I spent most of my day trawling my eyes along the shell-dappled sand at Portobello beach; a place I’ve come to visit often in these recent weeks. I set out to find some driftwood – and whatever else the beach decide to throw my way today – for an art project I’d recently devised. The last few visits to that particular beach offered all sorts of weird and wonderful gifts. There had been a freak mass washing-up of starfish there (I’m talking thousands) so I plan – with the help of my girlfriend, who’s conveniently a taxidermist – to preserve some of them. Some sea birds, too, as well as a whole load of interesting shells and rocks. I added a load of driftwood to the lot today, as well as some old rope.
I like gathering things in this way, it deepens the connection I feel to a place. By just wandering, taking everything in, picking and choosing what I need, and assembling these objects in my mind I can begin to transform them. Often I have no idea what I’ll make until I’ve gathered odd bits and pieces for weeks, and then something starts to form.
I’ve done the same thing where I live, too; traversing Leith Walk, usually at night, I find all sorts of useful things. My art has most recently taken me down the path of painting – not something I was ever to in to – but I’ve found a style and process that works for me. I’ve found boards to paint on, tins of paint, and even a few frames – all just waiting to be binned. It’s strange the way that by combining these things I find, one man’s trash, I can transform and add actual value to a piece of ‘rubbish’.
The first half hour or so I was completely on my own; one end of the beach doesn’t lead anywhere, so it’s often quiet. I closed my eyes as I walked along the coming-and-going water’s edge. I stepped in time with my breath, and every time I half opened my eyes it was if the world was becoming hazier, brighter, and more calm. I was so completely absorbed in just being there there that I started a conversation with myself (not uncommon) and talked most of the way along the beach. When we can find that stillness in ourselves, we are often the best one to go to for guidance. Who knows you better than yourself?
I didn’t pick anything up on my first sweep across the beach, just earmarked a few things, sticking sign-posts and noting landmarks so I’d know what to pick up on the way back along. I got as far across the stretch of sea-front as I wanted and sat down, unpacking my drum and the stick of Palo Santo I’d brought with me. Burning the wood gives the time I was there a strong sense of intention, ritualistically marking it out as this time, which I would sit and take in the sea, drumming to the beat of the waves. Drumming brings me in to a highly observational state normally, and I’m able to become so physically engrossed in the drumming itself that my mind can step back and just see. Often there will be analogies that come up too, which add to my experience and give me a take-away of sorts. It’s like a type of meditation, but very different from the calm walking meditation on the first half of the journey.
After a while, I packed up and set back along the way I’d come – this time collecting as I went, and keeping an eye out for the things I’d pegged earlier. The state I get in to while searching is in its own way another altered state; my attention is so focused, so discerning, that things just stand out and guide me to them. To an outside observer, I imagine it would probably look as if I already knew what sticks I was looking for, with how intentional the whole act is – as if I’m just picking a good box of eggs off the supermarket shelf or something.
It’s funny when we talk about altered states, because generally people think of the more extreme ones we get in to with the use of drugs, trance, and so on; the truth is, you go through several altered states throughout your day. Between waking up to going back to bed, your mind is all over the place, in several states of awareness, functioning on certain levels at different times. Did you find yourself daydreaming at all today, or getting really lost in a book? There you go – altered states of consciousness.
By the time I was at the quiet end of the beach again it was pretty dark. The tide was coming back in, and as I watched the waves I noticed how each incoming wave was either dampened or propelled by the wave before it. It was all in the timing; if a wave was coming in while one was rolling out, there would be some cancellation and the water wouldn’t come in very far. If however an incoming wave was just behind its predecessor, who hadn’t had time to start retreating, the waves would combine their energy and come in that much further. It fascinates me the way energy works, and how it animates and weaves through all of our world. When we look at a wave coming in across the water, it looks like that crest of water is moving towards us, but really the water is relatively still: the current, or energy, underneath the water is moving towards us (like the arm of an etch-a-sketch, as Vivienne excellently put it).
I felt like I was communicating with the water on the way back, moving with it playfully as it lapped at my heels. Water has such a draw for me. I’ve only recently started learning to swim, which is adding to the significance I feel for that particular element right now. I feel it has a lot to teach me, and so the visits to the beach will probably become a regular thing. Having my art to work on gives me that link to the environment, and this strange array of tasks to be working on, immersing me further in to this new world.