Archive | March, 2011


9 Mar

I would like to interrupt these luscious interview posts to tell you that you should obviously LIKE my new MERMAID page on Facebook. Sadly, I am too untechnological to figure out how to put a button on the right-hand column of this blog.

In return I will generously share this gorgeous mermaid song sung by Mississippi John Hurt. My ethnomusicological friend Max Spiegel of The Mudcat Cafe found all kinds of old mermaid folk songs for me, and this was one of my favorites:

Blues all on the ocean, blues all in the air.
Can’t stay here no longer, I have no steamship fare.
When my earthly trials are over, carry my body out in the sea.
Save all the undertaker bills, let the mermaids flirt with me.

I do not work for pleasure, earthly peace I’ll see no more.
The only reason I work at all, is drive the world from my door.
When my earthly trials are over, carry my body out in the sea.
Save all the undertaker bills, let the mermaids flirt with me.

My wife controls our happy home, a sweetheart I can not find.
The only thing I can call my own, is a troubled and a worried mind.
When my earthly trials are over, carry my body out in the sea.
Save all the undertaker bills, let the mermaids flirt with me.

Blues all in my body, my darling has forsaken me.
If I ever see her face again, I have to swim across the sea.
When my earthly trials are over, carry my body out in the sea.
Save all the undertaker bills, let the mermaids flirt with me.

Blues all on the ocean, blues all in the air.
Can’t stay here no longer, I have no steamship fare.
When my earthly trials are over, carry my body out in the sea.
Save all the undertaker bills, let the mermaids flirt with me.

I know, it’s awesome.

Lee Moyer and his Mermaid Gallery

8 Mar

So Lee Moyer is a wondrously talented artist/illustrator/designer in Portland who has painted many a mermaid and not just mermaids but undines, selkies, and all manner of mythical sea life. He is also an excellent tour guide, as he demonstrated two summers ago when he took my friend Barb and me to massive waterfalls and spooky old hotels and and Lebonese and Argentinian restaurants and even brought us a box of voodoo doughnuts including the ones coated in Cap’n Crunch. Plus his then-wife Annaliese photographed us in her very own mermaid tank that they kept in their garage. Unfortunately, now I expect all hosts to do these things and they never, ever do.

Lee also one of those terrible people who knows everything and he’ll tell you all about amazing artists you’ve never heard of and amazing things you’ve never seen and he’ll also beat you at Scrabble and make fun of you for playing “qi” and really I suspect he is like an encyclopedia of gorgeousness and general bad sportsmanship. Lee also tends to look very prophet-like when walking away from waterfalls, but then who doesn’t:

What follows is my interview with Lee, and a selection of his mermaidly work, which he graciously sent to me along with accompanying descriptions.

Also: next time I see Lee I am totally beating him at Scrabble.


What do you think the appeal of the mermaid is?
I think when we first encounter mermaids, we relate to their entrapment, their isolation, their yearning for knowledge and acceptance. For all that they may be well-connected, powerful, talented and loving of their families, the world outside is irresistible to them.

The unknown abyss, the lost and the hopeless draw us in similarly. The promise of magic, the gift of love and forbidden beauty pulls us to the sea, and to the mermaid. As adults we know that we too are mostly made of sea foam. We still feel those yearnings.

As a painter (and writer and all the rest), I find mermaids and their cousins to be filled with stories, some paradoxical, some whimsical, some terrific. Sometimes those stories are outside the boundaries of history and tradition.

Do you have any favorite artistic representations of mermaids?
Of course!

Howard Pyle’s final painting “The Mermaid” was left unfinished on his easel (and was later added to by his student Frank Schoonover in 1911). It lives, along with so many other remarkable Pyle paintings and Pre-Raphaelites, at the Delaware Art Museum. Do see it in person if you can, because no copy I’ve yet seen does justice to its subtleties:

And “A Mermaid”, ten years earlier from the great John William Waterhouse, 1901. The sketch is lovely of course, but the final painting is better still:

I also love Michael Kaluta’s “Behind Neptune’s Throne” (seen in his interview here) and “The Wedding Guest”:

Do you have any advice for aspiring mermaids?

