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Queequeg in Her Coffin

- a self portrait reacting to the character Queequeg in the infamous novel Moby-Dick, as well as my explorations as a young and curious person.

If you squint your eyes just right you will gradually see a full body plaster cast of me hanging on the wall of the Northern Kentucky University Fine Arts building. I apologize for the poor quality of the picture, and to compensate I will give a description of the piece.

This cast was made by wetting plaster strips and placing them over my entire form like you would for a broken arm or leg. I obviously couldn't do this by myself, Brad Muir was responsible for the majority of the casting. To avoid being stuck in the cast forever I wore old clothes and was covered in vaseline, so that once the cast was dry, all that needed to be done was cut me out of my clothes and lift. Actually, it was nowhere near that easy. I was in the cast for about an hour and a half, and had to take five showers to rid myself of the vaseline.

Why did I do this? I asked myself that question repeatedly as I was lying on the cold kitchen floor, the only bits of me remaining unplastered being my nostrils. This piece was for my final project in an Honors seminar emphasizing Moby-Dick and how it has influenced contemporary art. I am an art major, and felt art of my own would be a good way to express what I had learned from the semester-long course. During our trip to Chicago I saw a piece titled Queequeg's Coffin, one piece of a multimedia installation titled In Search of Moby Dick and the Tattoo Palace. Jerry Beck was the artist who made Queequeg's Coffin, a mammoth, arrow-shaped coffin that is decorated with passages from Moby-Dick. For those unfamiliar with the novel, or in need of a reminder, Queequeg was the beloved cannibal discernable by his strange tattoos covering his body. While on Captain Ahab's whaling ship Queequeg becomes very ill, and a coffin is created for him. He tries it out, making sure it fits and that he will rest peacefully. Queequeg then becomes cured and uses his former coffin as a sea-chest. He also inscribes the decorations found on his body onto the coffin lid, making a more permanent record of the markings. It is revealed that "...this tattooing, had been the work of a departed prophet and seer of his island, who, by those hieroglyphic marks, had written out on his body a complete theory of the heavens and the earth, and a mystical treatise on the art of attaining truth; so that Queequeg in his own proper person was a riddle to unfold..."

After viewing Jerry Beck's sculpture and becoming intrigued by Queequeg's story, I began considering my own theories of the heavens and earth, my own methods for attaining the truth, as well as my views regarding myself in my world. After creating the cast, which represents a shroud of sorts, I began writing on the head, arms, legs, chest - every spot possible. I copied poems my younger brothers had written, as well as other inspirations I had read by William Shakespeare, Dylan Thomas, and Shel Silverstein. Of course, there was quite a bit from Herman Melville as well. Then I began including my own experiences and reckonings with the world, mostly items from a journal I've kept since I began college. By 4:00 am, plaster and vaseline still in my hair, I felt I had recorded my theories and thoughts onto my own coffin lid.

This piece means a great deal to me. It contains some very personal items that explain me very well, I think, and I'm proud of it. I am not proud enough to stop with this first cast, however. I feel I've learned from creating the first, and I'd like to make improvements on the second.

One of the biggest improvements will be keeping vaseline out of my hair.

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