Christopher Brown’s photograph Mer Bench has just been published in Lines Underwater, our anthology of new artwork and writing that re-envisions mermaid myths for the twenty-first century. One of several works in the anthology that brings the mermaid into the city (another is Kate Noakes’ beautiful poem Melusine at Chatelet which you will have to buy the anthology to read!), Mer Bench will form part of a month-long exhibition of some of the artworks from our project at London’s Undercurrents gallery this October.
The Starbucks symbol, a melusine, is perhaps today’s most commonly-seen mermaid. In Mer Bench, a coffee-cup lid has become mere detritus: a very unfortunate twenty-first century mermaid indeed. For us, the froth in the photograph evoked the myth that, having no souls, mermaids turn into unhallowed froth when they die. It looked to us as if the frothy mermaid had exceeded, and burst out of, her mass-produced Starbucks container!
However, it is the bench that is the true mermaid in this picture. Christopher Brown is one of the only people in the world to have witnessed the activities of a Mer Bench, as he explains in his artist’s statement below.
Mer Bench, by Christopher Brown
(click on the image to enlarge)
“Mermaids tend to live at sea, but Mer Benches are equally at ease in seawater or freshwater (think of them, in that sense, as bi-curious). At night they scuttle off in the water, where they rid themselves of the memories of having been sat on, before returning to their former positions by sunrise.
“Mer Bench is one in a series of photos I took in late 2006, around the lake in central Geneva. It was a chilly, wet morning, so there were very few people about. The exceptionally strong winds meant that the iconic Jet d’Eau had been turned off, and I remember feeling exhilarated as I explored the empty jetties, promenades and playgrounds.
“My gloves were too thick to operate the camera properly, so I had to remove them every time I took a photo. As a result of the bitter cold, my hands were soon red and sore.
“Mer Bench came into being after the wind blew some waves over the promenade, which washed up against a nearby bench, spitting up a coffee-cup lid in the process.
“After I had taken the photo, a peculiar thing happened. In broad daylight, the bench got up, stretched its legs, then headed into the lake for a swim.
“Like me, it must have thought there was nobody else around.”
Christopher Brown is a film director and screenwriter. His feature project ‘Knock-Out’ recently won Best Screenplay at the London Independent Film Festival, and the Cordelia Award for Best UK Screenplay at the LA-based BlueCat contest. His latest short film ‘Remission’ is forthcoming in the autumn. Chris lectures in filmmaking at the University of Greenwich and has published articles in Film Criticism and the Quarterly Review of Film & Video.
Christopher has also donated four more photographs he took on that windy day to our digital collection of mermaid artworks. You can enjoy them below, and check out our online gallery for even more fantastic responses to the project.