In his novel Omoo: A Narrative of Adventures in the South Seas, published in 1947, Herman Melville describes European seafarers and other drifters who came to the islands of the Pacific in search of valuable or interesting objects on the shores. Beachcombing has always attracted humans, but nowadays the ocean brings to the coasts more and more toxic treasures.
The movie Walk the Tideline directed by Anna Antsalo follows today’s beachcombers in Great Britain, the Netherlands, and Japan. The same endless piles of trash left by humans cover all the shores. Our shared ocean is loaded with time travelers made of plastic, the fruit of our throwaway culture and our indifference. They are the seeds of destruction, as they end up in the entrails of creatures living in the sea. Most of the beachcombers share the same worries about the environment. Beside the plastic trash, many travelers drift between continents, such as various plants’ seeds. Like all species, they look for new living environments where they could survive on a warming planet.
The Dutch beachcombers Jolanda and Lonneke call beachcombing the archaeology of the future. The era of plastic that started only half a century ago has already become a geological stratum in our soil. With the trash, the waves also wash to the shores traces of global microhistory. The passionate way with which beachcombers look at their findings shows how humans have the ability of finding beauty anywhere.
The viewers of the movie can smell and feel the proximity of the ocean. It is a messenger speaking its own wordless language and uniting continents and living creatures, that reminds us that what we try to hide will eventually come back to the surface. The tideline that is drawn over and over again gradually becomes a liminal space between life and death, human and non-human, past and future. The abandoned objects bring with them recognizable and even universal stories and situations. The ocean reveals its secrets only partly, but washes to our toes truths about us.
Minna Nurmi (Translation: Aleksi Moine)