All that is solid
Each city has a founding myth and ours is no exception; an aspirational tale of a poor boy from the country lured by gilded streets, rising to take up our city’s highest office.
That the streets were in fact paved with gold, but that of the fool’s variety, led to an ingrained scepticism of false promises from our leaders and promoters.
Iron pyrites – fool’s gold - was brought to us in vast quantities by a noble seaman with the ear of our then Queen, half a millennia ago. After his first voyage he convinced enough people that the ore he had was the real element, but when finally smelted after the third voyage, the mistake was unmasked, and the brittle compound found a less elevated use.
Metallic streets were things to behold in an age of mud, but when struck by the iron wheels of our carriages, they gave off the pungent odour of brimstone, the Devil’s favourite. Eschatological preachers took it as proof that our city was the embodiment of hell, and attempted to foment rebellion against our supposedly sinful ways.
At the base of the city, a bed of charged quartz oscillates and regulates activity. We are in thrall to its precise frequency.
Only as night falls at the end of another week, and the city begins to fluoresce, do we shrug off this burden… by ingesting dissociative draughts and performing in semi-formalised rituals. As she dispenses the drug, our sister intones All things are poison, and nothing is without poison: the dose alone makes a thing not poison. Find your centre, that which gives you calm…
In deep silence I find myself in an ornamental garden that I visited several times in my youth. The moon catches the white of the statues and urns, and I am briefly startled by the cold shriek of a peacock. A fountain hisses into the black and white water. High above, a single propeller plane insect drones, articulating a giant dome above my head. I hear the voice of my grandmother, talking of an old war, and through her voice age-old anxieties are induced…
The air vibrates with the drones of bombers and I see, as though from within the bays, the hyphens of shells seesawing as they are released in columns into the night – a neutral grammar of destruction. They hit the ground with a deep whump, shattering the marble effigies as they do so. Lawns ripple and shred; green cloth ripped off tables by incompetent magicians.
I walk through a landscape of ashes.
I smell…what…the sea?
I espy a path out of this rent place.
Limestone rocks, eroded as though bound. I look up…what is half submerged in the water? I feel a familiar anxiety as I approach, and as I get closer I lose focus…
Where am I? Going down, feeling colder. I hear another voice: flat, technical… Positive feedback is a process that occurs in a feedback loop in which the effects of a small disturbance on a system include an increase in the magnitude of the perturbation… A familiar example of positive feedback is the loud squealing or howling sound produced by audio feedback in public address systems: the microphone picks up sound from its own loudspeakers, amplifies it, and sends it through the speakers again. Systemic risk is the risk that an amplification or leverage or positive feedback process presents to a system. This is usually unknown, and under certain conditions this process can amplify exponentially and rapidly lead to destructive or chaotic behaviour.
I grasp the portent of these words and attempt to redirect my thoughts into a more amenable frame…
I find myself being taken through an unfamiliar city, echoes of the ornamental garden in odd topiary.
I step out. The air is hot, heavy with moisture, clouds teased out across the horizon. Over here a man calls out. Look. The bashful mountain. The thought soothes me.
I sense the spell of the draught lifting.
I am back in the city. It’s still night. Storm clouds erase the hard silhouettes of the brutal towers that ring the city; rivers of neon bleed into the streets. The towers have become popular with younger dwellers; they enjoy the sublime aspect of these cliffs of gypsum, and don’t mind the circling gulls and the whistling of the wind.
A chill dawn slowly reveals the dolosse heaped as though remnants of a giant child’s game at the base of the towers. Their complex geometry forms an interlocking but porous wall that saps rage from the waves on our eastern shores.
Behind and beneath the towers rye grows. Even at this hour, shadowy figures drift through the waist-high crop plucking the noxious pustules in the ear of grain; the baleful product of years of rain. Our emancipatory draughts are derived from this intruder, but we must retain circumspection, for bread made from it induced savage visions and blackened limbs in our forebears, engaging them in a mortal dance they called St Anthony’s fire.
The morning light reveals the true nature of the city: a ruin. For some this is an opportunity to rebuild and reinvent. For others it brings to the fore their own feelings of disillusionment and despair at the inevitability of failure.
All that is liquid
Signatures of all things I am here to read, seaspawn and seawrack, the nearing tide, that rusty boot. Snotgreen, bluesilver, rust: coloured signs.
Sacrificial anodes enable the potential of the system to be changed and will provide temporary protection to steel exposed by wear or damage of the protective coating. Systematic location of the anodes is critical to their overall effectiveness. They must likewise be regularly serviced and replaced when spent.
Seawater, if not destructive enough on its own, has several powerful allies assisting the breakdown of metals and non-metals alike. Living allies in seawater also enhance its destructive power. Microbiological organisms, clusterings of weed, limpets as well as deposits of sand, silt or slime not only exclude oxygen, but often create locally corrosive conditions under these deposits which aggravate attack. Coatings and composite structures can experience rapid degradation. Sulphate reducing bacteria, left undisturbed in marine silt or mud deposits, will produce concentrations of hydrogen sulphide which are particularly aggressive to steel and copper based alloys.
The ceremony enacts the penetration into a new zone, leaving behind the familiar realm of home, to create a reversed, divided world.
In the mythological space of blazing heat, of an alpha location demarcated at zero, of unnerving calm and monotony, perceived as unknown and dangerous, the sailor effects the reversible world by assuming the roles out there that frighten him, even if unconsciously on the here side.
The spatial orientation is shifted to the order of the deep rather than the ideal skyward or heavenly projection from land – the family association is to patriarchal Neptune, which the sailor is ordered to obey, rather than the absent mother on land.
