.
In response to Mick Douglas’ sampling.salting.sounding part2 at Apartment #3, Petty’s Settlement, Long Island, The Bahamas
By Sam Trubridge
The rain falls all day. Water tanks and swimming pools brim over. Clouds of mosquitos gather at doorways, and cars plough through puddles of chalky white water. Others who choose to walk leave puddles in the hall and make the sofas soggy with their repose. Mick is mopping — pushing more water around on the tiles, chatting as he does — mopping — wiping water — water wiping — swiping — smearing — cleaning — clearing. We taste salty Caribbean plums, banana bread, and bush tea. He begins: cataloguing the flotsam that he has arranged in a cascade across the apartment theatre gallery; cataloguing fragments of blue and green plastic, each smoothed and rounded by the action of sand and surf; cataloguing depths, measurements, soundings. Never quite fathomable, this rhythmic verse gathers, collects, and samples from the experiences of Vertical Blue, Deep Anatomy, and Long Island. When he passes me a shell, a green motor oil bottle, or a bag of salt from Croatia — can I quite fathom the intention? Inside the bottle is a secret underwater space — a green blue grotto and the muffled sounds from outside. The cracked plastic admits a shaft of light and Mick’s words come to me as I peer into this hidden depth. We peer also into that hidden, sudden depth of the microscope — handed around — to witness salt crystals glistening in a circle of light. We peer into a drawing of a blue circle, water coloured, a blue hole in the paper — and seek to fathom the rhythm of the waves, the haunting call of the megaphones, the cataloguing. We are asked to define the objects ourselves, to speak our definitions into these devices so they may echo our utterances. What is this? — this bucket, this flattened bottle. It is a lung at 70 metres. This bottle top is a blue hole. Perhaps we float, on this sodden day of endless downpour in this room of sudden depth — this grotto, this lens. Perhaps we float and listen to the deep — to the echoing sonar and the call of the foghorn — waiting for that sudden intake of breath, and the silence after.
LATERAL KNOWLEDGE PRODUCTION IN AN EVENT OF THALASSOGRAPHY:
Sociology meets freediving, performance art, medical research and media professionals
By Sara Malou Strandvad
Immersing bodies into the deep and letting the water take over, freediving is a game of superseding the urge to breathe and exploring the bodily sensations of being touched by the natural element of water. Sinking into the sea lets water affect bodies by increasing pressure and activating the mammalian dive reflex. Literally being in deep water affects bodies differently than on land and reconfigures understandings of what humans are capable of.
As a sociologist (and underwater rugby player with a love for water and the emotions of being submerged in this element), I was interested in participating in Deep Anatomy as it provided a unique opportunity for studying a community of freedivers, which have not been portrayed by sociologists before, and doing so in collaboration with a group of performance artists with a different approach than mine.
Before going to the Bahamas, I was preparing for my research at home in Copenhagen, Denmark. To do so, I was reading about freediving online and in books, besides doing a literature review of sociological studies on water sports and other lifestyle sports. Also, I attended the Danish Championships in pool freediving March 7-8, 2015 as an audience member. On the second day of the Danish Championships I was introduced to the two freediving clubs in Copenhagen, and presidents of both clubs told me I was welcome to attend the training in their clubs to learn more about the sport. In fact, one of the clubs (Herlev Dykkerklub) had a one-month introductory course beginning next week. I signed up for this course to gain an understanding of freediving and to get a sense of which questions would be relevant to talk to freedivers about during Vertical Blue.
Over the next month, approximately two evenings per week, I began doing auto-ethnography, which has become a common method for researching sport and other physical practices. Apprenticeship in the form of being a novice freediver was used as a means to get closer to the phenomenon of my study.
When arriving at Long Island, I spent the first days at the beach observing the competition. As I had brought my partner and young son with me, freedivers with families who were playing at the shallow beach next to the competition site became a point of entry. To differentiate my approach from the performance artists’ and making it visible what I was doing, as well as making my research accessible to all participants in the competition, I had planned to use questionnaires as an object to encounter participants with. Printed on cardboard and put on clipboards accompanied with pens with the name and logo of my university, I asked participants if they would fill out my questionnaire. I had crafted the questionnaire so that it was only one page long and focused on questions about training. In the questionnaire, the final question was whether you would be interested in doing an interview. Handing out the questionnaire, getting it back, and clarifying questions provided a chance for me to meet everyone and exchange a few words about free-diving and my research. Most participants filled out this questionnaire in a tent on the beach where divers were waiting before and after their dives.
Besides me, former freediving champion Stig Severinsen, who holds a PhD in medicine, was carrying out research on behalf of the medical technology company Masimo in an attempt to improve the safety protocol of freediving. One of the most dangerous injuries that can happen during freediving is the so-called “lung squeeze.” When a diver descends, the increasing pressure of the water compresses the lungs. At 100 meters below the surface of the ocean, the pressure of the water squashes the lungs to one-eleventh of their size on land. When the lung cavity is compressed beyond its residual volume (the normal volume of the lungs when a person completely exhales), pulmonary capillaries can rupture and leak blood into the breathing space. Under-pressure in the lungs draws fluids from the capillaries into the air spaces and makes the diver cough blood. Since the contestant Nick Mevoli died after a national record attempt during Vertical Blue 2013, presumably from pushing himself too much and experiencing numerous lung squeezes over a longer period of time, precautions have been installed to avoid future accidents. Rules of freediving competitions authorized by AIDA have been changed, so that, for example, judges can now prohibit a contestant from diving after having experienced a lung squeeze (based on recommendations by medics), contestants are not allowed to attempt sudden progressions in depth during competitions, and contestants are no longer allowed to make turns during their decent (to help equalization) as this increases pressure on the lungs. Furthermore, freedivers have become highly interested in research into lung squeezes and how to prevent them. Masimo’s medical device MightySat pulse oximeter can measure a person’s blood oxygen saturation. The MightySat clips onto the end of a person’s finger, and works like other pulse oximeters. In healthy individuals, blood oxygen saturation should be somewhere between 95 and 100%, but if something, such as fluid in the lungs, is preventing the transfer of oxygen into the bloodstream, the value will drop. In the tent on the beach, Stig Severinsen tested all contestants’ blood oxygen saturation immediately before and after each dive throughout Vertical Blue 2015.
