In 2005 while at residence at the Headands Center for the Arts, Mel Day discovered the sailboat Fat Chance stranded on the shore and filmed and photographed the waves washing up over the mysterious boat. She researched the tragic events and developed a single-channel memorial installation and short film called Whistle + Shipwreck and a series of Shipwreck-less paintings—with the blog hidden inside the paintings and installed with the film work—from 2005-2007.
These painted works on canvas, part digital pigment print, part oil paint, further study and provoke the uncertain, vulnerable and haunted state of the stranded boat explored previously in the installation and short film work. A photograph printed on canvas has been painted away with newly imagined waves and sand, leaving only the shadow of the sailboat on the beach. Half painted, half printed, touched and untouched, peaceful and unpeaceful, known and not known, these painted works exist, inexplicably, as neither one thing nor the other.
Five years later, Mel invited artist Jeanne C. Finley to collaborate on a work based on their combined footage and they developed a two-channel collaborative installation and film version of this piece, Fat Chance, with an original sound score and narration by Pamela Z. Fat Chance was developed with the support of an Alumni New Works Award from the Headlands Center for the Arts in 2012.
Whistle + Shipwreck and the Shipwreck-less paintings were developed and exhibited by Mel Day at the Project Space, Headlands Center for the Arts and Spur Projects, Portola Valley (2006) and at a solo show at Peak Gallery, Toronto in 2007. Fat Chance by Day, Finley and Pamela Z was installed as a work-in-progress at the Gym, Headlands Center for the Arts in 2012.
All these works were developed in honor of the Fat Chance crew.
Melissa Day’s beautiful exhibition Certain Insecurity is a mystery wrapped in an enigma and further bound by an aching, haunting poignancy that is both distressing and ennobling. The exhibition is built around the video work Whistle and Shipwreck, a split-screen projection. On the left screen, a wrecked sailboat (named Fat Chance) sits crumpled on the beach, the surf pounding in all around it, while, on the right screen, a young woman (Day’s sister) whistles a familiar hymn (Great Is Thy Faithfulness). The juxtaposition of the now derelict boat and the halting, imperfect whistling –a kind of benediction borne on the wind — is remarkably moving. And it gets even more moving to learn that Day, who now lives in San Francisco, had planned to write the words “Save Me” in the sand, in the course of walking one morning on California’s Rodeo Beach in the Marin Headlands, only to come upon the wreck instead. And it was only after her bringing the two sequences together (the wrecked sailboat and the whistling), that she discovered a blog on the Internet (now available in the gallery) that outlines, in painful detail, the circumstances of a tragedy (a 15-year-old boy on a sea journey with his dad had been swept overboard and drowned only a few hours before Day’s walk on the beach).
The rest of this thoughtful and blessedly unsentimental exhibition is made up of paintings, or, more accurately, of digital-pigment prints overpainted with oils, one of which shows the Golden Gate bridge (almost an incarnation, for Day, of “certain insecurity”), which Day has almost entirely painted out, leaving only a sort of visual murmur of its soaring piers and, in the foreground, of its reflection. Another painting/print, Shipwreck, is also a large photograph of the doomed Fat Chance lying on its side but, as with the Golden Gate, almost entirely painted out, so that only a ghostly mast and a watery reflection on the beach remain: the image as recollection merely.