Oh God thy sea is so great and my boat is so small.
— Breton Fisherman’s Prayer
The Breton Fisherman's Prayer
Oh God, thy sea is so great, and my boat is so small.
This sentence, of unknown provenance, is called The Breton Fisherman’s Prayer. Several variations exist, but this particular version was presented as a plaque to President John F. Kennedy by one of his nuclear submarine commanders. Kennedy kept it on his desk in the White House, where it sat throughout the 1962 Cuban Missile Crisis. It is easy to imagine that this sentiment resonated particularly well with the president as the world stood on the brink of nuclear war.
Every work presented in this exhibition can trace its lineage back to this message. Aside from its quiet poignancy of the sentiment, there are other reasons why this phrase works well as a point of origin for Telephone. There are numerous discrete subjects that can be tracked through the various threads of the project: Oh God, the sea, and boats, in addition to more abstract concepts like great, small, and mine/your (thy). We can trace each of these elements as they are passed through a multitude of art forms and interpretations to see how they evolve or disappear, or remain perfectly intact.
This message is also intended as a metaphor for Telephone process itself. This prayer is a small boat. It has been launched upon a great sea of music, painting, dance, film, prose, sculpture, drawing, poetry, photography, embroidery, prints, and other art forms that prove difficult to name. Very literally, this little boat has traveled thousands and thousands of miles over the face of the earth and through the inner landscapes of more than three hundred artists.