Surprised by a giant jellyfish
Nothing underscores the otherworldliness of the sea quite like the jellyfish. Balletic in its strange clench-and-flex propulsion through water, a jellyfish’s alien parachute appears impervious to the laws of motion as it flits and glides. One can only imagine how dislocating it must have been for a pair of divers off the coast of Cornwall in the UK this week to turn suddenly from examining slippery fronds of kelp to find themselves floating face-to-face with a ginormous tentacled sea medusa.
The two divers, Dan Abbott and Lizzie Daly, were filming a series of aquatic experiences for a social-media fundraising project, Wild Ocean Week, when the unexpected encounter occurred. A photo (taken by Abbott) of Daly swimming alongside the outsized jellyfish quickly went viral. What’s so striking about the image isn’t only the scale of the sea creature, but the collision of worlds that the photo poignantly captures. The clash of textures between the fully wet-suited and snorkel-sucking Daly, rubber masked and artificially finned, and the fragile beauty and effortless grace of the diaphanous sea beast, accentuates how near yet distant our existence is from those with whom we share our world.
这两名潜水员，阿博特(Dan Abbott)和戴利(Lizzie Daly)，当时正在为一个名为“野生海洋周”(Wild Ocean Week)的社交媒体众筹项目拍摄一系列照片，捕捉海洋里的浮光幻影，就在这时，意外的“邂逅”发生了。这张照片拍摄到了戴利和超大水母共游的瞬间，随即在网上走红而疯传。惊人之处不仅在于这只水母的巨型体格，还在于照片神奇地捕捉到了两个世界的碰撞。戴利身着全套潜水服，嘴里含着呼吸管，头戴橡胶面具，脚蹬人工鳍。水母则呈现出一种脆弱的美丽，通体透明，姿态轻松优雅。两个物种质地上的冲突彰显出人类与我们共享同一地球的生物是多么的接近，同时又是多么的疏远。
Still, even in the strangest of shapes and those furthest removed from our own experience, we are capable of glimpsing a semblance of ourselves. “A jellyfish, if you watch it long enough,” the writer Ali Benjamin memorably opens her children’s novel The Thing About Jellyfish, “begins to look like a heart beating … It’s their pulse, the way they contract swiftly, then release. Like a ghost heart – a heart you can see right through, right into some other world where everything you ever lost has gone to hide.” Ingenious shapeshifters (some are known to morph in order to fool predators), jellyfish are like living lava lamps or fluttering Rorschach tests; the way we perceive their almost amorphousness says more about who we are than what they are. They’re the abstract art of the ocean.
然而，即使是这种形状最怪异、最陌生的生物，我们也能够在惊鸿一瞥中照见我们人类自己的影子。“水母，如果你看的时间够长，”作家艾莉‧本杰明(Ali Benjamin)在她的儿童小说《水母的那些事》(the Thing About Jellyfish)的开篇中写道，“它开始看起来像一颗跳动的心脏……它们的脉搏，迅速收缩，然后释放。就像一颗幽灵般的心——一颗你可以看穿的心，一颗你可以追随着到达一个彼岸世界的心，而在这个世界你所失落的一切都隐匿于此。水母是一种巧妙的变形者(有些变形是为了愚弄捕食者)，有时像生命涌动的火山熔岩之灯，有时又像漂浮的水墨画。我们对水母模糊的认知，更好地说明了我们自己是谁，而不是水母它们是什么。水母是属于海洋世界的抽象艺术。
Abbott’s photo, which draws us into its mystery, recalls the power of a late painting by J M W Turner, Sunrise with Sea Monsters. Unknown to scholars until half a century after Turner’s death in 1851, when it was discovered by chance in the basement of London’s National Gallery in 1906, the large oil-on-canvas pulsates with the same pink golds and luminous peachiness vibrating from the jumbo jellyfish that Daly and Abbot encountered.
阿博特拍摄的这幅照片将我们带入神奇秘境，使人们联想到英国19世纪风景画家威廉‧特纳晚期的画作《日出与海怪》(Sunrise with Sea Monsters)。特纳生前这幅作品不为学者所知，他1851年去世，半个世纪后的1906年，人们才在伦敦国家美术馆的地库偶然发现了他这幅作品。
Anticipating non-figurative art of the ensuing century, Turner’s unfinished painting dares observers to be certain of what, exactly, it is they think they see, struggling to take form amid so much muscular light. Critics remain divided over whether the turbulent dawn depicted by the artist is alive with mythic dragons, with workaday fish, or with anything other than sloshing waves designed to churn up the imagination. Or perhaps, like the jellyfish itself, Turner’s painting is a pulsing mirror in which we perceive who and how we are as we squidge across the universe: joyous or scared, lost or found, imperilled or free.