In the single channel installation and short film, Whistle + Shipwreck, the searching and layered sound of a whistling hymn is paired with a sequence of footage of a shipwreck Mel Day discovered early one morning on the shores of the beach while on a residency at the Headlands Center for the Arts in 2005. (Ironically, she had planned to write and film, “Save me,” on the sand that morning.) After pairing the footage of the stranded 40′ keelboat sailboat with the searching of a whistling hymn, she found a blog uncovering the details of this tragedy. This blog is installed with the installation and film work.
Mel also developed a series of related Shipwreck-less paintings from 2005-2007. These painted works on canvas, part digital pigment print, part oil paint, further study and provoke the uncertain, vulnerable and haunting state explored in the installation and 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. The blog uncovering the details of this tragedy is hidden inside the back of each of the paintings.
Five years later, Mel shared her findings with artist Jeanne C. Finley and invited her to collaborate on work based on their combined footage. 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 Peak Gallery, Toronto in 2007. The collaborative version of Fat Chance by Day, Finley, and Pamela Z was installed as a work-in-progress at the Gym (two-channel installation), and at the Open House (film), Headlands Center for the Arts, in 2012. An additional film version incorporating an interview with the crew is being developed by Jeanne C. Finley in collaboration with Mel Day, with narration and an original sound score by Pamela Z.
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.
Fat Chance (Two-channel installation and film version) by Mel Day and Jeanne C. Finley with an original sound score and narration by Pamela Z.