Sea to Sea: North + Irish.
Home as a two-fold sea: A country – or two – that’s what I might want to mention when asked the question: “Where are you from?” How about the sea? Can we not answer with a sea – or more? It’s an awkward question to have to answer anyway, as if to satisfy a desire for fixedness over fluidity.
If countries are spaces, then the oceans between them might be ‘negative spaces’, to describe it in artspeak. But in the arts, negative spaces are not negative, not at all: they are all the stuff that happens outside shapes, all the spaces outside of things, all the gaps between forms, room between outlines. In being that, they too, are shapes, things and forms and room – only that we perceive them as being ‘around us’, instead of being within. Outside versus inside.
I was born within day-trip distance of the North Sea – the islands within reach then were the ‘Wadden-sea islands’, like there is another sea within the North Sea, on the edge of it, and what they mean is the intertidal area between the islands and the coast, as all the islands around here are at a similar distance from the coast, in a line, like ducks in a row: it’s a linear archipelago. Wadden Sea, what a sea! And now I have arrived at the Irish Sea, with a 27 year stopover in London, and Germany before that, a northwest corner of English edgeland and seaside borderland after: which is to say I am now at the post-industrial Cumbrian coast and within eyesight of Scottish mountains. I, foreigner, in borderland. Double whammy – and double sea. North to Irish sea, north by northwest.
Everytime, the stretch from coast to coast is like moving with learned lines from the book of the sea: One morning we took the car to Newcastle, that morning the car was parked by our little harbour, where we picked it up. Then, after a few hours, there appeared the other coast: North Sea! What had once been my one coast (and from a different side), is now the other coast. And there it was, the stretch, enacted. It felt like I had brought the tidelines of the Solway with me, to read on the other side, in Newcastle, west-to-east. One tide to another, connected by a line made between the tidelines, perpendicular.
The meeting of the seas, then, happens within me. Echoing, perhaps, a desire for the ‘meeting of the continents’, suggested by John La Rose. There is more to remember, more to consider, more to know. Like the Channel that connects our seas, where the borders between our countries become particularly hazardous. The Channel, like a portal of two seas, migrant passage, passing places, uneasy places, like fluid fire. There is so much more to consider, more.
On 21st Feb I observed the annual ceremonial burning of fire, performed on the islands of northern Frisia, called ‘Biikebrennen’, with a tealight. A tiny fire marking an old, staunch, ritual one. Perhaps oddly, the ritual of that Biike fire in the sea this reminds me somewhat of artist Julie Brook’s spectacular Fire Sculptures on the other end of the North Sea, which she made on Jura island in the Hebrides. Starting in the 1990s. Strong fiery lines in all dimensions. On the island the middle of the Irish Sea – the Isle of Man – women first got the vote in 1881: the first in the world to do so. Fire in our bellies, sea in the soul.
So it’s not just countries we may migrate to and from, but the seas that surround them as well. These are our other life-lines, sea-lines, tide-lines, ‘made by walking’ (Richard Long-line) to and from places.