The Moby-Dick story is big these days. With a big-budget Hollywood picture set for release, the Columbus Cultural Arts Center opens "The Whiteness of the Whale" on Friday, Dec. 4.
The Moby-Dick story is big these days.
Well, technically, it's always been big. A 135-chapter (plus epilogue) tome will have that effect.
With a big-budget Hollywood picture set for release ("In the Heart of the Sea" is adapted from the same source material that inspired Herman Melville), the Columbus Cultural Arts Center opens "The Whiteness of the Whale" on Friday, Dec. 4. The exhibition, curated by Molly Jo Burke and Andrea Myers, who are also participating in the exhibition as artists, will remain on view through Jan. 9.
Burke and Myers asked seven artists to read (or re-read) Melville's "Moby-Dick," with special attention to Chapter 42, "The Whiteness of the Whale."
"Molly and I were drawn to thinking about the specific chapter of 'Moby Dick,' and the artists we asked to participate all had a commonality of working with primarily monochromatic color or lack of color in one project of theirs or another," Myers said. "I think it then began to grow, thinking if we invited them to read or re-read Moby Dick, which is such a viscerally dense and descriptive novel, what kind of work would artists make in response to the feelings and imagery provoked by the novel?"
"We felt like these were artists who could empathize with the chapter but also take it and start a fresh discussion about 'What is white?' and 'What is whiteness?'" Burke said. "I think people will be interested in how some dove literally into the text while others offered more interpretation."
It perhaps goes without saying that this exhibition has been in the planning and development stages for some time. The curators acknowledge the need to allow participating artists enough time to read the book - although some confessed to using the audio version.
"Whiteness" will feature great variety, Burke said, including two-dimensional pieces in a variety of media to 3-D casts, a video installation and a 40-foot installation that somehow both mimics the inside of a whale and the inside of a novel.
Designer Jeff Haase's installation will consume the center of the gallery, inviting visitors to move in and around its "light and airy" giant sheets of cut paper, all while listening to the "Moby-Dick" audio book.
"I'm an architect and designer, so for me it's not about making an object. I want to be a place-maker," Haase said. "As I read the book, I kept making a place in my head, kept trying to picture this whale. And I was thinking how it would be cool to be inside of a book. So my intention was to do a scale of the whale in giant sheets of paper, so in a sense you're inside the book and inside Moby."
"I have done work typically in white and grayscale, and (Burke and Myers) knew my work, that I could fit this topic into the kind of work I already do," participating artist Jayne Struble said. "In thinking about making something new for this space and this exhibit, I knew I would probably not be that literal. No whales."
In addition to some 2-D in-process drawing, Struble's contributions are 3-D pieces in wood and plaster. The artist said she was inspired by the notion of elusiveness.
"We can go on this journey and try as hard as we can. Humans are always trying to build things, but things eventually still fall down. It speaks to an idea of art in general, that sometimes it works and sometimes it doesn't," Struble said.
Josh Welker confessed that "Moby-Dick" Chapter 42 had been a "guiding principle" throughout his life, "a chapter I have revisited several times due to the 'mystic terror' it represents."
Welker's large panels are full of color, the artist's effort to combat the sameness of the white grappled with in the chapter.
"I've always kicked against that mentality of sameness," Welker said, "to upturn the white."
The curators contributed individual works to the exhibition, and also collaborated on a piece in porcelain that mimics rib bones.
"They're beautiful and fragile," Burke said, "and make reference to the discussion of the parts of the whale in the book."
"I am definitely pleased with the results and I am excited to see all the iterations and ideas in one space will be exciting," Myers said. "I think viewers could definitely read the book in tandem with the exhibition, or maybe passages or chapters, but I don't think it is mandatory in order to enjoy the exhibition. The artists in the exhibition are not necessarily illustrating the story of Moby Dick, but responding through their individual artistic practices to maybe specific moments or more general themes the novel provokes."
Events related to the exhibition include an opening reception from 6-8 p.m. Friday, Dec. 4, a Conversations & Coffee Art Talk at noon Thursday, Dec. 17, and a closing reception featuring sea shanties by The HardTackers from 6 to 8 p.m. Friday, Jan. 8.