My questionnaire became an object that participants filled out after having their blood oxygen saturation measured after their dives. In a few days, almost all contestants and the whole safety team had filled it out. At the second ‘Intersections’ talks I gave a presentation of my findings, showing graphs and figures of the answers from the questionnaires. During the next days, even more people filled out the questionnaire: judges, photographers, freedivers’ partners and a medical consultants. Also, in addition to issuing questionnaires, I began interviewing freedivers.
Interviews were planned ad-hoc and were carried out at various locations: on the beach (under an umbrella, in the tent for athletes or on the cliffs), in informants’ residences (at Harbor Breeze Villas near Clarence Town and at Petty’s Settlement), and in bars (Rowdy Boys Bar & Grill and Max Conch Bar). All interviews were individual, except in one case where two friends were interviewed together. Interviews lasted between fifteen minutes and one hour. An interview guide was used so that interviews followed the same basic structure (asking firstly about development in free-diving career, then training practices, and finally emotions during dives). Yet, the interviews were semi-structured and followed the course of the conversation which meant that some topics were brought up in some interviews but not all (e.g. diets, breathing routines, injuries, and nitrogen narcosis). Twenty-one informants were interviewed by the author. In three of these interviews Denise Bachelor, a video artist participating in Deep Anatomy, was a co-interviewer, and in three other interviews Tracy C. Davis, professor of performing arts and visiting correspondent from Performance Studies international, was a co-interviewer, and in one case both Denise and Tracy were co-interviewers. Three interviews were carried out by Denise Bachelor, one of them together with performance artist Mick Douglas. Interviews were audio-recorded and transcribed by the author. One recording was lost, and notes were made about this interview afterwards, and for that reason this interview is not used for direct quotations.
In some ways, my research interview resembled the journalistic interviews that were also carried out on the beach with the freedivers, for example, when asking informants about defining moments of their free-diving career and emotions during a dive. Some of these questions had obviously been answered numerous times before by some of the informants. For example, when I asked about feelings when diving, an informant replied:
You know, a lot of people ask me, “how do you feel before dive,” “how do you feel during dive,” “how do you feel after dive,” and I’m like, “you know, I really enjoy deep free-diving because in that time, in that moment, when I’m doing my deep dive I think about nothing” […] basically I just try to be as relaxed as possible, before my dive, during the dive. Of course, after the dive, if it was a nice dive, I have this feeling of happiness, of newborn, I’m happy you know. (Interview with VB15 participant, informant M)
As this quote illustrates, elite freedivers are not only used to being asked the same questions repeatedly (e.g. “how do you feel when diving so deep?”), they moreover know the expected and hackneyed answers (e.g. feeling “newborn” when returning to the surface and taking the first breath of air again), and they reflect critically on these stereotyped ways of portraying their sport and produce different stories based on their own experiences (e.g. that deep diving is enjoyable because you “think about nothing” during a dive).
To express their views on freediving, many of the informants do not restrict themselves to giving interviews. They also author their own accounts, participating in online forums as well as having personal websites, blogs, Facebook-, Instagram-, and Twitter-accounts. In other words, these informants produce knowledge about freediving alongside being subjects of my study, thus entangling our practices and giving us a shared interest in freediving (Riles). By auto-documenting their activities and developing theories about their practices, freedivers imitate the practices of ethnographers. As an informant responded when I asked what freediving feels like: “I asked the same question on one competition. I had a camera, and I was going from person to person asking them, ‘What is freediving for you? Is it good? Is it bad? Do you enjoy it?’” (Interview with VB15 participant, informant N). What this example of informants’ own knowledge production practices illustrates is that the work of the sociologist is one form of knowledge production among many.
At Long Island, during Deep Anatomy and Vertical Blue 2015, freedivers, performance artists, medical researchers, media professionals and I, the sociologist, all produced accounts of the events, our own experiences, and our encounters with the other participants, athletes, and locals. With its foundation in freediving, this event provided a unique opportunity for learning to start thinking from the water, contributing to the “new wave of thalassography,” a perspective from the sea in opposition to traditional land-based thinking (Steinberg xvi). Moreover, this event enabled an interdisciplinary exchange, an opportunity for starting thinking laterally about one’s own knowledge production by putting it in relation with other forms of knowledge production, thus not only viewing the practices of others as ethnographic objects, but also treating one’s own knowledge production as an ethnographic object.
SAM TRUBRIDGE: To echo the diver’s journey into the depths and back, Deep Anatomy coined “the incursion” as a term to describe an activity or experience within a specific landscape that is exploratory, speculative, and research-oriented. It resisted the touristic preoccupations of the “excursion,” turning voyeurism into self-inspection, turning entertainment or distraction into inquiry. This may describe the journey of the diver as much as the scholar or artist, where seductive allure (of the water or an aesthetic experience) is surpassed to find something that challenges romanticism or complexifies a simple reading of the situation. This after all is the dread-full character of this island. There are the familiar idyllic qualities that characterise any tropical location, which easily conceal the tensions and undercurrents that move underneath, where the limpid shallows give way to a sudden depth, where shipwreck and ruin sit on beautiful shores. Not far away from Long Island is the spectre of Haiti’s crisis, evidenced in floating gyres of third-world garbage, and the remains of refugee boats along its Southern coastline.
The privileged positions and backgrounds that Strandvad observes in freediving athletes may problematize this scenario, revealing tensions between two faces of migration and global circulation that Caren Kaplan refers to in Questions of Travel (1996) between contemporary first world nomadism (the tourist/expat) and displaced populations (the exile/refugee). Without purporting to remedy this situation, this cluster and its various devices like the “incursion” attempted to bring new narratives or perspectives to the local community — where the predominant sympathy seems more aligned with USA right-wing politics on the matter of immigration.
