Amelia Earhart buffs might be surprised to learn that the remains of her aircraft, widely reported to have gone down off Howland Island in the South Pacific, made it all the way across the Pacific Ocean to the Santa Monica Bay, where it was only recently rediscovered and successfully raised from the ocean floor by the artist Dan Van Clapp. His evidence is currently on improbable display at Future Studio Gallery in Highland Park.
All images courtesy Future Studio Gallery
Seriously, you'll be astonished by the verisimilitude of the artist's recreation, not only of the cockpit and a large part of the fuselage of the Lockheed Electra 10 E that Earhart was flying on the final, fateful leg of her global circumnavigation attempt, but also various severed pieces of the plane and other memorabilia--headset, helmet...
... a sodden logbook, and so on. It's a tour de force of deceptive ingenuity and legerdemain. You'd swear the tire is made of actual decomposing rubber...
... the fuselage and the visible remaining engine parts of metal. No. It's all illusion, crafted with enough skill to fool both eye and mind. You go up really, really close and you still can't tell that this torn metal fragment is actually a piece of paper.
Von Clapp's installation intrigues the viewer at a variety of levels. The artist teases us optically, of course, but also challenges the obsession with mystery and celebrity that drives the unending search for Earhart's plane. He plays with questions of historical truth and our perception of reality, the way we view, and reconstruct our history, and bestow mythic stature on our heroes. In the absurdist tradition, he seamlessly blends tragedy and sly humor; we can't help but smile at his trickery. His meticulous reconstruction is also an act of love, an homage to the woman whose feisty and indomitable courage is a reminder that the spirit of adventure and the embrace of danger are not the exclusive territory of men.
It's a remarkable achievement, and one that merits the trek to a less-than-familiar part of town. We art folk tend to travel familiar paths, and too often miss what calls out to be seen. We tend to look for the familiar names, and tend to pass over the ones that are less familiar or unknown to us. Too bad. We're the losers for it.
Meantime, kudos to Dan Van Clapp for a show that shouldn't be missed. I'm only surprised that he didn't create the famous aviator's earthly remains. But perhaps that's something best left to the imagination.