Commissioned for Glasgow landscape, created to coincide with, Terra incognita.

Ineluctable modality of the visible: at least that if no more, thought through my eyes. Signatures of all things I am here to read, seaspawn and seawrack, the nearing tide, that rusty boot. Snotgreen, bluesilver, rust: coloured signs. Limits of the diaphane.

Proteus, a sea deity, son of Oceanus and Tethys, or according to some, of Neptune and Phœnice. He had received the gift of prophecy from Neptune because he had tended the monsters of the sea, and from his knowledge of futurity mankind received the greatest services. He usually resided in the Carpathian sea, and, like the rest of the gods, he reposed himself on the sea-shore, where such as wished to consult him generally resorted. He was difficult of access, and when consulted he refused to give answers, by immediately assuming different shapes, and if not properly secured in fetters, eluding the grasp in the form of a tiger, or a lion, or disappearing in a flame of fire, a whirlwind or a rushing stream.

Lempriere's Classical Dictionary, p. 509

In Walkscapes: Walking as an Aesthetic Practice- a study of the artistic practices of walking in the passage from Dada to Surrealism, Lettrism to Situationism, Minimalism to Land Art - Francesco Careri employs the metaphor of the sea to describe the transformed experience of the city realized by such experiments in human drift. «What the rovings of the artists discover», he suggests, «is a liquid city, an amniotic fluid where the spaces of the elsewhere take spontaneous form, an urban archipelago in which to navigate by drifting. A city in which the spaces of staying are the islands in the great sea formed by the spaces of going.» 1 If Walter Benjamin considered the nineteenth-century stroller, or flâneur, to be «botanizing on the asphalt», Careri seems to suggest that the contemporary science of the aesthetic practice of walking is a kind of urban oceanography or, more precisely, a coastline cartography - where the littoral is simultaneously the liminal. 2

Stephen closed his eyes to hear his boots crush crackling wrack and shells. You are walking through it howsomever. I am, a stride at a time. A very short space of time through very short times of space. Five, six: the nacheinander. Exactly: and that is the ineluctable modality of the audible. Open your eyes. No. Jesus! If I fell over a cliff that beetles o er his base, fell through the nebeneinander ineluctably. I am getting on nicely in the dark. My ash sword hangs at my side. Tap with it: they do. My two feet in his boots are at the end of his legs, nebeneinander. Sounds solid: made by the mallet of Los Demiurgos. Am I walking into eternity along Sandymount strand? Crush, crack, crick, crick. Wild sea money. Dominie Deasy kens them a'.

Won't you come to Sandymount,
Madeline the mare?

Rhythm begins, you see. I hear. A catalectic tetrameter of iambs marching. No, gallop: deline the mare. Open your eyes now. I will. One moment. Has all vanished since? If I open and am for ever in the black adiaphane. Basta! I will see if I can see. See now. There all the time without you: and ever shall be, world without end.

In the Proteus chapter of Joyce's Ulysses, on 16 June 1904, Stephen Dedalus walks, eyes closed, along the sea-shore of Sandymount Strand, near Dublin. In a primary example of the modernist narrative technique known as stream of consciousness we hear Stephen's littoral monologue. It is as if Joyce, by attempting to transcribe the sounds of the sea, seeks to fulfil Ernst Chadni's promise of a universal sound writing. But the supple interiority of Joyce's language, both fluid and fragmentary, is an extended meditation not only on the audible but the visible. In effect, as we read we listen with our eyes.
In their audio-guided walk project for the Lighthouse, Sans façon have created a sound-path, a slipstream of aural consciousness and the effect is a dislocation of space and time, sight and sound. When we leave the Lighthouse, we walk along a coastline between sound and image. In short, Sans façon invite us to enter into sensory terrain vague.3

The Enlightenment coastline not only represented a technical challenge to late eighteenth-century map-makers. A necessary construction of Enlightenment reason, it dramatized the limitations and contradictions inherent in the Enlightenment project. As a surface where most of the cultural action was  not only geographically but to an increasing degree, socially, intellectually and imaginatively  the coastline suggested that the optimistic anticipation of mapping the world, classifying its products and ordering their relations, was founded on myth. Experienced as radical discontinuity, as a breach in time and space, the coast could be construed as the necessary other of reason & even when its products had been threaded along taxonomical lines, the coast remained obstinately discontinuous, abyssal, anti-rational, impossible to fix.