The attitudes among many freedivers and their role within Long Island’s ecology is significant here. As a distinct subculture, members of the freediving community generally live rather simple lives (see Adam Skolnik’s One Breath about Nicholas Mevoli), with many uniting their athletic pursuits alongside environmental and social causes. In this specific context on Long Island, in a small subsistence economy with little tourism or industry, the competition brings more people to the island than any other single event — with 40-70 athletes, crew, and their families spending around 4-6 weeks on the island every year. They teach islanders water safety, promote care of local ecosystems, and contribute to the local economy significantly. This is the action or gesture at the heart of the concept for the “incursion,” where the touristic excursion is inverted — demanding something of the traveller at the point of their greatest immersion, where affect, change, and insight occur at that deepest turning point of the dive into a foreign space, and when the return begins.
By Amelia Taverner
Garments for this work were gathered from the wreck of the Miss Shirley which ran aground at Gordon’s Beach in 2013. The boat was registered in North Carolina. It probably carried refugees from Haiti to the USA northwards, and second-hand merchandise in the other direction, such as the mattresses heaped on its deck.
“The Kanté” is the Haitian word for the illegal boat journey that many refugees make north from Haiti through Turks and Caicos or The Bahamas. There is not much documentation of how many take this journey each year, how many are sent back, or how many survive. However, in an article on 14 October 2016 The Pacific Standard documents 6,000 Haitians waiting on the Mexican border in Tijuana, and 130,000 undocumented Haitians living in the USA who have been granted temporary protection status (TPS) until July 2017. Accounts in Long Island are anecdotal, with stories of a shipwreck in 2005 where 50 bodies washed ashore south of Clarence Town. More recently there is documentation of thirty-one migrants who landed on Long Island on 4 December 2013, then caught by police and immigration officials and flown back to Haiti.
The patchwork made from salvaged garments was presented in three stages for Deep Anatomy: first strewn on the beach of Turtle Cove in the first act of Vertical Blue; then as a single surface, stitched together and floated in the lagoon next to Dean’s Blue Hole; finally it was returned to the remains of the Miss Shirley. The fabric was stretched between the rigging posts that still remained above the water of the wreck, amongst the broken ribs of its hull. From the sea and the shore the familiar shape and colours make it seem like another ship at sea, arriving at this southernmost point of the island, or just about to fill its sails with wind and depart.
MICK DOUGLAS: I have told myself that I will enact a three-part cycle of generating performance installations that interlace with the Vertical Blue’s three-act structure. This is a process of following global circulations in local instances. This is a way of sampling local fragments charged in relation to a greater whole, a way that poises the immediacy of embodied senses into relation with larger human concerns of ecological systems and the earthly cycles. This is the transformation of seawater into sea-salt and back again, reminding us that whilst human negotiation with natural systems and resources has in recent centuries been commonly containing and capitalizing, circulations of salt continue to exceed control. This is working with sound waves as a medium of measure, interaction, translation, and affective encounter between animate and material forces. This is tracing an iterative path of temporary site-specific performance installation events, each seeking to afford a resonant encounter in a field of relations between material fragments, sound waves, and the powerful material force of local salt and its cultural histories. This process manifests a third performance installation at Long Island’s Diamond Crystal Salt Ponds.
This leaves you having witnessed the recurring event of a man repeatedly emerging from the sea to land himself ashore with his idealised desire, who deflates into a state of encountering the real, who returns to the sea to again submerge himself, only to re-emerge and submerge, again, and again.
In response to Mick Douglas’ “sampling, salting, sounding part3” at Diamond Crystal Salt Farm, Long Island, The Bahamas
By Sam Trubridge
Turn left at Hard Bargain. Past the abandoned buildings that hum with the ingress of insects. A kitchen alive with bees. The varicose veins of termite tracks. Rake and Scrape bands played here. Tradesmen were trained. Back in the days of the salt farm.
“Crystallisation is a chemical process of solid-liquid separation , in which mass transfer of a solute from the liquid solution to a pure solid crystalline phase occurs” (Wikipedia).
The road rides a network of crumbling causeways: crossing culverts and sluice-gates through the broad salt pans. Here the super-heated sea water was spread thin after its long journey through the canals and salt ponds, on a path carved by the Diamond Crystal company all the way from the ocean at Deadman’s Cay. Thirty-five kilometres of shallow sea water, slowly heating in the tropical sun, on its way to the sky.
Down by the stand of casuarina on the sea’s edge there are broken down factory buildings. There is a harbour full of sand. One tugboat remains, halfway up a slow rise of sand as if it were riding this slow-moving tide, or frozen in some heroic crossing of some great ocean. Mick has a left a trail of blue plastic along the track that leads to the sea — a kind of tidal mark left by his passage, declaring the path that he wants us to take. We pass the tugboat and its parched harbour, where a haunting sound has been installed, drifting from open doors and portholes — a plaintive beckoning, a “karanga,” or the fog-horn of a ship lost at sea.
“The magnamity of the sea, which permits no record” (Herman Melville, “Moby Dick”)
Under a stand of casuarina by the beach is an abandoned campfire. Paper tags are tied to items strewn on the sand and pine needles. THIS IS… A sandal dried by sun sand and salt. THIS IS… the branch of a casuarina tree, whispering in the wind. THIS IS… a plastic bottle. THIS IS… a stone. THIS IS… an empty lobster shell. THIS IS… a small campfire by the sea. THIS IS… random objects demarked by small tags and an endless intonation. THIS IS… a megaphone’s empty classification with no subject or noun, just an endless THIS IS… We measure. We measure with pronouns and meters and metres, holding these rules, these rulers up against the world to know it — THIS deep hole is 202 metres, THIS storm reached wind speeds of 125km/hr, THIS fragile line we hold up to the tempest, or lower into the abyss, to scale and give scale to its unbelievable scale, this is 10 metres, this is 20 metres, this is 30 metres, this is 40 metres, this is 50 metres, this is 60 metres, this is 70 metres, this is 80 metres, this is 90 metres, this is 100 metres, this is 110 metres, this is 120 metres, turn, and return, this is 110 metres, this is 100 metres, this is 100 metres, this 90 metres, this is 80 metres, this is 70 metres, this is 60 metres, this is 50 metres, this is 40 metres, this is 30 metres, this 20 metres, this is 10 metres…
“Diamond Crystal®: It’s more than just salt — it is a solution that transforms something in your home to make it better. It provides your family with better tasting food; with soft water for your skin, dishes and pipes; with safety when you walk in winter, and a refreshing experience when you swim in summer. Diamond Crystal®Salts are a brilliant way for you to take care of your family and home, in a way that is generally unseen, but certainly missed if absent. Diamond Crystal®: A Brilliant Choice® Since 1886” (http://diamondcrystalsalt.com/)
THIS IS… a microscope balanced on a wooden table above the sand. A lens. An inward eye on the inner world of inner scale. A miniature theatre where tiny little specks of salt sit in lamplight, silently revealing their shape, their crystalline surfaces, their tiny secrets. A looking glass for “this is, what’s that, what’s in there, what’s it like, let me see, look inside, look closer, look deeper, go deeper.” Here on a plate of glass a single grain of salt.
