Walk on the Beach: Things from the Sea, Volume One

Walk on the Beach: Things from the Sea, Volume One  is a residual book, being a text and image diary of passing objects, and a short-term physical meeting of minds within the BABEL working group. Composed of artists, researchers, historians, philosophers and scientists, the group periodically works together, and then disperses; this book is one such meeting’s remnant.

It is a recently published record of a beach-based collection and exhibition, resulting from the group that came together in 2014 via the third Biennial meeting, on the beach. An opening text describes the work as a souvenir of this time, and as an object in the world on its own, the book is like an addendum to the objects they began with, or culminated in.

The collective apparently specialises in short-term outcomes: flash shows, and the rapid mixing of minds and ideas. The photos of the items collected for this exhibition have an incidental quality. They are often Polaroid snapshots, where objects are given agency in comparison with other small and unassuming things, or through prescribed words.

This is expanded upon in the texts of six artists, who write stories around pre-owned items discovered on beaches around the world. A brass key, a petrified egg, a drilled sheep’s horn and a tooth are each anthropomorphised, prescribing them human senses of time and sensations, by Maura Coughlin, Lora Webb, Asa Simon Mittman and Jeffrey Jerome Cohen, respectively. These texts are a welcome anchor to the photos that are otherwise quite enigmatic to an outside viewer and help demonstrate the group’s ethos. When viewing the photos on their own, the work is not something that can readily be contended with, being only dotted reference points within a short space of time and assumedly huge variety of ideas. Whilst the images are captivating, they only hint at the dynamic nature that a congregation can produce.

In another text, unusually placed near the end, is the preconceived thoughts of literature PhD candidate Emily Russell prior to this meeting, based on the story of a Norse god sprung from driftwood. In a post-script she describes her interest in a kind of fixation with materials and what this can produce. It’s a clear thread running through this scrapbook-style collection. Reading materials for their potential past lives, beyond conventional ideas and finding patches of intrigue in the unknown and material remnants, echoes my process of finding this book as only suggestive of what is and what could have happened.

By Dorothy Hunter

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