On Monday Didier and I went aboard the Hafrún fishing boat for an all-day trip. Captain Jóhann Sigurjónsson and his three-person crew generously let us get in the way while they trawled from 6am until 3pm. They brought back six tons of fish, which was considered a light catch. It was extreme and harrowing and beautiful and I came away knowing that any deeper understanding of Skagaströnd had to account for this kind of work, the grueling routine of the fishermen who sustain the town. I’d suspected this but my appreciation for the tedious process of hunting, netting, trawling, capturing, killing, gutting and then unloading the fish back at the dock became physical and real and graphic.
530—Skagaströnd’s population, according to Wikipedia—was one of the only concepts I brought with me, and I’d decided early on that this would be the page count for the work. Both arbitrary and specific, having something to do with reality, but certainly no longer accurate. The mayor told me the actual population is more like 506.
In July I’d photographed this old boat sitting in the harbor—made in the Netherlands in 1955 from the steel of melted German U-boats, and one of the oldest trawlers in Iceland—and later realized, while looking at the photos, that it carried this same number, 530. And on Monday, in the middle of the trip in the Greenland Sea, as I was violently ill for hours off the side of that same boat, the physicality of the experience brought on some kind of clarity (or cloudy haze?), enough for me to understand that 530 had to be the title of the work. A random, specific number that embodies the town and connects its identity to this charged vessel that sits in the harbor—to me and my experiences here and the book itself.
The weight of the work.
So 530 it is. The full title is 530 (Sá veldur sem á heldur). It’s A5 size, 530 pages, color, with an inside cover and separate cover wrap with front and back folds. The edition of 50 prints at Svansprent in Reykjavík during the next week and I’ll pick them up on 30 August, and bring them back to Skagaströnd for book encounters.
The book encounters will happen 4–7 September at the country-western bar, the gas station, the café and the library (more details to come).
Daily book set-up. Sketch for bicycle blanket on Weymouth esplanade; exact location varies.
The final bits and pieces—preparing postcards, posters, bicycle blankets, reading room signage. This is where it feels like choreography, because the parts have been fully formed. Now, to set it in motion.
I’ve been saying all along that the Weymouths project is really a site-specific performance (30 July – 10 August, Weymouth, England). I don’t feel that my photographs, or the Stetson font or the twelve books are particular instances of the work; rather, these are the players (the parts) and I’m preparing to engage them with the public. The work is the performance.
Public book encounters
Last fall, when working on 273 Relics for John Cage, I asked myself the question—how does one perform a book? In the end, that project was an installation. A performance of sorts, but a static one, when compared with, say, dance.
Weymouths will be more like a dance. Each morning, I’ll be out on a bicycle for an hour or two. I’ll ride alongside the beach up and down the Weymouth esplanade, and stop to set up the bike wherever it feels right. I’ll park it on one of the bicycle blankets I’m producing (see fabric shots below) and lay out the day’s edition, flea-market style. I’ll engage anyone with an interest and give away single copies of the book. Each book will be wrapped with a belly-band and two postcards.
30 July—Volume 1: River / The Interviews
31 July—Volume 2: Sense / Weymouth can refer to
1 August—Volume 3: Image / Weymouth is
2 August—Volume 4: Migration / Bound for New England.
3 August—Volume 5: Observation / The New English Canaan of Thomas Morton. The first book.
4 August—Volume 6: Burial / Extinguished by Purchase.
5 August—Volume 7: Preservation / The Canoe Room
6 August—Volume 8: Remains / The birds were the raven, crow, buzzard, and starling.
7 August—Volume 9: Errare / Forty Views of House Rock
8 August—Volume 10: Formation / Whence is this mass of shingle derived?
9 August—Volume 11: Memory / Who enjoyed this view
10 August—Volume 12: Light / 1,485 Colors
After I release each day’s edition of books to the public (20 x each volume; 240 total) I’ll head over to the Phoenix Bakery, where I’m setting up a reading room on the second floor. All twelve volumes will be there for the entire duration of the project, free and open to the public. I’m working on a very basic installation for the room now, and some way for visitors to respond (a blank book, perhaps).
I’ll be giving a couple of artist talks in the reading room, as well.
So for the next few weeks, until I leave for England, I’ll be choreographing the work, arranging the parts into a schema. Of course, I don’t know what will really happen once I’m there. I’ve scored the piece but this is a project about serendipity and chance, and I’m about to give up (some) control and set it in motion.
How can this work be represented on a postcard or poster? Weymouths contains a massive amount of imagery, and it’s been difficult to single-out any one or two summary images. Instead, I decided to create a landscape of symbols from various parts of the work. Inspired by dance notation, the symbols are loosely collected with volume numbers and some idea about chance movement, relationship and flow. It’s a diagram of forces, both highly specific and not. As an image, it describes my methodology for the project better than any verbal explanation I can think of.
- Ship (symbol of Weymouth, Dorset), modified from a souvenir sticker
- House Rock (Weymouth, Massachusetts)
- Man pointing, from a late-19th century postcard of House Rock
- English Heritage symbol for “ancient structure”
- River Wey (from Open Street Maps)
- The marks of Wampetuc, Webcowett, Nateaunte and Nahauton, the four Native Americans who signed over the land that was to become Weymouth, Massachusetts, to the English settlers
- Native American canoe, c. 1450 (at the Weymouth Public Library)
- Chesil Beach stone
- King George III on his white horse (carved into the hill at Osmington)
- Sea-side bench
- A pixel
PS Check out Spoonflower. They create custom print-on-demand fabrics and I’m using them for the bicycle blankets. Excellent service.