There beyond the trees, the rolling Gatorade-blue salty sea, sighing onto the sugary sand. And more calling from the ghostly megaphones, hanging in their branches. With the tread of their fine needles under our feet we pass along the sea’s bright edge to where a man floats, where a man breaks the surface, where a man bounces joyfully to the dry edge of the sand, where a man lets his face fall and returns again to the ocean, striding out past his depth to float again, face down, in the electric blue swell. And again. And again. The megaphone drones the shortest sampling from a familiar song, indistinct for the technology, oceanic in its repetition, for the swelling rise and fall of its broken meter, and for its unison with the sounds of the trees and surf.
“yesterday was a — nother day when I — saw you — ; yesterday was a — nother day when I — saw you — ; yesterday was a — nother day when I — saw you — ;” (Mazzy Star, “She’s My Baby”).
He turns and returns from the sand to surf, from standing to floating, coming and going, coalescing and sublimating, back and forth, saturating and crystallising in this sparkling, shimmering panorama of Bahamian blue, full of scattered light, fragments floating, plastic fragments of blue and white and bright on the swell.
DENISE BATCHELOR: As a child I watched my older brother from the rocky shoreline, taking a breath and diving over and over until finally he would make his way ashore with his shellfish bounty of paua (abalone). This would become his livelihood for over forty years working as a professional fisherman, where the first freedivers began.
In preparation for my participation in Deep Anatomy, I joined him on an unusually calm day on the Wairarapa coast in New Zealand. Clad in a wetsuit from head to toe and completely out of my comfort zone, I followed him into the water and watched him dive through prolific kelp, seaweed, and murk to hunt and gather. Until this moment I hadn’t realized how my familiarity with his freediving had never extended into the world he entered under the surface.
At Dean’s Blue Hole, with its pristine white sand and seaweed-free, clear warm water – the contrast could not have been more profound. Swimming across the hole for the first time, looking down into its dark depths, I felt alone, a foreigner in an unfamiliar country.
However, over the days that followed, my focus turned to breath, my own breath, the breath of many competing freedivers, and even Dean’s Blue Hole, which appeared to me to breathe as it inhaled then exhaled each competing freediver. These observations evoked a quietening of my own breathing, and instilled a new understanding of my brother’s lifelong connection to the ocean.
By Tracy C. Davis
Many global sports — football, rugby, cricket, lacrosse — emerged from one ethnos (a village, a school, a tribe) competing against another. As wider and wider networks of players emerged, codification set in: rules and timekeeping were enforced by referees and judges. Now, when we tune in to watch a match, we no longer think of these sports’ connections to pre-industrial communities but naturalize the leagues and governing bodies that adjudicate competition and the logos that adorn uniforms. Village affiliations have been replaced by metropolises and nations. Virtuosity sustains the games, but we know about them because they are not just big sports. They are big business.
At Vertical Blue 2015, big sport was announced by the Suunto banners that spanned part of the beach and bedecked the diving platform. Yet this was window dressing. Cameras were particularly noticeable at the dive site — at the water line and below — and thanks to telephoto lenses they were also on the cliffs above and at the shoreline. Professionals and amateurs documented assiduously. Good documentation will promulgate the aim of publicizing, proliferating, and recruiting into the pursuit of freediving, but the lack of a network film crew indicates it is not yet big business.
Somewhat like golfers, divers compete against themselves, many striving to set personal bests in the various disciplines, but they also compete on behalf of a nation. Despite aspirations to attract sponsors (which were tangible) and set national records (which were enthusiastically noted), and notwithstanding the multinational field of divers and the legitimacy of operating under the direction of the international regulatory organization AIDA, Vertical Blue 2015 had more of the flavour of small-town rodeos I watched in western Canada the 1960s than an emergent sport seeking an audience. At a small town rodeo spectators amble back to the chuck-wagon to plant one cowboy boot on the fence rail and watch the bronco riders come out of the chute; clowns are in the arena to distract the animal away from its (inevitably) thrown rider; a timekeeper clocks the seconds; and a judge posts the scores. Vertical Blue’s site was accessed by a rutted sandy road. The concessionaire had a small BBQ and cooked conch and hamburgers to order. There were two small children with water-wings dashing in and out of the shallow surf. Spectators could swim out to the dive site and hang onto the square perimeter. Socially, and as a horizontal mise en scène, Vertical Blue was approachable, laid back, and improvisatory. Even though what is most interesting about freediving probably cannot be magnified into a commodity, as competition technology, daring, and expertise were in abundance.
The dives were scheduled about ten minutes apart, the diver’s aspired depth and time pre-announced. Each diver suited up and progressed to the preparatory platform a few meters from the dive site; executed their dive; emerged to be authenticated (or not), congratulated (or carded), and if necessary oxygenated; returned to shore, and took their time to unsuit and join the community as observers. Meanwhile, Sam Trubridge called the time from the dive platform like a preindustrial town crier who kept the entire community informed in sync. Here in the Bahamas, time is mutable: you are told to arrive two hours ahead of your flight time yet wait an additional forty-five minutes, but this does not mean the plane is late. Nothing is ever confessedly late, or busy, or quiet. There seems to be tacit agreement about this. But the time that Sam called could not be gainsaid. Everyone’s rhythm was set by his countdowns. And when a diver flipped and began their descent, a new set of times, interpolated with distances, began. Sam read the sonar and announced depth while judges operated their watches. Depending on what the diver specified as their goal we knew whether or not they were on track. When the diver re-emerged from what was sometimes much-stirred and murky Atlantic water, and performed specified acts signifying health and mental composure, the judges determined whether the dive was successful or had demerits. The safety divers who had accompanied divers on the last 35 meters of the ascent kibbitzed and gracefully floated in the pen.
