A Boat, 40 Passengers, and a Bunch of Performance Art
We went on a boat tour exploring New York’s murky colonial history with New Draft Collective.
Glasser. All photos by the author, courtesy of New Draft Collective and the artists
It’s always a gratifying change of pace when an art event happens outside of the confines of clinical gallery walls or corroding-chic warehouses, but New Draft Collective has taken this even further, hosting a performance art-symposium retreat entirely off-land. Michi Jigarjian and Libby Pratt, the duo behind the artist collective, organized Re-Current Uncovered this past Sunday, a 3-hour art experience aboard the Schooner Pioneer as it sailed around the southern waters of New York City.
The second iteration of the event brought together 40 passengers, primarily friends of the art collective (including the surprising appearances of Friends’ star David Schwimmer and his wife, artist Zoë Buckman) along with a few newcomers, to experience eight performances and artist talks centered on the history of the New York Harbor shoreline and general ideas of departure and arrival.
Once all the passengers were aboard, Mexican singer and songwriter Jorge Marrón took center-deck with the day’s first performance. Playing guitar and singing "ETC." a song about remembering where you come from, Marrón successfully moved the wine-sipping crowd to deep reflection, and as the song concluded, the Schooner Pioneer’s sails were raised high and we departed the South Street Seaport into southern New York City waters.
As we passed below the Brooklyn Bridge on this particularly foggy day, installation artist Lyne Lapointe shifted the focus from musical performance to historical conversation. As the event’s first speaker, Lapointe talked about The Wilds and The Deep, an architectural art project done in collaboration with artist Martha Fleming in 1990. In this project, the two artists worked with the then-abandoned Battery Maritime Building at Manhattan’s southern tip, to uncover its history as one of the oldest landing points for travelers in America, and as a mandatory ‘portal’ of sorts that all Ellis Island immigrants had to pass through. The result was an art experience that Lapointe points out was “not just for an art audience, but for everybody.”
A few minutes after Lapointe had finished speaking, a series of angelic murmurs started to slowly creep into the ears of the passengers. All were suddenly quiet, recalling the mythological idea of the siren, whose enchanting songs mesmerize sea travelers to shipwrecked doom. The sound grew louder and louder as the ship approached Governors Island, where specks of human life donned in red could be seen from a distance.
The dreamlike encounter revealed itself to be "Voices Heard," the second performance of the event, a piece by Jigarjian and Pratt in collaboration with a 11-piece opera collective. Their ‘song’ was in fact a simple (but magical) salutation; “welcome” was intoned over and over in spectacular operatic harmony. Usually a historical tourist destination, Governors Island had been made private for the duration of the performance, transforming the performers temporarily into its sole inhabitants, recalling a pre-colonial New York.
As the ship circled near Red Hook and Pioneer Works, Marrón returned to the stage, guitar in hand. The musician performed "La Mancha," his take on a song his father would sing when working in Mexico in desolate conditions, altering the verses to more adequately suit his own experiences, describing the deception of travelling north in search of the American dream. In seeming response to the song, the ship travelled north towards Governors Island, where the mystical sounds of "Voices Heard" filled the air again.
While the boat dipped into New Jersey waters, the incredibly emphatic photographer Nona Faustine and artist Jorge Alberto Perez spoke about the pre-colonial history of Governors Island (or, Paggank, as it was known) and also about Race and Revolution, their exhibition exploring colonial entitlement and Native/African American exclusion, held at Governors Island until the end of last month. If you missed it, Race and Revolution has just made what will hopefully be the first of many stops at the University of Connecticut.
After circling near the Statue of Liberty, arguably New York City’s ultimate symbol of immigration and colonialism, the Schooner Pioneer began its journey back to the South Street Seaport. Passing one last time by Governors Island, the performers of "Voices Heard" were at it again, this time boding us a harmonious farewell to signal the end of our journey.
Taking us through the final stretch of our odyssey was the singer-songwriter Cameron Mesirow, more commonly known by her performing name Glasser. Adorned in an all red ensemble reminiscent of the opera singers, her haunting rendition of "The Lonely Sea" by The Beach Boys seemed to bring all 40 of us back to the same state of quiet introspection that Marrón had taken us to when we first set sail.
Once we reached the dock, the collective calmness was nearly overwhelming as people seemed to levitate out of the Schooner Pioneer and back into regular land-centric life. Hopefully New Draft Collective organizes another Re-Current next year, and more art collectives and intuitions explore the possibility of showcasing art outside of its normal habitats. Art’s context and surroundings are often taken for granted despite their potent ability to profoundly alter the experience and impact of a work of art.
Be sure to check out more of New Draft Collective’s immersive works and art experiences here.