Get out there, ladies! How are you going to be a mermaid if you sit at home and pine? How would we know about The Little Mermaid if she’d been content to be an ennui-filled homebody? Visit Weeki Wachee! Tie your legs together and swim! Build your own wooden chest for the precious objects you’ve rescued from the sea! Learn to dive for pearls! Build yourselves a tail! Get training in CPR (beautiful sailors aren’t just going to rescue themselves you know)! Maybe attend the upcoming Mermaid convention in Las Vegas. If you can’t draw and write yourself, offer to pose for talented artists and talk to talented writers. Surely other people will want to help you bring your beautiful dream to life. 


Here, the Little Mermaid and Reepicheep bid farewell to a pirate ship. I show it here because, however outside canon (or indeed common sense), it’s the sweetest, most traditional portrayal of a fairytale mermaid I’ve done.

Above Devil’s Reef
By contrast, here’s her cousin saying hello to a doomed Mary Celeste. The Shadow Over Innsmouth is my favorite of Lovecraft’s weird tales in part because the horror turns to supernatural beauty, fear to acceptance, and the aquatic Deep Ones to dear relations. Xenophobia become xenophilia…

Home Decorating
Just because mermaids are beautiful and kindly, doesn’t mean however that they understand the necessity of things we take for granted – like breathing. And if they live forever, why should the shortened spans of their chosen mates keep those mates from looking their best? Sometimes love and death are synonyms.

Sometimes a mermaid sits serenely by herself on a distant rock, looking out at more distant stars, thinking still more distant and unknowable thoughts. You know that, right?

Siren’s Song
Created to be the centerpiece of singer Tori Amos’ charity calendar for RAINN (, this piece came from her question in Silent All These Years “But what if I’m a mermaid?” Kudos to the great Tom Orzechowski for the inspired Art Nouveau type.

Port Royale
I was tired of showing my work at shows where every single person portrayed in the artwork was white. For the World Science Fiction Convention in Baltimore, I wanted to draw my fellow artists’ attention to this sad state of affairs, and lead by example. Just because I’m pasty white, that’s no reason to draw only fair-skinned blondes. And how better to make that point than with a creature never portrayed any other way? I wanted to paint a deeply black-skinned mermaid off the skeleton coast of Namibia, but none of the agencies in the Washington DC/Baltimore area even represented anyone with such a dark skin tone. Instead, I was lucky enough to find Royale. Her Mom was from Jamaica (whose old capital city was called Port Royale – watch for it in the upcoming Pirates of the Caribbean adaptation of Tim Powers’ On Stranger Tides). That gave the piece a different focus – one of sunken treasure, romance, and a lighter-skinned Caribbean mermaid.

While I’ve mentioned Deep Ones in passing, there are many other cousins to the Mermaids most of us are familiar with. Here, with the help of Wikipedia, is a little spotter’s guide:

In Greek mythology, the Nereids (pronounced /ˈnɪəri.ɪdz/, NEER-ee-idz; Ancient Greek: Νηρηΐδες) are sea nymphs, the fifty daughters of Nereus and Doris. They often accompany Poseidon and are always friendly and helpful towards sailors fighting perilous storms. They are particularly associated with the Aegean Sea, where they dwelt with their father in the depths within a silvery cave. The most notable of them are Thetis, wife of Peleus and mother of Achilles; Amphitrite, wife of Poseidon; and Galatea, love of the Cyclops Polyphemus.

My version of the Nereid was done for an obscure Dungeons and Dragons book called Stormwrack, but later featured in Spectrum, The Year’s Best Fantastic Art. Imagine my surprise when people kept telling me that the blue patterned aliens with long pointy ears from James Cameron’s Movie Avatar looked a lot like them….

According to a theory advanced by Paracelsus, an Undine is a water nymph or water spirit, the elemental of water. They are usually found in forest pools and waterfalls. They have beautiful voices, which are sometimes heard over the sound of water.

In 18th century Scotland, ondines were also referred to as the wraiths of water.

