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Reclaiming the Ground Note: Echoes from Broken Vessels
 
  Blue Dinghy
  Blue Dinghy
Photo: Judith Blankman

Crucible Steel Gallery, San Francisco, California 1999

Abandoned boats are not an uncommon sight around the Bay Area's waterways. They lay, castoff, along our shorelines, bleaching in the sun, awash with rain. I worked as part of a collaborating team of with composer, Marilyn Hudson, to see in derelict boats the possibility of rebirth into vessels of beautiful sound. We transformed our vision into reality, creating this installation and performance piece.

White Dinghy  

White Dinghy
Photo: Tommy Hicks

 

The installation featured four boats. Two 8-foot dinghies and a 12-foot sailboard have beenconverted into stringed instruments with piano wire and guitar strings. Fitted with rawhide frame drums and a bamboo "marimba", a canoe will double as a percussion instrument and an object for dragging across a gravel pile. From these unconventional musical materials, we witness a transformation of the discarded object into something of value. Apart from their sheer sculptural presence, the boats bring forth sound that ranges from the haunting and surreal to the twangy, folksiness of the slide guitar.

Tthe sound quality of these transformed castoffs combined well with their suitability as a metaphor for the project theme—abandonment and rebirth. This dual potential had kept us interested in the project for the five years that it took to gather our collection. We constructed a half-hour performance to dramatize the stages of abandonment, recovery and rebirth, revealing glimpses of the our autobiographical connection to the message of the piece—childhoods (and subsequent adulthoods) shaped by adoption, divorce, and the death of one or more parents. This universal theme resonated with many who came in contact with our work.

  Jeff and Mark play the Sailboard
  Jeff and Mark play the Sailboard
Photo: Tommy Hicks

Musicians Mark Alburger, Opie Bellas, Jeff Nathanson, Ralph Prince and others contributed instrumentally and vocally. Alburger, also a composer, lent his talents. The artists also invited audience members to participate at given intervals. The public was invited to play the boats.

The art world has witnessed a recent surge of interest in sound art and experimental instruments. The Crucible Steel exhibition came on the heels of the popular display of sound sculpture and experimental instruments currently at Yerba Buena Center for the Arts in San Francisco. The universality of sound combined with the unconventional approach of these instrument makers intrigues artists, musicians and the public alike as an art form honored by thousands of years of sound invention is reinterpreted into contemporary expression. In recent years, our boats have been included in group exhibitions around the Bay Area. San Francisco art critic Harry Roche observed the "stark, poetic quality of the Untitled (Dinghy Instrument)" as it appeared in Sinusoidal , a sound art exhibition co-curated by sound artist Ed Osborn and gallery director April Latregna at San Francisco State University's Cesar Chavez Student Union Art Gallery last spring. (Artweek, May 1999.

 

Peformance Night   Yarzheit Candle Ritual

Yarzheit Candle Ritual
Photo: Karl Seifert
  Yarzheit Candles after Ritual Lighting
Peformance Night
Photo: Karl Seifert
    Yarzheit Candles after Ritual Lighting
Photo: Karl Seifert
Dress Rehearsal

Dress Rehearsal
Photo: Tommy Hicks
    Water Shower (with Colander)
        Water Shower (with Colander)
Photo: Karl Seifert

 

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