Part mere assembly, part craft, this sculpture is a response to the final paragraphs of Melville’s The Whale.
In what is already one of the greatest books ever written, Melville also produces an ending possibly unsurpassed for its sheer invention and poetic beauty. My work is a kind of inverse ekphrasis to the poetry, albeit in an attitude of abject humility.
Spoiler alert! The following text is from the final moments of the book.
But as the last whelmings intermixingly poured themselves over the sunken head of the Indian at the mainmast, leaving a few inches of the erect spar yet visible, together with long streaming yards of the flag, which calmly undulated, with ironical coincidings, over the destroying billows they almost touched;—at that instant, a red arm and a hammer hovered backwardly uplifted in the open air, in the act of nailing the flag faster and yet faster to the subsiding spar. A sky-hawk that tauntingly had followed the main-truck downwards from its natural home among the stars, pecking at the flag, and incommoding Tashtego there; this bird now chanced to intercept its broad fluttering wing between the hammer and the wood; and simultaneously feeling that etherial thrill, the submerged savage beneath, in his death-gasp, kept his hammer frozen there; and so the bird of heaven, with archangelic shrieks, and his imperial beak thrust upwards, and his whole captive form folded in the flag of Ahab, went down with his ship, which, like Satan, would not sink to hell till she had dragged a living part of heaven along with her, and helmeted herself with it.– MELVILLE
Its wooden hull, an old case from a bottle of port, long since drank. The cheap hammer, forgotten in an old toolbox. The feather, a flight feather from a tough Liverpudlian (ssp.) Herring Gull. Ahab’s flag is hinted on the reverse of the work in a strip of sea-blue acetate, and the entire piece sits on a lead-capped plinth to remind us of the fates of Tashtego, Stubb etc.