Eels In The Skye
Ed Compson

I am sitting in my bedroom, wearing green safety goggles next to a CoolTouch Mattress and a bedframe propped up vertically against the wall. On the floor, in its pre lockdown spot, lies a rudimentary 1.2 x 1.2m DIY laser etching device emitting a sharp marine-blue beam. There is a strong smell of burnt linen rising from the reproduction and ghostly traces of family, friends and stranger’s drawings, images and signs that have been sent to me over the last week in response to a call for the project a fish you have already caught.

I feel the small rush from the Sertraline that I took half an hour ago and I hear bird song over the machines beeping and clunking backwards and forwards. The plotter is processing ‘NECK of the WOODS’ from Francesca Hawker, a drawing of a bird from my grandmother and an abstract, enigmatic, mechanical outline from Adam McGowan. Once etched in the linen, I will fix these drawings to a 3 foot tall box kite frame. My plan is to get it flying off the back of my bicycle so I can alert my neighbours to its presence, giving them a daily glimpse into the marks of my creative network.

Since moving back to my childhood home in September 2018 for the duration of my Master’s at the R.C.A, and knowing that Putney was a marginal parliamentary swing seat, it felt pressing to get involved with the local PLP. I also wanted to reconnect with a place that had left 9 years ago thinking of it as leafy and safe but severely bland part of south west London. I had dissociated from my upbringing and it’s psychogeography due to what I perceived as a lack of radical agency.

In September 2019, with Brexit at fever pitch, I went with my Dad to a talk organised by Fleur Anderson at St. Mary’s Church. This was both the site of the Putney Debates of the 1650s and the community space and where I had once attended a yoga class.

John Rees was there, talking about his new book ‘The Leveller Revolution’. Rees showed us a number of prints made by the Levellers during the English Civil War who used illegal etching presses dotted around London as a way to disseminate political imagery. It was a turbulent and confusing and groundless time for all and such simple signifiers were used to communicate with a disillusioned, illiterate public.

One of the prints, a woodcut print on a 17th century pamphlet that is entitled ‘The World Turned upside down,’ has been burnt into my imagination ever since. It was made at the height of the English Civil War, when people’s realities, structures, religions and beliefs were turned on their heads. There is a rat chasing a cat and a hare chasing a fox. There is a horse pushing a cart and a wheelbarrow driving an upturned man. In the sky is a fish and an eel and an upside down house and a chess piece facing down.

Yet, alongside these non-human signifiers, in the centre of the composition. is a figure. A mustached soldier, with hands for feets and feet for hands. His nonplussed face comes out of the crotch of his militaristic corset. 350 years after this was made, this confused figure speaks to me more than anything else right now. What he is telling us is that when the ground has fallen away, we must place our feet above our head.

The Kite project is developing into an integral communicative structure for my artistic and personal relationships as well as a coping mechanism for (amongst other things); the fear of my NHS working parents getting sick, for friends in far more precarious situations than I, a loneliness away from my usual, physical support networks and a looming nosedive in my own personal psychopathology. The ground on which I used to rely, be it cognitive, medical, psychological, philosophical or socio-political, has spun on its head, often feeling porous, maybe even missing entirely.

When structures we used to hold on to begin to crumble, we must open out our palms and let the changing winds flow through our fingers. We must imagine the fish and eels in the sky. We must embrace our extremities to act with carelessness for our previously known careful, rationalist logic system has let us down. We must attempt to put eels and fish back in the sky even if momentarily.