I drew this Undine for my old online game, Sanctum. The idea that a fearsome water elemental should deign to conform to human size seemed a little too much to ask. The inverted triangle design around her is the old alchemical symbol for water by the way….

Selkies (also known as silkies or selchies) are mythological shapeshifting creatures that are found in Faroese, Icelandic, Irish, and Scottish folklore.

Selkies are seals that can shed their skin to become humans. The legend apparently originated on the Orkney and Shetland Islands, where selch or selk(ie) is the Scots word for seal (from Old English seolh).

Selkies are able to become human by taking off their seal skins, and can return to seal form by putting it back on. Stories concerning selkies are generally romantic tragedies. Sometimes the human will not know that their lover is a selkie, and wakes to find them gone. Other times the human will hide the selkie’s skin, thus preventing them from returning to seal form. A selkie can only make contact with one particular human for a short amount of time before they must return to the sea. Examples of such stories are the ballad, The Great Silkie of Sule Skerry, the movie The Secret of Roan Inish and Ondine.

I’ve taken this Selkie out of her northern European milieu, and up around the polar icecaps. When this selkie, in her beautiful white harp seal form, encounters a group of hunters after her fur she is faced with a most unpleasant choice- If they take her skin she’ll be trapped forever as a human. But if she doesn’t reveal herself….

Lorelei, Nixie, Melusine, Merrow….
I don’t have illustrations of all the various types (as they appear around the world and in most every culture), but suffice it to say that some sirens mean no good to man or woman.

Some mermaids are not even from the oceans of Earth. The Aguatunisians are a peaceful people, but with this rare exception are seldom seen outside their homeworld.
Here is an ad for “Uncle” Bob Grivaar’s Amusement park from Starstruck, the 363-page graphic novel by Elaine Lee and Michael Kaluta that I’ve spent the last two years working on.

MeduSirena, the Fire-Eating Mermaid

7 Mar

So MeduSirena Marina is a gorgeous fire-eating professional mermaid in Fort Lauderdale intent on bringing back old-style aquatic entertainment – or retro-tainment – to the world at large. She’s also one of the featured performers, along with Hannah Fraser, at the World Mermaid Awards this August. She performs all over Florida, and appears regularly at the Wreck Bar in Fort Lauderdale with her MeduSirena Pod of Mermaids – her aquatic performance students – swimming alluringly in a pool visible to barflies through small porthole windows (this is the same place, incidentally, where the mermaid tank scene from Where the Boys Are was filmed). She combines belly dance, stunt dancing, Exotica and Polynesian Dance in her performances, which some Weeki Wachee ladies raved about to yours truly. So I am very excited to see some MeduSirena Marina for myself in Las Vegas this summer. But in the meantime, here’s our Q and A.

So when did you become a mermaid?
I don’t think there was ever a time I “became” a real mermaid. I’m simply aquatic performer. I was raised on the islands of the West Indies, where I learned to free dive at age three, so I have been underwater for a lot of my life.

Do you feel differently in and out of the water? What about with and without your tail?
I suppose it’s the physical equivalent of being bilingual. One behaves differently in and out of the water, of course. In dreams during sleep, however, all bets are off. Swimming and walking/running are always interchanged – so they both must be quite ingrained in me.

Swimming while wearing the fin certainly is different than swimming without it; as a result, different techniques have to be implemented for fluidity.

How would you define the mermaid’s appeal?
The mermaid is an iconic figure that many can identify with, historically as well as in popular culture. Perhaps it’s a person’s perception blended with the mythological – where one can fill those missing pieces themselves, and make the f
igure all their own, therefore identifying with it better. For myself, I find the vision of the mermaid to be an artistic vessel, a familiar medium for sub-aquatic expression. It allows me the opportunity to present to the viewer something that they not only can identify with, but can take in as a new experience.

I never wish for the audience to think I’m trying to be a mermaid. The tail is but an implement. I want them to see the physical performer expressing through movement – hopefully they will enjoy watching the performance as much as I enjoy having the honor of presenting it.

