Thálatta! Thálatta!

thalatta-thalatta-03-webOn Wednesday, 13th November, 2013 I moved to Aldeburgh on the Suffolk coast, where I rented a small, sea front cottage, until Tuesday, 24th June, 2014. Over those 32 weeks, or 224 days, I took a photograph from the same spot on the beach, directly in front of my cottage, looking out to sea, at roughly the same time of day (usually between 11am and 1pm, depending on what I was doing that day), for every day that I was resident in Aldeburgh. (There are notable gaps in the record, when I was away seeing family, or visiting friends in London, for example.) I was interested in repetition, and discipline. For the first time in my life I was devoting myself entirely to art. I had a little capital, and, for a short while at least, I was not relying on regular paid employment. I had moved to the Suffolk coast to establish myself as a full time artist, my aim to earn a sufficient income from my work.

My interest in taking the photographs was, like much artistic practice, simply to see what would happen. If I limited the criteria: the same physical place; a similar time of day, and limited the composition: 50% sea; 50% sky; bisected by the horizon in the middle, what would be the result? How different would the images be? Because, of course, I didn’t take the images in the same place, or at the same time. Space and time are relative. The Earth had moved many thousands of miles in the intervening 24 hours, so had the Sun, and the Solar System, and the Milky Way, all in an endlessly complex interplay of cycles. And it was a different day, with different light and atmospheric conditions. And maybe, it could be argued, I was a different person, with 24 hours worth more life experience, in a different mood, with different brain chemistry. No two moments are the same moment. It is, therefore, no matter how carefully composed and contrived, impossible for any two images to be the same.

The result, Thálatta! Thálatta!, is a series of 168 photographs. The title is taken from Xenophon’s Anabasis, and is the cry of joy made by an army of Greeks upon seeing the Black Sea, and realising that their safety is close at hand after a failed military campaign against the Persian Empire in 401BC. (1) It is a cry echoed in Iris Murdoch’s 1978 novel, The Sea, The Sea. The protagonist of Murdoch’s novel, Charles Arrowby, a narcissistic playwright, has retreated to the coast, withdrawing from the world, searching for the isolation in which he can examine his life and write his memoirs. (2) It was a similar withdrawal which took me to Aldeburgh. It was a wiping of the slate clean. After a failed relationship and stagnant career, I had quit work, quit home, and was starting completely anew. By staring out to sea, by limiting my view, reducing my surroundings to the fundamentals of sky and sea, air and water, I was seeking solace and tranquility, a gathering of strength with which to begin again.

The images in Thálatta! Thálatta! reference the black and white seascapes of Hiroshi Sugimoto, whose own series began when asking himself what contemporary view might early hominids recognise. His answer was the sea, and possibly only the sea. (3) When we look out to sea we find our perception of time is altered, it slows down our present, asks us to contemplate the past, whilst also projecting us into potential futures. What possibilities lie beyond the horizon? Where will I be in a couple of years from now? As Sugimoto says: “Mystery of mysteries, water and air are right there before us in the sea. Every time I view the sea, I feel a calming sense of security, as if visiting my ancestral home; I embark on a voyage of seeing.” (4)

What did I learn from my own “voyage of seeing” in Aldeburgh? I learnt that, as far as I was concerned, worrying about money took all the pleasure out of making art. I arrived at a point where I could no longer allow myself to create something unless there was a visible pay cheque at the end of it. I discovered that the monetising of my practice changed my relationship to creativity to such a degree that I no longer enjoyed it. I saw that attempting to place a financial value on my work resulted in bad art, or even no art at all. Also, I was depressed and running out of money. And so, I left my little sea front cottage, moved back to the hills of the Peak District, my spiritual home where I had not lived for eight years, and began my new beginning again.