The first hole made through a piece of stone is a revelation. The hole connects one side to the other, making it immediately more three-dimensional. A hole can itself have as much shape ‐ meaning as a solid mass. Sculpture in air is possible, where the stone contains only the hole, which is the intended and considered form.
He sucks in the last vestiges of smoke and drops the cigarette end, grinding it in a grey arc with the heel of his boot. After pulling open the heavy door, he steps over the raised threshold into a darkened space. Close it please, she asks, her voice dense, granular. He pulls the door back to seal it firmly into its lozenge-shaped hole.
From the left of the door, white bed-sheets hang down from ceiling to floor down the centre of a large cabin, having been threaded through the tight gap formed between a pipe and the ceiling. All the portholes, which run parallel to the sheets on both sides, have been sealed, apart from one that he can see, the central one on his right. This has been covered by a metal plate with a small, sharply bright aperture in the middle.
The air is thick, and what light there is picks out a trickle of sweat running down the back of his neck. A double helix of smoke twists upwards from a burning orange tip in the far corner of the room. On your right she says, the southern hemisphere, on your left, the northern. He steps further into the cabin and turns to face the sheets, which, he realises, form a screen. Dark above, light below. Eyes blink across the upper surface – waves. The sea above the sky.
We’re following the line of the Equator…this side is upside down, the other, well, have a look…He bends, makes to duck underneath…but checks himself and laughs.
He wipes his dripping brow with his sleeve and moves closer to the smoke. The speaker is slowly revealed in the ambient light reflected from the screen. She’s reclining on a hammock, which is suspended across the back right corner. With her right hand she takes a drag of her cigarette and pushes spectacles up the bridge of her nose. She exhales, coughs, and flicks on a light that’s attached to the wall. A pale pool of yellow illuminates the pages of a book that she holds open in her left hand.
Hey, do me a favour. Do exactly as this old German says, and tell me if his descriptions match your experience…
Let a room be made as dark as possible; let there be a circular opening in the window-shutter about three inches in diameter, which may be closed or not at pleasure. The sun being suffered to shine through this on a white surface, let the spectator from some little distance fix his eyes on the bright circle thus admitted.
The hole being then closed, let him look towards the darkest part of the room; a circular image will now be seen to float before him.
She puts down the book, gets down from the hammock and walks over to the bright aperture. Looking at it? Ok, keep your eyes fixed on it.
She quickly removes a small lens from the aperture and plugs the hole with some black cloth…and then makes back toward the hammock. He turns and faces the door.
The middle of this circle will appear bright, colourless, or somewhat yellow, but the border will at the same moment appear red.
After a time this red, increasing towards the centre, covers the whole circle, and at last the bright central point. No sooner, however, is the whole circle red than the edge begins to be blue, and the blue gradually encroaches inwards on the red…
Her voice trails off.
Silence, apart from the thrumming engines below, which are felt as much as heard.
He stumbles a little and reaches to the wall to steady himself.
It’s difficult to experience something twice, you know, simultaneously he says.
Either I experience it first hand and then you read or vice versa.
But I get the idea.
Before this guy, she says, they thought these colours were spectres, illusions; but he recognised that the body – the brain – generates the images we have in our head –that we’re not some kind of camera obscura. You know, corporeal perception. Problems occur when the brain produces pictures that are not anchored to reality, when consciousness is clouded. Delirium though, it causes a reversal… but not a visual one - temporal - of day and night.
He opens the door. The light is blinding, but the slightest of breezes caused by the passage of the ship revives him, and he breathes in the salt laden air in gulps.
The back wall, punctuated by vertical lines of rivets, leans back, articulating the curve of the hull. A framed plate in the centre holds the porthole, which is fully open to alleviate the liquid heat. A heavy cover-plate, hinged at 12 o’clock and held in place by a bolt on a chain, is flipped up in the manner of clip-on sunglasses. A second element, a glazed brass ring hinged at 3 o’clock, is opened to its full extent, flat against the wall on the right. In this configuration, the porthole is literally a hole; open directly to the outside, an aperture that projects a dancing reflection of the waves onto the adjacent wall. Petals of rust bloom beneath the impasto of off-white paint around areas of friction, such as the hinges, and the bases of the oversized brass wing nuts that secure the two parts of the porthole in place. Where two plates of the hull are brought together in a vertical seam - russet patches, striated like the thick pages of an ancient book - attest to further oxidisation.
Below the gentle flicker on the adjacent wall is a calendar, which is dominated by an image of a languidly reclining woman, whose waves of glossy red hair fill the foreground, her head thrown back, her eyes looking up to meet ours. She holds a telephone receiver in her right hand; the cable is loosely entwined around her left forearm and up and through a profiled v, formed by her upward pointing first finger and lower second, which forms an angle of thirty degrees. This hand partly obscures the dates of June 1951, May ’51 being fully articulated in a larger font above. Her body recedes from us, pink, two-piece bathing suit, her bent legs pulled up to the left, knees together and one kitten-heeled foot placed behind the other.
But the curtain, whose overall impression is of green, printed with a repeating floral pattern comprising of yellows and blues, completely encloses us, dropping from a u-shaped aluminium bar attached to the ceiling. He straightens up in bed, twists his body to pick up a KitKat chocolate wafer bar with his right hand, from the simulated wood laminate of the bedside unit on the left. He slides off the red sleeve, placing it back next to a glass of water, and then runs his thumbnail lengthways down the central furrow of exposed silver foil. He breaks the two fingers apart and unravels one piece. Taking an end between the thumb and forefinger of each hand, he snaps the bar evenly, and proffering the halves, reveals the broken wafer beneath the chocolate. You see? ... Corrosion.