Have you always been attracted to mermaids specifically?
Not specifically. Although it’s easier to “relate” to mermaids – at least the top half! – I’m attracted to all types of sea life. My marine biology background allowed me to truly appreciate the physiological differences and movements of aquatic species. Those were and continue to be some of my best “mentors.”

Can you tell me about your performances, and what inspires them?
I perform stunts such as fire eating, bed of nails and others, as they are based on older stage performances that were popularized through vaudeville and the Golden age of tourism, a time when hotels and theaters often had aqua/stunt shows. It is my contribution to “Retrotainment Preservation.” I sincerely hope to help continue and return and
cultivate this almost forgotten movement art form.

I’ve been very interested in aquatic spectacles since I was a child. I loved watching diving shows at Cypress Gardens, the Weeki Wachee Mermaids in Florida, Annette Kellerman (the original Million Dollar Mermaid) silent films, and of course those amazing Hollywood numbers featuring the great Esther Williams, just to name a few. As the popularity of these types of spectacles later decreased, the entire genre seemed to get narrowed down and only become identified by most as the sport of “synchronized swimming,” which has evolved to be quite different.

I’d like to try and bring some of the older genre back, to allow the audience member to see something that appears surreal and is actually done by a different style of performer. Recently, someone watched a video of my underwater performance and commented that it looked computer-rendered. I found that quite amusing, that the lines between human abilities and those aided with technology are now becoming blurred.

(**I was however, filmed performing underwater and given a CGI tail in post for the “Virtual Aquarium” display currently playing at the City of Dreams in Macau.)

What do you think about Ariel?
I see “Ariel” as a teenager who changed her outward appearance and left behind her identity to impress a boy, and was rewarded by “getting him” in the end. Dunno if that’s the best message. Also, in the Disney version all the “bad” is channeled unto the “Ursula” character, who was actually a very fair and honest character in the original story.

Can you describe some of your mermaid tricks?
Equanimity in liquid space is the goal. I wouldn’t call it a trick – more of a movement style.

I love the intimacy of just swimming up to a window and flowing with the surroundings, to dance in liquid space. From my perspective, riding the created current; from the audience’s standpoint, watching a dancer gliding while defying gravity.

Finally, do you have any advice for aspiring mermaids?
Study, train, and learn how water and the human body work together. Lots of cardiovascular and strength training. Use the water around you as a medium rather treading it. Most importantly: be original, credit your inspirations and role models, and stay humble.

Tera Lynn Childs’ Teen Mermaid Novels

4 Mar

So there are a ton of mermaid books coming out around now, especially in the world of teen fiction, where mermaids seem to be a new trend on par with some lusciously brooding vampires. I know there are a ton of mermaid movies in development right now, too; my own book just got optioned last week by Sony, despite the fact that there are 50000 other mermaid movies in the works. What can I say, people love them some mermaids. Even Stephenie Meyer is writing about mermaids now (and I will also point out the similarity in names of Ms. Meyer’s vampiric heartthrob Edward Cullen and Edvard Collin, the real-life , unrequited love of one Hans Christian Andersen, who, as discussed in my penetrating interview with Patti Stanger, wrote The Little Mermaid in a fit of despair when Edvard was off getting married).

One book I’ve been seeing over and over is Forgive My Fins by Ms. Tera Lynn Childs, who’s written previous awesome teen books like Oh. My. Gods., about modern kids descended from Greek gods. Forgive My Fins came out last June, and its follow-up, Fins Are Forever, comes out this summer. In the spirit of mermaidly research, I figured I ought to track down my fellow mermaid authoress and ask her some questions.

What attracts you to magic and myth, and to mermaids specifically?
I have been enchanted by both myths and mermaids for as long as I can remember. My particular obsession with mermaids began in elementary school, with a line of bath toys called Sea Wees and then with the movie Splash. I’ve wanted to be a mermaid ever since.

I know that Forgive My Fins is about a high school girl who is actually a mermaid princess. Have you ever suspected that you yourself or anyone around you might have a secret mermaid identity?
After seeing Splash, my cousin and I were absolutely convinced we were mermaids and only needed to get ourselves into water to undergo the transformation. When bathwater didn’t work we decided it had to be saltwater. I’m sad to report that even a dip in the Gulf of Mexico has left me entirely human.

