Repainting the painting of the unpaintable

I decided I’d finished this yesterday, but really I knew I hadn’t. It grew out of one palette, drew on another, then morphed into a theme that needed the first. And I’d rushed the video. So I began picking away at it, finding the story, bringing out the face of the figure in the water and defining it. By this point, the story was about deep sea fishing and the cruelty that involves for fish and crew depending on the ethics of the captain. Through the podcast, Lost at Sea, I learned how crews are essentially trapped on board often for months, sometimes more, while ships follow the fish. On board too is a fisheries inspector, an independent agent of the fisheries inspectorate, who is alone among the people he (and occasionally she) is inspecting. It goes without saying that reporting malpractice and illegalities puts the inspectors at risk and, it would appear, a disproportionate number of inspectors go missing.

So this is about that cruelty but, rather than show fish with fins cut off or drowning fisheries inspectors, I’ve placed something unidentifiable in the water. Something almost human but not quite. There’s blood in the water too, and the pixelated surface is there to suggest fish scales which often come off during a catch. The decks are awash with them.

Some of the ‘pixels’ are collaged pieces of the text from the BBC podcast’s site which simply describes how Keith Davis went missing 500 miles off the coast of Peru in 2015. I’ve torn these pieces up and glued them into place as strips or pieces so they bring both scales and foam to mind. The paper is parchment soaked in water so that the ink of typed words has run.

As a group, these images are capable of reflecting the violence of a fishing catch; the turmoil in the water, and the fear in the hunted prey. But because the figure is ambiguous, a viewer might wonder whether there should be any sympathy for it. It has very sharp, pointed teeth, yellow eyes, and goodness knows what else under the water. But it’s also afraid.

I would ask a viewer to consider the fear in any hunted creature, however visually unappealing it might be. But also to reflect on the possibility that cruelty in the harvesting of animals for food makes monsters of us all.

BBC podcast, Lost at Sea.

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