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Stephen Inggs: Shoreline

In its myriad states of movement and stillness, the sea is a timeless metaphor for human emotions and psychological states.Across cultures,and across centuries,its ebb and flow has remained in sync with our changing sense of identity and expression; its vastness and depth impervious to reinventions of perception, both of itself and of ourselves.

But, for how long will this metaphor last? Not because we are changing, but because we are changing the sea.

In one sense, I situate my work as a confluence, where my love of the sea and consciousness of environmental issues intersect. In trying to make sense of these paradoxical concerns, I am interested in “both the beautiful and the repulsive, the desirable and the repellent” (Susik 2012) qualities of the ocean. At the fringe of land where the shore and the sea meet, the shoreline is not only a threshold to the ocean, but also a liminal place where one can contemplate the beauty, vastness and power of the sea, as a place of both pleasure and dismay. As philosopher Edmund Burke articulated, the qualities and causes of the sublime — expressed as the untamed power of the natural world — move us more profoundly than the beautiful.

As a visual practitioner as well as a surfer who has been catching waves for half a century, this wild omnipotence is something observed as much as experienced. I love the qualities of atmosphere and its constituent elements of light, air and water that I use in my work as an artist and photographer. But it is the act of crossing the shoreline from land to sea where one is literally immersed in the sublime connecting a temporal perspective with a contemplative dimension. Reflecting as much on beauty and freedom as what we have done and continue to do to our environment in ruining the majesty of the ocean.

From nineteenth-century German Romantic landscape painter Caspar David Friedrich and Japanese Ukiyo-e printmaker Hokusai to contemporary practitioners Vija Celmins and Hiroshi Sugimoto, artists have long been fascinated with the ocean

as subject matter for their work.The current resurgence of interest in the ocean among contemporary artists, as Abigail Susik (2012) writes,“speaks to the heightened awareness of the ocean as a location which transparently reflects the total permeation of life, and art, with commercial languages”. She goes on to say that “these works activate political consciousness about environmental issues related to human waste through a complex aesthetic… creating a kind of convergence zone or tidal vortex for some of our most powerful emotions about modern materiality and our interactions with it” (2012, n.p.).

Today there is no part of the ocean free of human intervention. Even in the furthest regions of the southern ocean, considered a wilderness until recently, evidence of pollution with concentrations of microplastic similar to other oceans can be found.The Plastic Oceans Foundation observes that at least eight million tons of plastic waste enters our oceans every year.

Plastic fragments litter beaches everywhere and have become part of the visual lingua franca of the shoreline.The jewel-like aesthetic of this pollution belies its sinister impact. Yet, in spite of the deluge of human waste and destruction that floods the oceans and devastates the shoreline, the sea remains a place of immense beauty and spirituality. As writer Alexandra Harris (2018) comments in her essay on Tacita Dean’s exhibition Landscape, Portrait, Still Life at the Royal Academy in London:

On an individual level, landscape can only ever be biographical: “‘place’ is to landscape as‘identity’is to portraiture”.It is temporal,and works on us with the potent forces of familiarity and strangeness, reality and imagination.

Susik,A. (2012) Convergence Zone:The Aesthetics and Politics of the Ocean in Contemporary Art and Photography. Available from: y- ar t-and-photography/

Stephen Inggs | Vanessa Cowling: Shoreline | 17.07.18 - 14.08.18


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