When/how did you get the idea for your mermaid series? How many more books are coming?
After my first and last year teaching 7th grade science I escaped to Florida for the summer. I was spending a lot of time on the beach, wishing I were a mermaid. “Wouldn’t it be cool,” I thought, “if a mermaid could bestow the magical powers of her people with a kiss?” And then, because I’m a writer and I love conflict, I thought, “What if she kissed the wrong boy?”

As of right now there are just the two books in the series (Forgive My Fins and the upcoming Fins Are Forever). But my fingers are crossed that I’ll get to write more about Lily and her world.

Did you have any special challenges when creating your mermaid world (like how they have babies, etc)?
Well, my mermaids aren’t exactly thinking about having babies yet, and my half-mermaid princess was born on land to her human mother. But the one big question I had to face was how they got from land/human form to water/mermaid form. I wrote a mermaid diving into the water and transfiguring as she went when I realized that she had to be naked to do that! I came up with the idea of a finkini, kind of like shorts made out of scales. It’s a mermaid’s nod to modesty.

Aside from the obvious differences, like having tails vs. LEGS, what do you think the main distinctions are between mermaids and humans?
Mermaids are a lot more relaxed, them move at the slower pace of the ocean. They are also more sensitive to their environment and the effects of pollution and climate change on their waters.

And what about those mermen? Do you think they get the short shrift? Your mermaid princess needs to find a human boy to take back to her ocean kingdom and turn into a merman — it takes a boy very secure in his humanity and sexuality to do this, doesn’t it?
Actually, my mermaid doesn’t have to find a human boy, she just happens to fall for one while she’s checking out life on land. I do think the boy has to be very secure and very aware of himself to enter the mer world. It’s just like any person dropped into a foreign culture. You have to be very self-aware in order to absorb and adapt to the change.

Finally, do you have any advice for aspiring mermaids?
Take care of the oceans. With climate change and global warming, the oceans are changing and some of the most beautiful and exotic ecosystems are being irreparably damaged. Help the merfolk preserve the natural beauty of their world, for them and for us, for generations to come.

Tabatha Coffey and How to Get Mermaid Hair

3 Mar

So when it comes down to it, I think we all know that one of the most enviable things about mermaids are the flowing locks that whirl about them in the sea and allow them some small bit of modesty when washing up, toplessly, on land. A mermaid’s hair is absolutely part of her allure, which is why she’s always sitting about on rocks combing it (or hanging out on beaches running her own hands through it, a la Daryl Hannah) and sticking things like starfish into it, and then gazing at herself in mirrors while sailors crash their ships around her. It is also the mermaid’s most human attribute; whilst we humans and/or aspiring mermaids may have a hard time getting to the bottom of the ocean or changing our legs into a giant fish tail, we can get mermaid hair. Though sometimes only with the help of a professional.

So I asked one of my own favorite hairdressers, Tabatha Coffey of Tabatha’s Salon Takeover fame (a show in which Tabatha, fairy godmother-style, goes into failing salons and is mean to everyone and bashes them into shape until they are awesome and transformed and crying), for some mermaidly advice. Here is what she said.

Photo by Pete Tangen

How can an aspiring mermaid get mermaid hair?
Loose beautiful hair that has a casual sexy tousled carefree feel to me means mermaid. Length also factors in, so if not long by nature then extensions are always an option to create mermaid locks. (Just make sure they are good ones!)

Do you have any favorite mermaidly hairstyles or styling tips?
Create loose tousled waves by using a large curling iron and taking random sections of hair and waving them, then run your fingers through to create that beautiful mermaid texture.

What about color is there anything an aspiring mermaid can do to add more magical ocean allure to her locks?
I think mermaid hair is all about being luscious, whether blonde, red or brunette, it’s about shine and vibrancy.

