BAIT/SWITCH PAINTING COLLABORATION
What is Bait/Switch?
The goal of Bait/Switch is to create an enormous body of work that spans time, space, and sensory experience. Our platform allows multiple artists to contribute to the same corpus, an ever-expanding chain of creative call and response.
Bait/Switch is inspired by art party games which are usually played by passing folded up pieces of paper around a table. These activities can be traced back to Victorian evening parlour games such as ‘Consequences’ and ‘Head, Body, and Legs’.
For my source material, I was sent a gorgeous, quite melancholic piece of writing (below) about working on a RO-RO (container ship). What really stood out to me was how the writing explored the sensation of living in such an extreme landscape in a quite factual, dry manner which left me thinking about how the author actually felt, trapped in an infinitely desolate, monumentally powerful and highly restrictive landscape. Under all the facts and physics that kept the writer ‘safe’ and alive, how did they actually feel? If you took away the crutch of the daily walk and the seemingly impossible science, what would be left? My portrait painting (oils on canvas) tries to capture how overwhelming existing in such an inaccessible space must feel; I used images of the boats and particularly the shipwrecks as inspiration for my use of colour and texture.
When I sailed on merchant ships I’d often find myself in the middle of the ocean. Which seems like a pretty peculiar thing to actually state because it’s not that big of deal to any modern day sailor to find themselves in the middle of the ocean.
The notion of “in the middle of the ocean” is the part I am trying to emphasize here. The ship that particularly comes in to memory for me was a big RO-RO vessel that carried BMWs and minicoopers from England and Germany to the East Coast of the United States. RO-RO stands for “Roll-on, Roll-off”--- it’s basically a big floating parking garage with a loading ramp that will lower when the ship gets to a dock, then like ants marching back and forth, the longshoreman would parade the cars on and off the ship. It was quite a site to see thousands of cars and people stomping back and forth, lashing the cars down, then piling on to a beat up pick-up truck or wood-wagon to go back to shore and drive more cars on the ship.
The reason I mention all of this is because a RO-RO vessel is different than most other ships in the merchant marine fleet these days. The bridge (where the captain and mates navigate the ship) is up forward along with the house (where everyone lives on the ship). I was an engineer, and the engine room is all the way aft on a RO-RO, so, unlike most ships, the engineers usually had to trek outside on deck to get to and from the engine room.
This walk was symbolic to me; it was kind of a mental prep right before going into battle with these gargantuan machines that kept an insanely large piece of steel floating and moving across insane conditions that one encounters in the middle of the ocean.
The ship itself is essentially a huge hunk of steel. Now, I know the physics behind why some things float and why some things sink. It’s purely a solution one can deduce from modern physics and mathematics. It should make sense. But it’s one of those things that makes perfect sense on paper, but when you see it in action, it’s a thing of majesty and mystery. When you are looking at a ship that weighs thousands of tons, it’s hard to just sum up, “Right but at least it doesn’t weigh more than the weight of the water it is displacing...amiright?!” The fact that a ship can float is rad.
The diesel engine on a ship this big is a huge slow-speed internal combustion engine. The engine in your car operates similarly, it is probably a 4-8 cylinder engine that spins at very high speeds. To put it in perspective, your whole car could fit in one of the cylinders of this ship’s engine. The auxiliary machinery (like the oil system, fuel tanks, and electricity) that surround the engine and make it spin properly take up the major portion of the aft end of the ship. The fact that a ship can sail across the ocean safely through storms and rough seas is REALLY rad.
Lastly, the daily walk to and from the engine room from my cabin gave me time to think about all of this. (When you are on a ship in the that takes two weeks to sail across the Atlantic ocean and only receives emails twice a week, you have time to think about a lot.) I’d often make time before or after work to sit on a ventilation pipe and soak in a 360-degree panoramic view of nothing but blue. Endless views of blue water and blue skies. These views would be here, even if my ship were not. The amount of blue, couple with the knowledge that I was sitting on a steel box in the middle of the ocean overwhelmed me sometimes. To describe it with words like “vast,” “immense,” “sweeping,” or “immeasurable” wouldn’t really give an accurate description of how insanely small I felt looking all around me. The blue represented this insanely vast part of the world that was once unable to be explored. Once it became explorable, it took hundreds of men to man a ship the size of the one I was on; and it took 2-3 months to cross the same body of water. Now, I sit on top of a huge machine in a box floating across the water with enough free time in between my watch duty to think about ideas like this; and I think that is REALLY REALLY rad.
The “blue” unexplored parts of my life have since changed, but the notion hasn’t.