Alita Edgar, Porter Fox, Orien McNeill, Michael O’Toole are just four of the 30+ names of makers and artists involved with the current incarnation of the collaborative project We Are Swimming Cities, whose overall installation at last month’s inaugural World Maker Faire in NYC won an Editor’s Choice award, and whose “caddywhampuss,” the motorcycle-powered fish-boat (below), won Best in Show.
An always-changing group dynamic, they’ve taken up residency at a metalworks shop in the Gowanus neighborhood of Brooklyn, hand-welding five pontoon boats — which they refer to as “sculptural watercraft” — with the aim of floating them down the Ganges River in India sometime next year. I visited their operation earlier this month, post-Maker Faire, to catch up and check in on their progress of making the boats water-ready and able to handle the unique conditions of the Ganges and Gowanus Canal alike (the latter a nominated Superfund site and arguably the most-polluted waterway in America).
After a full day of preparations — patching holes, removing barnacles, grinding away rust, etc. — with most of the attention being paid to the fish-boat, we paddled to the 2nd Street dock to join other homemade watercraft for the DIY Green Block Party taking place on nearby 3rd Street. At the dock, people were given tours of the Jerko houseboat, while other groups gave canoe tours of the canal and the Swimming Cities crew also took people on waterway tours.
New York City is a city of islands (save the Bronx, which is attached to the mainland), and as such, we are surrounded by water and can only access the boroughs via bridges and tunnels. But for a city of islands, the waterways are not interacted with on a usual basis. Subways that magically appear inside the boundary of each borough are the primary form of transport, and even visits to area beaches are very specific and localized. A large portion of the water surrounding the city — in its rivers and docks — ebbs and flows without awareness.
Swimming Cities seeks to change all of that, both in the Gowanus and on the Ganges, with their art-experiential boats and projects. For their trip to India, they’re leaving open several slots on their crew for Indian or southeast Asian makers who want to collaborate and “get on board,” figuratively and literally. For you and me, they have a kickstarter campaign which is only a couple days away from hopefully succeeding and offers incentives like boat tours and ephemera from their travels. They’re also planning several events over the next eight weeks and beyond, like their ping-pong tournament this past weekend in order to keep expanding their base and raising awareness for their project, all of which can be found on their blog.
Eventually, their boats will interlock and connect, a la Voltron, forming a “radial,” a whole larger than the sum of its parts: 5 boats into 1, with stages and a kitchen and living quarters. Additional information (designs, influences, their crew) can be found on their website.