Can you recommend any hair accessories/products to add extra shimmer and shine?
There are many great lightweight shine serums and sprays available to put shine and gloss on the hair. My tip is to use them sparingly and make sure you emulsify through your hands well before applying as they can weigh hair down or make it look greasy. If using a spray shine do the arms length spray (meaning spray from an arms length away) so you don’t weigh hair down.

How can an aspiring mermaid protect her hair from too much exposure to saltwater, the sun, and/or chlorine if she is sadly confined to pools and bathtubs?
Mermaids need to protect their beautiful locks from the elements so using products that condition and protect is really important. There are some great leave in conditioners to wear to the beach and protect the hair from sun exposure but remember to reapply as you would any sunscreen. If chlorine is your thing wet your hair before getting in the pool, the moisture in your hair will stop it from absorbing so much chlorine. A clarifying shampoo weekly followed by a good conditioner will also help all the chlorine swimming mermaids out there.

Can you think of any examples of celebrities, etc., with especially effective mermaid hair?
Kim Kardashian has beautiful hair any mermaid would envy.

Elle MacPherson has the waves a mermaid would envy.

Taylor Swift works the mermaid look.

Are you yourself a fan of mermaids? If so, how would you describe their allure?
I think the myth surrounding the siren of the sea is the allure and come on who didn’t like Ariel!!

Do you have any other advice for aspiring mermaids?
Embrace the spirit of the mermaid, which to me means being mysterious. If that fails, stay wet and keep your tail up!

Bambi the Mermaid, Queen of Coney Island

2 Mar

So no mermaid blog would be complete without a whole lot of talk about Coney Island and the annual Mermaid Parade, which takes place every June around the birthday of yours truly – otherwise known as the summer solstice – and involves many many many people dressed up in paint and glitter and shells and tails and taking to the boardwalk in whole-hearted Mardis Gras-style mermaid celebration. There’s always a merman and mermaid King and Queen; last year these were Lou Reed and Laurie Anderson, no less, who dressed in robes and crowns and were pushed along in an umbrella-covered chariot with their dog.

Another royal sort who’s been in the parade for twenty straight years and counting is the fabulous Bambi the Mermaid, Queen of Coney Island, who herself has been mermaid Queen and who’s been performing for years in all manner of aquatic- and otherwise-themed Coney Island burlesque, which she also organizes and produces. Bambi is all kinds of crazy and fun and wonderfully exuberant, which is pretty much mandatory if you’re going to be named after a white-tailed deer.

Here is our Q and A:

When did you first realize you were a mermaid?
I first “realized” I was a mermaid when I was around ten years old.  My parents divorced and my father moved to Miami. There I discovered my real love of the ocean (and of course swimming pools) in a place that seemed so tropical and too good to be true.

Can you tell me about your relationship to Coney Island? How long have you been performing as a mermaid (and other creatures) there, and how long have you been participating in the Mermaid Parade?
I had grown up in the Midwest and was obsessed with carnivals and country fairs prior to discovering Florida and Weeki Wachee, then all my dreams came together at Coney Island.  I’d always had a kind of Deja vu feeling about Coney and when I found out about the mermaid parade I went straight there and focused my world around it.

I’ve attended the last twenty straight years of the parade, and actually been in the parade eighteen straight years. I was the official Queen of the parade in, let’s see, 2005 I think it was. I began performing at the sideshow in 1995 as a sideshow artist: snake charming mermaid, geeking mermaid (eating live goldfish- yikes), and walking on broken glass in my metaphorical “new feet” etc.  That evolved into a more glamorous existence as Bambi the Mermaid, QUEEN OF CONEY ISLAND, my o-fish-al burlesque title as producer of Burlesque at the Beach, NYC’s oldest and longest running burlesque show in the neo burlesque revival. That opened up the opportunity for me to create my dream costumes for burlesque acts as a crab, lobster, giant clam, sea snail, siamese fighting fish, etc.

What is the best thing about being a mermaid?
The best part of being a mermaid is the absolute freedom!! There are no rules, no boundaries, no expectations; mermaids can basically do anything they want! No one ever judges a mermaid!

