Extracts from a collaborative text written by David Toop and Marie Roux, published in Marie Roux’s photobook, The Head Peelers, published in an edition of 40, 2021.
A wandering adventure was my starting point. This is what I find exciting. I looked down at the earth between my feet, studied the transparent tea in my cup and found the furthest island off the coast of France. Its name was Ushant, written on my chart by an invisible pen. When I checked the paper map, only an Ile d’Ouessant was visible, though some faint blemish of the paper’s surface suggested that my island had once existed or perhaps existed to those who believed it could be found, perhaps by a swimmer who had lost all hope and prepared themselves for drowning, only to find sand under their feet.
There is nothing there except tourism in the summer, nothing except grasses, tangled fibres, a sweeping line in the sand as if a giant had leaned down with a stick, in one fluid move drawing a line to curb the incoming sea. There is nothing there except for dry, bleached leaves and stalks, twigs whose music in the wind is like the sighing of animals too thin to be seen by a human eye. There is a seaweed culture, tractors blocking the roads, carrying their slimy cargo towards a vast complex where the slippery fronds will be burned in open stone coffins, its brittle pungency later to be pressed into chocolate or made into a tea in which islands that escape the cartographers can be seen by those whose sight is conditioned by solitude and an affinity with the sea. The goémoniers who collect the seaweed sleep in hollows they carve out from the sand. From generations of this work they are black, they glisten; shy of observers, their monkish forms were only visible at those moments when they sensed the water retreating from the land. Because I was alone I saw them many times, though never approached.
There is nothing there except for black bees, makers of honey so pure that when I was cut, falling on rocks that were piled haphazardly, the way a child throws wooden bricks in a tantrum, the honey sealed the wound as I watched. A beekeeper on the island collects this honey and sells it to those who would live to be ancient while remaining young, though I never saw her or her customers during my walks. Maybe they had become so crystalline as to be invisible. Once I heard music on the beach. A piano was sinking into the sand as high tide approached, its sound thrown around by high winds.
Winter was raw. I smoothed black bee honey on my skin, wrapped myself in seaweed to keep warm. The wind and light shifted so much that if I noticed something I knew it was going to be different again very quickly. Intent on studying these constant transformations I would stumble into sheep. They seemed to belong to nobody, were constrained by no fences. Often they walked into my path deliberately as if to slow my progress, forcing me to study my feet, to notice that dry land and its plants were no different to the plants I saw under the sea. Sheep are not stupid. They wanted me to stop, to gaze at spiders whose webs were stretched across the paths. In their quiet, stubborn way they demanded I ask of myself, what was I seeing in these tangled remnants of green life; was it a script that I could read?
I fell into a rhythm on Ushant and the silence grew in me. On frosty mornings there were no longer footsteps to mark where I had walked. I no longer spoke, so the clouds of mist that formed around my mouth as I sang to myself were now part of the sky. They no longer belonged to me. Whatever could grow on the land was blurred in my sight, disappearing the way the trees had disappeared when they realised the wind was too strong. I could no longer see the whole of the land and the sea, or even myself, only slices, flashes of perception that came and went, like the beam of the deserted lighthouse. The smell of seaweed lingered in my nostrils for that final night and into the next morning. I could sense its fading potency as a reversal of what I see in the red dark as an image forms gradually on paper to become a fixed thing. This transience, I understood, lay at the heart of my reasons for being there, its brevity was what I sought.
Photographs: Marie Roux