Strand of Pearls

Summer 2016


A pearl begins as a grain of sand. The oyster, detecting the invader, surrounds it in layers of an iridescent substance. Nacre, or mother-of-pearl, is the same substance that makes up their shells. A real pearl will feel gritty against your teeth, a fake one will feel smooth.

The Strand of Pearls is a narrative, each pearl a piece of the story, linear yet circular. The strand loops back on itself, back to the beginning. We look at the Strand of Pearls in comparison with the Walled Garden: the Pearls are episodic, strung on a line, leading the reader down a path, predetermined. The Garden is dynamic, sprawling, open, collaborative. The Pearls are the side-scrolling game. The Garden, the sandbox world.

Both the Pearls and the Garden are simultaneously open and closed. While the strand of pearls appears to be path-determinant and linear, forgetting each episode as it recedes, it is also presented in a loop where each story is lived again. While the garden appears to be open and sprawling, a space of experimentation, it is in fact walled in and protected. Further, both are equipped with some mechanism for transgression: the garden has the gate, and the pearls, the clasp. They are otherwise fully enclosed, calling to mind the concept in game theory of the ‘magic circle,’ or the spot of transgression from routine into play, marked by recognized rituals. In Tag, a player is invited into the magic circle with an incantation: ‘Tag, you’re it.” In Hockey, a player dons special clothing that allows an entirely new kind of movement, and endures great violence. Entering the magic circle is a ritual wherein the user acknowledges and accepts their shift into an other-world by participating in the design of their other-world self.

The Strand of Pearls goes out on the town, the Walled Garden stays home. Pearls are extroverts, and must be worn regularly to retain their luster. They are also fragile, requiring a gentle touch. They should be wiped clean with a soft cloth, and occasionally washed with water and castile soap.


The Pearl Necklace

Many myths and legends have been lost to time, but none so much as the tales from cultures steeped in oral tradition. Without a written language these stories disappeared along with their disappearing people. Most of the tales of the Mosfet have long since vanished, but today we celebrate one of the few that has survived. It was known to the Mosfet as Waapii lelew naawíikan áxkook-miitsuw-nzíit, or as it is known to us, The Pearl Necklace.

Pamuy was named for what she sought — pearls. Her name meant Water Moon which was also the Mosfet word for pearls. It was a rare vocation. Young women were raised to be pearl divers from the moment they showed an affinity to the sea. They went from happily splashing in the surf to intense training in swimming, holding their breath, and depth adaptation. Once they were of the right age they joined their few swimming sisters on an ocean-fitted canoe where they would shed their skins and dive to the dark oyster middens, a place known only to them.

The Mosfet treasured pearls which were worn as jewelry, adopted as money, and above all else used to tell the future. If a particularly beautiful or unique pearl was found, the diver would instantly hand them over to a deliverer, who would trek a great distance to a soothsayer called Tuuwa Tyee, the Sand Chief. He would read the pearls and attach a prognostication to each. The presaged pearls were then traded and sold, some reaching quite a high opulence. As valued as the pearls were, the ladies that dove for them kept not a one. Their nearness to the fortunes was too much. A single moment of avarice, one pearl in a pocket was believed to taint the touch of a diver and thereafter would make the pearls unseeable. The ladies traditionally dove naked to remove any suspicion from each other, but more accurately it was because they were lovers of the sea.

Pamuy loved the sea probably more than anyone. She could dive deeper, swim longer, and prune better than any of her sisters. They often told her what a great old woman she would make.

“Wrinkles suit you!” they would laugh wet in their bobbing canoe.

Although she was proud of her long dives, they had become a problem due to the arrival of the new settlers, who were rapidly encroaching on the Mosfet. The divers had to be constantly alert in their canoe. Word had got out amongst the settlers that lovely mermaids were guarding hoards of wealth in the bays around Peridot Green. The oyster middens had always been secret; the Mosfet would never interfere with the sacred task that these ladies performed, but the settlers were different and not to be trusted. They had almost been discovered a few times waiting for Pamuy to come up from the deep. They spent many hours anxiously watching for sails in the distance, or the shape of strange rowing boats on the horizon.

One day, while they were diving at one of their most magical and yielding oyster middens, sails appeared in the distance like the fins of a shark. The ladies slapped the water to signal that they must disappear. As usual, everyone had surfaced and climbed into the canoe but Pamuy, who was too deep to hear their signals. The sails crept closer and ever larger.

