Kaffe Matthews, ‘You might come out of the water every time singing’ (2012)

(c) Kaffe Matthews. Courtesy the Bluecoat, Liverpool

“Okay, we’re 30m underwater on a ley line and we’re heading for some squid,” or words to that effect. Such is my greeting from artist Kaffe Matthews.

My response is helpless excitement. I lie on my back on the shark platform and look up at the murky green light. You can well imagine the hammerheads are up there.

Oscillators pump out a generative soundscape. Tremors pass through me from the matted platform. And it feels as if we are really travelling at speed.

Matthews is a diver as well as a composer. And she has really swum with hammerheads so has really earned a right to the data which drives this piece.

The raw materials for this music are the topographies of the ocean floor and the depths, speeds, and directions of six tagged shark specimens.

And here is where it gets cosmic: hammerheads navigate using electromagnetic fields. So as this piece follows them, it recreates on dry land the invisible forces which bind oceans in place.

As a result it is hard to get off the mat again, hard to break free from its magnetic pull. It is thrilling, yet as free from danger as Matthews’ dives must have been fraught. whatever she says.

Up until now, one might have figured that Damien Hirst was responsible for the world’s most badass shark art. But his pickled tiger now has a serious contender.

And surely everyone will come out of the water here singing the praises of this art, not to mention the joy of sharing minutes of your life with some prehistoric fish.

This piece can be seen in the exhibition Galápagos at the Bluecoat, Liverpool, until July 1. See gallery website for more details and read my interview with Matthews on Culture24.

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