Jen Kratochvil: Porifera 2021
And so Jonah entered the lightless insides of the great fish, whale as they say, which for a moment was considered to be a white shark, or eventually a sperm whale. And there he met Pinocchio, traversing the ocean in the belly of Monstro, who listened, mesmerized, to Baron Munchausen play grand piano on an upper deck of a pirate galleon swallowed by the very same beast. Oh, true, I stand corrected; Jonas never entered the giant sea monster - equipped with four stomachs almost like a cow - he was actually swallowed. His adventurous exploration of all those soft tissues was not voluntary but forced upon him, and so he had to be inventive enough to find his way out, same as his fellow companions. To enter the beast is only rarely hero* in's wish. Only when they realize that to slay such a wonder of nature is impossible to do, due to their protective outer shell, and only the delicate nature of the innards are susceptible enough to allow for a particular weapon of choice to provide required damage to save the day. I'm sorry, now I'm losing track; such an approach usually qualifies in the case of dragons rather than wondrous creatures of the deep sea. Let's go back there.
Us, humans, are strange creatures. We hear a tale, no matter how horrific in nature, and suddenly there comes a wish, even if it is but an unconscious one, to experience it first hand. Even though under controlled circumstances. We don't wanna be swallowed, yet for sure, we would like to enter the unknown. And so we did. With Jules Verne, we went to the core of the Earth, or I don't know how many miles under the sea level. Yet all that was "external." So in 1966 came about a Fantastic Voyage to the insides of a fellow human by means of a miniaturized ship. 1987's Inner Space followed in the same footsteps, even though at that time, the exploratory vehicle was already inspired by advances in the development of deep-ocean submarines and space modules equipped with robotic arms.
Yet those are still but tales and fruits of imagination. The true journey of mankind to the beast's belly started in London in 1853 when the first public aquarium was opened. At that time of passion for everything exotic, fulled by voracious colonialism, the eager organizers and ecstatic visitors little cared for the livelihood of their spectacular experience. So the fish kept dying in the oxygen-lacking water tanks, being regularly replaced, since the show must go on. Technology has obviously evolved since then; our approach to nature also underwent some radical changes. Yet, even now, public aquariums are not providing the best-suited habitats for underwater life. The real-life experience of climate crises and all those 4K David Attenborough's multi-serialized shows presenting the demise of the marine life's richness is shifting public perception. And who knows, one day, those aquariums could be the only place of conservation of the former nature's abundance in not that distant future.
You enter. Voluntarily. You are a visitor. Expecting a specific type of spectacle. And a spectacle you will receive. (Even though constrained by the physical limitations of a 19th-century residential house room.) You find yourself in the belly of a beast. Its polyurethane tissue almost seems to be in motion, as if the room would be breathing. It could be just your steps making waves through the connected surfaces. But who knows. The light guides your path, which is a luxury Jonah would have hardly even dream of. Pages of old National Geographics are conserved between glass plates, seemingly organized yet randomly placed. Same as the underwater elements, which might give a sensation of an actual Marine World theme park. You try to navigate based on learned experiences, yet things are strangely off.
You may try to invoke that rusty old grand piano, the wooden boy with a long nose, or even that biblical guy. But who cares about them. You're all of them for a moment. Diving into an abysmal archive. Are those sponges? Phylum Porifera? Try to wash your back with it, and you'll see.