“We must leave!” the ladies yelled as the ship was heading in their direction. They rowed to an inlet and out of sight, leaving Pamuy to whatever fate the pearls had in store for her.

When Pamuy came to the surface she was overjoyed. She had found four marvelously large pearls, unlike any she had ever seen. Her excitement was quickly interrupted when she saw what was upon her. A gargantuan ship, so much larger than their perfect canoe, towered overhead. It was so large that it blocked out the sun. She heard men hooting and hollering from the shadows above and quickly she dove back down and swam fast. Thunks and splashes could be heard from the surface and she saw the bulging hulls of smaller rowboats plunging into the water. Her lungs burned but she would swim further than anyone, she told herself and like a fish she darted away from the confused settlers.

Once away she pulled herself ashore to examine her pearls. They were beautiful. She knew that she had to return them to her sisters but she had never seen anything like them. So large, and with the purity of the reflections, she knew that she had found something special. As she was admiring them she noticed a strange footprint in the sand where she was sat. It was a boot! She would take them herself to Tuuwa Tyee, she decided. It would be better than to risk being discovered by the settlers. So Pamuy wrapped the pearls in a large leaf she had gathered, and grabbed a handful of sand from the boot print to keep the pearls separated.

Tuuwa Tyee will be pleased to see these, she thought, and prepared herself to meet the Sand Chief for the first time.

Oyster Shells Traci Page 2016 Watercolor & Pastel

Oyster Shells
Traci Page
Watercolor & Pastel

After two days of trekking up shore, dune, and forest, Pamuy came to the small hut of Tuuwa Tyee. The hissing language of the ocean constantly whispered from over the hairy dunes, and the sea air tickled Pamuy’s nose just the way she liked. She was happy looking at this hut. As she approached she realized that it was made entirely from shells, creating two domes of floor and ceiling, split in the middle. It is an oyster shell! she beamed and chuckled with delight. The Sand Chief lives in an oyster shell! She approached the dwelling still slightly apprehensive and called, Hello? There was no answer but the top half lifted ever so much and salty air emerged in a pungent waft. Pamuy ducked and crawled inside.

Tuuwa Tyee lounged inside upon a large mound of soft sand, his skin glistened pale with sweat from the humid summer heat in neatly tucked folds. The only light came in strongly from the semi-circular opening in the oyster hut walls creating a shelf like beam which fell upon his face. Pamuy immediately noticed that he had no eyes, but dimples where his eyes should be. She recoiled for a moment in surprise. How could he see the pearls? she thought. He opened his mouth and a hissing sound emanated like the sound of the waves on the sand before he said his first words, “Ssssssshhhh, you are a pearl diver,” he sounded out.

“Yes,” answered Pamuy with some trepidation. “I know that I’m not supposed to come…”

Tuuwa Tyee interrupted, “Ssssshhh, what have you brought me? Something special, I thinkssssshh.”

Pamuy noticed that the hissing sound was coming through a hole in his tongue.

“Four pearls, Tuuwa Tyee. Unlike anything I’ve ever seen,” she blurted out and unwrapped her leaf on the sand before him.

Tuuwa Tyee reached a greasy hand into the sand and pulled out a large pearl, placing it into his mouth and rolling it. He then took it out and placed it on the dimple where his eye should be.

Pearl Garden Robert Frank Rohr 2012 Oil stick

Pearl Garden
Robert Frank Rohr
Oil stick

I see…sssssshhhh…the land trod upon by multitudinous steps. In the pearl is paths, in the forests, in the grass, in the stones, in the seas, and even in the skies!..ssssshhh…like the webs of spiders, or bubbled foam, and our kind will roam amongst them with a rumble to rival the Ocean! What a complication! too much to see…sssshhh, have you seen the rush of a hive, of a thriving throng? What a song they hum, and the honey it will gusssshh and on every tongue will be sweet things. False trees will rise, stacking high, and inside we’ll climb a gleaming totem…hmmm…How it will change..ssssshhh!

The pearl fell from his eye into the sand and he desperately thrashed the sand looking for it. Pamuy picked up the pearl and offered it back to him. He snatched it quickly from her hand.

“Never have I seen so far,” he said, exasperated.

“It is valuable then?” Pamuy asked.

“SSSSsssshhhh! Valuable? It is invaluable! These pearls do not have the vision of many moons but of the moon herself. They see all.”

Pamuy sat with her eyes wide.

Tuuwa Tyee reached a greasy hand into the sand and pulled out a large pearl, placing it into his mouth and rolling it. He then took it out and placed it on the dimple where his eye should be.

