Is the meaning of life to be found in the undersea world of ARTHUR TRESS‘? Miranda France investigates.
t first glance Arthur Tress has to be an eccentric. Look at the evidence: his last project. The Teapot Opera. consisted of-lt) photographs
t‘apot through life. on a mission of spiritual discovery. Ancient Hindu and Buddhist myths were touched upon. a white plastic stallion and a Michelin man had minor roles. and the whole story was marvellously and crazily played out in the frame of a Victorian puppet theatre.
documenting the journey of a china
20'l‘he List 16— 22 August 1991
Fish Tank Sonata is a sequel. In this case the traveller is a small pink china fisherman ensconsed in a small pink boat — the very best in kitsch. Again. the journey is a voyage of self—discovery. on which our fisher friend learns to atone for his greed. to understand that nature‘s supply is not boundless and that fish. too. deserve a little respect. lle discovers the arts. religion and literature and. as he learns the lessons of the past and the terrible possibilities of the future. he also comes to understand what it is to be
l lowls echo m er the hills As the lone wolf beckons a friend: In this wide open country. Solitude may in fact be his end.
American. A miniature Odysseus. he visits the Underworld. where fishermen who take too many fish are reborn as French poodles. livery one of these scenarios — there are 1le prints. 40 of which are on show at the Portfolio — has been meticulously arranged under water in an elegant Victorian aquarium. and photographed in changing seasons and environments — from desert to mountain stream. Manhattan to Malibu.
Meet the man and it all makes sense. Tress is a storyteller. a yarn-spinner in a tradition which no longer exists in the Western world. (he has always been interested in ethnography and spent the first five years of his career travelling around the world taking photographs). For him Fish Tank Sonata is a parable and an adventure story. in which objects become emblems. If I want to know the importance ofemblems he says. I should go to St Giles Cathedral (he pronounces it St (ice/s). ‘Iimblematic thinking means that everything in the world has an educational significance -- like a coat of arms. divided into heraldic quarters. The concept ofthe educational image is what I was partly interested in -- in other words the fisherman goes through a learning process. learning through pictures. Each picture has its own little complex. constellation of ideas. but the idea is that they‘re all supposed to be part of