Paul Carter 4

On Saturday, September 30, 1967, Robert Smithson went to the Port Authority building on 41st Street and 8th Avenue, New York. He bought a copy of the New York Times and a paperback book called Earthworks by Brian W. Adliss. He then went to the ticket booth and purchased a one-way ticket to Passiac. He then went up to the upper bus level (platform 173) and boarded the number 30 bus of the Inner-City Transportation Co.

Stand stock still and turn a sea-shell to your ear. No matter where you are, you hear the sea sound and resound deep within the empty shell. Lamentations and siren calls: a thousand drowned mariners without names. An ancient city lost again to inevitable waves.

The grainy sand had gone from under his feet. His boots trod again a damp crackling mast, razorshells, squeaking pebbles, that on the unnumbered pebbles beats, wood sieved by the shipworm, lost Armada. Unwholesome sandflats waited to suck his treading soles, breathing upward sewage breath. He coasted them, walking wearily. A porter-bottle stood up, stogged to its waist, in the cakey sand dough. A sentinel: isle of dreadful thirst. Broken hoops on the shore; at the land a maze of dark cunning nets; farther away chalkscrawled backdoors and on the higher beach a dryingline with two crucified shirts. Ringsend: wigwams of brown steersmen and master mariners. Human shells.

In the chapter on «Shells» in The Poetics of Space, Gaston Bachelard suggests that a phenomenologists could learn a lot from a conchologists «if the latter were to share with him his own original amazement» 5. Uncharacteristically, Bachelard is silent on the amazement of the shell's capacity to generate sound out of keeping with its scale, an observation which would have illustrated Bachelard's claim: «Miniature is one of the refuges of greatness.» 6

In a manner reminiscent of Joyce's walk upon the shores of language, Michel de Certeau advances walking's relation to speech. He parallels articulation and perambulation to the degree that he claims: «The act of walking is to the urban system what the act of speaking, the Speech Act, is to language or to spoken utterance.» 7 He continues:

The paths taken by strollers consist of a series of turnings and returnings that can be likened to «turns of phrase» or »stylistic devices». A perambulatory rhetoric does exist. The art of «turning» a phrase has its counterpart in the art of «turning» course. 8

In their audio-walk, Sans façon establish «a conjunctive and disjunctive articulation of places» 9. This audio-walk - which evokes parallels with both the Surrealist deambulation and the Situationist dérive - is not simply a «perambulatory rhetoric» which sets up a series of conjunctions and disjunctions between sounds of different places in the city. It disrupts the visual and audible experience of orientation, they deterritorialize our visual co-ordinates through the reterritorializing of sound. This performative re-mapping of urban space transforms our habitual pathways into a liminal zone of structured meandering and play; as they deconstruct our navigational references and epistemological safeguards they open up a threshold space whereby we might encounter the city anew. If Paul Carter is correct in suggesting that inductive conceptions of knowledge may be described as coastal, you get the distinct sensation that Sans façon are paddling in your brainwaves.

