Stories Without Words: Samuel Pabon’s Pressure Cooker

Looking through the final art and writing decisions of Élan is never a disappointment. There are always a couple pieces I am surprised by; maybe I didn’t pay much attention to them through the first selection process, but in their new context of the surrounding stories, they make perfect. Then there are the pieces I knew would be selected from the moment I first laid my eyes on them. The selection process is always tough, as we receive mountains of submissions from talented artists and writers, and we cannot include it all in the book. But from the moment I saw Samuel Pabon’s Pressure Cooker, I knew this piece would rise above the rest.

Even the name of the piece invites speculation into the emotions of the subject. Yes, “cooker” could be a literal reference to the apparent heat the subject is surrounded by. But the subject of the piece is interesting because it invites a host of questions that a literal interpretation fails to answer—why is the figure holding a bag over his head? And why does he appear so serene in the face of so much heat and force? The composition pulls the viewer forward, as the steam surrounding the subject is portrayed in less detail than the facial expression of the boy with a bag over his head, as if the focus is not on the steam, or even the bag at all, but the emotional content under the surface. These questions force the viewer to consider the situation from the subject’s perspective.

For me, the emotions of the subject registered on a personal level for me. I have a habit of taking on too many tasks in too short a time to complete them all. I call it work ethic, or perfectionism, or just being a workaholic—and, when I manage to complete all of my tasks, the pressure taken off my shoulders feels wonderful. But leading up to this catharsis, I put myself under increasing pressure, trying to live up to my own expectations of myself, failing to care for my personal needs, all with the goal of getting my work done to the best quality I can manage. The catharsis when I do complete everything is remarkable, but it creates a legacy of self-sabotage.

When I look at Pressure Cooker, I see the same self-sabotage. The bag over the head and the serene facial expression is not unlike my own serenity in ruining my personal life for the sake of productivity. Under heat and force, diamonds are made—but so is oil and hot tar, compressed from the bodies of living things. Pressure Cooker is a warning that, if we do not reexamine the situations we put ourselves in, we will put ourselves through unnecessary suffering.

Every piece in Élan’s Spring Edition tells a story, and this is the reason why I am so proud of this issue—reading through the book, noticing how the art expands on the stories of the writing themselves, is an emotional experience like few others.

Noland Blain, Senior Managing Editor