North Adams Transcript

September 2, 2011

'Art Pirates' come to Port at Mass MoCA

John Seven, North Adams Transcript

NORTH ADAMS - Dylan Gauthier and the collective Mare Liberum are a bit like art pirates, building boats from scrap and reclaiming the waters around New York City as useful public art space.

Gauthier will team with fellow collective members Ben Cohen and Stephan von Meuhlin, as well as another boat-building artist, Kendra Sullivan, for a one-day workshop - "All Hands On Deck" - on Friday, Sept. 9, as part of The Bureau For Open Culture project that has been housed at Mass MoCA for the summer as part of "The Workers" show. The crew will be on site from Thursday through Sunday.

Gauthier's hope is for a communal experience in boatbuilding that will bring people together to create and, hopefully, pass along the experience, as well as the fruits of it.

Mare Liberum is based in the Gowanus area in Brooklyn and specializes in maritime and boat-themed art projects. The group tries to get together annually and craft a new boat shape each time, built from whatever scrap material is available. Their intention was to forge some sort of relationship with the water that was part of everyone's daily lives in the city, but with which there was little personal interaction.

"The place we're working in had a lot of water," Gauthier said. "The people who lived here didn't necessarily interact with it all that often - or other than very formal ways aside from crossing bridges and looking down at the East River or looking out at the Hudson and saying 'Oh! The Hudson!' " The Gowanus had been under a big gentrification plan that was halted because there was an EPA superfund site that got reinstated on the whole canal. The group works around this set of issues and often gets their material from the actual labor involved in gentrification, redirecting the materials in order to build the vessels through which residents might interact with the water.

"We had gone and talked to people in construction sites and they gave us their cast off plywood that they were using to pour concrete floors and things like that, so the project got started down there," said Gauthier.

The group began about eight years ago, procuring a 64-foot, mahogany Naval rescue boat from the Korean War and using it for open studio space. This overlapped with other work that Gauthier was doing at the time, which involved reclaiming unused space in the city for art projects. The waterfront was one place in the urban setting that someone could stake a claim, even temporarily, and fashion an autonomous site. That is what the group has been doing to some degree ever since.

"From there, we've been getting into smaller and smaller boats, and making them more portable," he said. "This project that we've been working on, which has to do with these bamboo kayaks, is the pinnacle of that. They end up weighing 30 pounds and are just bamboo wrapped in canvas and they allow for a single person to get out on the water wherever they choose."

The group taught themselves how to build smaller and smaller vessels by consulting books from amateur boat builders dating back to the 1950s that were popular at the time, particularly those of John Gardner, a boat builder at the Mystic Seaport. At the core of their plans was to not keep their efforts to themselves.

"Our intention was to try and do this not just on our own as artist adventurers," said Gauthier. "But we actually wanted to make this technology or these techniques available to other people, and so there's a component of this where we've always printed plans and stories and gave people advice how to do this and held workshops."

The group eventually devised their own dory that they could build using simple power tools and sheets of plywood.

"They're not marine-grade plywood," Gauthier said. "They're fairly heavy and already used, so we had to adjust the shape of the boat to suit that. This was all done through experimentation and making a few that failed before they got out of the studio because you could just tell that they weren't holding together."

The group has upgraded the technology of their planning, now using 3D modeling software which allows a little improvisation - required depending on the materials available - to work along with the strict planning. This is the tactic planned for the North Adams appearance.

"We're going to show up with a certain amount of materials ready to pull together," said Gauthier. "But that said, the materials that we're working with are unstable by nature, and we have bamboos that we've foraged and harvested and will be drying out as best we can, as best we figure out how to - try to cure it so it's actually usable - and we'll be taking some materials from the museum."

Gauthier's hope is that the result of the day's labor will find it's way to a body of water - obviously the Hoosic canals are out of the question, though he admits to wishing he could give them a shot. The ultimate goal of Gauthier and his collective are to pass along the experience and help others create further channels for collaborative seafaring.

"People would actually be in the end hopefully making something that they would want to take with them," he said. "However many we end up making, the idea is that we give them to whoever wants them and we figure out a way to have an auction or barter with people who are interested in taking them and taking care of them."

Mare Liberum can be found online at thefreeseas.org.

John Seven is the Transcript's arts and entertainment editor. Photo courtesy of Mare Liberum

Bamboo and ziptie kayak building workshop in Brooklyn, N.Y., this August.

(c) 2011 North Adams Transcript. All rights reserved. Reproduced with the permission of Media NewsGroup, Inc. by NewsBank, Inc.