And now, with Thálatta! Thálatta!, I complete a work that has been in my head for more than three years, ever since I took the first photograph, at 12:29 on Wednesday, 13th November, 2013. With this work I celebrate my eight months on the Suffolk Coast: the collages made in a sun-filled living room-come-makeshift artist’s studio; the album recorded in the little attic room overlooking the beach; the unfulfilled artist’s residency at Sizewell Nuclear Power Station; the walks and bike rides up and down the coast; the visits to my friends in Debenham, 25 miles inland; the strangeness of the watery landscape (Orford Ness, Shingle Street, Snape, Thorpeness, Dunwich); all this is contained in the 168 photographs of Thálatta! Thálatta! It may look like a sea and sky the same as any other on the planet, but it isn’t. It is a very personal record of a very specific time and place. It is one small, but significant, chapter in an ongoing autobiography.

CJ Robinson, January 2017, Buxton, Derbyshire

1) Xenophon, Anabasis (The Persian Expedition), translated by Rex Warner (Penguin Classics, 2004)

2) Iris Murdoch, The Sea, The Sea, (Chatto and Windus, 1978)

3) Kerry Brougher & David Elliot (eds.), Hiroshi Sugimoto, (Hatje Cantz, 2005)

4) http://www.sugimotohiroshi.com/seascape.html

Thálatta! Thálatta! can be purchased here.

The Francois Sagan Series is now complete

First begun in 2009 with La Chamade the Francois Sagan Series is now complete with the seventh book Silken Eyes and Other Stories. Each taking a late 1970’s Penguin edition of a different Francois Sagan novel as a starting point, the series serves as an exploration of the inner conflict and contradiction within the human mind. Each book is a facsimile of the original with all text removed other than sentences beginning with a particular pronoun, in La Chamade‘s case for example, only sentences beginning ‘She…’ remain. The text is placed where it was in the original to be surrounded by blank space, again perhaps reflecting the fits and starts of a conflicting consciousness, and the effect is to turn a novel of solid prose into a fragmentary concrete poetry. The meaning of the original texts is transformed by removing them from their familiar contexts and the result over the course of the series, which is often amusing, is to bring all the separate narratives together into a singular narrative seen from several contradictory points of view.

The seven titles in the series are:
La Chamade (She…)
Sunlight on Cold Water (He…)
Wonderful Clouds (I…)
A Certain Smile (We…)
Scars on the Soul (They…)
Lost Profile (You…)
Silken Eyes and Other Stories (It…)

All seven are available for £25 each in a limited edition of 100 from: http://www.blurb.co.uk/user/CJRobinson

The Francois Sagan Series (She…He…I…We…They…You…It)

The Francois Sagan Series (She…He…I…We…They…You…It)

La Chamade (She…)

La Chamade (She…)

2015 003 she-inside 02 web

Sunlight on Cold Water (He…)

Sunlight on Cold Water (He…)

2015 005 he-inside web

Wonderful Clouds (I…)

Wonderful Clouds (I…)

2015 007 I-inside web

A Certain Smile (We…)

A Certain Smile (We…)

2015 009 we-inside web

Scars on the Soul (They…)

Scars on the Soul (They…)

2015 011 they-inside web

Lost Profile (You…)

Lost Profile (You…)

2015 013 you-inside web

Silken Eyes and Other Stories (It…)

Silken Eyes and Other Stories (It…)

2015 015 it-inside web

New Bookwork – A Certain Smile

A Certain Smile

A Certain Smile

The fourth in the series of bookworks using the novels of Francois Sagan as their starting point. A Certain Smile takes the 1979 Penguin edition of her novel of that name and transforms it into an original concrete poem by removing all text other than sentences beginning ‘We…’ up to the first punctuation. A Certain Smile continues the series, begun in 2009 with La Chamade, exploring the multiplicity, malleability and fallibility of human consciousness and memory, whilst showing there to always be more than one side to a story.

More information can be found at: http://www.blurb.co.uk/b/4995988-a-certain-smile

A Certain Smile Page 11

A Certain Smile Page 11

A Certain Smile Page 47

A Certain Smile Page 47

A Certain Smile Page 102

A Certain Smile Page 102