WHAT SHIPS ARE BUILT FOR
Debora Oden-Meza M.F.A.
University of Nebraska, 2003
Advisor: Karen Kunc
“A ship in the harbor is safe, but that is not what ships are built for”
The chaotic, exquisite, and sometimes devastating orchestration of events that occur in our lives preoccupies my mind. I am cognizant that I have control of my destiny and yet am agreeable to giving up the steerage, allowing myself to tumble and bump along obstacles in my path. I find myself rubbernecking, optimistically looking ahead while simultaneously weeping for missed opportunities, ill-chosen paths, or decimated plans. I obsess over the timing of marks not made, words left unspoken, and avoidable collisions. Could I better calculate my decisions? Where are the formulae that keep my family, my children, my self, safe from harm? I build my ship. I begin building ships for my children.
Early in my graduate research, I attempted to express the uncivilized aspects of human life. This uncivilized expression seemed extremely important, perhaps because it seemed honest to me. Were my brute and uninhibited marks somehow more truthful because I was not constrained by the conservative and prohibitive structure of language and aesthetics? How was truly honest expression possible if stringent guidelines were placed on context and visual representation? My results left me bemused by the weak stomachs of my viewers. Beauty of the classical kind was not what I was searching for, yet this one-sided viewing of my work left me longing to forge a deeper and more elegant way of expressing the brute and to marry it to the beautiful in our humanity.
My printmaking serves as illustration to this exploration. I wrestle, fight, and learn to love the obstacles that present themselves. Navigating the obstacles becomes a choreography that is the backbone of my work. Visually, the marks and scratches are a dialogue between the process of living and the process of making prints. My prints are a record of my movement through place—the back and forth movement of the press, the folding and arranging of paper, of the rhythmic repetition of a tool scratching a plate, the scraping and wiping of ink. It is about the litany of inking and printing, the hand over hand movement as I strain to turn the wheel of the press, the clang and the roll of the press bed as it breaks free from the pressure of the roller. This print process structures my uncivilized marks and allows my work to contain both passion and grace.
My work is about lines and how line and etching can be the subject not just the process of a work. Tally lines speak to the nature of building, of putting one foot in front of the other, of the rituals of daily life. The raised line of the intaglio process is more substantial than a surface mark. It has more resonance because of its subtlety and its small progress from the plane of the paper. It becomes more than itself.
When using these lines to build an atmosphere, the effect is soft yet seductive. Horizons, surfaces, layers, and canopies—calm waters and rough seas to travel through and to float upon. Weather. I juxtapose this suggestion of depth and space with folds and creases in the paper. The size of the work and the bombastic mark-making proclaim strength, boldness and resilience, while mars on the surface and to the paper suggest frailty.
My work asks the viewer to enter into a relationship with water. Our need and attraction to water is undeniable. Water—the life giver, the life-taker. My viewer either drowns in or floats upon the water in my work, is either assaulted by or thoughtfully contemplates the plunge into vaporous substance.
Standing on a cliff in a tropical cloud forest in Costa Rica, I myself longed to jump into a pool of clouds, a leap of faith that would have been fatal as the fall would have been several hundred feet. I knew the danger, yet felt tempted by the hazy substance that made the cloud forest special. They looked like they would hold weight, so dense were they. I wanted to be on the clouds. I wanted to be in them. I wanted them to be material, yet I was aware of the frailty of my human condition…so I turned on my heel—giving up the experience—and walked down the mountain.
For myself, the worst conclusion to this life would be to have left no marks, to have not shared, or to have slurred-over the opportunity for great flight. So I leave wild marks, too drunk ones, and too violent or too passionate ones. I leave sometimes ill, but typically well-intentioned ones. Often, the mark is at once, strikingly beautiful and sinfully ugly. The world itself is as horrible as it is filled with beauty and my marks teeter back and forth between joy and pain in a way that intensifies the flavor of the whole. My body is a vessel for navigating these experiences. My heart looks to the clouds, but this clumsy fumbling in the muck is necessary. It is how I build my ship.