These death-defying acts that took place at ten-minute intervals were sustained in the midst of exquisitely orchestrated camaraderie. In epic poetry and drama, such deeds are depicted in the aristeia: the scene where a hero’s finest moments are exhibited. The freedivers reminded me of Diomedes, one of the Achaean kings who waged the Trojan War. Diomedes epitomizes traditional heroic values, striving for glory but never succumbing to hubris. For some critics, Diomedes’ aristeia is in battle, but for me it is this passage that shows his great wisdom. When Nestor proposes that someone reconnoiter the Trojan camp to look for stragglers and listen for helpful intelligence all the Greeks remained “stricken to silence.” Then, only Diomedes of the great war cry spoke forth among them:
Nestor, my own heart and my own proud spirit arouse me
to go into the host of the hateful men who lie near us,
the Trojans; but if some other man would go along with me
there would be more comfort in it, and greater confidence.
When two go together, one of them at least looks forward
to see what is best; a man by himself, though he be careful,
still has less mind in him than two, and his wits have less weight.
(Iliad, trans. Richard Lattimore, Book 10.219-26)
Rather than seeking solitary valour, Diomedes takes the collective approach, finding greater strength and cunning in comradeship. He ventured forth with Odysseus.
The virtuoso/a is another ancient concept embodying power, strength, and moral goodness. Additionally, the virtuoso/a has extraordinary technical skill, and hence we associate this term particularly with musicianship. Other artists and artisans can qualify, but differentiating between the prowess of the virtuoso/a and the lesser mortal is a helpful way to contrast the accomplishments of aristeia from other, lesser, deeds. Music’s quality of sound is dependent not merely on the instrument but also in how it is wielded: muscular control of the diaphragm, chest walls, throat, jaw, and face determine how breath is collected, held, and expelled on notes. The ear, of course, is important but its discernment and calibration is a matter of mind as well as ottic acuity. The virtuoso/a is also a master of coordination: for instrumentalists this means the hands, but they are connected to arms and shoulders that must have the optimal relaxation, poise, and grace in the midst of exertion and precision. In ensembles the musician coordinates with others but takes ultimate responsibility for their improvisation within the fluid discipline of concerted sound-making. And in all cases awareness of how sound resonates in a locale, and is affected by the presence of absorbent and non-absorbent surfaces, remains tempered to pitch, and requires ongoing adjustment is a matter of discernment but also the ability to activate infinite calibrations while playing. But virtuosi too find greater resourcefulness in company, relying continually on teachers and coaches to temper their approach and other musicians to temper their pitch. In a sense, they go into their aristeia always with the fuller resource of this fellowship.
Valorous combatants, virtuosi, and freedivers do what the rest of us cannot, in part because they are trained by experts, hone technique through long practice and experience, through which they also hone superior mental and physical apparatuses with which to execute their cunning. Some of the divers at Vertical Blue exhibited physical ideals: carve them in marble and they would be readily recognized as goddesses and gods of old. But not all are thus — there are phenotypes of all sorts excelling in the pursuit of the deep — and excellence is not the product of an ideal physique. Most avow that freediving is an interior-focused pursuit, adrenalin is antithetical to their needs because it increases respiration and oxygen utilization, and so mantras of peacefulness, tranquillity, and surrender are preferred. In the yoga sutras, surrender leads to greater attainment, and with steady practice comes greater comfort; deep contemplation leads to mastery and triumph over dualities (Patanjali, Book 2.45-8). Certainly, a reckoning with duality is necessary: as an instructor of the Eskimo Roll once told me, “water is a low-oxygen environment.” But freediving is more profound and agential than dodging a rock or righting a kayak after a watery broadside: it requires not just righting oneself without the panic of a push-out, but takes a sustained will over many minutes that requires calibrated physical and mental adjustments at specific depths on the descent and ascent. Without these the consequences are more than a dousing and sputter. At a certain depth gravity takes a body downward and the mind must remember not only when and how to turn toward the surface, but also to marshal enough energy and oxygen for the effort of ascent.
Some divers say that this epitomizes freedom. They must be right, because only they could know, though this is not all I perceive in the ontology of this pursuit. Freedom is not commensurate with agency; agency is not commensurate with technical ability. The divers must free themselves through self-knowledge that releases them from fear. They practice with effort, they execute with effort, and though this eases and naturalizes with repetition it is always an exertion of some facet of their virtuosic apparatus such as body, mind, or sattva (lightness or clarity).
This is facilitated by the community. When William Trubridge arose from his 120-meter dive, his tanned face was ash-coloured: blood had pooled to his core and brain in a mammalian survival instinct, and specific kinds of breath were requisite to expel the pallour. His coach commanded: “hook, William, hook!” And he hooked. The ability to execute the physical act of diving, return, and restoration in optimal sequence, infinitely calibrated to the circumstances, is the virtuosity of this pursuit. Like Diomedes, divers strive for honour and glory but do so in partnership in order not succumb to madness or hubris in the depths or at the surface. Perhaps the way to convey this is not as big sport but through epic poetry.
By Jess Richards
ACT THREE: Drowning / Breathing
And here we are, waiting, in our air-conditioned hotel room. You’re sitting at a small round table cluttered with laptops, notebooks and biscuit crumbs. You’re playing a computer game to try to calm down and distract yourself from what we’re about to do. Outside, the air is moist and heavy. Your face has gone grey, the colour of fear. I’m asking myself if you’ll go through with this, because you’re not even in the water yet but you’re on the verge of hyperventilating.
Today we will go to Lovers’ Beach, a place neither of us have ever been to before.
