The Whale Graveyard

A fellow in the field of performing arts and recent resident of the #StationOne exchange with Station Service for Contemporary Dance in Belgrade/Serbia, Ivana Ivković invites you to ramble through a fictional travelogue of torn maps, constellations, archipelagos, empty notebooks, and landscapes of spilled oil.
This writing-in-progress, a continuation of her research into the economic exploitation of natural resources and navigable seas, will culminate in a public presentation at Akademie Schloss Solitude in collaboration with Dragana Bulut, a fellow in performing arts, in November 2016.

We began the journey almost incidentally.

I do not remember how the conversation started, probably as a digression from some more important topic at the table. But at one point, D. and I found ourselves at opposite sides of an argument.

The wine did not help – time became out of joint, articulations tumbled under the table, and the unbearable noise of parallel conversations soon forced us to stop talking and start drunkenly grinning.

The only way to continue our exchange was to meet the following day. But D. had already booked a train ticket for an unpostponable journey. Without any reluctance, I purchased a ticket for the same destination.

And we set off.


The empty notebook was my persistent companion. And persistently empty. That is to say, I don’t write. Nor do I take photographs, or dance, or recite poetry out loud. Rarely, do I speak at all. While D. on the other hand does all that with some success.

»Here, I’ll show you what I’m working on,« she said.

Effortlessly, she took a large and heavy suitcase down from the rack, spilling out sheets of white paper.

For a moment, I thought I’d found a soul mate – the pile of blank sheets somehow corresponding to the pages of my empty notebook.

But D. started flipping over sheet after sheet and the back side of the white rectangles revealed photographs.

D. began to talk. The photographs functioned as either starting or »landing« points – if I can put it that way – for her stories. She’d flip them and display them without any discernible sequence.

And the stories … the stories were full of voids – long periods of silence during which D. would alternately glance at the photograph in her hands and close her eyes, as if trying to come up with words.

It amused me even more that she constantly made mistakes, that is, she would apologize for her faulty memory and repeat the story with new, completely different plot twists and episodes. Accompanying it with commentary. And digression. And laughter in places where laughter had no place.

Soon, the floor of the whole compartment was covered with photographs that were now right side up. But we had just started on the suitcase contents. There was so much material there – curios, indescribable objects, postindustrial landscapes. And that’s how we fell asleep – sitting on the floor surrounded by distant landscapes.

I frequently opened my empty notebook. Only to close it again.

But I did write. On napkins that came with the tea, in margins of old newspapers. Footnotes pressed into corners, sown over multiple sheets. In a few days, I had amassed a collection … of beginnings, let’s say. I arranged the notes in my bag in the same way D. collected the photographs in her suitcase – face down.

We reached our first destination.


D. took out an enormous map out of the pocket of her coat and spread it out over the first bench we passed. The map itself was ripped where the paper folded, and it took us a while as we tried to assemble the pieces into a coherent whole. I’m not sure we succeeded, but D. followed one winding line that transversed several map fragments with her finger to a point she then circled in pencil, glancing down the street ahead of us.

I don’t recall much of that day.

I know that we walked for a long while, that buildings and intersections were not where we expected to find them, that D. stopped several passersby to show them the map, but no one could tell us where we were or where we were supposed to go next.

Half way down the line we were following, we found ourselves on the shore. Ahead only the choppy surface of the ocean that blended with the sky without a discernible horizon.

D. stood at the waterline and allowed the waves to wet her shoes.

»Seems the map was devised,« she said. But in spite of her words, she did not appear to be shaken.

Night was falling fast and, exhausted, we sat side by side on the damp gravel and looked up at the sky as darkness slowly revealed the stars. She raised her hand and in silence, using one finger, began to sketch imaginary lines much like the ones on our map – with sudden turns, or dead ends, or unexpected beaches, or empty ocean planes.

I dreamed that night that we beached.

Like whales.

Or onto the back of one.

Myths tell tales and dreams compose more of them, of men landing on the backs of these giants, the surfaces of their skin marked by hieroglyphs, maps of prior skirmishes under and on top of the seas. Stories of sailors taking a stroll, kneeling down and lighting fires, to promptly lose what, as Milton wrote, »seems a moving land« under their feet to surely drown.

Shaking off the burden of human creatures, the whale dives into the depths and continues its linear journey.


I felt vibrations climb up from the ground and through the soles of my feet, further up along my spine. At times, I feared that the inexplicable tone and my own skeleton would reach the critical resonance at which bones within me would crumble to dust. Luckily, there are always the stars at night.

I raised my gaze to the sky and listened once more. I allowed my bones the vibration, my spine the conductivity. In the meanwhile, I’d had forgotten my brittleness.

In one of the archipelagos, I recognized Cetus.

I told D. the story of the whale that swam up the Danube and caused a hysteria. Drawn by the animal, the inhabitants of the town pressed against the river embankments. But their collective curiosity, sympathy, and excitement could not save the disorientated mammal from its death. Which did not mark the end of its journey – preserved and anchored with thick mooring lines, it traveled by land from town to town, appearing on posters and in newspapers, frightening and inspiring. And, quite unbelievably, bankrolling the construction of the water supply infrastructure of one island in the Adriatic Sea.


A squall. A monster of a storm.

Medieval cartographers drew on their maps sea monsters that had up until then been hidden in the depths of seas and oceans, allowing those few who had access to those exceptional (and very inaccurate) illustrations a glimpse into a world under the surface.

The sea, vast and spacious, teeming with creatures beyond number. Among which, hides Leviathan. The sea, subtle and deceptive. Its scariest secrets swimming just under the surface, glinting in the sun, divulging nothing. And at the bottom, a menagerie of bones, and my bones sinking slowly down among them. A time capsule, a Wunderkammer, an undersea museum of sediment in calcium and salt.

After all, Marconi also felt he could tune into the voices of drowned men still hanging in the ether.


The whale, a mythical creature and a parable. A source of greasy oil that burned like petroleum, before petroleum.

Until recently the human race had only an incomplete image of these behemoths – in body parts that broke the surface of the sea, or visits to their beached corpses. One might tell the form of a human being from its skeleton, but who could imagine the reality of these incredible creatures just by gazing at their bones?

The foam rose high above us as the whale’s fluke hit. And the boards under our feet splintered. We soon joined uncountable dead seamen, sunken whalers, and deep plunging dreams.


Today, I wonder to what degree my memories, and the way I recount them here, are out of sequence, associative, with inserted visions, fabricated events, fragments of conversations that never occurred, or sounded entirely differently.

Photographs help only to a point. They too are just a sediment, an imprecise measure of landscape and events.

I conclude that in my travels with D. I had apparently been three people – one who was walking by her, one who was watching us walking together, and one who kept up a running commentary of our journey.


The following day, we continued the journey on foot.

In front of us, extended a long path that only partially followed the shoreline. The path and the beach were partially contaminated by patches of crude oil.

Interesting how oil – that spilled archive of the Earth’s entrails, that beached whale – poured thinly over sand and rock-shaped slabs of vinyl. I wondered if I should lower a needle into those grooves and listen for the echo under its surface.

D. sang softly. I did not tell her about the idea occupying my thoughts. But I still rehearsed variations and retellings of an exposition of that simple image. We kept walking.

The path was surrounded on both sides by scattered bones – large arches of jaw bone and individual vertebrae – a landscape of whalebone, the ruins of the architecture of that magnificent being.

A longer version of this text will be published published in Jungle Juice, the print magazine by the French artists Magali Daniaux and Cédric Pigot in collaboration with Stephanie Boubli in the spring issue 2016.