I recently went travelling to see a 13th century mosaic of Jonah being eaten by a whale (that bible story) in a church in Italy. I was away for nearly two months, visiting museums, galleries, churches, looking at medieval manuscripts, reading Moby Dick... mostly underwater themed, I guess. I was on a sea voyage.
The one artwork I made during this time was a performance. I lip-sync some marine poems and drink a bottle of water to a video I took at an aquarium of an eel with its mouth gulping open and closed like a metronome. It turned out to be such a quick slip of a work - five minutes of eel standup - but there's all this other stuff under it, or around it, who-knows-how-much-time looking and thinking and reading and writing and drawing. It's an iceberg approach, where 90% of the work disappears, the eel buoyed up by a hidden weight of material.
And my question is: what is this stuff? The things the eel is floating on, or in - the things that are hidden. Does it somehow still reside in the artwork? Is it where ideas get translated from one thing to another, the belly of the whale where Jonah gets converted? Is it just the ballast that gives light gestures weight, or does it hold up as something on its own?
So here I want to make visible, or air out, some of the marginalia around the eel - the research notes and doodles I drew on my travels that are swimming around this performance. I want to see what they do when they are the focus and the eel is invisible. It's an attempt to see what happens when you get to an iceberg and duck underwater instead.
A bus driver harpooning bags in the depths of the coach’s belly
Seriously, long wooden handle with a black double hooked end
Stabbing away in there and pulling their fat bodies out one by one
fragment of a marine wall painting, 125-150BC, Rome
The fish look like still life, freshly dead, mouths slackly open, hovering above the water
The octopus has a dent in its head - on the surface of the actual wall
a concave hollow with the muscly yield of boneless things,
but cracks radiate out from it.
Only the dolphin looks keen-eyed, purposeful,
long writhing tail and a platypus beak
It’s being ridden by a faceless man in a rodeo attitude, gripping its sides with his knees,
leaning back as it arches under him, pulling on two red ribbon reins that emerge from under its fanlike fins.
The shells are oval and redly smiling
The black anemones look like scratched out mistakes
There are two small fish painted on the side of one of the boats.
13th century stone urn-type thing with two-tailed mermaids, four of them, ranged around the outside, each grasping their own bifurcated fish legs, one in each hand. I’m thinking about Alexander the Great’s mermaid sister Thessalonike of Macedon, how she’s always shown alone, and how these fishwomaen are almost touching, daisy-chain/paper doll style, all around the vessel.
gin & molasses
canticle in a fish’s belly
I’m trying to record the sound of this 13th century mosaic of Jonah being eaten by a whale from the perspective of my stomach
I’ve listened to it
it just sounds like a muffled church
Some kind of moray eel standup, lip-synced to the movement of the eel’s opening and shutting jaws
pause for laughter
Little jellyfish on the surface
You make me nervous
Let me just take a sip of water
one minute of uninterrupted gulping
Letter: I am in a palatial Indian restaurant, full after greedily over-ordering, drinking rose and slightly tipsy due mostly to lack of sleep, after visiting ancient Roman baths and sitting at the edge of the warm water on 2000 year-old steps, steam rising in the dark, thinking about how many of the employees must have snuck there after-hours and illicitly bathed, while a tour guide told a story about a statues of Julius Caeser disappearing one night and then finding him in pieces on the bottom of the pool.
Julius Caeser went missing
they drained the bath, it took a few days,
they found him in pieces on the bottom
Melissa Deerson works across various artforms, often exploring the interaction between society and the natural world. Notes from underwater draws from the research, notes and doodles that she made during an extended trip through Italy and Europe that resulted in the artwork Five minutes with a moray eel (2016).