The remainder of the Weymouths proofs arrived today, so I spent most of the day photographing the complete set of 12 volumes for my talk next week. I’ll be speaking on Saturday at the Book Live symposium (full program PDF) at London South Bank University. I’ll post the entire talk here, including all of the slides, in the next few days.
I finished the last book in the series of 12 today, so the design of Weymouths is complete. Or rather, the design of the books is complete—I still need to create the reading room experience for the installation in Weymouth, England 27 July – 12 August. The total work is starting to come into focus. After the next six proofs arrive I’ll photograph the entire set.
Weymouths Volume 8 is an attempt to repair. Stitching up the story while opening it to new depths. Preservation of the found ruins.
- An entire Native American dugout canoe was discovered in 1965, buried in the mud of Great Pond in Weymouth, Massachusetts. The canoe was treated with polyethylene glycol and permanently housed in an exhibit room in the basement of Tufts Library (main branch of the Weymouth Public Libraries). Chester Kevitt details the preservation process for the Massachusetts Archaeological Society, published in their Bulletin, October 1968.
- Murals painted by high school students surround the glass case.
- During my visit to the Canoe Room at Tufts Library I was given access to a file containing all of the news clippings and articles that had been collected about the “Indian Canoe” during the last 45 years.
- 350 years earlier, Samuel de Champlain describes his encounters with the Native American population on his exploratory voyages in and around present-day New York, Vermont and Canada. The word “canoe” occurs 26 times in his memoir of 1603, “The Savages.” Each of the occurrences within Champlain’s text is extracted onto individual spreads that slowly zooms into the canoe, Carbon-14 dated to A.D. 1450.
Weymouths Volume 7 is a journey, a zoom, a reaching back. A dig, a reveal.
This is where I encounter the visible remains of another society. Below the surface, here’s the evidence of worship, ritual, architecture — structures that pre-date our sense of real (embedded within the identity of the place, but “beyond the map”). Volume 7 is about the “Roman works and fortifications with which the neighbourhood abounds,” upon Jordan Hill, just outside Weymouth, England. In 1844 the Ashmolean Society detailed the discovery of the remains, and published the notes at Oxford in 1854.
“The most remarkable discoveries made by Mr. Medhurst in 1843, and visited in October last by Dr. Buckland and Mr. Conybeare, were the foundations of a temple on the summit of Jordan Hill, and of a villa, a quarter of a mile distant, between this hill and the village of Preston.
“Dr. Buckland conjectures that this building may have been a temple of Esculapius, which received the votive offerings of the Roman families and invalids who visited Weymouth for sea-bathing and for health.”
As the 19th-century text travels into the foundations (details of bird skeletons, human bones, seeds, coins and ashes), I zoom into my photograph of the temple foundation taken at Jordan Hill on 6 March 2012. I go deeper into the surface and the photograph reveals a single color, like a flatlining of historical narrative. Perhaps this is a way to escape the figurative. By the end of the 112-page book, my documentation of Roman remains floats around a single pixel of color, like some suggestion of another reality. I can’t think of a more authentic way to look.
In Volume 10 I discovered that I can slow down the read by devoting an entire page to a single word. A single paragraph spread over 59 pages. Reading at a different scale, to expose other structures over time, like erosion.
Here is slow reading, again — this time, a single sentence on each spread. This is how reading can be like zooming. This is how reading can be more like digging. Slow reading leads to open reading.
Weymouths Volume 10—Whence is this mass of shingle derived?
The title of this volume, in the form of a question, is extracted from the 1884 text Geology of Weymouth, Portland, and coast of Dorsetshire, from Swanage to Bridport-on-the-Sea, with natural history and archeological notes by Robert Damon. I’ve pulled 11 pages of the book to use here—the entire “Chesil Bank” section—speculating on the forces at work behind this rare geological formation.
The second text—59 words placed on top of my photographs at Chesil Beach—is the opening paragraph to John Cowper Powys’s 1934 Weymouth Sands. A single word per page slows it down, illustrates each word (or pair of words), opens up the read.
The sea lost nothing of the swallowing identity of its great outer mass of waters in the emphatic, individual character of each particular wave. Each wave, as it rolled in upon the high-pebbled beach, was an epitome of the whole body of the sea, and carried with it all the vast mysterious quality of the earth’s ancient antagonist.
Two more Weymouths books are complete. These are both text-based.
Volume 5 is an excerpt from The New English Canaan by Thomas Morton (b. 1578), first published in 1637. The “First Booke” details Morton’s observations at Wessagusset, the Native American territory that was replaced by Weymouth, “containing the original of the natives, their manners & customs, with their tractable nature and love towards the English.” I adapted the complete text of the first book into more normalized English for enhanced legibility and set it on 164 pages. It’s a 400-year-old first-hand account of the language, dress, food, living conditions and character of the people that the English settlers fought and killed.
Morton describes the Native Americans as noble and superior people, compared to the English, and believed that the New England settlers should take a more integrated, “multi-cultural” approach. The publication of The New English Canaan was considered heresy and Morton was eventually arrested as an agitator and banished to Maine, where he died in 1647.
Volume 6 is the haunting text of the 1642 deed that details the purchase of 26 acres of land by the English settlers from the Native Americans. It’s signed by the English and four Native Americans. In his 1884 Historical Sketch of the Town of Weymouth, Gilbert Nash introduces the text by saying that the “Indian title to the town was extinguished by purchase.”