The art of the chart.

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Out over the saw toothed ocean upon which the ships balance perilously, the world tips toward the peripheral and the uncharted. Mermen and bushy tailed whales populate the fringes of the known world in the way weeds grow in a vacant lot. Apart from finding these sea beasts adorable in their naïve monstrosity, it also poses an intriguing thought; that of our relationship to the unknown and to the potential of empty space.

We gazed out and quailed at the nothingness.

Oh  look! … there’s a sea pig.

I once had a conversation with a trawler-man about being at sea. The bulk of his working life was spent on the water, prawning alone for four or five nights in a row.  As we talked, he tentatively asked if I had ever heard music while sailing at night. He went on to say he heard whole symphonies while trawling the bay. Tempting as it was to think of the Queensland Symphony orchestra moonlighting on the cape, we pondered various other possibilities such stray radio waves among others. I asked him to hum the tune … unsuccessfully … however he really heard music at night and this caused him concern. I found his embarrassment disarming.



My own experience of being at sea was that it had a raw quality. The tiny world of the boat, its practicality and stuffy diesel smells, the slow spread of salt and damp over everything you possess, the sense of knowing everything onboard so intimately that you could move around blindfolded. This stood in contrast to the enormity of what was out there, the moment I stuck my head above deck; vaporous air, churning water, day after day and week after week of endlessly changing sameness. The featurelessness, the slow progress and uncertainty of long sea journeys had a certain dissipating effect, which called something out of me. While the eye actively looked for life, for birds or any other thing to fix upon, something else arrived. For me it was a stream of imagery, an internal landscape which I drew off and which continues to be a presence in my life. It was something to stack against the intangible world beyond the confines of the boat.

For mine, sea charts are so populated and peopled by strange things, because when faced with something we can’t grasp; boundlessness, we cannot help but to parcel it up, put a face to it, relate to it in some way. The sea monsters, grotesque and nefarious beasts of all sorts, are better than the un-guessable and fearful emptiness.

Sea charts are a zoo of the weird.


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