September 14–December 17, 2021
Maelstrom is a 16mm black and white animated film made up of hand-written text and drawn images. The film is processed by hand using large quantities of photographic chemistry. As a result, scratch marks, camera flaws, and other physical effects are visible on its surface, which gives it a raw, unpolished, and magical appearance. The work references Edgar Allan Poe’s Descent into the Maelstrom (1841), which recounts a terrifying tale of a ship piloted by three brothers that is pulled inexorably into a monstrous whirlpool near the Lofoten Islands in Norway. The narration of the story takes place on a rocky mountain overlooking the sea from which the maelstrom is visible. The vertiginous framing and the storyteller’s dizzying tale plunge the reader into the detailed horror of the experience. In addition to hand-drawn images of whirlpools, floods, and maps from historical and contemporary sources, the film includes evocative language from Poe, Herman Melville, and the Oxford English Dictionary. Images from a storm-tossed ferry ride in New York harbor—just before the COVID-19 pandemic arrived on those shores—present a loss of mooring and a desire for the unknown. Poe’s writings during the turbulent, unstable period of early 1800s America hold a mirror up to our own. We, too, find ourselves struggling to use all our reason to emerge, gasping, from the chaos of our times.