When Artists Take To The Sea, All The World’s A Canvas

Scott Bluedorn's "Gardiner's Island."
Scott Bluedorn’s “Gardiner’s Island.”

Courtney M. Leonard, who is a member of the Shinnecock Nation, has long been exploring those fraught relationships — between native and non-native people, between native people and their traditional hunting practices, and between all people and the natural balance of the world.

Ms. Leonard’s contribution to Radical Seafaring is “Breach #2,” an assemblage of glazed ceramic whale teeth on a pallet, as if awaiting shipping.

She began working on that theme after a whale washed up in front of Calvin Klein’s property next door to the Shinnecock Indian Nation, where members of the tribe weren’t able to harvest it.

Courtney Leonard's "Breach #2"
Courtney Leonard’s “Breach #2”

The Shinnecocks, whose name means “People of the Stony Shore,” had taught the colonists how to whale when they first arrived on the South Fork.

Another of her pieces is a series of clay baskets, like the baskets traditionally used by the Shinnecocks to collect fish. She designed the baskets, which would be destroyed if they were to be used used, after the massive fish kill in the Peconic River last year.

“Can a culture sustain itself when it no longer has access to the things that make it a culture?” she asked at Tideland Sessions. “That’s what my work explores.”

Members of the art and boatbuilding collective Mare Liberum, based in Gowanus, Brooklyn, spent the day at Tideland Sessions teaching everyone how to build a scale replica of a long skinny work boat known as a “punt,” perhaps a derivation of the Latin word for bridge, “pons.”

Dylan Gauthier, one of the collective’s founders, said the boats they build are designed to be as much at home in a polluted river as on a museum wall.

The group, which publishes broadsheet plans for boats that can be built from reclaimed materials, has held flotillas throughout New York raising attention for issues ranging from the condition of the Gowanus Canal (which is a federally listed Superfund site) to a partnership with climate change advocacy group 350.org.

Mary Mattingly’s floating autonomously powered WetLand, a living quarters, farm and chicken coop, will be coming to Sag Harbor’s Long Wharf on June 6 as part of the exhibition.

Ms. Mattingly was raised in a town in northern Connecticut where no one could drink the water because it was toxic, and she said at Tideland Sessions that her childhood experience with lack of water has led to much of her work on the water.

She’s currently working on a project called “Swale,” a permaculture food forest on a barge that will circle New York City.

The project is designed to call attention to the fact that it’s illegal to grow food for the public in public spaces in New York City.

“I see water as a human right and a social space,” she said.

Ms. Grover said she has always found the social aspects of the sea impressive. While city dwellers hustle down the streets avoiding eye contact and ignoring cries for help, she said, mariners are required to answer calls for distress, and they do it with gusto.

“It’s a different code of conduct,” she said. “Mariners come to the aid of other mariners.”

Simon Starling's "Autoxylopyrocycloboros,"
A scene from Simon Starling’s “Autoxylopyrocycloboros”

If there’s one set of visual stimulus that I come back to over and over after weeks absorbing this dizzying array of works, it’s Simon Starling’s “Autoxylopyrocycloboros,” a slide series of two men cutting apart a steam-driven boat named Dignity in the middle of a Scottish loch.

I don’t know if it’s the metaphor for the folly of human consumption or the strangeness of the choice of steam propulsion or the meditation on the meaning of the word “Dignity” that fascinates me the most.

It could be just my lifelong fear of the unknowns that lie at the bottom of these misty Scottish lakes, of whispers of monsters at the edge of the horizon of blurry photographs, juxtaposed against the minute details of two men cutting apart the means of their survival.

I do know that I need to see Autoxylopyrocycloboros again.

Radical Seafaring continues at The Parrish Art Museum through July 24. You can find more information about visiting the museum online here.

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Beth Young

Beth Young

Beth Young built her first boat out of driftwood tied together with phragmites behind her family’s apartment above the old Mill Creek Inn in Southold. Nowadays, she spends most of her time kayaking, learning about shellfish, writing newspaper stories, trying to sail a Sunfish, and watching the way the bay changes from day to day. You can send her a message at [email protected]

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