Made between 1988 and 1992 in Captiva Island, Florida, the Borealis works are considered some of Robert Rauschenberg’s most experimental and innovative. Throughout the series, he used photographs taken during his travels for the Rauschenberg Overseas Culture Interchange (ROCI) project from 1984–1991, which he silkscreened onto brass, copper and bronze plates. He added tarnishing agents which produced chemical reactions on the surface and altered the perception of the motifs. The title of the series alludes to the aurora borealis (or Northern Lights), which appears in high latitudes near the geomagnetic pole as a diffuse glow of luminous arcs, streaks and curtains of colour in the night sky.
To create H2 Sitting Duck (1991), the artist used his photographs of a fire engine in Miami in 1987 and a duck in Malaysia, taken in 1989 during his ROCI tour. The waddling duck is reproduced in triplicate across the top register of the work where the tonal values of its dark plumage are inverted, becoming ghostly outlines against the marbled effect of a broad swathe of tarnish agent. The ‘H2’ in the work’s title is taken from the side of the fire engine, while the horizontal ladder forms an axis that leads the eye across the work. The artist often used images of vehicles in his works, with their implied forward momentum recalling the Futurists’ preoccupation with speed and motion. Here, the speed of a fire engine rushing towards a burning building is perhaps gently parodied by the slow progress of the ducks.
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