Water has many contradictions: it is heavier than air but immersed in it we feel weightless; if we try to walk in water, we are slowed, yet if we glide, we can fly. Underneath it, we feel both free and confined. An expanse of water is a mirror for consciousness, our inner life. Robert Smithson might have called this a dialectical place-nonplace, interior-non-interior. But these dialectics are false and in real experience collapse into one. The sense of space underwater expands infinitely and psychologically under as little as six feet in a pool. This space feels undiscovered and timeless— leafs, dirt and strands of hair are suspended in a vacuum. The space feels limitless, without boundaries yet we can drown in only a few inches of water.

Surface/non-surface Tension, photo by David Lindquist, circa 1986

Underwater, we are limited without words: our partner’s expression is only a movement of the eye because a smile or facial expression will flood a mask. An area of water feels deeply psychological, embodying the unconscious and transformative. The deeper we descend, the more drained the spectrum of color becomes. Water magnifies and distorts, making objects appear larger and closer than they are by quantitative methods of measurements.

We are separated by a piece of glass that encloses our face. Clearing the mask taught me that it’s nothing more than a packet of air or a membrane, and that isn’t precious or stalwartly sealed—it isn’t created just on the surface, but can be recreated under the surface too. Clearing the mask underwater demonstrates that our relationship with water is permeable, as fluid and mutable a relationship as with the outside world, culture and nature. The seal can be broken and re-established, it’s not a hard-fast boundary.

Scuba Mask in a junk shop on Manhattan Ave, Greenpoint, Brooklyn, discovered by Ali Banisadr.

In SCUBA diving, achieving neutral buoyancy with our body is paramount to phenomenological and spatial freedom. It is about neither rising nor sinking, but rather a feeling of being suspended, hovering—as a weight/non-weight. (The same magical neutral buoyancy is in Jeff Koons’s basketball Equilibrium pieces in the 1980s, achieved by careful mixtures of sodium chloride in the basketballs.) Fine-tuning our buoyancy with breathing establishes weightlessness and equilibrium, and balance.

My dive instructor commented, “To me, once I’m neutrally buoyant, all the stress goes away and I just breathe. My physical and emotional weight disappears. I don’t meditate, but if I did I could imagine it’s like being underwater.” Buoyancy becomes a metaphor for being in-synch, engaged, connected with oneself and external surroundings. How did we gain the understanding to accomplish this magical feat? Perhaps we can look to fish, who have swim bladders that regulate buoyancy with water and air. It’s magical also because it denies gravity without leaving the earth. If the 1960s were about space as a site for exploration and repository for imaginations, our final frontier is our own environment. The ocean, with miles of uncharted territory and countless unexamined species and organisms, is our intergalactic and transcendental fascination.