Darling, from the series Feminist as Fuck Chelsea Ross 2016 Photograph

Darling, from the series Feminist as Fuck
Chelsea Ross

I see…sssssshhh…Faces, so many faces, a people of many places, and how can a nose two eyes and mouth have so many ways, the face of mountain ranges, of the trees, of the clouds, so varied, so many. They pour like a river of faces, dark and light, happy and sad, laughing and crying, smiling and frowning…sssshhhh…there is anger that boils the river, and mean rocky outcrops, but there is joy that eddies, there is love that sweeps ‘round the rocks, and there is wildness not in the forests but in the eyes, the look of the hunter, the wolf, the look of prey, and the howl of danger echoes through the sharp grey angles…sssshhh…how they play, how they Sing! Oh what songs! the air thunders with their songs! They dance around their new fires of housed lightening! They manipulate the fury of the skies!

Tuuwa Tyee carefully placed the pearl back with the others before him.

“But what will become of our people?” Pamuy asked.

Tuuwa Tyee reached a greasy hand into the sand and pulled out a large pearl, placing it into his mouth and rolling it. He then took it out and placed it on the dimple where his eye should be.

Foster Wattles

Foster Wattles

I see…ssssshhh…The Mosfet, so far away, they are as in an eternal tunnel, from some ancient grounds I hear their voices deep beneath the piles of smoothed stone…Swept by new currents, they chased the setting sun and fire was always on their horizons…sssshhh…Their forests are with them, their voices are with them, their ways are with them, Peridot Green is with them and they are no more…They ghost dance in the eternal tunnel…sssshhhhh

Pamuy jumped up and yelled,

“But this cannot be!” she kicked the sand and stomped throughout the oystershell. At the opening of the hut she glimpsed her beloved ocean, grey and rushing in the distance and the sea air caressed her teary face.

Tuuwa Tyee reached a greasy hand into the sand and pulled out a large pearl, placing it into his mouth and rolling it. He then took it out and placed it on the dimple where his eye should be.

Moon Phase Bottle Opener  Christina Van Der Merwe 2015

Moon Phase Bottle Opener
Christina Van Der Merwe

I see…ssssshhh…that you needn’t worry Water Moon…your sea will always roll…you shall shuck life’s oysters clean and they will carry you in their fortunes…even now in the far then you are swimming deeply with your tool about your neck…sssshhh…I see them spying your nakedness from their ships, envying you your salty embrace…you will swim on symbols in the pools of their eyes and fetch them pearls again…sssshhh.

Pamuy walked back to Tuuwa Tyee and sat before him. She stared at the leaf and the pearls nestled together atop the little pile of sand, the sand from the boot print. Her brow furrowed, and she darkly looked up at Tuuwa Tyee.

“And what of the new settlers?” she asked.

Tuuwa Tyee reached a greasy hand down, but instead of a pearl he grabbed a handful of the sand surrounding the pearls. He placed the sand in his mouth and rolled it for a while. Finally, when he opened his mouth a magnificent black pearl was gripped between his teeth. Pamuy sat forward to get a closer look. She had never seen a pearl like this.

Bryan McGovern Wilson 2016 Installation

Bryan McGovern Wilson

Tuuwa Tyee moved the black pearl he had formed from his teeth and placed it neatly in the hole in his tongue. It began to glow a mysterious green that illuminated the room. Pamuy became entranced looking into the luminous cloudy motion within the pearl, and Tuuwa Tyee seemed a different person suddenly.

We are all as one. A family that spreads over all the earth. Every man is your brother and every woman your sister. It is only ideas that separate us and ideas are phantoms. Your brothers and sisters will kill each other for phantoms. They will kill each other for pieces of earth. This earth does not belong to you. It does not belong to me. You do not own it. It is but a grain of sand. Do not be mad for the things that your brothers and sisters will do. They will take this grain of sand and attack it with layers of thought to make a pearl, but it is still a grain of sand. They will read their pearls and do their best to make the prophecies real. But they are phantoms and none of this is real…

The glowing ceased and the black pearl fell from the soothsayers mouth.

Pamuy got up and left the hut. She ran along the beach and jumped into the ocean. She grabbed handfuls of sand and looked at the individual grains. The grains were nothing compared to the pearls. The pearls were shiny, white, and lovely. The earth was not like a grain of sand, she thought. I love the pearls. She looked to the south and began to walk home to Peridot Green. Pamuy was named for what she sought — pearls.