{1} The Search for Sisyphus

loading ...

Landing Site
Sea Fret
The day after
White Horse
Peat and Plough
Pink Sisyphus

Land~Edge is an investigation of my local coastline as a bioregional limit, as the edge of my inhabited space. The work is conceived as having three stanzas, of which the first is represented here. The other two, The Fall and Sisyphus Found, are both still in development.

Some of the work has been exhibited at the Cork City hall atrium, as part of the show, Tairlearach – from beyond the sea (May-June 2017) in the Cork Harbour Festival.

It was also exhibited at the Glucksman Art Gallery as part of the Conference of Irish Geographers at University College Cork in May 2017. The following artist statement about the work was published in the conference catalogue;

Land~Edge artist’s statement

At a time when physical and artificial barriers to movement are being constructed, both in America and at the edges of the European Union, and the allegiances to the EU are being debated, voted on and changed, I started to question what an actual border is and what might be a better way of considering the boundaries of the environments we occupy. National boundaries can and do change over time; they are symbolic and political. My interest lies in asking what are the persistent borders, or the edges of land, that transcend national and political identities and what could be learnt from considering these edges?

This research and practice is ongoing, but the answer so far lies in the concept of bioregionalism, or as Richard Evanoff states; “I prefer the term biocultural region, which designates a local geographic area in which specific human cultures develop in relation to the natural ecosystems they inhabit.” In terms of the edges of these regions, they are defined by physical geographical and ecological factors, rather than purely cultural considerations. They are changes in terrain or ecosystems that limit movement and provide a natural physical boundary to the environment as it is experienced, rather than a cartographic and possibly arbitrary border drawn on a map.

In this project, I interpret a bioregion as the habitat that I bodily occupy and move within as a space with physical limitations, borders that without mechanical vehicular assistance (such as an aircraft or a ship, for instance), I would be unable to pass. This region is the land I relate to as a lived, embodied space rather than a specific national and therefore political identity. It is fundamentally a geological, ecological and cultural space that I am part of and relate to as having multiple identities dependent on the constitution of the space and what I encounter within it. The shoreline itself is both the edge of two habitats, land and ocean, and a habitat in itself. For both human and non-human life, it can be both a site of pleasure and relaxation, and a site of danger and tragedy, as recent and ongoing events in the Mediterranean Sea, remind us.

Land~Edge considers the shoreline as a physical boundary that persists beyond humanity’s constructed borders and the resulting works are therefore interpretations of the bioregional edges of land, for as Lucy Lippard states; “Bioregionalism seems to me the most sensible, if least attainable, way of looking at the world.” The project has three parts; {1} The Search for Sisyphus, shown here {2} The Fall and {3} Sisyphus Found.

Each work is a photo-collage with one image above and a composite human-scaled aerial view below. This method was devised to investigate and reflect on the nature of perceiving an edge; to move through it and be spatially, temporally and peripherally aware. The effect of these works is intended to be vertiginous to the viewer, as if on a precipice, as well as investigating themes of movement (across water in this case) with inferences to be drawn by the viewer through the subject matter depicted. The work is subtly geopolitical in this sense.

A paper was given at the conference alongside the exhibition.

Why Sisyphus?

In the Greek myth, Sisyphus is condemned to an eternity of pushing a boulder up a mountain. All day and every day he labours and each night the boulder tumbles back down. Each morning Sisyphus starts all over again, struggling to achieve his task with the full knowledge that it is impossible. In his essay The Myth of Sisyphus, Albert Camus makes the argument that far from being tortured by this he is, in fact, happy, his argument being that it is the striving toward the goal through the process, rather than in the achievement, that value lies.

Whilst I was undertaking work for LAND~EDGE I found out through practice that I had set myself a Sisyphean task. It was the resulting work that informed this understanding of the land/seascape I was investigating. I had decided to find the edge of land, the edge of my physical habitat, my bio-region. This seemingly simple undertaking revealed to me that accurately defining the edge of land for photography was almost impossible because the edge, the division between land and ocean, solid and liquid, is constantly in a state of flux, shifting with the tides and with each wave. Not only is this edge physically fluctuating, it is also culturally indistinct. Is the line on the map referring to low tide or high tide? Is it the edge of the shore or, for instance, the edge of the sand dunes or the top of a cliff? It could even be beyond the horizon, the boundary between national and international waters. Clearly the actual edge depends not only on (shifting) physical evidence, but also on a cultural perspective; a swimmer might identify land as the point when they can stand on the bottom, before leaving the water. A farmer might understand this edge as a field boundary.

Hence, I learnt that I could not define this edge of land, hence I am, in these works, searching for Sisyphus, for understanding in two distinct sets of processes. Firstly the actual (and autonomous) processes going on on a shoreline and secondly processes of making and viewing the works. Within the impossibility of the task I set myself lies a process of revealing partial and multiple identities subject to change. A constant flow of events defining this liminal space.