There is nothing from beginning to end of Proteus that is not thought or sensation. Other characters who come into the picture do so only as part of the content of Stephen's mind. Through his senses the seashore comes to life. The natural abode of change is that area between low water and high water mark. It is easier to believe that life started here than that it began in a garden. Tides ebb and flow, cheating the clock every day, lagging behind. The volume of water changes, spring to neap and neap to spring again. Cold water flows over hot sand. Sea breeze and land-wind alternate. The colour of sea and sky changes like shot-silk. The sea makes and unmakes the land. Steel-hard rocks are broken up, firm contours of land are dissolved and remade. A sea-town drifts inland and the houses of an inland town topple into the sea. Yellow sand, lying neatly round rocks, is taken away by an overnight storm and a floor of black boulders appears. Then with smooth lapping of the next calm the yellow carpet is laid again. There is a whole population of plants and animals here and of living things that are neither plant nor animal. Carcasses of man, beast, bird, fish washed ashore, decompose. Sea and sand bury them. Wreckage rots and rusts and is pounded to pieces and every tide brings new flotsam and jetsam, lays it on other ribbed sand, other stones. The seashore is never twelve hours the same.

Frank Budgen 10

The bus turned off Highway 3, down Orient Way in Rutherford.

In May 1904, after mastering the rules of sculpture at the Bucharest School of Fine Arts, Constantin Brancusi set out to walk from Hobitza, his village in Romania, to Paris, the capital city of the emerging twentieth-century. After hiking through Austria and Germany Brancusi reached Paris on July 14, Bastille Day, 'as a medieval pilgrim might have arrived with bleeding feet at the gates of Rome'. 11

In Zürich in 1918 and 1919, while Joyce was working on Ulysses, the English painter Frank Budgen, who had painted many seashores in Cornwall from St. Ives to Land's End and had spent six years of his life at sea, had almost daily walks and conversations with the exiled Irish writer. At Joyce's apartment in 29 Universitätsstrasse one evening the author explained his thinking in the Proteus chapter. «You catch the drift of the thing?» said Joyce. «It's the struggle with Proteus. Change is the theme. Everything changes - sea, sky, man, animals. The words change, too.» 12 The drift of the thing. Seadrift. Driftwords. The flow of words echoes the tidal movements of the sea. Words drift in and out of the mind as sounds. Words change shape and reveals their eternal impermanence and fragility, like the shells crushed to sand beneath Stephen's boots.

As the bus passed over the first «monument», Smithson pulled the buzzer-cord and got off at the corner of Union Avenue and River Drive. The monument was a bridge on the Passiac River that connected Bergen County with Passiac County.

Proudly walking. Whom were you trying to walk like? Forget: a dispossessed.

I have met with but one or two persons in the course of my life who understood the art of Walking, that is, of taking walks - who had a genius, so to speak, for sauntering, which word is beautifully derived «from idle people who roved abut the country, in the Middle Ages, and asked charity, under pretense of going à la Sainte Terre,» to the Holy Land, till the children exclaimed, «There goes a Sainte-Terrer,» a saunterer, a Holy-Lander... Some, however, would derive the word from sans terre, without land or a home, which therefore, in the good sense, will mean, having no particular home, but equally at home everywhere. For this is the secret of successful sauntering. He who sits still in a house all the time may be the greatest vagrant of all; but the suanterer, in the good sense, is no more vagrant than the meandering river, which is all the while sedulously seeking the shortest course to the sea.

Henry David Thoreau, 'Walking' 13

The oldest evidence of the existence of man are the traces of a walk that took place 3,700,000 years ago, solidified in volcanic mud. The footprints belonged to an adult Australopithecus Afarensis and his son and were found in Leotoli, Tanzania.

Smithson then walked north along what was left of River Drive and saw a monument in the middle of the river - a pumping derrick with a long pipe attached to it and supported by a set of pontoons. The pipe extended about three blocks until it disappeared into the earth. He could hear debris rattling in the water that passed through the great pipe.

His feet marched in sudden proud rhythm over the sand furrows, along by the boulders of the south wall. He stared at them proudly, piled stone mammoth skulls. Gold light on sea, on sand, on boulders. The sun is there, the slender trees, the lemon houses.

