Disgorged by the Ocean into Liminal Brightness
In winter months the west coast of the Olympic Peninsula is lashed by roiling storms out of remote regions of the Pacific. During this time, the detritus of the deep ocean is washed up in vast tangled fields of kelp, bone, and plastic. These mats are prowled by bear and seabirds, who pick at the refuse. Worn and bleached, the plastic and the bone are often indistinguishable in the grey winter light.
As part of the project, our team traveled to these rugged shores to collect marine debris. Pieces of detritus were collected and interwoven with LED lights and donated ghost nets into a glowing simulacrum of the storm wracked tideline. Sculptural leviathans rise out of the depths of our collective unconscious to form and dissolve in the tangled nylon netting.
Brightly shining from within, the installation imagines the tangible reality of ocean pollution as the dream landscape of our civilization. Gently breathing, the assemblage is both the physical and psychological flotsam of our interconnectedness. Swimming in endless waves of plastic particulate and glowing trash, viewers are invited to be caught in a liminal brightness dredged from the deep.
As we walked along the rocky shore of Ruby Beach in search of marine debris for the installation, we encountered the washed-up and decaying body of a whale. Like a god of the deep, its titanic and desolate form graced the tide line in silent majesty; its ribs pillars to the sky. Later, as we walked along the pathways of Fort Stevens, we encountered a second. Ash black in place of bleached white, its form gathered shadows among the ferromagnetic iridescence of the sand.
Shot on site, these videos attempt to capture both an experience of those shores, as well as a greater truth. Their decay mirrors our own. Just as microplastic has been found in Tibetan rainwater and remote glaciers, there is pollution in the pristine wastes of our souls. We are adrift in plastic tides; plastic meant both as the literal material that seeps into our blood and bones, and plastic in the sense of the immortal synthetic that invades our dreams through soft interconnected fiberoptic cables that worm and chisel their way through the bloated husk of our collective unconscious.
The Purse-Siene by Robin Jeffers
Our sardine fishermen work at night in the dark
of the moon; daylight or moonlight
They could not tell where to spread the net,
unable to see the phosphorescence of the
shoals of fish.
They work northward from Monterey, coasting
Santa Cruz; off New Year’s Point or off
The look-out man will see some lakes of milk-color
light on the sea’s night-purple; he points,
and the helmsman
Turns the dark prow, the motorboat circles the
gleaming shoal and drifts out her seine-net.
They close the circle
And purse the bottom of the net, then with great
labor haul it in.
I cannot tell you
How beautiful the scene is, and a little terrible,
then, when the crowded fish
Know they are caught, and wildly beat from one wall
to the other of their closing destiny the
Water to a pool of flame, each beautiful slender body
sheeted with flame, like a live rocket
A comet’s tail wake of clear yellow flame; while outside
Floats and cordage of the net great sea-lions come up
to watch, sighing in the dark; the vast walls
Stand erect to the stars.
Lately I was looking from a night mountain-top
On a wide city, the colored splendor, galaxies of light:
how could I help but recall the seine-net
Gathering the luminous fish? I cannot tell you how
beautiful the city appeared, and a little terrible.
I thought, We have geared the machines and locked all together
into inter-dependence; we have built the great cities; now
There is no escape. We have gathered vast populations incapable
of free survival, insulated
From the strong earth, each person in himself helpless, on all
dependent. The circle is closed, and the net
Is being hauled in. They hardly feel the cords drawing, yet
they shine already. The inevitable mass-disasters
Will not come in our time nor in our children’s, but we
and our children
Must watch the net draw narrower, government take all
powers—or revolution, and the new government
Take more than all, add to kept bodies kept souls—or anarchy,
These things are Progress;
Do you marvel our verse is troubled or frowning, while it keeps
its reason? Or it lets go, lets the mood flow
In the manner of the recent young men into mere hysteria,
splintered gleams, crackled laughter. But they are
There is no reason for amazement: surely one always knew
that cultures decay, and life’s end is death.