One morning - eighteen months or so ago - during a time when I was sleeping poorly, feeling a bit low and generally ‘whelmed by too much ‘stuff’, I woke up with an urge to make paper boats. So I got up and started folding…
I had no idea when I started making these boats what I might end up doing with them; I only knew that it was important that I forget about the whys and wherefores and simply get on with the task of making them. It became something of a ritual and I soon realized that it was a great way to steady myself and find focus. The activity took on some of the qualities of a meditation, being as it was, a way of stilling down my thoughts and dissipating the anxiety I was experiencing at the time.
‘… A dove rose in my breast
Clearly, I was going to have to waterproof them! So I came up with a new design with simpler, tighter folds and then tried applying gesso. It didn’t work, so I thought about making them out of paper clay; then, one day I was in town at the kitchen shop looking for a potato peeler (or something equally prosaic) when I spotted the perfect thing; hanging on a rack were packets of recyclable picnic plates made out of bamboo. I went home with a bunch of them and put this new material to the test. The bamboo was great – I mixed wood glue in with the gesso to help reinforce the joints and away we sailed. By the time I’d reached the point of ‘enough’, several weeks had passed; I’d painted six or seven layers of gesso onto about 220 boats. I was sleeping like a babe at night and my unnameable anxiety had disappeared. (I highly recommend this as a de-stressing activity!)
Why am I telling you about these boats? Well, in part because I had just spent time on a real one - the Caselberg Trust’s Breaksea Girl/Fiordland Residency had happened not long before I embarked on making this bamboo flotilla – and in part because one day it dawned on me that all along – quite without knowing it - I’d been making the boats to take down to Antarctica.
Today’s world is being knocked from just about every quarter by fear, separatism, negativity, aggression… it seems to me if ever there was a call for beauty, poetry and pause, now is the time. The aggression-meets-aggression route clearly does not work – perhaps we need to step outside the noise and into quiet so that a different kind of conversation can begin taking place? One of my great wishes is to make work that bypasses noise and offers a place of respite, contemplation, restoration.
I was fortunate to share the 2008 season with two divers who are also professional underwater film-makers – Henry Kaiser and Shawn Harper. We talked at length about what it was I wanted to communicate via these boats and their curious underwater voyage – namely, something common to all of us, a kind of visual poem considering the things that connect rather than divide us, highlighting the magnificent earth we inhabit, our independent and shared life journeys…
Sincere thanks to underwater filmmakers, Henry Kaiser and Shawn Harper, and to Sam Bowser, diver, friend and ‘helmsman’ of this unlikely flotilla of bamboo boats.
...more to come...
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