“Water brings the distant near, bits of sound – sighs, gurgles, sucks, almost voices — connecting you with some other place, some other time, an experience from far away or long ago.”   photographer Roni Horn, “Another Water”

Can we learn from nature how to restore balance in our lives? Can an artist inspired by nature help someone do the same? Or once removed from the source, is its healing energy too dissipated?

After being at The Waterfront Museum, I realized I must honor  the constant you experience at sea – the horizon, the magnetic pull to stretch beyond your skin.  Being at sea alters your sense of time.

Meeting the sculptor Grethe Wittrock was a catalyst for exploring ways to convey the history within a sail. Seeing her lovely work now made me think about ways to experiment with surfaces for BELL 8,  projecting fire, smoke, earth. Perhaps the surface becomes alive – becoming liquid.

Being on the sea,  you can feel, if not hear and respond,  the deep. The challenge in BELL 8 is to convey the experience of having a conversation unlike any you’ve had before.

Sasha Smith at Bell 8 at Waterfront Museum, Red Hook

My urge to do this project stems from 20 years of bliss before the mast, when I was a 0-20 year old, a full fledged space cadet, a happy airhead. Editing the film is a means to understand emotional rhythms, their physical manifestation, tempos, and to explore what triggers changes. Various neuroscientists, philosophers, biologists are doing research to decipher why proximity to water is so soothing. Just as a baby starts to coo when he/she is cradled, we all start to relax when we are in a vibrating train, or on a boat rising and falling. Certainly, I was hypnotized by the sea.

 Just looking at my tag lines for this page is an odd trajectory between emotions, responses to artists, and fantasies as to how this project could be useful:
criminal justice reform,
empty, flight
hypnosis Mr Turner
open Roni Horn
sand sea gods

Replacing those tag lines with new ambitions perhaps can steer the project, making a chart for where the project could be installed.

The goal is to still inspire the viewer to do nothing,  float,  and maybe fly. Oddly, maybe Frank Ocean is my man – NYTimes wrote today that “But really he was leading a grand-scale meditation on feelings and politics, often overlapping, in the most quiet way possible. 

Rather than have the dancer that appears in BELL 8 do a wild acrobatic dance, perhaps I need to explore the dance of the fish and the kelp. Not slow like Butoh, so much as constant motion, barely visible, with occasional bursts of activity.

While we think of water in terms of cleansing, swimming, Narcissus,  we have not returned the favor; we have been unconscionable terrorists, abusing the oceans through polluting, overfishing, overheating the planet. The goal of BELL 8 is to create such an homage to the sea, that everyone will literally begin to worship nature. The Wake segment in BELL 8 is an acknowledgement of  our trespasses and efforts to nudge people to imagine a future when we will treat the ocean with respect.

Woven into this love song is a celebration of current efforts to heal the ocean – art made from the same plastic), sea goddesses designed to serve as artificial reefs, and efforts to manage kelp forests

In the early 1990s, the American Museum of Natural History put an open rowboat in the center of a small room, and projected the sea on 4 sides of the room, as a sensory aid to understanding the perspective of arctic explorers. You had to admire the bravery of those men venturing off with so little protection. That installation inspired me to create BELL 8.

Seeing Mike Leigh’s “Mr. Turner”  reminds you how many artists have captured the sea in unusual ways. Consider Francisco Faria’s drawing that makes the sea seem like stone, and like bodies, lying with rumps to the ceiling, suggested in Catarina Arcipriete’s collage of painted hands, feathers, ribbons, or Nan Melville’s image, below, of sand that seems to be from another planet.


Photo by Nan Melville. Crane Beach, Massachusetts