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NAVAL GAZING

Three images funded by the City of Westminster’s Arts Council, Grant for Photography and Digital Media, in 2004.

Photographic triptych, 16 x 20' (1 of 3)

Exhibited at the Curzon Soho cinema, 2004.

 
Birthplace Heterotopia, Photograph from triptych, NAVAL GAZING, 2004
 

Comments on this image by Dr Rachel Jones, during the symposium 'On Not Knowing' at Kettle's Yard, 2009

The image on the poster is a photograph by Sarah Cole which in fact features not just ‘someone’, but a
heavily pregnant woman in a peddloe on the day her baby is due. Knowing (rather than ‘not knowing) this makes a difference to how we read the image, which is already at odds with the Kantian model of the sublime insofar as the subject is not in a position to distance themselves from or transcend nature, but rather, is a fairly small speck on an insubstantial craft completed surrounded by sea. The knowledge that the person in the boat is a heavily pregnant woman adds an uncomfortable element of risk which is a direct challenge to Kant, who suggested
that women should not be educated into overcoming their fear of nature – and thus should not be educated into a capacity for sublime feeling – precisely because of the importance of instinctual reactions for their reproductive role. It also, of course, adds a whole new set of dimensions to the sublime by linking it with birth, in ways that are foregrounded by the title of Cole’s image: Birthplace Heterotopia (from the triptych Naval Gazing, 2004). Along with the gently subversive playfulness of Cole’s image and the triptych title, the link to birth suggests a different way of thinking the sublime: rather than involving human transcendence over nature, we might instead locate transcendence in the process whereby one gives birth to another within a dynamic nature that both generates and surpasses individual beings. Thus, while the trail of light on the water in Cole’s photograph evokes images of annunciation as well as the wonder of birth – ‘the advent or the event of the other’ as Irigaray puts it (‘Wonder’, p.75) – there is no horizon line to lift our gaze above the waves; instead, like the woman in the peddloe, as viewers we too remain immersed in this ‘naval’ world of incessant movement and flux. Read in this way, we can see Cole’s image as invoking the risky adventure and wonder of birth (as well as the heterotopic possibilities within which it is situated) in ways that resonate with Irigaray’s image of wonder as: ‘A birth into transcendence, that of the other, still in the world of the senses (“sensible”),
still physical and carnal, and already spiritual.’ ibid, p.82

 
   
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