In similar fashion to the audible modality of sea-shells, through headphones an entire city is relayed through audio recordings, uncertain scale, by turns identifiable and indeterminate by turns, interiors and open spaces. According to Budgen's recollection, Joyce considered Space the ineluctable modality of the visible and Time the ineluctable modality of the audible. In Sans façon's audio-path, however, Joyce's terms are reversed. In this context, space becomes the ineluctable modality of the audible and time the ineluctable modality of the visible.

That zero panorama seemed to contain ruins in reverse, that is - all the new construction that would eventually be built. This is the opposite of the 'romantic ruin' because the buildings don't fall into ruin after they are built but rather rise into ruin before they are built.

Robert Smithson, «A Tour of the Monuments of Passiac, New Jersey» (1967) 14

He had come nearer the edge of the sea and wet sand slapped his boots. The new air greeted him, harping in wild nerves, wind of wild air of seeds and brightness. Here, I am not walking out to the Kish lightship, am I? He stood suddenly, his feet beginning to sink slowly in the quaking soil. Turn back.

At the end of November, 1974, the filmmaker Werner Herzog living in Munich, was called by a friend from Paris. The caller informed him that Lotte Eisner [a film historian and friend of Herzog's] was seriously ill and would probably die. Herzog's reply was that this must not be, not at this time claiming that: «German cinema could not do without her now, we would not permit her death.» Immediately, Herzog took a jacket, a compass and a duffel bag with the necessities. His boots were so solid and new that he had confidence in them. He set off on the most direct route to Paris, in full faith, believing that she would stay alive if he came on foot. According to Rebecca Solnit, Herzog walked the several hundred miles from Munich to Paris in winter weather «often wet, often smelly, often thirsty, and usually suffering from great pain in some part of his feet and legs». 15 Twenty-one days later Herzog was sitting with his feet up in Eisner's room as she smiled at him. «For one splendid fleeting moment», he records, «something mellow flowed through my deadly tired body. I said to her, open the window, from these last days onward I can fly.» 16

At the lacefringe of the tide he halted with stiff forehoofs, seawardpointed ears. His snout lifted barked at the wavenoise, herds of seamorse. They serpented towards his feet, curling, unfurling many crests, every ninth, breaking, plashing, from afar, from farther out, waves and waves.

Next Smithson descended into a cluster of used car lots. Here, like Stephen Dedalus walking into eternity on Sandymount strand, Robert Smithson, in a used car lot in Passaic, New Jersey, begins to mythologize the landscape: «Was I in new territory?... Perhaps I had slipped into a lower stage of futurity - did I leave the real future behind in order to advance into a false future? Yes, I did. Reality was behind me at that point in my suburban Odyssey... After that I returned to Passiac, or was it the hereafter - for all I know that unimaginative suburb could have been a clumsy eternity, a cheap copy of The City of the Immortals... Has Passiac replaced Rome as The Eternal City?'17

Listen: a fourworded wavespeech: seesoo, hrss, rsseeiss, oos. Vehement breath of waters amid sea snakes, rearing horses, rocks. In cups of rocks it slops: flop, slop, slap: bounded in barrels. And, spent, its speech ceases. It flows purling, widely flowing, floating foampool, flower unfurling.

The last monument Smithson encounters was a sand box or a model desert. Under the deal light of the Passiac afternoon, to Smithson, the desert became a map of entropy, of infinite disintegration and forgetfulness. Smithson describes his vision: «This monument of minute particles blazed under a bleakly glowing sun, and suggested the sullen dissolution of entire continents, the drying up of oceans - no longer were there green forests and high mountains - all that existed were millions of grains of sand, a vast deposit of bones and stones pulverized into dust. Every grain of sand was a dead metaphor that equaled timelessness, and to decipher such metaphors would take one through the false mirror of eternity.» 18

Five fathoms out there. Full fathom five thy father lies. At one he said. Found drowned.