We will go into unknown waves, in an unfamiliar place, no matter how shallow or deep the water is, no matter how hard the undercurrents push or pull.
We wear red clothing in two shades – arterial blood and deoxygenated blood.
You have two lengths of red parachute cord to tie our wrists together with.
On Lovers’ Beach I will push you under the water and hold your body down.
I don’t know how I’ll be able to tell if you’re drowning or screaming, when you’re underwater.
Will I be able to see your face if the surface is moving?
You abandon your computer game, get up from your chair and stand beside me. You say, “I might have a heart attack. I could have a heart attack.”
Inside, I’m churning because this feels possible. I take your hand, stand up, hug you and say, “no, you won’t. Dying is banned.”
I am trying to stay calm for you while knowing that fear is contagious. I don’t know if I will be able to remain calm. But I will try to, because you will be two and a half years old when I drown you. And I will be my own age, drowning the one lover I’ve had who knows exactly what to do when my body remembers terror and can’t stop shaking.
Without you, I wouldn’t be able to keep breathing.
So if anyone can be trusted, you can trust me to drown you, and yet still keep you alive.
SALLY MORGAN: I draw her into the picture-perfect sea with red ropes. She plunges me backwards into the salt water, and holds me under.
We’re on Lovers’ Beach, a pale basin of blue sea enclosed within a circle of tall rock formations. A narrow gap shows a darker ocean, just beyond us. You are waist-deep in salt water, I am on the sand. We face each other. You have led me here by tugging on red parachute cord, red rope, red threads, or are these veins which bind our wrists together? I walk slowly towards you. Wrapping red lines around your wrists – as you pull, I am drawn to you. You pull. I step. Again, you pull, and I step.
Everything else falls away. For a moment, I think there should be some kind of music, but all noises are echoes and thuds.
When I am close enough to touch you, fear translates your face. You’re trembling, and you look at me as if I will hurt you.
My hands are on your shoulders and you are breathing so fast my throat clenches. I place my feet steady because my body has to feel strong for yours. Sand shifts under the balls of my feet. You are looking into my eyes and I watch you shrink. You are unable to hide anything you feel from me, and I am trying to hide everything I feel from both you and myself.
You say “no.” Again, you say “no.” I don’t know if you speak this, or feel this. I can no longer tell the difference between emotions and these vanishing sounds. All I can hear is your breath. Water sends no tune of undrowning to my ears, not when fear can make your eyes look at me like this.
I can’t breathe. I hate this. I have to breathe.
Your body needs to feel that my body is safe and that means all of my breathing is now going to seem slow and you are going to believe that I am incredibly calm. I tell you, “I’ve got you, it’s going to be all right.” These are nothing words but I have to mean them as I say them, so I mean them.
Your pupils shrink. Your pulse thuds through my palms. You sink a little as I gently move your head back towards the water. You whimper.
You say “no,” yet again.
Your forehead has broken sweat. Youre so pale. The skin under your eyes darkens. You are still above the water, and you already look like you’re dying. I can’t look away. The wind blows our hair over our faces and I hold yours back with one hand and mine back with the other so I can look into your eyes and tell you without speaking… trust me.
I push you gently on the shoulders, downwards, and release the pressure. My body is trying to teach your body that it is safe, though it isn’t. Your breathing quickens. The fear in your eyes flashes away and I see determination there, but only momentarily. I inhale, and add more pressure to your shoulders.
You let me push you further backwards this time. In whispers I talk to you as if you are a frightened child. You’re crying, I think you are. I’m not quite sure.
Your hair spreads on the surface of water like unravelling rope. I ask if you’re ready, with my voice or thoughts, I can’t tell the difference.
You aren’t ready. You will never be ready.
But you have pulled me here to drown you. And I love you, so that is what I will do.
I keep my eyes on yours, barely blinking, voice steady.
I add more pressure through my hands, trying to teach your body a direction.
I tell myself that your heart will not attack you.
I tell myself that this is your fear I’ve caught, and not my own, so I will hide it from you.
I tell myself that I will not become your killer, I will remain your lover.
SALLY MORGAN: I am not other. You are not other. We whisper in waist deep water. We talk about our fears and desires. You have kicked off your heavy boots and left them in the sand. I can hear my own rapid breathing. We are the colours of blood flowing to the heart, and flowing from the heart. We speak the truth, as we know it, with our bodies.
I tell myself that as long as I trust myself not to ever hurt you, I won’t ever hurt you.
I tell myself that I can trust your body enough to fight for itself, if it needs to.
I tell myself that there is no danger, other than the danger that is terror.
Your eyes, nose and mouth are the only parts of you which remain above water.
Your eyes, a slight narrowing, a widening.
An intake of breath through your mouth.
My hand pushes down hard on your chest.
There is silence. In this moment, not hearing your fast breathing is a relief.
I don’t believe in relief.
I can’t read your emotions. Blue water makes your skin corpse pale. Suddenly you look calm, as if the water has drawn all the fear out of you but I don’t trust that this is the right way to think…
The water could be lying.
There are beads of mascara on your eyelashes which look like black feathers. Your eyes are open, unfocussed, I can’t even see if they’re trying to focus. Bubbles flip as they leave your mouth and rise towards me.
Water makes your eyes look distant because they can’t see beyond it.
Water pretends calmness by making your face expressionless.
Water wears you, or you wear water, like a mask.
SALLY MORGAN: My body performs itself: its own fears and desires, its own embodied compassion and tenderness: its own longings.
It is almost peaceful, up here in air, looking down at you in water.
I don’t trust this sense of peace.
The ocean is lying.
I trust you more than oceans.
I can feel traces of panic between your skin and my hands, like electricity.
This is how I don’t really drown you: not trusting water, but trusting my hands to listen to your body and your body to talk to my hands.
A flicker somewhere between your breastbone and my palm.
Your expression changes. The mask of water slips away. You’re terrified.
The water becomes waves and now I can’t see your face. My heart thuds in my throat. I was right not to trust water. It is volatile.
You reach out and grip my shoulder. I push down on your chest.
Your fingers and palms find the edges between air and water.
Still, I hold you under.
