Sep 11, 2009

Ahoy Maties!

In my search for temporary, art-driven alternative communities, I've come across Swimming Cities, a project by a group of artists called SWOON. They've recently made a voyage along the Adriatic Sea to Venice and the pictures (mostly by Tod Seelie -- of their journey are fantastic. A few short video clips are available on Creative Time TV -- and their website is
The Swimming Cities website describes the project:

"SWOON’s boats are inspired by dense urban cityscapes and thickly intertwined mangrove swamps from her Florida youth. The Swimming Cities of Serenissima are built from salvaged materials, including modified Mercedes car motors with long-tail propellers. The boats’ crew is made up of 30 collaborating artists from the United States.

As the Swimming Cities move toward Venice, the crew will collect and install keepsakes in an ark-like cabinet of wonders that will be on display on the boats when they arrive. Once in Venice, the boats and crew will offer intimate performances that incorporate music, shadow puppetry, and story.

The vessels are imagined as a hybrid between boats and bits of land broken off and headed out to sea. Watching them approach the shore is like seeing a floating city in the distance, as improbable as Venice itself. To the real life crew, the boats are a place of refuge – both a home and a way of moving through the world. To those who encounter the boats for the first time, they are a reminder that anything that can be imagined can be built."

I'm reminded of the book The Many-Headed Hydra: Sailors, Slaves, Commoners, and the Hidden History of the Revolutionary Atlantic by Peter Linebaugh and Marcus Rediker. This book, published in 2000, is an examination of the Hercules-hydra myth that has long been a tale of imposing order and the battle for power. The authors introduce their writing project by stating:

"From the beginning of English colonial expansion in the seventeenth century through the metropolitan industrialization of the early nineteenth, rulers referred to the Hercules-hydra myth to describe the difficulty of imposing order on increasingly global systems of labor. They variously designated dispossessed commoners, transported felons, indentured servants, religious radicals, urban laborers, soldiers, sailors, and African slaves as the numerous, ever-changing heads of the monster. But the heads, though originally brought into productive combination by their Herculean ruler, soon developed among themselves new forms of cooperation against those rulers, from mutinies and strikes to riots and insurrections and revolution. Like the commodities they produced, their experience circulated with the planetary currents around the Atlantic, often eastward from American plantations, Irish commons, and deep-sea vessel back to the metropoles of Europe.”
Although not overtly stated, I read the Swimming Cities as a sort of hydra (with many beautiful - American! - heads) that demands a new context for art and, if only for a time, a different way of life. Ahoy maties!

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