The Goldfish and The Glass Ball

Ewa Klekot By Ewa Klekot

The glass container in which little fish swim in water was invented in the Far East. While iron-clad European knights were busy raiding Jerusalem, which they had just seized from the infidels, Chinese specialists of the Song dynasty engaged in cross-breeding golden carp and red fringetails. The delights of a glass ball inhabited by a colourful fish started to attract Europeans as late as the nineteenth century, when the element of water, tamed and locked in a jar, entered bourgeois parlours, to the enjoyment of cats and children. The ball of crystal-clear water, with fish moving about and undulating lacy leaves of seaweeds, was a separate world, harmonious and exotic, in relation to which even a child felt like a fabulous giant.

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The history of the fairytale glass ball is of course much longer that that of the bourgeois fishbowl: it was in a crystal ball that alchemists and magicians used to behold ghosts, and fortune-tellers read the future. Paradisiac landscapes, sunken treasures, distant castles on ice and the misty vapours of hell could all be seen in it. That may have been the origin of the  glass balls in which, instead of  a live fish, you can see a vision of a middle-class Eden or the memory of a trip preserved in a crystalline liquid. Glass balls of various sizes with whirling, opalescent snowflakes, graceful ballet dancers and white swans inside; balls with the Eiffel Tower, Sacre-Coeur or the Statue of Liberty; balls with a deer leaping out of a forest or a ship floating on the waves (Souvenir from Kołobrzeg); with a very practical plastic fish that doesn’t need to be fed…

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Aquaria are excellent dream containers. Protected by a wall of glass or perspex, various biotopes can drift immersed in the oily element: sandy lagoon banks strewn with colourful shells, coral reefs, the meanders of the Ucayali – worlds enclosed in glass, a safe medium for our dreams.

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