I’ve got nautical kitsch and art all mixed up in my head. As the daughter of a boat builder and an artist, I have a Pavlovian response to anything that combines art and boats. I grew up in a house that would have suited Captain Ahab just fine– stuffed marlins, whale bones, ships’ wheels, rope art, portholes, buoys, crab pots, fish lures, oil paintings of ships in storms, all that. Enter the Grover family residence and immediately feel like an extra in Mutiny on the Bounty. This posting has been a long time coming, but boat artists, you’re about to get your due. Look for future posts on Bas Jan Ader, Marie Lorenz, Roy Fridge, Swoon, Open_Sailing, Waterpod, and others. Suggestions welcome, mateys.
Art & Boats, Part 1: An interview with Houston (boat) artist Zach Moser
Zach Moser is a co-founder of Workshop Houston, an innovative art/education/community center based in Houston’s Third Ward. Moser recently conducted a boatbuilding workshop inside the Contemporary Arts Museum Houston as part of the exhibition, No Zoning: Artists Engage Houston. The project (conceived with Benjy Mason) was titled “Yacht Shop,” and invited the public to collaboratively build a boat over six months. Yacht Shop concluded with the ceremonious hull turning and launching of the vessel (by spontaneous night parade) down Montrose Boulevard. This was all primed with sea shanties and home brewed braggot, a kind of malt and honey beer. (You can imagine what the drivers on Montrose thought of this land-locked endeavor.) Moser, a graduate of Oberlin, has a keen interest in collaboration via unlikely platforms – “civic events, low income neighborhoods, dying industries.” And this was not Moser’s first foray into maritime collectivity; his earlier nautical-theme works include “The Shrimp Boat Project” (with Eric Leshinsky), “Voyages to the Unknown,” and the “Untitled Skiff Project.”
Andrea Grover (AG): What about boats attract you to them as subject matter?
Zach Moser (ZM): I have been attracted to boats for many different reasons and each project has come about by addressing a different aspect of these vehicles. My first boating experience was fishing in a small motorboat with my grandfather in Galveston Bay, but my main attraction to boats has been the act of sailing, which I find to be a generally pleasant experience, with a rich history. I love sailing because, along with walking, it is one of the few modes of travel where the means are potentially more valuable than the destination. Travel by sailing is an experience that is constantly informing your body that you are a small part of nature, and that you can only go more or less where the wind allows you to. I have enjoyed the idea that you can never sail towards the wind; instead you must approach your destination by being drawn towards the wind by sailing on tangents. I have enjoyed this idea as a metaphor for resistance. I didn’t grow up sailing at all and taught myself what I do know, which is not a lot. These “lessons” of sailing were the focus of my “Untitled Skiff Project” which is in the latest issue of Art Lies.
I was attracted to “The Shrimp Boat Project” more by the landscape than the boat. I was looking for a way to find natural beauty in the Houston area– a landscape that is mostly ignored or treated as empty. I found that Shrimp Boats were the last connection to an economy that works with this landscape. I think this is true in general with fishing and is probably related to the nature of boats.
There are also aspects of boats that I find problematic and try to address in my work. The main one is the contradiction of the cause and effect of exploration. I have always been captured by the heroic journeys of explorers and their triumphs but at the same time recognized that colonialism and genocide were often the results of the expeditions. We refer to the pursuit of knowledge as exploration. What are the consequences of pursuing knowledge for its own sake I could go on about boats for much longer but this probably enough for now.
AG: Can you talk about the recent Yacht Shop collaborative project at CAMH?
ZM: The Yacht Shop was building a 20ft Yawl in the CAMH during Saturday workshops. It was collaboration between Benjy Mason and me. We got most of our help from Sam Jones and Tony Day. It was a fun pleasant process in which we learned a lot about woodworking, met a lot of nice people, and heard a lot of great stories. We were way off on our time estimates and did not finish in the six months of the show and are still working on the boat in my backyard. In the end, I think that the guards at museum were our audience. They were the only ones who saw the process, the triumphs, and the many failures.
The Yacht Shop came about during a fairly complicated negotiation with Meredith Goldsmith and Toby Kamps [the No Zoning exhibition curators]. We were approached about the show because of Workshop Houston. We were uninterested in representing that project in the CAMH mainly because we thought it would take away from Workshop Houston to define it as an art project, and the founders as its artists/creators, and the students as our subjects in this museum context. We were interested in being in a show at the CAMH to showcase our ways of working. The specific Yacht Shop idea came from a number of directions. Benjy and I were sending around a bell casting proposal, and exploring historic community efforts. Benjy was trying to find ways to work ritual into our lives, and was looking into Viking funerals, and I had started building boats. From these directions we came up with Yacht Shop, but we had to down play the Viking funeral aspect, and they gave us a chance.
AG: Why do you think that artist boat projects are in the ether right now?
ZM: I wouldn’t say that myself. I would say that most boat builders refer to their work as art. Boatbuilding is interesting in that way– aesthetics are functional. There is no perfect boat; all design decisions are a balance and compromise of function. With no clear answers it gets referred to as ‘an art.’
AG: What is Beach Church?
ZM: Beach Church is a group of people that go to the beach every Sunday. Anton [Sinkewich] named it. We invite anyone to come with us and share a great relaxing day. Hopefully one day we can get a tax-exempt beach house.