For reNautilus, I focused on 1937, the year the Hill Building—now 21c Museum Hotel Durham—was completed. Keeping that Art Deco style in mind, as well as contemporary pop culture, I wondered what else happened in 1937. I found that 1) the Golden Gate Bridge, an engineering marvel reflecting the Art Deco aesthetic, was completed in that year; 2) the famous German airship, the Hindenburg, burst into flames in New Jersey killing 36 people, and 3) continued research brought me to an unexpected place: 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea, by Jules Verne. In 1937 Zdeněk Burian created illustrations for the new edition of the book first published in 1870. The illustrations are beautiful, sleek, and in my mind, firmly connected to the Art Deco aesthetic I see in the building, bridge, and in the zeppelin.
Beyond the similarities in shapes and construction, these objects, real and imagined, all share elements of travel, duality, and danger. At the time of its conception, the Nautilus (Captain Nemo’s submarine in the novel) reflected the latest technology and Verne’s unbridled fascination with deep sea exploration. It was also about the dangers of the unknown and the human desire to achieve what once was considered impossible. There were ever-present dangers and many lives lost during the construction of the Golden Gate Bridge; the Hindenburg, like the Nautilus, represented progress as well as opulence and arrogance.
One of my previous works, The Nautilus, was constructed from elements of a deconstructed piano. While dismantling the piano, a portion of the large metal plate suggested the arched back rib of the Nautilus, as depicted in Disney’s 1954 film. Curiosity led me to search for images of the Nautilus – rekindling fond childhood memories of seeing the film, riding the ride at Disney World, listening to the album version of the film, and finally reading the original book. It made me consider my personal connections to it. While making my own version of the Nautilus, I began to understand that each version of the story is tied both to the time it was created but also to when and where I first experienced them. Here I was, in 2014, cutting up a piano built in 1911 to create my version of an underwater ship that had been originally described in 1870, and reimagined countless times over the course of a century and a half.
reNautilus was a return to this previous inquiry and is, in itself, an examination of objects, materials, and pop culture, filtered through time and my own evolving perceptions. During the building process, I began to consider more traditional storefront installations and designs and worked to allude to some of those concepts. The video images are simple and constructed of photos and videos of girders and also old family home movies. While continuing to examine the primary references, incorporating additional ones, and evaluating my own history with them, I constructed, deconstructed, and reconstructed the elements until the resulting sculpture reflected the visual references and layers of memory I wanted to expose.
– Jeff Bell, Artist
ABOUT JEFF BELL
Jeff Bell is an artist living in Goldsboro, NC. He is the Executive Director of the Vollis Simpson Whirligig Park in Wilson, NC. Previously, he has worked at the Nasher Museum of Art at Duke University, CAM Raleigh, and 21c Museum Hotel Durham. He received his B.A. from UNC Wilmington in Art History and Studio Art and his M.F.A. from UNC Greensboro in Sculpture. Together with artist Warren Hicks, they created a visual arts podcast called Don’t You Lie To Me, which explores North Carolina artists. Bell’s sculptures have been exhibited across the state and region. He has two sons, Finnegan and Teague.