My final project, entitled‘All at Sea’, comprises a tangle of ceramic octopi and a full-size sail for an Olympic Laser class dinghy – the overall printed image measuring 5.13 x 2.74m. This project connects commercial advertisements with an artist vision. Most sails are very banal, white and characterless. The title ‘All at Sea’alludes to that sense of uncertainly, of stepping out into the unknown, but hopefully embarking on a voyage of discovery like Odysseus’ journey (described by Homer). I want to subvert prejudicial stereotypes and challenge the perceived stigma of being ostracized. I want to understand and examine sensuality by exploring the path humanity embark upon in seeking self-acceptance and public tolerance.
Boats were the first long distance vehicle, transferring culture from one continent to another. My sail is a ‘vessel’ to communicate with others and hopefully engender a sense of tolerance, acceptance and freedom. I want to instil an understanding that everyone has an impact on the environment and how we live – I would like my sail to become a symbol for ‘coming out’. All boats carry symbolic meaning, but I was also drawn to the ambiguous meaning of the word cruising. The ‘gay dictionary’ defines this as drifting without a destination, just for pleasure, looking for random sex partners. What ambiguity could I invest in my own boat?
Using the image of the octopus, I want to challenge the misrepresentation of this beautiful, mysterious and sexual creature which has been viewed historically as a ‘monster’ in many cultures. In the West, the octopus is often associated with danger and destruction. It was a mythological animal living deep in the cold recesses of the fathomless sea, and called the Kraken from Scandinavian legends. In Japan’s Ukiyo-e period, the octopus was employed not only as a frightening monster but also as a creature of sexual pleasure – for example, Hokusai’s The Dream of the Fisherman’s Wife (1814). Here we see how something once considered scary can shift towards acceptance and even provide forbidden pleasure – thus offering us a new way to see the world.
For me, therefore, the octopus can be seen as representing the fear of expressing our personality. Like the creature hidden in the darkest depths of the sea, unknown, often frightening for people, but when seen in the daylight is revealed as both beautiful and sensual. This creature is able to camouflage itself when threatened, like people changing their behaviour in order not to be judged for who they are. The closeted ‘victim’ only becomes himself in ‘safe’ places. This shift in our perception can be likened to the process of expressing ourselves openly – a scary hurdle to overcome but worth the effort.
In order to realize my sail, I collaborated with an amazing photographer David Parias (based in Maui, Hawaii) who documents octopi in the Pacific Ocean, as well as a commercial sailmaker in San Remo (Italy) called Zaoli Sails. Advances in printing technology now allow greater resolution whilst keeping the sail very lightweight. Previously the painting of sails could add on a kilogram in weight and make the sail stiff, thus reducing the agility of the material. Nowadays giant billboards can cover entire buildings and range from commercial advertisements to artists’ manifestos. Many sponsors put their logo on sails but rarely any explicit advertisements and there is almost no artistic representation at sailing events.
Changing the printed medium from paper to fabric, and the sail’s intended environment from gallery wall to an aquatic setting, has allowed me to undertake a public performance of my sail on the water. Thanks to the assistance of the Greenwich Yacht Club (GYC) I have been able to record the sail in its natural environment on the river Thames. A ‘performance’ took place on 23rd May 2019 and provoked both pedestrians and other sailors to consider the choice of image, the scope of advertising and the revelatory nature of this performance.