How do you explain the allure of mermaids to humans?
Mermaids to me are the perfect archetype for any girl. They are powerful, self aware, self sufficient, confident, exuberant, curious, unafraid, loving, creative and full of joy! Mermaids are proud to be beautiful or rather ugly, mermaids never worry about their weight or growing old or become bogged down by insecurities that can plague other female icons.

How did you get so close to the Weeki Wachee mermaids, anyway and how do they inspire you (if they do)?
As far as Weeki, I went there as a child and really succumbed to the magic!! I had a big mermaid wedding, did you see th
at on my website? I got married in shells and a tail and had pink mermaid bridesmaids, I even went to Atlantis for my honeymoon! Yes I worship the Weeki girls, it’s really hard to swim their show every day! I’ve become kind of lazy about swimming, I really like working as a “dry” mermaid, I work at a lot of parties where they mainly want to take photos of me and serve me cocktails! Being a professional mermaid has turned out to be a dream job!

I understand you are in a documentary called Mermaids of New York. Is New York really full of mermaids?
New York has more mermaids than you might imagine! On the high holy day , the summer solstice, when they all gather at the parade, it’s a proud time for merfolk! We really are so exciting and colorful and vibrant and ALIVE!! I feel a little sorry for the people on the outside looking in, people will say “I wish I had the nerve to wear that” or some such thing… and they just don’t seem to realize the magic is within them, too!

What advice do you have for aspiring mermaids?
Mermaiding is really a state of mind. a philosophy anyone can adopt!! Its akin to a religion, a way of seeing and interacting with the world that’s positive and amazing! Am I preaching?

What about mermen?
As far as mermen go I’m ashamed to admit I’m a bit sexist! I feel like I really identify with the archetype fairy tail story of finding true love on land, with a burly pirate or charming sailor. Maybe opposites attract.. the mermen I’ve met seem to want to be mermaids, if you know what I mean!!! I certainly care about them and feel for them, but I am completely seduced by the GODDESS nature of mermaidism and it seems a female attribute to me most by nature.

Busby Berkeley-Style Mermaids in Iceland

1 Mar

So last fall I was in Europe and ended up flying home through Iceland and staying there for a couple nights, which was kind of like staying on Mars but in a cool, Forbidden Planet kind of way. Volcanic rock, covered in snow and lime-green moss! This endless liquid sky! And I saw geysers and waterfalls and continental rifts, and I even saw little doors painted into the rocky landscape where elves live, and pools where witches were drowned once, but of course I was also very curious about mermaids, being the diligent mermaid expert I am. I figured there had to be some secret and possibly nefarious mermaid thing going on in Iceland, right? So I did some searching and actually stood outside of a waterfall in the frigid whipping wind filming my tour guide talking in his lilting elvin accent about Icelandic mermen myths, though sadly I couldn’t understand a word he was saying…. and I ALSO, more fortuitously, discovered one Ms. Kitty von-Sometime and her awesome Weird Girls project.

Weird Girls is an ongoing art experiment that Kitty created and produces. For each separate episode Kitty gathers a number of women, who find out last minute where they’re going, show up having no idea what they’re in for, and get transformed in some astonishing way for some high-concept photo and video shoot. For episode number six, back in October 2008, sixteen women showed up at hotel outside of Reyjkavik, at Hveragerði’s Sundlaugin Laugaskarði, and were transformed into mermaids to do a Busby Berekley-style video for Emiliana Torrini’s song “I’ve Heard it All Before.” The resulting video is completely gorgeous and charming, as I’m sure you’ll agree. I knew there had to be some amazing mermaids in Iceland!

So I emailed Kitty and told her I would be in Reyjkavik and asked if she’d meet with me. She graciously invited me to her very swanky, gleaming, looking-out-over-the-sea office at a gaming company and though I almost blew away on the walk there, I managed to survive and to film THIS on my little Flip camera. You will notice that in addition to capturing Kitty, who is very very fabulous—watch this and tell me you don’t want to fly to Iceland to participate in her next episode!—I also managed to film many transparent Icelandic ghosts lurking suspiciously in the background and occasionally raising their fists.

