Wu Tsang: Moby Dick; or, The Whale

Film and orchestral piece

La Grande Halle

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Drawing on the aesthetic devices of silent films and accompanied live by the Zurich Chamber Orchestra (ZKO), Wu Tsang’s film and orchestral piece Moby Dick; or, The Whale transforms the literary classic story into an aesthetic investigation into racism and authority, cosmopolitanism and community, seduction and queer lifestyles.

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. 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 in silent film. The film was shot entirely on a sound-stage combining silent-era filmmaking techniques with Virtual Production, a virtual reality game engine projecting surreal ocean environments.

The story of Moby Dick chronicles the obsessive quest of Ahab, captain of a whaling ship who seeks revenge on a giant albino sperm whale that bit off his leg. It is a legend that everyone knows, but few people reflect on its significance today. The story is saturated with problems and reflections of its time—but also of our present. Tsang’s surreal adaptation recontextualizes this epic allegorical drama, exploring themes of labor and desire through a post-colonial lens.

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 CLR James. Exploring overlapping histories of industrialism, extractivism, colonialism, ecological and spiritual crisis, the film creates a multi-layered surreal filmic adaptation of the 1851 Novel.

The film features original orchestral music composed by Caroline Shaw and Andrew Yee with Asma Maroof. Costumes designed by TELFAR.

Moby Dick; or, The Whale is co-commissioned by the Schauspielhaus Zürich, LUMA Foundation, Superblue, TBA21–Academy, HARTWIG ART FOUNDATION, The Shed,  DE SINGEL and The Whitney Museum of American Art.

Practical infos:
: Wesnesday, July 6, Friday, July 8 and Saturday July 9
Event schedule: From 10:00 p.m. to 11:30 p.m.
Price: 10€ full price / 7€ reduced price

N.B. The film is in English.

Moby Dick; or, The Whale trailer

Wu Tsang

Wu Tsang is an award-winning filmmaker and visual artist. Tsang’s work crosses genres and disciplines, from narrative and documentary films to live performance and video installations. Tsang is a MacArthur 'Genius' Fellow, and her projects have been presented at museums, biennials, and film festivals internationally. Awards include 2016 Guggenheim Fellow (Film/Video), 2018 Hugo Boss Prize Nominee, Creative Capital, Rockefeller Foundation, Louis Comfort Tiffany Foundation, and Warhol Foundation. Tsang received her BFA (2004) from the Art Institute of Chicago (SAIC) and an MFA (2010) from University of California Los Angeles (UCLA). Currently Tsang works in residence at Schauspielhaus Zurich, as a director of theater with the collective Moved by the Motion.


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