words and art by w a l t e r w s m i t h

experiment: miles ahead | video art – short story


There are times when I have a visual dream—in the waking, a collage of kinetic images. And as painful as it may sometimes be, I can but only love…living my art—finding fuel for it in the most unlikely places.


“And lots of it,” interjects First Mate, Jordan Le Blanc.

From below deck, I can hear the above conversation about the trials and tribulations of life at sea. Rasheed, Captain Louis Kirkland, and First Mate Jordan Le Blanc are examining and discussing the rigging on Voyager, an authentic replica of a 19th century gaff-rigged packet schooner. Earlier, Rasheed had been terribly excited after having taken the helm for more than twenty nautical miles. He had come rushing down from his watch shouting….

“I was one with the sea and it was overwhelming! I felt the pulsating power right in my hands!”

He then concluded by repeatedly saying, “Damn that was nice, that was nice!!”

I was quietly impressed, and had nodded my head in approval. That was around 11 a.m. on this, our second day of the voyage. I hadn’t yet taken a trick at the helm. Because I was feeling a little intimated. Instead, I spent some time with the navigation officer learning how to judge winds and currents, and chart Voyager’s course. Our plans are to do three nights and two days aboard the Voyager before heading to Cape Cod and Nantucket. I need this vacation. My personal life is on hold, work is stressful, and my art needs experiences to cultivate inspiration. Rasheed is feeling better, although he still refuses to dine on anything strictly vegetarian. I brought along my JVC HD video camera and Sony laptop. I hope to capture on video, the minimal motion and ambiance of the ocean. I intend to accomplish this by setting up the video camera yards from the shore, on the crest of a dune, leaving the camera stationary. And as John Cage the avant-garde artist and composer, would see it; art by random chance and whatever comes within the scope of the lens. Later I will edit the film down to just under an hour, overlay with images of my paintings, add ambient music, and call it “Oceans of Art.” I am installing this video piece in the vault of the Bank Club located in downtown Philadelphia, with the intention of transforming it into a chill-out lounge space for weary party goers, hipsters, and beak nicks. We left the picturesque town of Mystic, Connecticut just after sunrise yesterday. It was a golden morning and a beautiful start to the day. We sailed the majestic vessel throughout the morning, and afternoon before stopping for a short visit at Block Island. I’ve always been mesmerized by seascapes and landscapes. Drawn to their spiritual vastness, I sometimes find (if it’s a good day) revelation and beauty, hidden … deep inside the soul. When transfixed by such a mysterious place—we question its magnitude. In-turn, we find our very own inadequacies. Usually if I attempt to elevate myself, with pride, by thinking: I can do this … or I can do that … or perhaps … I. Whatever the thoughts may be, I always then, see myself as being very small. Last night our anchored port-of-call was Sag Harbor at which our superb chef prepared steamed lobsters, fresh vegetables and freshly baked pies. Tonight our port-of-call will be Newport–another coastal town rich in nautical history.

“Hello down there.”

The voice interrupting my chain of thought belonged to the distinguished Captain Louis Merchant Kirkland, a tall, white-bearded French Canadian. I found him to be charming and his sense of humor timely. As was his command of the ship. I’m sure he had come to remind me that it was almost time for my watch at the helm.

“Yes Sir!” I replied.

“No need to be so formal my enigmatic friend,” he said with a smile and a gesture for me to remain seated.

“Thank you sir,” I answered.

“You prefer … solitude before company?”

“Well … yes. Is it that apparent?” I asked with a sense of anxiety.

“Unlike your friend Rasheed, you haven’t spent much time with the crew. Is everything okay?”

“No, everything is not okay, I thought to myself. Damn fool that I am—some things never change … like the things created by unwanted experiences and obsession.

“I’m doing fine; I just have a lot of memories on my mind.”

I lied. I really can’t go on like this (too much emotional feeding and Bluefish can be a bad thing (it can be like a school of Swordfish in the side)). But if this is who I am–to think the thoughts that I am thinking? Then redemption and resolution—is to know, that although some loves drown in the embryonic pool of innocence (never swimming its full length)—they are loves just the same.

“Yes … memories, romantic ones I am sure,” said Captain Kirkland, aspirated—his chest heaving. “All the miles of memories that sail on the hearts and minds of men at sea—for the love of their women. There are many adventures one can experience at sea—a litany of memories in which to fill a lifetime of recitals. Let me tell you a few folktales. Starting with the moral certainty of them all…”

“Life on the oceans of the world is sustained by the luck of the draw–same as on land. At times it is called, (in recent history) the ‘American Dream’–the need to discover, possess and to be miles ahead. We find ourselves by looking beyond the impending realization, (everything but the girl)—reaching for it with fervent desperation. At other times it is a sighting too late, and the course not taken. Drifting for what seems like the duration of timelessness on the empty sea of lost love. For centuries man has sailed the seven seas and oceans of the world—in search of…”

He paused, smiled and then continued, “A couple of good stories to tell young seafarers.”

7 responses

  1. Brilliant Walter

    March 6, 2013 at 6:43 am

    • Thanks LG. I am working through each new video as a learning process.

      March 19, 2013 at 4:21 am

  2. Nice post of video art! Sharing Kim’s work.. http://wp.me/p3bwN9-2d

    March 14, 2013 at 8:04 am

    • Gwen, I’ve just returned from viewing the video and performance work of Kimsooja. What a wonderful woman. I love what she is doing. Thanks for sharing.

      March 19, 2013 at 4:50 am

  3. I love the prose…lost love is a moving…a deep emotional pull like the ocean water itself. I enjoyed the video as well, although, I had a hard time hearing the narration over the sound effects, so I feel like much of its meaning and message was lost to me until I replayed it and realized that you were reciting the last part of your prose. Much stated there about our culture, and choices as a society and as individuals.

    March 18, 2013 at 3:03 pm

    • Thanks Sheila, for taking the time to read and view the piece. I am glad you enjoyed it and saw the connection between the theme of water and ocean with the sense of lost. I wrote the piece back in 1994 with a some updates since then. It is one of a collection of short stories. The video making is in the experimental phase. I am exploring new effects, transitions, clips and audio mixing etc. The voice over was a first for me. I’ve always thought that I did not have a very good recording voice. I need to practice working on that. Oh … to be a poet, and a performance artist.

      March 19, 2013 at 4:07 am

      • your voice is fine for reading…when you are mixing your audio files, its volume just needs to be louder than the other sounds so we can more easily hear what you are saying.

        March 28, 2013 at 2:26 pm

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