The remaining tight breath escapes from your lungs.
I can’t bear to hold you down any more. I release your chest. As your body emerges, it gasps, flails, grabs me and lets itself be held.
SALLY MORGAN: I cannot heal my fear of drowning. Can I heal my fear of love? All love. Drown without dying.
You inhale and I exhale and your breathing fills my ears.
Your arms are trembling.
Your hands are trembling.
Your skull is trembling.
Your spine is trembling.
Somewhere beneath these cold shudders of skin, there’s warmth, a heartbeat, blood and bones. Your body has terror living in it. Terror is far more dangerous than water. Your mind has courage. The body hangs onto its memories, no matter what damage they cause. You nearly drowned as a small child, but you’re not drowning now.
When you’re ready, I will lead you out of this ocean.
This isn’t any cure, it’s your body trusting the body of your lover.
It’s your body trusting your mind to trust.
It’s your body allowing your mind to look at the edges of fear.
It’s the edges of fear which allow you to love and be loved without drowning.
As we stand here waist-deep holding onto one another, we are no more than two bodies in water. You are a body full of fear and I am a body which offers safety. Burying my feet in the sand, I hold your trembling back and stroke you with the palms of my hands.
SAM TRUBRIDGE: In this small gathering of artists, academics, and athletes, a new model for inter-disciplinarity emerged in an unexpected place: many of the collaborations and dialogues in Deep Anatomy were informed by or catalysed by relationships — within families or between lovers. This revealed the inter-disciplinary power of these close connections: such as photographer Denise Batchelor’s interest in her brother, a diver and fisherman; the new love between writer Jess Richards and performance artist Sally J. Morgan; freediving photographer Daan Verhoeven’s relationship with his father, the Dutch philosopher Cornelis Verhoeven; and my own ongoing work with my brother. In these spaces new dialogues and new languages are made possible. Familial bonds bring practices together where they may not do so otherwise, and disciplinary regimes are relaxed in this space. In these contexts practices engage with states of play or playfulness that characterise the relationships between siblings, between parents and children, or between lovers. As I have discussed in other texts on art/science collaboration, play is a “pre-disciplinary” state, wherein the subject acquires new knowledge by testing their physical abilities, examination of the environment, and by expressing themselves in equal measure. In adult terms these intermingling processes may be called athletics, science, and art respectively — but that would be to make these qualities into terms, to make them behave, or discipline them. Here in play, all assumptions are suspended, as we test ourselves in the world and with one another. While the more formal, stated structures of Deep Anatomy produced some exciting new implications for how the arts can intersect with other disciplines, this other dynamic was subversive but also poignant, providing a surprising and sudden depth to many of the relationships that were performed and examined throughout the symposium.
DAAN VERHOEVEN: “Deep” is a word with many facets: you can have deep conversations or deep pockets, you can be deeply in love or fall into deep depression, you can look deep into the eyes of somebody and touch their soul deeply, you can have a deep voice or listen to Deep Purple, you can go deep into a cave or deep into sleep, you can take a deep breath and dive into the deep blue sea, or you can have deep thoughts.
So you can be deep both literally and figuratively, deep both physically and metaphysically. I’d like to focus on that last bit, because I have been thinking about that word “deep” and “deeper” since the year 2006, and I’d like to explain why. My father was a professor in metaphysics, and when he died in 2001 he was on the news. He was described as the most original thinker in Holland and in a way the deepest man in Holland. When he died he left 3750 published works. As I was going through his work I discovered even more. I discovered five folders of 200 essays that hadn’t been published yet. So I started copying these essays. I saw that he worked every day. From the time he was about eight or nine, he started writing things down. Every day he wrote and wrote. It was an inherent need for him that he write every day, think every day, and process those thoughts every day. I had to deal with this enormous quantity of work. Personally I have never been that deep. I have always liked fart jokes more than I’ve liked philosophy. So I was dealing with something that I could barely comprehend. I remember when I was five or six I learnt how to read, and I thought I could read my dad’s work. But I got stuck on the first sentence and couldn’t understand it at all. I tried again when I was twelve, but not much better. And by the time I was fifteen I realised my father was much deeper than I am. I realised that I was never going to get to that level, and was never quite going to be able to get that deep.
After my father died, I had to take care of his work, to make sure it was still read, published, and available to libraries. The load of that task, and barely being able to do it, and missing him at the same time, sent me into a depression. That was about as deep as I could get, I figured at the time. The thing that got me out of it, after a couple of years, was freediving. I discovered something I could play with, that I could naturally do. Philosophy was such an alien thing to me that when I reconnected with water, and rekindled with my own passion for being underwater, and that feeling of flying, it brought me back to the surface in a weird way. In freediving you have to train a bit, so you get healthier, and you take better care of your diet. All of those things helped me pull myself out of my depression. So by 2006 I had been freediving for a year. For some reason, mostly because I am Dutch and Dutch were not deep freedivers at the time, I set a National Record. So my dad was the deepest man metaphysically, in Holland, and all of a sudden I was the deepest man, physically in Holland. And that baffled me, because I drown in the first page of Heidegger, and my dad couldn’t swim at all. And yet both of us go deep, and end up being the deepest.
So what is it that connects my father and me, other than genetics? I look physically a little bit like him. I have his knobbly knees, and I have his nice hands. But I didn’t get his brain at all. So I keep wondering — there must be something that connects us — why we both go deeper. Looking back on those unpublished essays, (I copied them all, and there were thousands and thousands of copies) I started noticing that he must have really loved this. He must have really loved doing this. I connected that to the hours and hours of training I put in. I never thought of it as training. I never set a record or anything. I just loved being underwater: you do what you love. It’s a passion. So it started clicking for me: if you have a passion, if you are passionate for something, then you go deeper. You go deeper into whatever it is you are passionate about. People who are into astronomy will gaze into that night sky, and will completely lose themselves. People who collect stamps will completely lose themselves in that connection they feel. That’s where the physical and the metaphysical meet each other. We’ve all been there, when you follow your passion, and you do something you really love, and there comes that moment when you lose yourself. I think that if you go deep enough you reach a core where the metaphysical and the physical, words and images, are all the same, it’s all one.
