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Week 45: 15 July 2012

Marie Toseland

Writer from Tertulia Art and Language Salon, Spike Island Artspace, Bristol

The Rock. The Sea

In anticipation of its arrival, Marie Toseland considers the form of Nowhereisland; having never seen it, she proffers a blind description.

The island is suspended on the horizon, positioned within two parallel planes. The darker of the two stretches out beneath, mesmeric as it slowly distends and deflates whilst, contrastively, the abnormal immobility of the upper section attracts little attention within the scene. With its dim light source directly behind it, the rock’s western profile looms; a black oblong that penetrates the upper plane. This shaded mass appears as a void – a deadened vacuity overlapping the two fractions.

On the lower plane, the dark liquid that lies beyond the immediate boundary of the suspended form is impenetrably dense. It presents itself as both an unending depth and an oily film, making futile any attempt to confidently identify it. It undulates softly, without being ruptured, into smooth elongated lengths that run parallel to each other in concentric bands.  Advancing deftly toward the mass, each greasy mound is backed with a thick steely edge, picked out by the dim light.


Not much wider than it is tall, the oblong squats heavily. On its eastern face, the parallel stacked strata which make up the mass ripple into wide scalloped strips; each descends the stunted pillar, petering to a plateau toward its base. Any air between these veins has been choked out; the mass is compacted. From all viewpoints, the lump looks artificial. Irrespective of a tendency for minor deviations in the directness of its lines, it is a homogeny of right angles and even sides. Its sheer faces could have been formed as a sharp knife sliced off the island’s excess, neatening its edges.

Clustered at the foot of the mass, aligned slightly right of its central line, a fragmented tessellation of rock is in shards. In the dark water these lumps sprawl gracelessly, as if no apparent consideration has been made to their positioning. Some lie in propinquity, one resting against the face of another; others in disorderly isolation. In one instance, where two seem to be attempting to occupy the same space, one is hauled clear of the water as its base pushes down on the upper corner of its adversary, creating a triangular vista in the space between them.

Although the blocks follow the same general paradigm for construction - a lighter upper surface, met at each side by a perpendicular face - rather than a careful arrangement of corresponding parallels, each prism is erratic. Typically, where two vertical faces meet, a sharp line reaches down and pierces the dark water; the drowned portion not visible past the surface. Occasionally, a benign projection is formed, which veers; disrupting the straightness of an edge.


As the swell waves on the lower plane roll further toward the shore, identical in their uniformity, they begin to contract width-wise and rise up perpendicularly. A slender streak of white foam lines the bevelled edge of the apex, and the advancing wave grows taller. Incapable of supporting itself in a true vertical arrangement, the tip begins to lurch forwards, curve inwards and sink. The wave is held motionless for a moment, frozen around the hollow space of its internal elliptical chamber; the taut curve begins to tremble, then submits with a jolt to its rapid deliquescence. After several seconds the actions are repeated.

To the north of the black mass, adjacent to its sheer edge, extends a shallow, rectangular platform with a slight declivity, barely breaching the water. From the easterly position, alternations of protrusive ridges and gaping interstices run horizontally along the length of its exposed precipice, where softer bands between the splinters are being steadily diminished by the dark liquid.

Rather than the unstable waves produced toward the outer perimeter, here the wet plane expands like a lung, swelling from below. After several trail inhalations that alternatively reveal and submerge the lower periphery of the oblique rock, the black layer breathes more deeply and begins its mount. The platform yields to the invasion and the swollen liquid glides rapidly over the surface, approaching the bloated body that is ascending the raised, slaty wedge, until the encroachment is complete. In this newly stark abyss the platform’s existence becomes uncertain. Sound stops - the protracted silence is a held breath as the wet distension smothers the mass. The black layer shifts its weight and settles. The moment continues. The eye perceives a lurch as the breath is released; backwards propulsion begins, and the surge slithers back as flatly as a sheet drawn from a bed. When viewed from a parallel elevation, the revealed platform is a petrified section of the lower plane; intersecting welts on the exposed back glow incandescently, aping the lithe, wet sinews until vivified by a fresh wave of molestation, causing the scales to writhe and twist.


In contrast to this sweeping gesture, the dark plane rears up to smack the stony face of the monolith. In one continuous motion, each attacking wave rushes forward, hits the rock, then withdraws to prepare another strike. Each round is vigorously executed, despite the monotony of the action, and is without progression or substitution. In the furore, the wet assailant flushes white against the inky sides; takes on the lustrous finish of beaten albumen. With the force of the strike, sprays burst up and diverge into pale limbs: awkwardly expanded into opposing tracks from a common point. When at its peak, each stem becomes instantaneously stalagmatic, holding its rigid pose momentarily before it softens and collapses, slapping the deflated plane as it flops lifelessly down to form vacant outlines of foam.

Within this tumult of white, the black shard is an open target, no longer camouflaged by echoing the darkness of the beating surface. An obstruction passes over the light source in the upper plane; the water darkens with the flash of a violent expression. Its lustrous pallor is deadened, and the scene turns ominous. Any sense of buoyant brutality is gone from the waves and yet the action grimly persists, coolly observed by greasy mounds advancing deftly towards the mass in concentric bands.

Marie Toseland

Marie Toseland is an artist who works across a wide range of media, producing objects, images and texts that consider the dynamics of solidity and transience, stillness and spectacle, expectation and event.

Her writing has been printed in several publications, including The Potential for Windows and Scale (An Endless Supply, 2012) and FEAST (Laura Mansfield, 2011), and has been presented as spoken word performances for the Happy Hypocrite at both Spike Island, Bristol (2011) and Eastside Projects, Birmingham (2011). She has exhibited throughout the UK, with recent exhibitions including the solo show Local Interference, WORKS|PROJECTS, Bristol (2011), and the group show The Potential for Windows and Scale, The Contemporary Art Society, London (2011). She lives and works in Bristol.

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Nowhereisland is a Situations project led by artist Alex Hartley, one of 12 Artist Taking the Lead projects for the London 2012 Cultural Olympiad funded by Arts Council England. We also gratefully acknowledge the support of the University of the West of England, Bristol; Bloomberg; Nicky Wilson Jupiter Artland; the Norwegian Ministry of Foreign Affairs; the Royal Norwegian Embassy and Yellowbrick Tracking.

Identity designed by Fraser Muggeridge studio and Wolfram Wiedner, website by Wolfram Wiedner.