Written for 1997 exhibition “Garder Fermé a la Mer” paintings and constructions Macduff Arts Centre Macduff.


click to see construction at larger sizescallop mandalaconstruction did you once, click for larger picture

When people first returned to this place, after the time of the great ice, they came along the shore. They followed the beaches of the Southern North Sea that are now drowned under 50 metres of water until they came to the shores we know. Those beaches were our ancestors' principal home for a long time. We call them the Mesolithic people and know that shellfish were a staple of their diet, along with roots, herbs, berries, hazelnuts and game. Perhaps that is why, when we go to the beach, we find so much of our lost humanity. We all become hunters and gatherers again in the debatable zone between high and low water mark, that no man's land that defies the desire of our agri/industrial culture to define all the Earth's surface as property and all of the Earth's people by their economic roles.

On the beach I gather materials to make art works, in particular the cowries with which I am obsessed, but I also find many other things that have been lost or discarded. Many of these things provoke thought. Why are there so many shoes; all those lost soles. Why do fishermen lose two left gloves to every right one. Among such things I found the sign that says "GARDER FERMÉ A LA MER", keep closed at sea. This French sign washed up on a Scottish shore fascinated me. Had the instruction been disobeyed? What was it that was to be kept closed? Removed from its original context what could it not be imagined to mean? When are we at sea and what should we keep closed, if anything.

It struck me that we are metaphorically at sea all our lives. All our knowledge is a tiny mote when compared with the vastness of our ignorance. Psychologically our evolution as hunter/gatherers has given us biologically-conditioned drives that conflict harshly with many of the social demands of our over-regulated lives as hierarchical agriculturists. Thus we are not only lost at sea but buffeted by contrary winds. While we are on this sea should we keep closed our eyes or our mouths, our ears, our legs or indeed our minds, our hearts or our souls?

It is true that if we were to be "open at sea" we might run the risk of being inundated by an unbearable sense of loss or of being swamped by the violent resurgence of those parts of our nature that we have denied and suppressed. However I would argue that the time has come when we must open the portholes of our perception and apperception. We need to find out what it is we really want, what it is we really need and what it is we are.