Here is a mostly accurate transcript of said interview for all you more nerdly readers:

So you can tell me how you ended up assembling a ton of mermaid girls for this music video?
When I was little girl I was quite obsessed actually with mermaids and living by the sea and I come from England and I was living down in the south coast of England and when I was twenty and rebelling and I wanted to move away I moved to London and that wasn’t really as near to the sea so I used to go on a Friday on a train down to Brighton and stay until Monday because I had to be by the sea. And I now I live in Reyjkavik and it’s all harbors to the sea and I can see the sea very close, just down there….

And when I started doing this project where I managed to make women dress up in whatever I wanted to make them dress up as, I figured I would try and use this opportunity and I combined spandex and mermaids into one piece, which was a triumph for myself I have to say. And I wanted it to be resembling Busby Berkeley’s films and I felt that even though the spandex thing is obviously a new fabric and is a very modern look, the mermaid look is very classic and went with the Busby Berkeley stuff. So I found a nice art deco pool to put my spandex mermaids in and did the video.

And how did you come up with the costumes?
The costumes I’d seen somewhere before, not the entire thing but the spandex tail part and it was really easy to get someone to make that, and then a Polish girl who lives here who’s an absolute genius with costumes, Carolina, she met with me and I told her I wanted to use beads all over it and she came up with this neck collar idea and I wanted to have a really 40s looking sort of hat and so managed to find one that was just right, actually on a website that is for sufferers of alopecia and cancer who lose their hair, there are amazing hats on there, so I bought those.

And so all these women showed up not knowing what they were going to do that day?
No, they had no idea.

And what did they think?
They loved it. They generally do love it, and they generally like to take a costume and try to wear it somewhere else. This is a little impractical because you can’t walk. Being a mermaid out of water is not such a fun experience, and we had to go up and down two flights of stairs throughout the filming constantly. Which involved us all hopping or sliding on our bums up and down the stairs, which is a very undignified way of being a mermaid. But once you’re in the water, it was a lot different, very fun.

Do you think anyone felt transformed into a more mermaidly type?
Oh God yes. This was a very extreme video. If you think of taking a load of women who do not dress up for anything, who are not really actresses and haven’t put on a costume probably since they were little girls, and then to play dress-up… And this was very heavy. There was nothing of themselves left except the silhouette of their body shape. And everyone had a really really good time and I was blessed because it was October in Iceland outdoors and the days before it was snowing and the day we were filming it was very warm. It was brilliant.

still from episode 4, Bunny Revolution

Did you also wear a costume?
I did. I always do. It’s part of why I do this, and the day that I have to go only behind the camera I’ll be very upset. I always have assistant directors or lead directors and I’m the assistant, and producers, and my main thing is having a director and photographer that I talk with a lot before we film to get all the things in my head into theirs. So that then I can dress up. Cause that’s part of why I like doing this.

And how did you feel, once you dressed as a mermaid?
I loved it, it was great. And some of the girls have worn the costumes since believe it or not. They’ve worn them to costume parties, they’ve cut holes to put their legs through a bit and wrap the tail around. And one of them has got a nine-year-old daughter and she sewed it up a bit smaller for her. She just wanted to wear it once she saw what her mom was dressed up as.

What do you think is the appeal of mermaids?
They’re sexy somehow. I don’t know how the hell a woman with half a fish body is sexy, but they are. And they’re magical. It’s a bit like a unicorn, a horse with a horn on the front of its head brought to life, but they’re still very mystical and magical.

Oh and how did you manage to get all that glitter on everyone’s faces? That’s a very important question.
The makeup artists were actually very good. They simply blew it on our faces. When the paint was wet they simply blew the glitter on and it stayed on. It was amazing, I didn’t know how the hell we were going to do this. They just blew. Luckily, they didn’t have bad breath. No and it just stayed on and then they touched up as we went. I think there was a bit of spray over it to keep it on. And it made it even more magical, because you always see this spray of glitter going through the air.

Do you have any advice for anyone who would like to be mermaidly themselves?
Do I have any advice? Try it, I guess. Just try it!

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