By Sam Trubridge
With breath by William Trubridge, Amelia Taverner, Daan Verhoeven, Georgina Miller, Tomoka Fukuda, Annelie Pompe, Meredith Smye, Tracy Davis, Sara Malou Strandvad, Tariq Jakobsen, Stephen Whelan, and Thomas Bouchard.
On the bottom of a lagoon near Clarence Town is an anchor, covered in coral and weed. Deep Anatomy participants and members of the island community were invited to fill plastic bubbles with their breath and attach them to a growing cluster of bubbles affixed to its shank. Thus, piece-by-piece, their individual breaths lifted the anchor from the sea-bed and returned it to the surface. However, the wave action on the surface stretched and snapped the rings attaching the anchor to the buoy, and after moments on the surface, it plummeted back to the sea-bed again. The instant that the anchor surfaced on Long Island remains as a moment of victory and euphoria where breath brought the below above, to break the surface of the ocean with this heavy object.
An anchor is a boat’s connection with the earth through the sea-floor. It creates a link between the floating fluid state above and the safety and security of terra firma below: holding a boat fast in storms, and keeping it in harbour. The anchor is also that quintessential symbol of old maritime culture and seafaring. It reminds us of the passing of this era that Steve Mentz describes: “The end of the age of commercial sail and the advent of airline travel, airborne warfare, containerization, the automation of ports, and even the romance of outer space have displaced the sea from the center of our cultural imagination” (At the Bottom of Shakespeare’s Ocean ix). At seventeen metres deep, the anchor is twice the full fathom five where fathers lie and bones grow coral. It is not a space where performance often ventures, except the athletic performance of divers and their minders. But there is great potential in bringing performance to this place where we should not go as an audience. The sea’s surface is like a stage curtain or veil that we must struggle to look through, and one breath of air will raise an anchor to this veil as a messenger from old ways of travel.
The moment that the anchor reached the surface was a moment of sudden appearance and exposure — a dramatic stage entry perhaps. On the beach, spectators applauded. For it to disappear again was a disappointment, but one that preserved the mystery of that moment and the mystery of the sea as an untameable element that will not be stage-managed, directed, or coerced. This is the “Orphic” nature of the sea that Mentz describes. As it dislodged from the cloud of breaths and plummeted back to sand, the bodies watching from the rolling surface of the water all relaxed in dismay. In a cloud of sand it landed back where it started. Except now, its arrow pointed east, out to sea, back to Europe, whereas before it had pointed south. The plan had been to send the anchor to Greece, as the “Vessel” for the next Fluid States cluster, and as a gift from an older era of seafaring, and from an island with a large population of Greek immigrants who have built churches here in the style of Santorini. But the sea did not yield the anchor in the way we had planned. It is in this way that Many Breaths — unable to produce an artefact or trophy — became the story that would be told about it. Like the one that got away, performance art thrives on the myth, and the retelling of that myth.
So it is with many of these works in Deep Anatomy: performed on a small island, to small audiences, in difficult to document circumstances. Each undergoes an almost alchemical transformation into the storytelling and recounts presented here: a direct transformation from matter into the intangible, a “sublimation” perhaps. Mick Douglas lost a kayak laden with salt during his performance. Untethered, it drifted away from the shore at Diamond Crystal and into the Caribbean Sea between Cuba and The Bahamas to be documented only in search notices that were issued at the Fluid States cluster in Rarotonga, at PSi#22 in Melbourne, and in Performance Research 18.2 On Sea / At Sea. Amelia Taverner’s patchwork shroud of garments was lost to the elements as well, quickly shredded by the wind and tide around the jagged remains of the Miss Shirley.
While this article and this cluster has resisted romanticism we cannot help but idealise that which is lost or unreachable. So it always is with the sea that “permits no record.” Wherever there is water there is romance, forever entangled with the risk of drowning, of places too deep for breath, where we lose things that are close to us, and where we cannot be found.
In this article the sequence of texts and images have attempted to reanimate the various contributions made by participating artists and academics. By naming these explorations “incursions,” the Deep Anatomy cluster attempted to resist the notion that new knowledge or methods resides completely within “the other” or through external sources. By contrast, traditional academic, touristic, or creative excursions seek knowledge elsewhere, by means of an ingress into foreign or unknown territory. However, in this event where athletics, academia, and creative practice met with and within an isolated local community, it was necessary to resist exoticism, using the concept of incursion to re-centre any journey that ventured too far into novelty or voyeurism. Thus Tracy C. Davis found a familiar dramaturgy and epic poetic performance within the structure of the freediving event and its disciplined competitors. By venturing to the abandoned edge of the island Mick Douglas came across a salt farm, and found himself back in the circulation of ideas around issues of global capital and trade that powers his ongoing body of work about salt.
It is a poignant and melancholic discovery that on this island, “the exotic other” has been erased with the extinction of the Lucayan Indian, as well as a number of indigenous animal species, such as the Caribbean Seal. So it is that the touristic excursion only ends amongst ruins such as Diamond Crystal Salt, the old cotton mills and churches, in the silent uninhabitable depth of the Blue Hole, the wrecks of boats, the wreckage of coral die-off, or with the absence of a First People. In this space of ruin Mick Douglas returns to the communities in Clarence Town and seeks knowledge and history within. Similarly with Tracy C. Davis, Sally J Morgan, and Jess Richards — they do not pursue their inquiry at the bottom of a diver’s trajectory, in that dark compressed space at the bottom of the sea. Instead they look within, like the diver does, and find a startling and sudden depth in that closest space — in a childhood memory, in a lover’s touch, or upon the surface of the water where preparation and subtle decisions make the dive. Here is the paradox of this space, with its misleading shallow waters and patterns of light blues, greens, and bright sand that open suddenly into the dizzying darkness of that Blue Hole. “Here be monsters,” the cliché goes — where Lucayan beliefs describe a terrible beast “Lusca” and where many contemporary Long Islanders will not set foot. Here, where a bright lagoon gives way to depth we may face the terror or the unknown of the other, and perhaps return changed.
Homer, The Iliad.
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