Fat Chance is a recent installation and film project with Jeanne C. Finley with original sound score and narration by Pamela Z and an offshoot of an earlier project, Whistle+Shipwreck, developed by Mel Day at Headlands Center for the Arts in 2005. Descriptions and links to these various projects can be found below.

Fat Chance installation at Headlands Center for the Arts Gym (Photo credit: Lina Vezzani-Katano)
Fat Chance, Headlands Center for the Arts (Gym installation), By Mel Day and Jeanne C. Finley with original sound score and narration by Pamela Z

Fat Chance at Rodeo Beach, June 2005 (Mel Day)

View Fat Chance fine cut film clip

Early one morning in 2005, during an artist’s residency at the Headands Center for the Arts, Mel Day discovered a sailboat named Fat Chance stranded on the beach and filmed the waves washing up over the mysterious boat. Later that night, she told fellow resident Jeanne Finley what she had discovered and Jeanne went down the next morning and caught the salvage operation on film. The two artists parted ways and in the meantime Mel paired her footage of the sailboat with the layered whistling of a hymn and found a blog uncovering the details of the tragic event. This single-channel installation and short film, Whistle + Shipwreck, was developed alongside a series of Shipwreck-less paintings—with the blog hidden inside the paintings and installed with the film work. 

Five years later, Mel invited media artist Jeanne and performance artist Pamela Z to collaborate on a two-channel installation and film piece based on their shared footage. This collaborative work by Mel and Jeanne with an original sound score and narration by Pamela Z was developed with the support of an Alumni New Works Award from the Headlands Center for the Arts in 2012.  

Mel’s Whistle + Shipwreck and the Shipwreck-less paintings were exhibited at the Project Space, Headlands Center for the Arts and Spur Projects, Portola Valley (2006) and at Peak Gallery, Toronto in 2007. The collaborative version of Fat Chance by Day, Finley, and Pamela Z was installed as a work-in-progress at the Gym (two-channel installation), and at the Open House (film), Headlands Center for the Arts, in 2012. An additional film version incorporating an interview with the crew is being developed by Jeanne C. Finley in collaboration with Mel Day, with narration and an original sound score by Pamela Z. 

All these works were developed in honor of the Fat Chance crew.


Globe and Mail Review: Melissa Day at Peak Gallery
Saturday, January 06, 2007 by Gary Michael Dault

Melissa Day’s beautiful exhibition Certain Insecurity is a mystery wrapped in an enigma and further bound by an aching, haunting poignancy that is both distressing and ennobling. The exhibition is built around the video work Whistle and Shipwreck, a split-screen projection. On the left screen, a wrecked sailboat (named Fat Chance) sits crumpled on the beach, the surf pounding in all around it, while, on the right screen, a young woman (Day’s sister) whistles a familiar hymn (Great Is Thy Faithfulness). The juxtaposition of the now derelict boat and the halting, imperfect whistling –a kind of benediction borne on the wind — is remarkably moving. And it gets even more moving to learn that Day, who now lives in San Francisco, had planned to write the words “Save Me” in the sand, in the course of walking one morning on California’s Rodeo Beach in the Marin Headlands, only to come upon the wreck instead. And it was only after her bringing the two sequences together (the wrecked sailboat and the whistling), that she discovered a blog on the Internet (now available in the gallery) that outlines, in painful detail, the circumstances of a tragedy (a 15-year-old boy on a sea journey with his dad had been swept overboard and drowned only a few hours before Day’s walk on the beach).

The rest of this thoughtful and blessedly unsentimental exhibition is made up of paintings, or, more accurately, of digital-pigment prints overpainted with oils, one of which shows the Golden Gate bridge (almost an incarnation, for Day, of “certain insecurity”), which Day has almost entirely painted out, leaving only a sort of visual murmur of its soaring piers and, in the foreground, of its reflection. Another painting/print, Shipwreck, is also a large photograph of the doomed Fat Chance lying on its side but, as with the Golden Gate, almost entirely painted out, so that only a ghostly mast and a watery reflection on the beach remain: the image as recollection merely.

Shipwreck-less, digital pigment print and oil paint on canvas, 3 x 5', 2007

Mel Day, Shipwreck-less, digital pigment print and oil paint on canvas, 3 x 5′, 2007 (Installation View, Peak Gallery, 2007)