duration 2:30

Pfui – Pish, Pshaw / Prr

  • 2017 two channel video
  • HD 20 min
  • Voice over: George Chalkias

Script fragment

Pfui – Pish, Pshaw / Prr, Saskia Olde Wolbers, 2017 two channel video HD 20 min, PCAI

I nearly got stuck to Sanopi as a child. We all fainted in our sleep. The brazier smoked in the room. Five in a bed,including mum and dad. Someone found us. We were lucky to escape that God of Tar. And his shadow sponges of carbon. Aaaah, Mr Lambros, there isn’t a better employer. In the 35 years I was with the company, never had my pay been late. If the accountant made a mistake, they got the chop.

Since Polycrates found his wedding ring inside a fish, the sea is no longer that ancient place of no return. It spits up oil and all all things filled with air. Our first spill was in Pachis, Megara. I needed money to baptise my little one, so I went. Before the Aktari, we’d hire 30 people for a clean up, sometimes more. Mr Lambros would stand on a crate in Piraeus to pick casual ship hands. He wanted men who could stay off the bottle and go without smoking for a day. The ones that enjoyed sniffing the flowery fuels, but wouldn’t take a can home with them. Oh yes, they do exist. Naphthalene, crude, benzene, petrelaio fumes. All sirens that call good men to madness.

I filmed it all. The men called me ‘Camera Man’. Unusual back then, in the Pre-Cam-Era. Handling the murky business of separating oil from water, makes you evil-eyed. But my camera stared it in the face. Gave me an armour of magnetic signal. When we cleaned up, our eyes burned from the smell. But the lens was always sober. Some tapes got lost and others I fed to the incinerator. That party at the end of time.

Every situation was different, we improvised. Swimming through petrol, naked, to reach the far side of a wreck. Then diving back into the sea, our bodies covered in dispersant. Oil should be magnetically charged, so we can round up these flimsy membranes into an accountable body.

Our policy was to leave no trace. But ‘matter is never entirely spirited away’. It made it hard for people to stay on the job: no gain, just the undoing of actions. Still, I love wrecks.

Donkey’s years ago, there was a decommissioned cruise ship, back in Piraeus, and I ran aboard when I saw a fire in the stern. The captain, clutching a jittery chicken doused in petrol, fixed me with one eye. What business was it of mine? The fire brigade put it out. A day later the boat was on fire again. It burned for a week.

Our company was the first to go in. All these ships have chapels, and inside the cupboard with its melted aluminium door, 12 volumes of the bible. Intact! I’m not so religious but I took them. Yes I did, and how I have needed those. This pen I am writing with I found while diving many years ago. 87 dead. The Perses of Hecate. We couldn’t sleep for the grief. The captain, the first mate, I would never let them out of jail...