THE JOURNEY OF BELLADONNA
Updated: Jan 29
The Lady of The Rocks...
This is the first 'lady' that I put under the sea.
I sometimes found things on the beach which were naturally adorned with barnacles and the casts of sea worms (the latter are sometimes known as 'German writing' due to their wiggly shapes). This made me think of putting objects underwater to try to replicate this.
I liked the concept of allowing the sea to randomly age or decorate objects, or sometimes, as it turned out, declining to do so. What also appealed to me was the slightly surreal aspect of putting something highly artificial and manufactured into the impersonal and wild North Atlantic.
Finally, it also tied in with what seems to be a (largely subconscious) theme of mine, of natural decline, death and decay.
Using sea pottery to cover the lady was quite an undertaking, both in terms of years of collecting it from many beaches and shorelines, but then also matching together a jigsaw of colour, shape, thickness, pattern and curve.
During this process I saw much more of the lady's face than my wife's.
You'd think that putting something under the sea was a simple task.
However in the Outer Hebrides, the most obvious and powerful obstacles are the frequent storms, very fast tides, and winter movement of countless tonnes of seaweed and sand.
The object has to be kept above the sea-bed, or starfish, sting-whelks and crabs will graze everything off.
It must also be put to sea at the right time of year and in the right place, or all you get is a dense growth of fuzzy weed, or a jelly-like mess of ascidians (sea-squirts).
The risk of human and boat interference is relatively low, but has to be considered.
I built her a cage and strapped, roped and cable-tied her in. She was attached to the rope mid-way between a big concrete weight and a large buoy, designed to keep her mid water column at all stages of the tide.
I 'launched' her and a companion by canoe in a tide race between two offshore islands. What seemed an orderly system on land became a writhing and malevolent tangle at sea.
She stayed under the sea for 18 months. On howling dark winter nights, warm in bed, I'd sometimes think of her gazing sightlessly into the racing current, rocking in her cage as her buoy bounced crazily twelve feet above her.
Getting her ashore was even harder than launching, as all the marine growth meant that the weight had trebled.
Cleaning is a long process, involving a lot of washing and careful scrubbing with a toothbrush. This is followed by six months in a cool dry room, then a final bath in hydrogen peroxide.
She's now in very good home in the USA, completing for now a whole series of journeys.
Firstly, over hundreds of years, all the pottery made it's various ways to the island. After domestic use and breakage, it was disposed of on the shore, and over many years was shaped and worn by the waves. The mannequin herself came from China by ship, had a brief and mysterious stay in Nottingham, and then, via Ebay, flew to the Hebrides.
Finally, after three years in my eccentric care, with eighteen months under the sea, she ultimately made a long flight over it, across the Atlantic to New York.