The ship, like the sea, is an ambiguous image.
The sea supports the weight of massive ships while constantly threatening to consume them in its depths.
Ships are made of great sheets of metal, and yet they glide across the ocean’s expanse. Their size gives them buoyancy, as their weight pulls them down, in a precarious balance. Ships are roving islands of security, yet they are always on the verge of becoming the darkest of tombs.
Kiefer replaces canvas with lead sheets in many of his pieces, his lines plumbing the depths of human history, his images drawn from the Bible, and Nazi Germany.
Whether in the myth of Noah’s ark or the brutal reality of Shoah, our memories are freighted with forces that would pull us under.
“Is life worth living when there is blindness, fear, war, torture, floods, famine, earthquakes, and prison? The question can only be answered case by case. But one question that is also an answer might be: “Do you have your helium ready?”
A sniff of helium and you speak like a cartoon chipmunk and are gone in fifteen minutes.
Or do you prefer hemlock? It is a member of the parsley family with spotted purple stems, split leaves, and umbrels of little white blossoms on it. You can turn it into a poisonous drink or use it to make paper.”
– Fanny Howe, The Winter Sun
Paper has its own weight, of course. The archive of history can be a shattering burden.
And yet, the ambiguity persists.
Lead ships ply the waves as easily as birds cut through the air.
Can our leaden wings lift us?
The very substance and weight of our past fashioned into limbs by which we rise?