In Western Japan, a bottle of champagne is smashed against the hull of a massive bulk cargo vessel, its path charted along the arch of the northern hemisphere: We follow its gentle glide through the lilac calm of the Japanese outer islands; a waive at the lights of Busan, the South Korean city along its charted path; the frigidity of the Aleutian Islands; a circular motion to avoid a mid-ocean monster; and lastly a cruise into Portland past the forests and factories on the Columbia River. On this maiden voyage across the Pacific, the vessel’s holds sit empty. One is in ballast to strengthen against heavy storms. A crew of twenty, plus four creative wanderers―including artist Cole Sternberg, who wrangled the quartet especially for this journey―anxiously steady themselves for weeks under swaying ground. It is within the context of this floating island that the work comprised of “The Nature of Breathing in Salt” emerges.
We find rainbows confronted by fluorescent hallways, black clouds fighting the setting sun, Sternberg’s paintings dragged in the sea, the glory of the unknown and unwelcoming greeting of the land. The imagery shifts in a bell curve of pleasant anxiety, mirrored by a narrative of Melville, Sternberg’s poetry and the dialogue of the crew. It is an experience that leaves one yearning for and sick of the sea. It is an art object more than just a book.
Sternberg’s practice of using the environment to tell its own story is apparent here. His practice ultimately results in the paintings and photography featured throughout this book. Works from this body of imagery have been exhibited extensively, and are in the permanent collections of the Los Angeles County Museum of Art and the Pérez Art Museum Miami, and the El Segundo Museum of Art, among others.