The film presents the viewer with a seascape. A static shot, seamlessly looping, shows a snow-covered beach made of large basalt cobbles – the North Atlantic Ocean sweeping by in the background. An unexpected elongated shape sits in the middle of the frame, lifeless. It is the corpse of a 48-ft beached Sperm Whale.
In the early days of studies on whales, it was not scientists who observed them, but artists throughout the coast who captured their essence into various mediums to be seen by the public ¹. Beachings were popular events to witness; it brought people from their terrestrial homes to the ocean, as observers of a world quite unfamiliar and unknown to them.
Although today we may have a better comprehension of the reasons behind such behaviour, marine mammals landing onshore are still potent images of bad omens. In 2016, a record number of Sperm Whales stranded on the UK coastline. Is it a prefiguration of the ecological disaster that lies ahead? Scientists are not sure whether those strandings were human induced or not. Yet in the Anthropogenic era we are now living in, plastic debris are often uncovered from whales’ stomachs, and chemical pollutants used on land such as DDT (a pesticide that was banned 40 years ago) are found in whales’ bodily fat. This is proof of how our lives and actions are more than ever intertwined with the life of these nonhuman beings, in such a manner that nature cannot be disentangled from culture anymore.
Sound by Patrick Franke.
1 Samantha Colt, The Whale Tale: How the Leviathan Became an Emblem of the Dutch Republic through Art
Stranded (excerpt), loop, 2016