A Whale of a Maze - 27 East

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A Whale of a Maze

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Leviathan solar plate etching by Scott Bluedorn.

Leviathan solar plate etching by Scott Bluedorn.

An aerial view of Scott Bluedorn's

An aerial view of Scott Bluedorn's "Leviarinth." COURTESY OF THE ARTIST

A rendering of Scott Bluedorn's

A rendering of Scott Bluedorn's "Leviarinth." COURTESY OF THE ARTIST

She Blows monprint by Scott Bluedorn.

She Blows monprint by Scott Bluedorn.

Whale Vapors ink and mirror pigment on wood skate deck by Scott Bluedorn

Whale Vapors ink and mirror pigment on wood skate deck by Scott Bluedorn

Caitlyn Foley on May 31, 2023

Born on the East End, artist Scott Bluedorn has always been fascinated by the ocean and its sea creatures, especially whales.

Bluedorn uses whales, and the folklore that surrounds them, as subjects of his art. In a recent interview, he explained that he likes to think of whales more as animal spirits than physical creatures. When reflecting on his experience living in East Hampton, Bluedorn considered the relationship between human beings and nature.

“We have the ocean, bay and forest, so I feel like I have always been immersed in the natural world and how we were changing the natural world through development and pollution,” Bluedorn said. “Civilization collides with the natural world, which results in huge issues like climate change and how we alter the environment.”

Like many of us, Bluedorn recognizes that the relationship between civilization and the natural world is filled with friction. He added that as he became more interested in activist topics, he found artistic inspiration in this conflict. As a result, Bluedorn uses found objects in his work — including plastic, debris and discarded fishing gear left on the beach. Using these items in his work removes them from the environment where they can devastate the underwater natural world and harm sea creatures — like whales.

The plastic pollution and gear used by fishermen is an integral part of Bluedorn’s works. He draws from nature through observation, but also incorporates elements of surrealism and a psychological aspect in looking at the relationship that humans have with nature. Bluedorn said though human beings attempt to claim the natural world as their own, novels like “Moby-Dick” reveal that the natural world is wild and powerful, and cannot be dominated.

“In terms of what the story is, it is this epic of man versus nature, which is a big theme in my work,” Bluedorn explained.

And Herman Melville’s classic novel figures prominently in Bluedorn’s upcoming art installation, which he will create on the front lawn of the Old Whalers’ (First Presbyterian) Church in Sag Harbor early next week. Titled “Leviarinth,” the piece is a whale-shaped labyrinth that is being created to coincide with the annual “Moby-Dick” Marathon, which is being presented by Canio’s Cultural Cafe in Sag Harbor. From June 9 to 10, the book will be read aloud at various locations throughout Sag Harbor by volunteer readers. Among those taking part will be famed actor Harris Yulin, who will appear at the Old Whalers’ Church on Friday evening to read as Fr. Mapple delivering his fiery sermon from the pulpit, in the novel. Members of the Choral Society of the Hamptons will also be on hand at the church to add a musical element to the scene.

And on the lawn in front of the church will be Bluedorn’s “Leviarinth,” a whale-shaped meditative piece that invites guests to contemplate their relationship with the natural world. Bluedorn explains that the title of the work combines two terms — the first being “leviathan,” which appears in the Bible to refer to an evil sea monster. Leviathan has also been used to refer to large aquatic creatures, especially whales. The second term is “labyrinth,” and Bluedorn explained that a labyrinth’s purpose is to guide a person to a certain place, unlike a maze which is meant to confuse people. Bluedorn views his “Leviarinth” as a device for thinking about the whale itself, the harm that human beings have caused them and how humans can treat whales better in the future. In addition to the installation on the church lawn, several of Bluedorn’s framed artworks will be on view at Canio’s Books in “Leviathans: Meditations on the Whale,” an exhibition which opens June 3.

After reading “Moby-Dick” for the first time in high school, the mention of Sag Harbor and the real-life events that inspired the novel intrigued Bluedorn. When considering the upcoming “Moby-Dick” Marathon at Canio’s, he noted the importance of reading the book aloud, adding that the format makes the novel feel more like a “living thing” rather than a relic from the past. He added that the marathon brings the novel back to the forefront of reality and those who are living now, which is where a world-encompassing book like “Moby-Dick” belongs.

Bluedorn’s “Leviarinth” was originally a proposal for a monument on the island of South Georgia off the coast of Argentina that would memorialize the slaughter of millions of blue whales in those oceans. Although his proposal was not chosen for this specific monument, Bluedorn liked the design so much that he wanted to have it realized somewhere. Bluedorn mentioned his “Leviarinth” design in discussions of his art show with Canio’s co-owner Kathryn Szoka, and she felt that the “Moby-Dick” Marathon would be the perfect time for this whale-inspired work to be publicly installed in Sag Harbor.

“Scott is the rare artist who combines exceptional artistic talent with an original, offbeat imagination. He creates thoughtful, compelling works of art that are visually arresting to look at,” said Szoka, who added that the Old Whalers’ Church lawn is an ideal location for this public installation. She noted that the slight incline of the property will allow for people to see the “Leviarinth” from the street while also being able to safely walk it.

Bluedorn added to the significance of this location, noting that many whalers from the time of “Moby-Dick” and the height of the whaling era in Sag Harbor would have belonged to the Old Whalers’ Church, which opened its doors in 1844. In fact, they also helped to finance its construction. Bluedorn noted that this installation felt like the closing of a chapter and that his art might be an opportunity for people to think about whales in a different way.

As Ishmael himself says in “Moby-Dick,” “Yes, as every one knows, meditation and water are wedded for ever.”

Scott Bluedorn’s “Leviarinth,” will be on display outside the Old Whalers’ (First Presbyterian) Church, 44 East Union Street, Sag Harbor, from Monday, June 5, to Saturday, June 10. On Thursday, June 8, at 5 p.m. Bluedorn will take part in an informal discussion about the installation at the church. On Saturday, June 3, from 5 to 7 p.m. Canio’s Books, 290 Main Street, Sag Harbor, hosts a reception for Bluedorn’s art exhibition “Leviathans: Meditations on The Whale,” with music by Hugh Brown & Friends. The exhibition will remain on view through June 25. On Friday, June 2, at 6 p.m. Canio’s hosts a premarathon talk on the “Art and Craft of Tattoos” with author June Gervais and special guest tattoo artist Marvin Moskowitz. Get your own temporary tattoo. For more information on the marathon and all Canio’s events, visit caniosbooks.com.

“Moby-Dick” Marathon schedule:

Friday, June 9: 12:30 to 2:30 p.m. Canio’s Books, 290 Main Street; 3 to 5:30 p.m. Old Whalers’ Church, 44 East Union Street (Harris Yulin as Fr. Mapple and Choral Society of the Hamptons); 6 to 10 p.m. The Church, 48 Madison Street, (staged reading of “Sailors’ Play” directed by Kate Mueth).

Saturday, June 10: 10 a.m. to 1:45 p.m. John Jermain Memorial Library, 201 Main Street; 2 to 4:45 p.m. Sag Harbor Whaling Museum, 200 Main Street; 5 to 10 p.m. Canio’s Books, 290 Main Street.

Sunday, June 11: 10:30 a.m. to 12:45 p.m. Eastville Community Historical Society, 139 Hampton Street; 1 to 5 p.m. Canio’s Books, 290 Main Street; 5 p.m. Canio’s Books “Lawn After Party” with silent auction, sea shanties, knot tying demonstrations and more. To emphasize the book’s international appeal, marathon organizers are gathering diverse voices to read short passages in German, Spanish, Portuguese, Turkish, Italian and more.

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