Book of Layers

Chapter Two: If They Fell into the Sea

The Book of Layers: Animal, Vegetable, Mineral. Chapter Two: If They Fell into the Sea.  2012. Each panel, 18" x 41"; 6 panels total. Archival inkjet print of 2012 photo by Bliss; text from Bliss' May 22, 2012 journal entry; archival inkjet print of 1927 photo by ethnomusicologist Ole Mork Sandvik bagged with tangled found fishing net, attached seaweed, and sea shells; composed sound from field recordings and interviews with residents of Ballinskelligs, County Kerry, Ireland.

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Transcript of audio recording:

Background sound: waves washing onto shore (continues throughout audio)

Male #2  Irish voice: Yah, I would say  none – 99% true – the old fishermen, none of them would’ve learned to swim.  If the fishermen fell into the sea, and wouldn’t be able to swim, they’d die quickly. 

Female American voice: Right.

Male #2 Irish voice: So from that situation, unfortunately, it was an advantage, rather than to be struggling.  Now, I don’t know if that would be a calculated decision, I don’t think that would be, you know.  But I don’t think they saw swimming as a way of saving themselves.

Female American voice: No?

Male #2 Irish voice: Aw, they wouldn’t.  Because invariably, if they got into trouble, it would be out in a stormy sea.

Female American voice: Yeah…

Male #2 Irish voice: Do you know.  It was more of a kind of respect for the sea.  The sea was something serious.  It was for fishing and it was for making a living, and it was for boats and that.  And like, my grandmother lived beside us, and our land was going down to the sea. She died in 1962, so I was about 14 when she died.  And me growing up, she never wanted us to go down to the sea. She would say to us, “Oh no, you don’t go down there; there’s a mermaid down there.”  And it was a way of protecting us from the sea.  And like, the thing about it, it did affect – because at that impressionable age, those things…”

Female American voice: It’s so interesting…

Male #2 Irish voice: It was in Dublin I learned to swim, even tho’ I could almost virtually throw a stone into the sea.  But like, my father, he was a farmer and a fisherman, you know, so him and I went fishing with him when I was young.  But that was the relationship with the sea.  I’d say I was 22 before I learned to swim. 

Female American voice: So you make your livelihood from the sea, but there’s a distance that’s kept from it.

Male #2 Irish voice: Yeah. It tis.

(…pause…. Only sound of waves)

Female American voice: How about “fishing”?

Male Irish voice #3: Eesk.  Eesk is “fish”.

Female American voice: "Eesk."

Female American voice: How about “boat”?

Male Irish voice #3:  Bod.  Bod is a boat.

Female American voice: "Bod"……  How about “remember”?

Male Irish voice #3:  Remember”… Don’t know that one now…..hmmmm… (mumbling and fading away) I don’t know… I forget a lot of them now.

(….sound of waves…..)


Text on panel reads:

May 22.  11:05.  Morning porridge by the peat fire.  Cill Rialaig.

As I was making pictures along the road, a car pulled up and stopped, and out came a man of Woody’s age.  Greeting me, he asked whether I’d been on the cliffs yesterday and had signaled to him far below in the passing fishing boat.

Yes, ‘twas me!  Great delight.

That had been a blessing, a link across great distance from high on the vertiginous grassy sheep slope, down down down to the speck of his boat making its way from trap to trap.  I had just been able to make out three figures – two in full raingear, and one in a yellow slicker.  We signaled to each other with large sweeping gestures, our arms extended above our heads, slowly crossing back and forth.  I felt a joy in the pleasure of communication, of contact made without words, sound, or touch.  Proof of communication across great passages, insuperable distances, impossible to travel by body.

I let fall tears of joy.  Right there, from the place where monks once sat and meditated, where they too, watched the birds skeel and skool, one can slip thru’ the trawl of time and make contact with them.