Of Whales, 2022

Installation view, Wu Tsang: Of Whales, Venice Biennale 2022 Photo: Stefano Cozzi

Real-time video, multi-channel audio installation
4+ hours (Dynamic real-time loop)

Of Whales is a dynamic oceanscape-cosmos that expands my filmic adaptation of MOBY DICK, exploring surreal aspects of Melville’s world mixed with the detritus of research into a postcolonial and environmental reading of the 1851 novel.

The main inspiration is a character from my film adaptation called the Sub Sub Librarian who is a Jonah-like figure—a “tired old god” that lives inside the belly of the whale. In my version the Sub Sub is a future incarnate of the young cabin-boy Pip, who journeys to the deepest depths of the sea and through a cosmos to become the narrator of the story. In this project, the journey of Pip/SubSub follows the diving path of a sperm whale, plunging down to non-human depths (2000+ meters) for over an hour at a time, only to resurface briefly for a breath of air and then return. The cycle of cosmos > surface > cosmos reflects the spiraling cyclical structure of the story. – the

"Supported by pioneering art and tech organization VIVE Arts, Of Whales utilizes innovative technology to bring the sperm whale’s world to life. “The whole thing uses game engine tech, so the ‘cosmos’ you see is completely computer generated,” reveals Leigh Tanner, VIVE Arts’ head of global partnerships. “It runs on a six-hour-long loop, from day through to night, so anyone who visits is unlikely to encounter the same part of the film twice.” Of Whales marks the first chapter of VIVE Arts’ collaboration with Tsang, with the company also set to translate the film into a VR experience. Alongside the mesmerizing Of Whales installation, Tsang also took over the gilded theatre Goldoni to give her accompanying film Moby Dick; Or, The Whale, its Venetian debut.
The silent, feature-length movie reinterprets Herman’s classic tale through a post-colonial lens, setting the story to the strains of a live orchestra with costumes by Telfar Clemens. Exploring the original’s rich symbolism and themes, which span race, labor, power, the environment, and beyond, Moby Dick; Or, The Whale is a deeply emotional journey aboard the Pequod, underpinned by an evocative and compelling love story – not just between protagonists Ishmael and Queequeg, but between the crew of the ill-fated ship. As Tsang confirms, however, this is not a ‘queer retelling’ of the novel: “Those things were always very obviously there,” she explains over the phone from her Venice hotel room. “We just brought them to the fore.” – Dazed 


Solo exhibition: Of Whales. Wu Tsang
Venue: Museo Nacional Thyssen-Bornemisza, Madrid
February 20, 2023 - June 11, 2023
Curator: Soledad Gutiérrez
Wu Tsang (born 1982 in Worcester, Massachusetts) is a filmmaker, artist and performer based in New York and Berlin, whose work is concerned with hidden histories, marginalized narratives, and the act of performing itself. In 2018, Tsang received the MacArthur "genius" grant.

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