The word «Sahara» comes from sahra, meaning an empty space «without pasture», while «Sahel», the southern edge of the Sahara, comes from the Arabic sahel and means «shore» or «border». The sahel is the margin of great empty space across which, like a great sea, one «berths» at something stable and marked by the presence of man. The Sahel, therefore, is the place where nomadic sheepherding and sedentary agriculture mingle, a mutable border that forms the place of trade and continuous rebalancing between the two civilizations.

Eugenio Turri 19

In On the Shores of Politics, Jacques Rancière suggests that: «The whole political project of Platonism can be conceived as an anti-maritime polemic.» 20 To Plato, he claims «The sea smells bad». Rancière explains: «This is not because of the mud, however. The sea smells of sailors, it smells of democracy. The task of philosophy is to found a different politics, a politics of conversion which turns its back on the sea.» 21

He turned his face over a shoulder, rere regardant. Moving through the air high spars of a threemaster, her sails brailed up on the crosstrees, homing, upstream, silently moving, a silent ship.

Ross Birrell, January 2004
With extracts from James Joyce, Ulysses (Harmondsworth: Penguin 1969), pp. 42-56.

  1. Francesco Careri, Walkscapes: Walking as an Aesthetic Practice, translated by Steve Piccolo and Paul Hammond, Land & Scape Series (Barcelona: Editorial Gustavo Gili, 2002) p. 21.
  2. Despite the propensity for tropes of forests or jungles in literary responses to the urban landscape, a report (by the appropriately named Heather Shore) on the conference 'Walking the Streets of London, 1660-1870' (held at the London Voluntary Resource Centre, 17-18 December 1999) indicates that recent historians of city life seem to share this notion of urban oceanography: 'At this two-day conference twelve historians attempted to circumnavigate the street spaces of late seventeenth-century to later nineteenth century London.' Heather Shore 'Conference Report', The London Journal, Volume 25 No. 1 2000, p. 97.
  3. According to Ignasi de Solà-Morales, terrain vague is 'an indeterminate space without boundaries'. Cited in Careri, Walkscapes, p. 41.
  4. Paul Carter, 'Dark With Excess of Bright: Mapping the Coastlines of Knowledge' in Mappings, edited by Denis Cosgrove (London: Reaktion Books, 1999) , p. 146.
  5. Gaston Bachelard, The Poetics of Space, translated by Maria Jolas (Boston: Beacon Press, 1969), p. 107.
  6. Bachelard, The Poetics of Space, p. 155.
  7. Michel de Certeau 'Walking in the City', The Certeau Reader, edited by Graham Ward (Oxford: Blackwell, 2000) p. 106.
  8. de Certeau, 'Walking in the City', p. 108.
  9. de Certeau, 'Walking in the City', p. 107.
  10. Frank Budgen, James Joyce and the Making of 'Ulysses' and other writings (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1972), p. 49-50.
  11. Jonathan Jones, 'Carving A Way To Heaven', The Guardian, Weekend (03.01.2004), p. 21-2.
  12. Budgen, James Joyce and the Making of 'Ulysses', p. 49.
  13. Henry David Thoreau, 'Walking', The Portable Thoreau, revised edition, edited by Carl Bode (New York: Viking, 1975), p. 592-3.
  14. Robert Smithson, 'A Tour of the Monuments of Passaic', The Collected Writings, edited by Jack Flam (Berkeley, University of California,1996), p. 72.
  15. Rebecca Solnit, Wanderlust: A History of Walking (New York: Viking, 2000), p. 61
  16. Solnit, Wanderlust, p. 62.
  17. Smithson, 'A Tour of the Monuments of Passiac', p. 72-4.
  18. Smithson, 'A Tour of the Monuments of Passiac', p. 74.
  19. Cited in Careri, Walkscapes, p. 41.
  20. Jacques Rancière, On the Shores of Politics, translated by Liz Heron (London: Verso, 1995), p. 1.
  21. Rancière, On the Shores of Politics, p. 2.