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Live Arts | Wu Tsang: MOBY DICK; or, The Whale
In MOBY DICK; or, The Whale, award-winning filmmaker and visual artist Wu Tsang embarks upon a feature-length, silent-film telling of Herman Melville’s great American novel. The film features original orchestral music composed by Caroline Shaw and Andrew Yee with Asma Maroof, which is performed live by the Chicago Sinfonietta.
This adaptation, written by Sophia Al Maria and directed by Tsang, follows the white whale above and below the surface of the water, developing a visual cosmology that resists the exploration and exploitation of the earth under imperial colonialism. Tsang’s approach pairs the classic story of the whaler’s ”floating factory” with the beginnings of the film industry. MOBY DICK; or, The Whale was shot entirely on a soundstage combining silent-era filmmaking techniques with Virtual Production, a virtual reality game engine projecting surreal ocean environments.
The narrative is interwoven with extracts by the Sub-Sub-Librarian, a character played by acclaimed poet Fred Moten, and tackles the novel’s subterranean currents, encountering the resistance of the ship’s hydrarchy, or organizational structure, and collectives of “mariners, renegades, and castaways,” as described by historian C.L.R. James. Exploring overlapping histories of industrialism, extractivism, colonialism, ecological and spiritual crisis, the film creates a multilayered surreal filmic adaptation of the 1851 novel.
The MCA’s presentation of MOBY DICK; or, The Whale is organized by Nolan Jimbo, Assistant Curator.