VESSELS I “VESSEL” : New Zealand International Arts Festival | 2010

Media: Glass water vessels, metal frame, burnt ash, gold leaf, sound, light, digital animations
Dimensions: 4000mm x 7000mm

VESSELS © 2010 Daniel K. Brown
Music © 2010 Mark K. Johnson
Digital animation assistance: Johann Nortje

VESSELS was a world premier interactive multimedia installation commissioned by Museum of Wellington City & Sea – Wellington Museums Trust for the 2010 New Zealand International Arts Festival. It consists of four movements: I. Vessel, II. Aquilon, III. Tidings, and IV. Innocence

VESSELS was inspired by Dante’s early-14th century epic poem, Divine Comedy, which predicted that directly opposite Jerusalem in the great oceans of the southern hemisphere lies an island, above which shines a constellation of four stars in the shape of a cross. Atop this island sits the original Garden of Paradise. The mythological location of this island is where New Zealand now lies. According to Dante, an angel in the form of a divine white bird eternally pilots vessels of souls from the underworld to the island shores. Ripples of light emanate from the vessels, so radiant that the eye can barely endure them.

The first movement, ‘Vessel’, represents a boat’s bow slowly cutting through the morning fog sending out ripples of sound and light until the accumulating overtones break on the shore in a dissonant warning, only to commence again. In the mist a melody is passed back and forth between distant ships’ horns. This song on the wind is ultimately taken up in the tolling of distant ships’ warning bells as they witness the passing of the vessel. (Duration 4.24)

Purgatorio, Canto 2. Lines 37-42
‘Then as still nearer and more near us came
The Bird Divine, more radiant he appeared
So that near by the eye could not endure him,
‘But down I cast it; and he came to shore
With a small VESSEL, very swift and light,
So that the water swallowed naught thereof.’

The installation was composed of 33 vessels of water suspended upon the central atrium wall of the museum, illuminated by spotlights from above. The vessels are arranged in seven lines of five, with two missing. The wall forms a backdrop upon which a myriad of water reflections emanate from the vessels.

The movements of visitors and the overtones of the music created vibrations within the vessels and resulted in changing patterns of water ripples above. This interactive work represents the threshold separating land and sea, light and darkness, time and eternity – the intermittent zone between life and afterlife. The piece is activated by the touch of music and the touch of visitors, witnesses to the world of souls.

Original music by Mark K. Johnson established the sounds of a ghost vessel silently approaching the shore, and then eternally receding once again. The music contained the whispers of the tide; the sounds of the sea repeating in endless cycles; the haunting echoes of a ship’s bell in the distance, warning of obstacles.

Exhibition Construction and Project Management: Workshop e Ltd

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