Thursday, August 21, 2008

Swimming Cities of Switchback Sea

(somehow I forgot my camera) so Photo: Nathaniel Brooks for The New York Times

Last Friday, a group of artists set off on a voyage down the Hudson on makeshift boats built from recycled materials.
I had the good fortune of traveling up to Troy, New York, the site of the build, to deliver forgotten lighting equipment to my friend Ava Berkofsky. Ava is a cinematographer working on a film by Todd Chandler titled FLOOD.

Ava's stills (just above) are here
The film is based loosely around a few characters on the float (members of the band, Dark Dark Dark).

The project, “Swimming Cities of Switchback Sea” was developed by street artist Swoon, as a floating communal artwork to begin in Troy and to end at the Dietch Projects in Long Island City, Queens.The project is in collaboration with musician Sxip Shirey, showman Chicken John Rinaldi, artist collective Kinetic Steam Works, the band Dark Dark Dark and playwright Lisa D’Amour.

As I arrived on site, I became immediately aware of the incredible amount of work involved in such an endeavor. The long yard of a gutted house was teaming with people moving in every direction, piling scraps, making lunch (which, at one point consisted of chocolate pudding with rice), or readying the eccentric looking boats (there are 7) for the long journey.

The river stunk in that dank, muddy, rotten, comforting way a river has of stinking.
I tried to stay out of the way, sitting in the grass, picking apart pistachios and reading William Gass’s In the Heart of the Heart of the Country, a strangely appropriate book in its disturbing American landscapes and rumbling bucolic language.

One thing I could not help but notice, was how obvious everyone was in their "hobo-hipster-hippie-chic" outfits and hairdos i.e. seemingly filthy makeshift clothes, mismatching stripped tights and whatnot, long beards, dirty boots, sleeveless earthy T’s and interesting head scarves. What is meant to look apocalyptic ends up looking a little too much like an elaborate add for Urban Outfitters or the future aesthetic for Gap clothing.
Truthfully, I more or less fit right in.

The sun went down and the generators sputtered on lighting the boats as people gathered to rehearse the performance, which is scheduled to occur in several towns along the river.
I sat with my friends on folding chairs killing mosquitoes as Ms. D’Amour announced directions through a megaphone.

The play itself is a curious circus of maritime monologues about the end of things as we know them and the communal lives of the river people as told from differing perspectives. It has the stark allegory of Lord of the Flies, the whimsical characters of the Lost Boys in Peter Pan and the sometimes-gritty reality of Herzog’s Aguirre the Wrath of God (mostly in that, they really are traveling down a river on rafts of junk).
The play may be a bit monologue heavy but the music keeps it interesting.

This weekend I will be meeting up with the crew again further down the river in Beacon New York, to take photos of my own.

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