The Ship references an unfinished familial project in the form of a 17-metre (55 feet) wooden boat frame located in North Queensland, Australia. This conspicuously absent “boat” has no hull, sea, or captain, and is instead conjured as a curious intermedial and transhistorical world. Presented as a portal into the boat’s contextual/colonised landmass and a ‘tropical gothic’ realm, the artwork becomes an allegory for historical objects persisting over time and space.
As its core objective, utilising 16mm film and expanded cinema with cues from ‘The Ship of Theseus’, this work constitutes an attempt to finish building my grandfather’s 39-year-old unfinished boat frame now in ruins – the artwork thus becomes its spectral fiction. In utilising the sublime synaesthesia between sea, ship, and personal emotive landscapes The Ship is carved through applications of sound and light from 16mm film apparatuses. Researching tropical gothic aesthetics and entangling them with my auto-theoretical experience of growing up in Tropical North Queensland, the project aims to fold romantic conceptualism with hauntologies and a deep acknowledgement of Country. As such it is an attempt to conjure a boat different to those built in the past through a “witches in labs”[i] and “relational listening”[ii] approach for 16mm filmmaking; photographic prints made from infrared film; vibrantly coloured Ektachrome 16mm film stills; alongside an expanded cinema sculptural work.
The Ship [detail of film stills], 2021. 16mm celluloid film stills, 10mm x 15mm. Copyright M. Woodnutt, 2021.
The myriad meanings associated with ships or boats begs a question of context and subjectivity; within the violent colonial construction of so-called Australia, it represents a fractured inheritance, at once personal and societal. Furthermore, the politicisation of refugee boats continued to haunt Australia in the 2022 Australian federal election whereby a conservative party sent out text messages en masse advising voters on election day that they had successfully ‘stopped a boat’ of refugees. Economically, ships are a pillar of globalised capitalism. Contrarily, a sublime romanticism often laced with real dangers, proposes ships or boats to be a heterotopian world upon an unknowable sea. Amidst a constellation of interpretations, this work opens a portal to draw with its audience one’s own relation and ideas of what a boat might mean across time and space today.
The Ship [installation detail], 2021. 16mm projectors, 16mm film and film reels, salt, crocodile skull, neon pink pigment, dimensions variable. Copyright M. Woodnutt, 2021.
An aim of this project and its multiple iterations and outcomes is to see the broader relations of seafaring vessels as a labyrinthian constellation of endless meaning tied to humanity, yet the artwork is drawn from a literal and material unfinished wooden vessel with no foreseeable future. The original boat frame was deconstructed and removed from my grandfather Frank’s shipyard after his death due to its deterioration and the preventative cost barriers to finish it as a fully formed wooden boat. A nearby boatbuilder salvaged the keel alone – what remains is the contextual relations and atmospheres of the region. This project proposes a research methodology through analogue filmmaking, transdisciplinary image making, and sculptural practices to construct an expanded cultural understanding of boats and ships in relation to romantic conceptualism and tropical gothic modes. Such a task to recreate and finish the boat builds upon the allegory of mountain climbing in Rene Dumal’s Mount Analog, of which the author died before the novel’s completion – this futility is an embraced Sisyphean methodology for The Ship.
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Artist in residence at Centre for Projection Art: https://www. centreforprojectionart.com.au/residencies/melody-woodnutt
The Ship [installation view], 2021. Kinetic sculpture: 16mm film projectors, 16mm film loops, film reels, soundscape, synaesthetic light to sound, crocodile skull, salt, pink pigment, lighting, cyanotypes, dimensions variable. Copyright M. Woodnutt, 2021.
Source material for The Ship, 2021. Photograph of Frank Woodnutt in his shipyard months before his death. Copyright M. Woodnutt, 2021.
[i] Whitefeather Hunter, “The Witch in the Lab Coat: Deviant Pathways in Science,” Limina, A Journal of Historical and Cultural Studies, 26(2), 14-29. https://www.limina.arts.uwa.edu.au/volumes/volume-26.2-2021
[ii] Lawrence English, “Relational Listening: A Politics of Perception.” Contemporary Music Review 36, no. 3 (Nov 2017): 127-142. https://doi.org/10.1080/07494467.2017.1395141