Current work in progress
Years ago I had considered asking my grandfather to teach me the boatbuilding trade so we could work on this ship together, after some deliberation I realised I would hate it, I would hate the humidity, the sweat, the blisters and splinters, the predetermined or formulaic. I build with poetics and metaphor and 16mm film and sound. The ship I am building over the next year (a thesis artwork) cannot be the same seafaring vessel as would come from my grandfather, Frank’s hands – his so pragmatic, mine so conceptual; both romantic. And so this work reflects on what unknown, undecided ship lay sleeping: its ribs my ribs, my agnosticism a gateway to its potential.
Agnosticism is described by the Mirriam Webster dictionary as:
1 : a person who holds the view that any ultimate reality (such as God) is unknown and probably unknowable
broadly : one who is not committed to believing in either the existence or the nonexistence of God or a god
2 : a person who is unwilling to commit to an opinion about something
It should be noted that this is only one definition. Other definitions are bound to theology; or include business, computing or tech hardware which are compatible across systems; some are concerned with the dichotomy between evidence or conviction; broader notions of belief expand to the sublime or the occult; or else social theory regarding secularism in epistemology, law, and governance “...secularism leaves room for many truths to co-exist, whereas religious worldviews require adherence to absolute and exclusive truth.” The term agnostic is, for me, understood as a subjective concern regarding the belief that ‘any ultimate reality’ is unknown and that the agnostic person has limited to no ability for ‘absolute and exclusive truth’ – however, they may remain engaged with the question. Paul Horwitz (Gorden Rosen Professor of Law, University of Alabama) argues for a new agnosticism, specifically in law regarding the separation of state and religion, that is an engaged and empathetic agnosticism:
“To summarize, the stance of the new agnostic is characterized by three main qualities. Her suspension of belief or non-belief is not indifferent to questions of religious truth, but deeply and intensely interested in exploring them. She is not closed off to religious belief or non-belief, but endlessly open and alive to its possibilities—its doubts, mysteries, and uncertainties. She does not seek to cultivate a neutral viewpoint, but attempts to get at the truth through the imaginative, empathetic adoption of a dizzying array of different viewpoints.”
Adapting this, I’d like to ask you to re-read the above quote again – but to replace ‘religious truth’ and ‘religious belief’ with ‘the ship’ instead.
And further: “The agnostic is provisionally committed to believing in neither the existence nor the nonexistence of God [the ship]. I say “provisionally” because the agnostic does not assume that her answer counts for all time”
I do not mean to consider the ship as an omnipotent God! I mean for us to strike the religious connotation from agnosticism and approach any conceived truth by being alive to the dizzying array of viewpoints and multiplicities that Frank’s ship embodies.
I am trying to understand if the ship I am building out of 16mm analogue film is the same wooden ship that my grandfather, Frank left unfinished. “To live to tell the tale of it”; I, his granddaughter want to finish this ship how I can: with film. For me, the ship is a physical object that embodies the only example of a rare, sustained devotion and romantic love that has existed in my family until death. Is the cinematic ship I’m building a spectral residue of what once existed? Or is it both the literal and metaphorical ship that my grandfather began - both coexisting or numerically doubled? Or is it the same ship as it persists through time?