This is an archive of the ArtCat Zine, 2007-2009. Please visit our new project, IDIOM.

Pirates, Punks and the People who love them

Three of the seven vessels. Via jag9889's flickr stream.
Three of the seven vessels. Via jag9889's flickr stream.

Swimming Cities of Switchback Sea
Deitch Projects, Long Island City - 4-40 44th Drive, Long Island City NY
7 September - 19 October 2008

Watching the seven boats of the Switchback Sea crew pull up at Deitch Studios was spectacular. We waited as a marching band played their punk rock take on songs of wayward ships and seafaring adventures. The impressive constructions were part of a flotilla of seven ships, each one hand made, impeccably decorated with sundry metal parts, junkyard salvaged goods, cardboard cut-outs and a massive dose of enthusiasm from its devoted crew. This first ship that pulled up was the steamboat, a beautiful vintage vessel intricately decorated and engineered by a skilled crew from San Franciso with a gassifyer that burns wood or coffee. Next came the rafts, each fantastically adorned with all salvaged parts, wheat pastes and screen prints, with a motley group of punk pirates who all contributed to the project and lived on the boats for two months.

The Swimming Cities of the Switchback Sea are exactly what the name suggests, veritable city-like vessels that float down the Hudson river as an art project that culminated at Deitch Studios with a play by Lisa D'Amour about the mysteries, whims and creations that a life at sea can reveal. This junkyard caravan carried the crew of artists, musicians, engineers, cooks and lucky groupies in a punk rock summer camp for older kids, mostly in their 20s and 30s, for a dream trip. So taken aback by the visual spectacle of the floticalla, some concerned citizen on the Staten Island Ferry allegedly called the police, thinking, perhaps not so erroneously, that the crew were pirates. There was even a baby on board who took his first step across one of the vessel's decks, walking on water in the most memorable of circumstances. Besides pirate planks, ferris-wheels, chairs, swings, appliances, resounding musical instruments, tattood skinny punk boys with extremely tight pants, feathers, and ornate costumes, Swoon's installation at the gallery was another deftly clever meander through a dark and undgeground city replete with its own characters. Her wheat-pasted, cut out portraits are giant; they loom atop sculptural formations made with discarded furniture, ropes, painted boards and doors and even a gilded corner replete with random items stacked, tied and assembled and then spray painted gold. Together with the seven vessels of the flotilla, Swoon has created a magical place that uses sculpture as a performance space, combining the installation and performance with an accessible platform for other artists to collaborate, musicians to play, playwrights to produce and spectators to watch and partake in the creation as it happens.

Swoon's floating art project might well be a direct descendant of the Miss Rockaway Armada rafts that sailed down the Mississippi river for the past two summers. The Miss Rockaway was largely an idealistic experiment in communal living where crew members dumpster dove for food, lived on the kindness of strangers in every city and town they would visit and made collective decisions on all matters concerning the journey. Each visited town became a carnival of music, artists, free silk-screening workshops, acrobats, dancers, and general festival-like celebrations of life through art. With no set goals of pre-planned destinations, the crew lived at sea for several months, changing and evolving across the way. Switchback Sea, however, was more explicitly an art project; enlisting the help of seventy-five plus volunteers, Swoon realized her vision with a visual cornucopia of crazy elements whose size and marks of craft bear the sign of a love's labor. The Miss Rockaway Armada is currently stationed at the Mass MoCA in North Adams, MA and will be there on view until March 19, 2009. While the future of the Swimming Cities is not confirmed, the crew may head to Venice next year. While these intrepid vessels may not be equipped to cross the Atlantic, perhaps the crew will develop a flying element, adding a whole other dimension to the scope and scale of the project.